GLEN COVE, NY — In 1976, when faced with a choice
between Gerald Ford and James Earl Carter Jr., America chose Carter.
Ford was demonstrably inept, and Carter was an Annapolis graduate and
a former governor of Georgia. People doubted that Carter could be as
bad as Ford. Unfortunately, he turned out to be worse than anyone could
It is hard to name a single worst Cold War disaster of the Carter
administration, but Iran is certainly a contender. Carter cooperated
in the overthrow of the modern government of Iran that had been originally
supported by Eisenhower. In its place, Iran installed a tyranny of
fanatical Moslem ayatollahs. The new government seized the American
embassy in violation of diplomatic law, took 66 hostages, and held
them for the rest of the Carter administration.
This intolerable situation was probably the worst humiliation of the
United States since the burning of the city of Washington in the War
of 1812. It could only happen because the hostage takers knew that
Carter would not send in an expedition of Marines to liberate the hostages.
Indeed, the hostages were released the day Reagan replaced Carter as
President because the hostage takers feared the consequences if they
did not. As Carter left office, Iran, a former staunch ally of the
United States, was an enemy that has since become one of the major
rogue nations of the world.
Also during his administration, the Soviet Union invaded and conquered
Afghanistan --the most blatant communist action in a generation. Carter
did not respond to this aggression as Truman did to the invasion of
Korea; he limited his reaction to the U.S. boycott of the Olympics.
His policy was the last nail in the coffin of the doctrine of containment.
At a time when the American Left was still insulting and demonizing
Vietnam veterans, Carter extended amnesty to all draft dodgers. This
disastrous signal clearly indicated that he was on the side of the
defeatists and had no intention of winning the Cold War.
Carter also surrendered the Panama Canal. This further retreat of American
power symbolized the abandonment of the position that the United States
is the protector of the Western hemisphere. To worsen the situation,
Panama was on the verge of a civil war at the time.
Carter called the “energy crisis” the equivalent of war,
trivializing the concept of war in general and of the Cold War in particular.
It would be impossible to overstate the national demoralization that
Carter achieved. Although he called it “malaise,” it was
actually a loss of confidence that America was capable of military
or diplomatic victories. The prospects for freedom in the world were
In these years, however, the seeds sown by the 1962 rallies that packed
Madison Square Garden with Young Americans for Freedom and the Christian
Anti-Communist Crusade bore fruit. The Republican Party was clearly
determined to champion victory over communism in the 1980 election.
The Republican President, finally, would not be a timid appeaser like
Eisenhower, Nixon, or Ford.
Ronald Reagan was easily nominated and crushed Carter in one of the
biggest landslides in American history. The hostages were released
a few hours before his inauguration, and a new era began in which America
and the West won — rather than lost — the battles of the Cold War.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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