Ford vs. Carter’s Cold War Policy:
What were the goals of US foreign policy during the Ford & Carter years?
How successful were Ford’s and Carter’s policies?
Students will be able to
1. Compare the policies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter toward the Soviet Union
2. Discuss changing US foreign policy in the developing world
3. Identify the success and failures of Carter’s foreign policy in the Middle East
Why it Matters:
The ordeal of Vietnam led many to question the direction of American foreign policy. They asked: Was the United States so concerned with fighting communism that it ended up supporting oppressive anticommunist governments? Should the United States continue to pursue détente with the Soviets? Or should it instead demand that the Soviet Government grant its people more freedoms? The echoes of these debates continue to be heard today
FORD CONTINUES NIXON’S FOREIGN POLICIES
Relations with the Soviet Union remained central to US foreign policy during the Ford and Carter Administrations. Upon assuming the Presidency, Gerald Ford made clear that his foreign policy would differ little from that of Richard Nixon’s. Ford retained Henry Kissinger as his Secretary of State and continued to pursue détente with the Soviet Union and China.
Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev met in late 1974 and again the next year when the two leaders endorsed the Helsinki Accords. This document put the nation of Europe on record in favor of human rights, or the basic rights automatically held by every human being. Some thought that President Ford would try to compel the Soviet Union to allow more political freedoms, but Ford decided to put arms control ahead of human rights. At his direction, the United states continued disarmament talks with the Soviets. These talks led to an agreement known as SALT II, in which the two nations pledged to limit nuclear arms production
Trouble in Southeast Asia
Under Ford, the United States sought to put the turmoil of the Vietnam War behind it. When the communist Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia became a genocidal slaughter of civilians, killing about 1.5 million people between 1975 and 1979, the United States did not intervene. The main exception to this policy of noninvolvement came in May 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized an American merchant ship, the Mayaguez, which had been steaming just outside Cambodian waters, Ford responded by sending in some United States Marines who freed the ship.
During Ford’s Presidency, South Vietnam fell to North Vietnam. As the communists took over, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, many of whom had worked with the United States tried to escape. Many refugees took to the seas is rickety unseaworthy boats. These Boat People represented the largest mass migration of humanity by sea in modern history. Over a 20-year period, more than one million men, women, and children braved storms, pirates, and starvation in search of refuge abroad. Their immediate destinations were in other nations of Southeast Asia, but many eventually found that refuge in the United States and Canada.
How did Ford approach foreign policy challenges during his presidency?
Read the Book the Little Refugee Anh Do and Suzanne Do and complete the worksheet below- or listen to the book via this website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z0O8Q40skI
1. How many people lived in Anh Do’s childhood home in Vietnam?
2. Why did he and his family leave Vietnam?
3. How did they escape?
4. Who did they meet on the high seas?
5. What is Anh Do’s brother’s name?
6. Who rescued them?
7. What strange clothes did Anh’s baby brother wear when he first arrived?
8. What sort of business did his parents establish in Australia?
9. Who was the red headed boy Anh befriended at the beginning of Grade 3 at school?
10. What announcement did the principal make about Anh at the prize giving ceremony at school?
CARTER CHANGES COURSE
Early in his presidency, Jimmy Carter proclaimed that as much as possible, American foreign policy would be guided by a concern for human rights. Carter hoped to make his foreign policy into a tool to end acts of political repression such as torture, murder, and imprisonment without trial. This policy direction helped reaffirm the position of the United States as a nation of freedom and justice. However, it undercut the goal of better relations with the Soviet Union.
Relations with the Soviet Union Cool
At first, Carter continued Nixon’s and Ford’s policies toward the Soviet Union. He worked to achieve détente. He continued efforts at arms control, meeting with Leonid Brezhnev in June 1979 and signing the SALT II treaty (pledged to limit nuclear arms production).
However, relations between the two superpowers soon took a decidedly frosty turn. The SALT II treaty was bitterly debated in the United States Senate, where its opponents argues that it put the national security of the United States in jeopardy. Then, in December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded the neighboring country of Afghanistan to prop up a tottering communist government. Carter responded by withdrawing the SALT II treaty from Senate consideration and by imposing sanctions, or penalties, on the Soviets. The sanctions included a US boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games held in Moscow as well as a suspension of grain dales to the Soviet Union.
Carter Supports Human Rights in the Developing World
Since the end of World War II, American Presidents have tended to see the developing world- the poor nations of Asia, Africa. And Latin America- as another stage for the Cold War. Carter broke with that approach and insisted that foreign policy toward the developing world should revolve around the expansion of human rights. Carter believed that US relations with foreign countries should be determined by how a country treated its citizens
Carter’s emphasis on human rights led him to alter the US relationship with a number of dictators. In Nicaragua, the Somoza family had ruled the country with an iron grip since the mid-1930s, most of the time with the support of the United States. In 1978, a leftist group known as the Sandinistas began a rebellion against the country’s ruler, General Anastasio Somoza. His brutal response to the rebellion helped convince Carter ti withdraw US support. Without US aid, General Somoza had to flee Nicaragua, and the Sandinistas came to power.
Carter’s Policies Get Mixed Results in Latin America
The Carter Administration briefly sought to improve relations with Cuba, ruled by communist Fidel Castro since 1959. However, US-Cuban relations soured in 1980 when Castro announced that any Cuban could leave the island from the port of Mariel for the United States. However, Castro insisted that any boats headed to the US would also have to take criminals from the island’s prisons. Because of this condition, the Mariel boatlift developed a bad reputation in the eyes of many Americans. Fewer than 20 percent of the people transported had spent time in prison, and many of those were political prisoners. Still, Americans were repelled by Castro’s lack of concern for the welfare of the migrants and by the idea that he would send criminals to the United States.
Carter’s most controversial foreign policy move involved his decision to return the Panama Canal Zone back to Panama. You will recall the Panama had given the US control of a wide strip of land across the middle of the country in 1903 that later became the site of the Panama Canal. In 1977, Carter negotiated a set of treaties to return the Canal Zone back to Panama by 1999. Many Americans worries that the loss of control over the canal would threaten American shipping and security. Nonetheless, the United States Senate narrowly ratified the treaties in 1978, and all control of the Canal was ultimately turned over to Panama.
Questions: In what ways did President Carter’s policies differ from those of Ford?
SUCCESS AND SETBACK IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Carter’s greatest achievement in foreign policy came in the region that also saw his greatest setback. He helped negotiate a historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, but he failed to win the release of Americans held hostage by Iranian radicals.
Israel and Egypt Agree to Peace.
Egypt and Israel had been enemies since Israel’s founding in 1948. As recently as 1973, the two nations had fought a bitter war. By 1977, eager to improve relations, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met in Jerusalem to negotiate a peace agreement. To help continue the negotiations, Carter invited the two leaders to Camp David, the presidential retreat. For nearly two weeks, the three leaders carried on the difficult negotiations that produced what is known as the Camp David Accords. These agreements provided the framework for a peace treaty in which Egypt formally recognized the nation of Israel. In return, Israel withdrew its troops from the Sinai Peninsula, which it had occupied since 1967. The preamble to the Accords states:
“After four wars during 30 years despite intensive human efforts, the Middle East, which is the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of three great religions, does not enjoy the blessings of peace… (Israel and Egypt) recognize that for peace to ensure, it must involve all those who have been most deeply affected by the conflict. They therefore agree that this framework, as appropriate, is intended by them to constitute a basis for peace not only between Egypt and Israel, but also between Israel and each of its other neighbors…”
-Camp David Accords, September 19, 1978
Iran Seizes American Hostages
Carter hoped that Camp David Accords would usher in a new era of cooperation in the Middle East. Yet events in Iran showed that troubles in the region were far from over. Since the 1950s, the United States had supported the rule of the Shah, or emperor of Iran. In the 1970s, however, opposition to the Shah began to grow within Iran.
The Iranian Revolution which toppled the Shah and brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979, had a strong anti-American component. The United States had supported Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran’s Shah, to secure a firm ally against communism in the region. However, the Shah’s rule grew more oppressive after 1953, when the CIA had helped him control a challenge to his power. Resentment over political interference and foreign involvement in Iran’s oil industry boiled over when the deposed Shah entered the US for medical treatment. Facing a rebellion at home and dying of cancer, the Shah fled from Iran in January 1979. Fundamentalists Islamic clerics, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini took power. Carter allowed the Shah to enter the US to seek medical treatment. Enraged Iranian radical students invaded the US Embassy and took 66 American hostages, 52 of whom were held for 444 days. The Khomeini government then took control of both the embassy and the hostages to defy the United States.
• January 1979 Iranian Revolution forced the Shah into exile
• February 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran after 15 years in exile
• April 1979 Khomeini takes power
• October 1979 The Shah enters the US
• November 1979 Militant students take 66 Americans hostage. Carter halts oil imports and freezes Iranian assets in the US
• April 1980 Carter severs diplomatic relations with Iran and imposes an economic embargo. A Mission to free the hostages ends in disaster
• January 1981 On the day of Reagan’s inauguration, the hostages are released in exchange for $8 billion in frozen assets and a promise to lift trade sanctions against Iran
The hostage crisis consumed the attention of Carter during the last year of his presidency. To many Americans, Carter’s failure to win all of the hostages’ release was evidence of American weakness. As Peter Bourne put it in his biography of Jimmy Carter “Because people felt that Cater had not been tough enough in foreign policy… some bunch of students would seize American diplomatic officials and hold them prisoner and thumb their nose at the United States.”.
The hostage crisis began to change the way Americans viewed the world outside their borders. Nuclear war between the two superpowers was no longer the only threat to the United States. Although the Cold War still concerned Americans, the threats posed by conflicts in the Middle East threated to become the greatest foreign policy challenge.
• What events triggered the seizer of the American hostages in Iran?
• What actions did Carter take to try to get the hostages released?
• How did the seizure of the US embassy by Iranian students affect American’s view of the world?
1. What were the goals of American foreign policy during the Ford and Carter Years? How successful were Ford and Carter’s policies?
2. List all countries US was involved with and explain interactions
3. Put yourself in the place of someone applying to be the US ambassador to Panama in the mid-1970s- Write a paragraph describing the key qualities needed for the job.
4. What do you think were the most important foreign policy accomplishments of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter?
5. What did Carter’s inability to secure the release of the hostages in Iran symbolize too many Americans?