The year was 1981. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, as the Cold War raged on. Tensions between the United States and Russia could not be higher as the threat of Nuclear war was almost imminent. Children across America in the 1970’s would often conduct bomb threat drills as they would hide under their desks to shield themselves from the possible effects of a Russian nuclear bomb being dropped and detonated on American soil. At the same time the Cold War was raging on, 52 American Diplomats and Citizens were being held hostage in Iran. The World was on the brink of destruction and the tactics of a weak Jimmy Carter foreign policy were a big contributor to this.
In 1979, Jimmy Carter wanted to try a new type of foreign policy. He wanted to work with our enemies and appease them thinking this was the new way forward for a better World. In 1979, The United States and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) signed the “Salt 2” Treaty. This agreement would limit the number of vehicles each country had for moving long range offensive weapons. It was also an agreement between each country to decrease their nuclear arsenals. Jimmy Carter’s motives for this deal were just, right, and good. The only problem is that a deal doesn’t always end up working out if the country you make the deal with is not just, right, or good. Tensions between the two countries began to increase shortly after the Salt 2 Treaty was signed. Russia began ramping up their military capabilities to show their strength. Much of this Russian aggression was not on the minds of Americans in 1981. High gas prices and a floundering economy were front and center in the minds of most Americans, as was the hostage situation with Iran.
This same year the United States was electing a President. The people had the choice of the current administration and President Jimmy Carter, or a tough talking former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. The American people spoke loudly in what was one of the greatest landslides in American Election history. Reagan defeated the incumbent Carter by an Electoral College vote of 489-49. Reagan won all but six states and Washington DC. The American people were tired of a leader that was weakening Americas standing in the World through bad foreign policy decisions. Reagan could not have been a more polar opposite to Carter. Reagan believed in not only talking tough, but actually being tough. Not only did the American people see this new kind of attitude in their President; Iran did as well. On January 20th 1981, the day of Ronald Reagans Inauguration, Iran released the American hostages. The United States was going to be the leader in the World once again and other countries could sense it.
With Reagan as President, the United States once again was respected in the World. This was a major problem for the United States mortal enemy the USSR. Over the course of history, the United States and Russia have been both Allies and Enemies. During the World Wars, the United States and Russia found common ground and fought together. Following World War II, the two allies would once again become bitter rivals. The two countries have been in a perpetual “Cold War” since World War II, never actually engaging with each other Militarily, but engaging in a battle of ideology through other countries. The most notable being East and West Germany, Korea, and Vietnam. All of these countries saw wars because they were split between the United States and the USSR after World War II. The post World War II agreement was that The US and USSR could preside over the reconstruction of the parts of the countries they controlled. Naturally, this was a disaster from the start as the US pushed a free market capitalist, constitutional type of government, whereas the USSR instituted a socialist government that put power in the hands of not the people but of the ruler and government. This created Civil Wars in Vietnam, and Korea.
For the first time in history the USSR and United States in 1981 were close to engaging against each other militarily through long range weaponry. President Reagan had a plan to neutralize the dangerous USSR and it had everything to do with peace through strength. Between 1981 and 1989 Regan nearly doubled the Defense spending budget from $134 Billion in 1980, to $253 Billion in 1989. This would make Defense spending to account for 7% of our total GDP. Reagan knew that with the buildup of the US Military and its defense mechanisms, the USSR would need to keep pace. At this time, under a socialist government, the USSR was in a long economic depression. In 1981 USSR Military spending accounted for 22% of total GDP and was increased that same year to 27% of GDP to keep up with the United States. Reagan not only foresaw the collapse of the Socialist USSR, he helped to speed it up.
Due to Military spending the USSR’s economy nosedived into an even greater depression. In 1985 a Russian by the name of Mikhail Gorbachev could sense that the USSR could not maintain its survival in this type of conflict with the United States. Over the next four years as the Cold War went on, the USSR continued to weaken. Gorbachev knew that the might of the United States, at least at this point in time, could not be matched. Reagan met with Gorbachev to discuss a way forward. Gorbachev came to the meeting emboldened by the people of Russia who were tired of the old ways of the USSR, the Kremlin, and the KGB. The first and foremost thing discussed in the meeting was the most symbolic symbol of the Cold War, The Berlin Wall, separating East and West Germany. Reagan had one request of the Wall, that It be torn down and that the people of both East and West Germany are able to live free. On June 12th 1987 Ronald Reagan spoke arguably the most memorable words of his Presidency during a speech in Berlin Germany. Ronald Reagan stated firmly “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” This speech emboldened the people of Germany and further weakened the USSR. On November 9th 1989 the Berlin Wall was officially torn down signaling the beginning of the end when it came to Cold War relations between the United States and The USSR. Over the course of Reagans eight years as President, the United States once again grew to be the Worlds greatest super power. Russia had been neutralized as the USSR Socialist Government had collapsed.
In 2016 we see almost a carbon copy of the late 1970’s. Democratic President Barack Obama led a foreign policy effort between 2009-2016 that had an objective of lessening the United States role in the World. It was a lead from behind effort that could only weaken America and embolden our enemies. We have seen once again the rise of Iran as a great Military threat that is close to nuclear capabilities. On January, 12th 2016 ten American Soldiers were taken hostage in open waters by Iran. They were held for several days until the United States paid Iran a large cash sum.
We have seen the rise of the Worlds greatest terror threat, ISIS (The Islamic State In Syria) or as some say, ISIL (Islamic State in Libya). They have marched across the Middle East destroying Iraq and parts of Syria, murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
Meanwhile Russia is a major player in the Middle East, and on the Global Scale for the first time since the late 1970’s. Current President of Russia, Vladimir Putin has filled the void in the World left by the United States. He has taken the lead in the Middle East propping up Assad, the Dictator of Syria. This Russian aggression has along with ISIS, contributed to nearly half a million people being killed in Iraq and Syria. Putin in the minds of many is trying to resurrect the USSR as Russian becomes more aggressive towards neighboring Countries like Ukraine.
In 2016 the American people faced yet another choice for President. It was a choice of a weak failing foreign policy of the past eight years with Hillary Clinton, or it was an old way of thinking, a Reagan way of thinking candidate, Donald Trump. Trump, with his Reagan like tough talk won the Election shocking the entire World. Just a couple of days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he will ramp up and increase Military spending. President Elect Trump responded by saying “If he wants an arms race, he’ll get one.” Sound familiar?
History repeats itself over and over again. Citizens and leaders of countries may change, but when it comes to foreign events, sometimes all one has to do is look to the past to see how to proceed. Donald Trump ran on the same slogan as Ronald Reagan, and that is to “Make America Great Again.” Reagan made America great again. Will Trump? I’m going with the trends of history. Let’s end the foreign policy of the 1970’s and move to a Reagan like foreign policy of peace through strength. History has repeated itself, and just watch, it will once again.