The Year That Was
It has been sort of a topos to evoke the specter of 1979. I’ve done it repeatedly, as have other observers.
Aside from the growing stagflation in the U.S. (I remember farming that year at the ending of an inflation-driven boom), that was the year that China invaded Vietnam. Muslims assassinated the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Russia later invaded Afghanistan. The world seemed to have become unhinged. And there was more still.
The shah was abandoned and soon fell, amid American proclamations of support for him on Monday, and then denunciation of his dynasty by Tuesday, and yet more leaked reports on Wednesday of reaching out to Khomeini in Paris. Soon in his death throes he would jet the globe looking for a home and a doctor, as the U.S. let the phone ring when he called.
Soon Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Teheran from Paris and proclaimed an Islamic revolution. Iranian students (Ahmadinejad probably among them) stormed our embassy and took hostages. In no time Ramsey Clark was denouncing America on Iran’s behalf, and rumors abounded of Carter’s backdoor deal-making to get them home at any cost before the 1980 election. (In 1980 a humiliating and disastrous rescue mission would see imams desecrating American dead on worldwide television. I recall an odious Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhal, the hanging judge who sent thousands to the gallows, zipping open the body-bags to poke and probe the charred American corpses.)
The Sandinistas also took over Nicaragua. Radical Islamists torched the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. I could go on, but you get the picture. In all these cases, a baffled Mr. Carter sermonized a lot, blamed a lot — and in the end retired to the Rose Garden or fought rabbits from a canoe. He seemed petulant that he had come into the world in divine fashion to save us, and we flawed mortals were unwilling to be saved by him. The so-called “malaise speech” summed up his disappointment in the rest of us.
And after such a wonderful beginning…
So 1979 followed two years of Carteresque utopian proclamations. Do we remember them all still? There was Cy Vance, in perfect aristocratic style, and in perpetual atonement for his earlier support of the Vietnam War, with his creased brow and sermonizing tone, bringing in the kinder, gentler order. He resigned over the failed hostage rescue, replaced by a stoic Ed Muskie. And there was Andrew Young at the UN trying to be a sort of proto-Barack Obama, reaching out to the radical Palestinians, and so on.
Remember the commandments? No more inordinate fear of communism; human rights governing U.S. foreign policy; no more nuclear weapons housed in South Korea which was to be free of U.S. troops; outreach to the terrorist/rebel/reformer Mugabe, and so on.
In other words, it took a flawed world about 24 months to size up the new idealistic administration, and to determine that it either could not or would not continue U.S. foreign policy of the previous three decades. Soon the more daring then decided to make “regional adjustments.” Finally a panicked Carter was attempting everything from boycotting the Olympics and arming Islamists in Afghanistan to threatening to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East and restoring draft registration to reclaim lost U.S. deterrence.
Here we go again…
Obama started out in similar fashion with his first al-Arabiya interview. Then followed the apology tour, the bowing, the Cairo myth-making speech, the reach out to Ahmadinejad, Assad, Castro, Chavez, and Putin, the estrangement with Israel, the neglect of the brave Iranian dissidents, the phony deadlines over Iranian proliferation, the missile defense walk-back from the Poles and Czechs, the constant Bush-bashing reset-button diplomacy rhetoric, the serial humiliation of things British, the failed deal to appease Putin in hopes of Russian help in stopping Iran from going nuclear, the new loud commitment to the UN, the promises to end all nuclear weapons, the nuke deal with Russia that saw us give up sophisticated weapons to match dismantling of poorer Russian models—all amid a backdrop of massive U.S. spending and the highest two budget deficits in American financial history.