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tv   Lectures in History 1970s Conservative Movement Foreign Policy  CSPAN  June 10, 2018 12:30am-1:21am EDT

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the views of president ford and ultimately one on an anti-communist platform. -- 50s about 15 minutes minutes. heroesn be we can be heroes just for one day ♪ >> that was david bowie's classic song "heroes," released in 1977, which features two young lovers who meet at the berlin wall, a wall that separated east and west germany, and had come to symbolize the divisions of the cold war. we've now looked at the declining trust in government that had been a central part of
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post-world war ii america that resulted from the war in vietnam and from the shocking scandal of watergate. and we've also looked at the erosion of the growing economy, which had brought so many americans into the middle class during the 1950's and 1960's. we've learned about the rising voices, both on the right and the left, that sought to fill the void that was being created in american politics, and for the third part of my trifecta today, we're gonna look at the failed effort by politicians in both parties to re-create a center in international relations after the war in vietnam had shattered faith in the policies of containment that had guided the cold war. and we'll pay special attention to the role of domestic politics, particularly the rising power of the conservative movement in stifling these efforts.
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during the 1970's, the central target of conservatives were not left wing democrats, though they certainly drew the ire of the right, but republican and democratic moderate proponents of detente. this was the policy of easing relations with the communists. presidents richard nixon, gerald ford and jimmy carter, the three presidents we've been discussing, all supported this centrist approach to foreign policy. one that avoided the political extremes of the era. massive military escalation or massive military retrenchment. each of the presidents from this decade, two republicans and one democrat, believed that detente offered the best strategic option to rebuild american
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strength in the aftermath of vietnam. they argued that by reaching arms agreements with the soviet union, opening relations to china, and improving america's standing in certain contentious parts of the world such as latin america, the united states could actually increase its military strength. at the moment, after the heat of the early cold war, these were bold ideas that cut across the grain of the conventional wisdom in foreign policy. richard nixon had been the president to make detente the policy of the united states. before watergate, this is what many americans knew about his presidency. they believed that he was trying to rebuild the strength of the united states overseas that had been weakened as a result of the turmoil of the 1960's. to secure u.s. influence in the
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post-1960's era, nixon had been convinced that he would need to make a series of dramatic moves, like bringing the war in vietnam to a total end and thawing relations with the soviet union and china. because of his strong political standing with conservatives, nixon believed that he could do this, that he could open up relations with the communists, without suffering politically here at home. the individual who most eloquently articulated the concepts behind detente was his national security advisor, henry kissinger. the first component of detente under richard nixon involved a series of high-level arms agreements with the soviet union that produced the salt 1 agreement, signed on may 26, 1972. this was a deal with the soviet
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union that had been negotiated with the leader, leonid brezhnev, who had been a protege of nikita khrushchev and had taken over the soviet union in 1964. brezhnev, who you see here on the cover of time magazine, shaking nixon's hand, was a hard-line communist who had shown no indication in the 1960's that he was open to any kind of new relationship with the united states. he had increased military spending. he had entered into a series of showdowns in the middle east and other parts of the world with the united states, but privately, the soviets were feeling the strain of higher defense spending on their economy. so he entered into negotiations with nixon, starting in 1969 in helsinki, and culminating in may of 1972. the agreement limited the number
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of anti-ballistic missile sites that each country could have, and it limited the number of intercontinental missiles and submarine launched ballistic missiles by freezing them to existing levels. and the senate approved the agreements very quickly, by august, by an overwhelming vote. the second part of detente under president nixon was opening relations to china. nixon made a dramatic trip to china in february of 1972. carefully orchestrated like a television production. the air force transported almost 40,000 pounds of equipment, including a full television ground station so that they could cover this historic trip of nixon to china. the two most striking images of the whole trip were nixon shaking hands with a premier, a
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vivid contrast to when secretary of state dullis had refused to shake his hand during a convention back in 1954, as well as nixon's famous walk along the great wall. during their meeting, nixon told mousy tongue -- that those on the right can only do what those on the left talk about. the administration understood the political benefits of this move in foreign policy and they even released a promotional video promoting what they had done. [video clip] 3/5 of all the people in the world today have spent their lifetime under the shadow of nuclear confrontation. the winter and spring of 1972 gave rise to new hopes for a
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world no longer shadowed by fear and want and war. ♪ >> february 21. the president of the united states arrives at capitol airport near peking, the people's republic of china. this is the first of a series of state visits that will take the american president across the continents of europe and asia. ♪ >> president richard nixon is greeted by the premier. during the next eight days, the two nations will begin the process of slowly bridging diplomatic barriers. ♪
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>> that was a big deal. that handshake was a big deal, to see richard nixon, who had been a hard line anti-communist during his whole career, who had railed against democrats for having lost china to communism in 1949, to undertake this trip, make that handshake, combined with the salt one agreements. and he did all this while he also conducted a ruthless secret bombing campaign against the north vietnamese to try to bring the vietnam war to an end. many credited nixon's foreign policy achievements with his landslide victory against george mcgovern in 1972. conservatives disagreed with what nixon was doing between 1969 and 1972. they saw it as a mistake. one of the earliest critics of detente came from within the democratic party. washington senator henry jackson, who was called the senator from boeing because of
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the location of this military contractor in his home state, was a liberal on domestic policy but increasingly hawkish on foreign policy. and jackson feared that his own party was moving too much towards isolationism after the vietnam war. jackson, like other disaffected democrats who would soon be called neoconservatives, believed that the tragedy of vietnam was causing democrats and some republicans like nixon to lose confidence in america's military capacity to fight communism. the democratic nomination of george mcgovern in 1972, as the democratic presidential candidate, had convinced jackson that his party was headed in the right direction. in the wrong direction. jackson, who chaired the permanent investigation subcommittee of government operations and was a high-ranking member of the armed services committee, attacked and
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criticized nixon as well as henry kissinger for the policies of detente. jackson focused on the plight of the soviets in particular as the centerpiece of the problem with detente. in 1972 and 1973, jackson argued that the soviets should be forced to allow more jews to leave the country. when the soviets imposed a new tax on jews who wanted to leave, essentially making it impossible for most of them to do so, jackson condemned what the soviets were doing as a violation of human rights. and there was a vibrant domestic movement within the american jewish community, who mobilized behind this cause. nixon and kissinger were extremely frustrated with senator jackson, believing that his statements were actually causing more problems and
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compelling the soviets to make an even tougher stand about the jews living in the soviet union than they otherwise would. although watergate ended nixon's presidency, it didn't stop the policy of detente. when gerald ford took over power from nixon in august of 1974, he abandoned many things but continued with the policy of detente, saying it would be very unwise for president or anyone else to abandon detente. senator jackson blasted the ford administration for making this decision. in september of 1974, right around the time of the pardon of nixon that we discussed, jackson insted that the soviets need to be allowed -- should be forced to allow a certain number of jews to leave the soviet union if they wanted to obtain most favored trade status in trade legislation that was moving through congress.
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he attached this requirement as an amendment to trade legislation. and he worked with new york's , and abraham ribakoff to put pressure on the administration. ford eventually conceded, even though he didn't want to do this. on september 20, 1974, congress passed trade legislation that stipulated the united states could not offer most favored nation status to any countries with poor human rights records. the amendment constituted a major setback to the policy of detente. jackson wasn't alone, though. conservative republicans, who we've been studying, also blasted the policy of detente in 1974 and 1975. conservative intellectuals and activists like william buckley, the editor and founder of the
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national review, warned that proponents of detente were falling for fake soviet overtures and in turn making agreements like the salt agreement that would weaken the united states. the new phyllis lashley report talked about the "fraud of detente." by 1975, president ford was starting to back down from his staunch support of this policy. under nixon, the administration had undertaken the policy of vietnamization, which had combined an intense secret bombing campaign and a gradual withdrawal of troops from vietnam. the problem for ford was that the strategy didn't work. and the aftermath was going to be a political problem for the president. the south was falling to communism after this long and devastating war. the fall of south vietnam to
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communism in 1975 and the unification of vietnam was a huge blow to the ford white house, right as it was fighting this battle with conservatives over detente. although president ford blamed the democratic congress, presidential advisors were shrewd enough to know that much of the public would blame him. in the days before the final evacuation, people saw military and civilians being evacuated from south vietnam. one sergeant in the u.s. marine corps, valdez, recalled, we began seeing the south vietnamese military changing out of their uniforms into civilian clothes because they didn't want to be caught once the north came in. he -- it's hard to describe how surrounded we were at the u.s. embassy. we had no idea who the enemy was and who we should try to let in and to evacuate. 28 months earlier, nixon had
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promised peace with honor but a peace that would be a victory for the united states. that wasn't what the country was watching on their television sets. [video clip] >> the vietnamese who have worked for them and who might be in danger. the plan was for a helicopter evacuation from embassy grounds, and the signal was bing crosby singing "white christmas" on the radio. but somebody forgot to play it, and the embassy was stormed. andpeople fault -- fought clawed their way. the hysteria was infectious. >> army officer collin powell, who we will see again later in this course, promised that he would never let this kind of scene, and this kind of situation, happen to the united states again. the tensions between ford and the right wing of his party, as this unfolds, worsen in july of 1975, when the soviet dissident
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traveled to the united states just a few months after the soviet union had kicked him out of their country. he was a well-regarded novelist and historian whose books had become rallying cries against communist power. conservative republicans hailed his visit to the united states as the visit of one of the leading critics of this broken policy, in their minds, of detente. president ford, though, decided that he wouldn't meet with him when he was in washington, because his advisors, including kissinger, believed this would cause irreparable damage to any potential negotiations with the soviet union and this decision infuriated conservatives in the party. even though ford signed a set of agreements with 35 nations at a summit in helsinki, which aimed to strengthen relations with the soviet union by outlining a set
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of human rights principles, the helsinki accords were greeted with skepticism by most conservatives because of ford's refusal to meet with people, and because the helsinki accord, in their minds, recognized soviet domination of eastern europe in exchange for agreeing to these human rights principles. by november of 1975, with the republican primaries ahead of them, ford's advisors were telling the president he needed to stop even saying the word detente. detente is a particularly unpopular idea, said his advisor. with most republican primary voters, the word is even worse. we ought to stop using the word, whenever possible. in the same campaign, where we've discussed how jimmy carter was working hard to push his party in new directions, and to win an election based on the promise that he could restore
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trust in government, conservative republicans were making a strong push in their primaries to move their party to the right. to move it far to the right from where it had been. that was their new direction. and that included moving beyond detente. during the republican primaries in 1975 and 1976, ronald reagan challenged gerald ford and used foreign policy as one of the main issues through which he attacked the administration. after experimenting with social policy issues early in the primary that didn't gain him any traction, reagan turned to the issue of detente. reagan, the former hollywood actor turned conservative activist and also two-term governor of california, was a product of post-world war ii conservatism. he'd been reading conservative journals like human events and following intellectuals like
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william buckley in the 1940's and 1950's as he shed his previous loyalty to the democratic party. he had gained national standing back in 1964 when he filmed one of the most popular commercials for barry goldwater, the republican who lost to lynden johnson in a landslide election. in march of 1976, in the heat of the primaries, reagan discovered that foreign policy could be a winning issue and mobilize the conservative base. when speaking in florida, reagan said under kissinger and ford, this nation has become number two in military power, in a world where it is dangerous if not fatal to be second best. appearing on meet the press, he attacked detente and said detente has been a one-way street. we are making the concessions. we are giving them the things they want.
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and we ask for nothing in return. as ford tried to position himself to voters, as a more hard-line conservative in response to reagan, reagan had doubled down on his attack. he received the support in north carolina of senator jesse helms, one of the most hawkish voices in the republican party, and helms mobilized conservative voters to come out and vote for reagan. reagan shocked most political pundits in march of 1976 when he defeated ford in the north carolina primary with 52% of the vote. on march 31, to celebrate this victory, reagan bought national television air time, and he told voters, there's one problem that must be solved where everything else is meaningless. i'm speaking of the problem of our national security. our nation, he said, is in danger. he reminded the president that,
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quote, "peace does not come from weakness or it doesn't come from retreat. it comes from the restoration of america's military superiority." reagan continued to do pretty well on this national security theme. he won the primaries in texas, in alabama, in georgia, and in a few other states. when reagan won in texas, ford's advisors were scrambling to stop the bleeding. most importantly, ford continued to shift to the right, focusing on how he was gonna increase defense spending, if he had a second term, and he sent out his secretary of defense, donald rumsfeld, to go all over the country and promised that the administration was going to be tough on communism. ford refused to use the word detente any longer, just as his advisor suggested, and he abandoned any talk about a new arms agreement with the soviet union, salt two.
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the shift helped. he regained his footing, winning in ohio and new jersey. ford, in the end, would win the nomination but barely. even when the primaries ended, neither reagan nor ford had enough delegates to secure the nomination. it took behind-the-scenes negotiations in the months leading up to the republican convention for ford to get enough delegates, and ford hired a lawyer named paul manafort, who led the effort in 1976 to secure ford's victory. we'll come back to him later in the course. besides his national clout within the party, though, as a result of his strong performance, reagan walked away with some victories. the republicans put a morality in foreign policy plank into the republican platform, which articulated a lot of the ideas that the right were using about communism.
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and reagan gave a speech at the convention, which was received with wild enthusiasm by the delegates. here's the speech he made. [video clip] [applause] >> if i could just take a moment, i had an assignment the other day. someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in los angeles 100 years from now. we live in a world in which the great powers have poised and aimed at each other horrible missiles of destruction, nuclear weapons that can, in a matters of minutes, arrive in each other's country and destroy virtually the civilized world we live in. and suddenly it dawned on me, those who would read this letter 100 years from now will know whether those missiles were fired. they will know whether we met our challenge. whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now
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will depend on what we do here. [applause] >> ford won the nomination, but barely. even when the primaries had ended, as i said, neither candidate had the top lead. and reagan really with this speech was the most exciting part of the convention. during the general election in the fall, carter and ford both were in general agreement about detente, even though ford had moved to the right, carter was more open to some kind of negotiations with the soviet union. but the issue continued to haunt president ford. he slipped during a debate with president carter, arguably in one of the most famous gaffes in american history. he had prepared himself before the debate to say that he
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understood the criticism of conservatives and that in no way did he accept the permanence of soviet domination in eastern europe. he had practiced this with his advisors, ready to go on television, when the question came up. but when it did, it didn't quite work. and it sounded very different. in fact, the opposite of what he was trying to say. here's that gaffe. [video clip] >> there is no soviet domination of eastern europe and there never will be under a ford administration. i'm sorry. could i just -- did i understand you to say, sir, that the russians are not using eastern europe as their own sphere of influence and occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it's a communist zone, whereas on our side of the line, the italians and the french are still working with -- >> i don't believe that the
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yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the soviet union. i don't believe that the romanians consider themselves dominated by the soviet union. i don't believe that the poles consider themselves dominated by the soviet union. each of those countries is independent, autonomous. it has its own territorial integrity. and the united states does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the soviet union. >> the last point is the point he was trying to make, but what all the press picked up on, and president carter picked up on, was here was a president who didn't even seem to acknowledge that the soviet union existed, and the kind of control that the soviets had over eastern europe. and for conservatives in his party, it was just confirming the idea that president ford was out of touch with the realities and dangers overseas. carter, as we've discussed, went on to win the election, a narrow victory, but a victory nonetheless.
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and we had unified democratic government starting in 1977. conservatives continued to assault detente when jimmy carter was president. carter was the former georgia governor who defeated ford, again, on a campaign that was primarily about trust in government. but he also argued that he was willing to experiment, not simply with the orthodoxies of domestic policy but with foreign policy as well. so foreign policy had not been his main concern during the campaign, but carter had supported many of the policies of detente, although he placed more emphasis on the importance of human rights than did gerald ford or richard nixon. he didn't believe the two were incompatible. carter believed, for example, that in parts of the world like latin america and africa, if the united states was more serious about human rights, the appeal of communism would diminish. in many respects, it was easier
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for conservatives of both parties to attack jimmy carter than it had been to go after ford or nixon, both of whom had pretty good conservative credentials. for neoconservative democrats, the sense of urgency was even greater, since they felt the future of their party was at stake. for right-wing conservatives, attacking a democrat was much easier than attacking a fellow republican like ford, as much as they disliked him and nixon. during carter's first few months, conservatives were quiet about the administration's foreign policy as they figured out what he would be about. the president appointed a colombia professor who was sympathetic to neoconservative arguments. he was seen as a positive development by many
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conservatives, the fact that he was advising the president rather than someone like henry kissinger. but over time, the peace between carter and conservatives came to an end. conservatives quickly started to
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