Ed Driscoll

It’s Always 1979 Somewhere

“Islamic revolution in Middle East, Hawaii 5-0 on TV, weak lib in White House, TRUE GRIT in theatres, unemployment at 10%. What year is it?” John Nolte of Big Hollywood quipped on Twitter at the start of the week.

Welcome back to 1979, Victor Davis Hanson writes:

When the wages of such idealism and magnanimity came due during the annus terribilis of 1979 — with the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, the Soviet entry into Afghanistan, revolution and war in Central America, the rise of radical Islam, the flight of the Shah, and the taking of hostages in Teheran — the American response often seemed herky-jerky, ad hoc, and, once again, hypocritical. Carter’s “open-mouthed shock” at the Soviet invasion was later amplified by Vice President Mondale’s infamous “why?” summation, “I cannot understand — it just baffles me — why the Soviets these last few years have behaved as they have. Maybe we have made some mistakes with them. Why did they have to build up all these arms? Why did they have to go into Afghanistan? Why can’t they relax just a little bit about Eastern Europe? Why do they try every door to see if it is locked?”

As the world began to heat up in the expectation that the new America either would not or could not play its old Cold War role, a contrite Carter now suddenly played catch-up by approving massive sales of jet aircraft to the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He set in place what was to become the largest covert CIA operation in our history by supplying sophisticated weapons to radical Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. He became the first American president to organize a boycott of a scheduled Olympics. By 1980 there was a “Carter Doctrine” that essentially declared, in neo-colonialist Monroe Doctrine fashion, that the oil-rich Persian Gulf was an American protectorate and that the United States would use military force to keep out foreign powers. Likewise Carter authorized a sudden build-up in U.S. defense capability; in his last budget, he sent defense expenditures spiraling above 5 percent of GDP.

The impression, fairly or not, was that the conversion of late 1979 and 1980 was a reaction to the misplaced policies of 1977–1978 — not so much a reaction to the domestic opposition of Republicans, but more a concession that the world simply did not operate in the manner Carter had hoped. The further impression was that if Carter had not so loudly denounced his predecessors and so rashly pronounced his own new wiser policies, then he might not have had to reject his own prior doctrines so utterly and embarrassingly, and seek so clumsily to restore U.S. deterrence.

Does any of that seem familiar today?

Pay no attention to return of the Steelers to the Super Bowl, and Betty White’s career resurgence. Or the skyrocketing rise of gold prices. Or the rapidly escalating gas prices or the whiffs of inflation elsewhere.