We came to Washington in 1977, and Jimmy Carter had just been inaugurated. So I well remember the years of malaise and humiliation, the stagflation, chilly offices in the winter, the rapidly expanding power of the Soviet Union, the appeasement campaign from Europe and from a clear majority of American intellectuals, the hostage seizure in Tehran, the awful realization that we might lose the Cold War after all. And in the midst of it all, the emergence of Ronald Reagan, his surprising electoral victory, and the amazing recovery of American will and American energy.
There was a lot to worry about, as there is today. But I haven’t seen anyone openly worrying about my greatest concern, which tormented me in Carter’s last two years, and has returned to torment me again now. He was so devoted to peace, that he risked a big war.
Carter’s paralysis as Soviet power expanded from Somalia to Ethiopia, and then to Afghanistan, his feckless make-nice attempt to cajole the West Europeans to respond to Soviet missile deployments, his abandonment of the shah and subsequent appeasement of Khomeini (his ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, described the Iranian fascist leader as “some kind of saint”), greatly encouraged our enemies, all over the world. After a while, public opinion began to turn against Carter, who responded by expanding the defense budget (for which Reagan would be most grateful), but nothing “on the ground.”
As we got into the election season, I began to worry that Carter would be so concerned about his “wimp” image that he would overreact to some crisis or other, in order to demonstrate his virility. As a former defense secretary remarked a few years ago, weakness is tempting. The more our enemies believe we are feckless, the more likely they are to come after us. I think that al Qaeda and its many sponsors thought that 9/11 would take us down, at least for a long count, and perhaps for good. And I worry that the current rampage of appeasement of our enemies will produce the same result.