The USA From Nixon to
George Bush Sr.
Kevin J. Benoy
The Nixon Administration
• Nixon has been hailed as
a genius and condemned
as a demon.
• Winning in the
tumultuous year of
radicalism, 1968, he did
so on a platform of “law
and order.”
• His domestic policy was
• In foreign policy he
promised an honourable
end to the Vietnam War.
The Nixon Administration
• Richard Nixon was the least
idealistic and Wilsonian of
America’s presidents since
• He had a strong background
of anti-communism from
the 1950s.
• He helped Chilean General
Augusto Pinochet
overthrow the
democratically elected
Socialist government of
Salvadore Allende.
The Nixon Administration
• He was also the
President who, through
the efforts of his
Secretary of State,
Henry Kissinger,
arranged the American
withdrawal from
The Nixon Administration
• Equally dramatic was his
following up Chinese
“ping pong diplomacy”
overtures with a dramatic
visit to Beijing, official
recognition of Red China
and successful sponsoring
of China’s entry to the
United Nations and
replacement of Taiwan on
the Security Council as a
permanent member.
The Nixon Administration
• He also negotiated
treaties with the Soviets
and ushered in a period
of greatly lessened
tension in the Cold War –
in a policy of detente.
• His negotiations with the
Chinese and Soviets
showed a deft touch as
the US played one
communist country off
against the other.
The Nixon Administration
• Domestically, Nixon had a
less auspicious career.
• He seemed to have
difficulty distinguishing
legitimate dissent from
criminal activity.
• Nixon labelled most of his
opponents – critics, radicals
and students – “pinkos.”
• During his presidency the
shootings of demonstrators
at Ohio State University.
Economic Trouble
• Nixon inherited Johnson’s
“guns and butter” difficulties.
• Massive US spending
weakened the dollar at a time
when unemployment rose.
• The resulting “stagflation”
befuddled economists.
• Nixon tried to freeze wages
and prices, but the effort
• He introduced a 10% tariff on
imports but this merely hurt
America’s allies and important
trade partners.
• Worse still, the
President authorized a
break-in at the
Democratic Party’s
headquarters to find
out their strategy going
into the 1972 election.
• When information
about the event leaked,
he tried initiated a
• Evidence of his dirty
tricks during the
election and transcripts
of tapes of private
meetings revealed the
• The President was foulmouthed, nasty,
opportunistic and petty.
• Furthermore, he felt
himself above the law.
• With the threat of
impeachment and
criminal charges
hanging over him, Nixon
made a deal.
• He resigned, handed
over power to Gerald
Ford, his Vice President,
who promptly
pardoned him for his
Gerald Ford
• Ford was, at best, a
lame duck President
after issuing the
• In two years he had
little chance to repair
the damage done by his
The Ford Administration
• Ford continued Nixon’s
policy of detente and
signed the Helsinki
Accords, continuing the
thaw in the Cold War.
• He also presided over a
weak economy, the legacy
of previous governments.
• There was little to
commend him when
America went to the polls
in 1976.
Jimmy Carter
• Running against Ford was a
squeaky-clean Democratic
• Jimmy Carter was a relative
unknown, but he was a
devout Christian and had a
reputation for honesty.
• Most importantly for
Americans, he had no
association whatsoever with
the sleazy Nixon
• He came across as modest
and genuine.
The Carter Administration
• Economic trouble, the
result of years of paying
for a war without
sacrificing domestic
spending, left Carter with
a mess.
• The American dollar
continued to weaken and
the balance of payments
worsened as interest
rates continued to rise,
pushing inflation up as
unemployment also rose.
The Carter Administration
• Much inflationary
pressure stemmed from
rising oil prices as OPEC
put political pressure on
the US to turn away
from wholehearted
support of Israel – while
also taking a larger
return on this valuable
The Carter Administration
• Carter’s response was to
move America to turn to
alternative energy
sources, to encourage
Americans to buy more
fuel efficient vehicles and
to increase efficiencies.
• All of this met with
resistance in Congress, so
little was accomplished
other than reducing
speed limits on US roads.
Carter and Foreign Policy
• Here Carter had great
success – and abject
• His most notable win was
in bringing together
Israeli leader Monachem
Begin and Egypt’s Anwar
Sadat at Camp David –
where they signed the
first peace treaty
between Israel and a
neighbouring Arab state.
Carter and Foreign Policy
• Carter also negotiated
an agreement with
Panama, committing
America to handing
back the Panama Canal
by the end of the
Carter and Foreign Policy
• Carter was less successful
in dealing with the Soviet
• Leonid Brezhnev was
deeply offended by
Carter’s lecturing him on
observing human rights
after several prominent
cases of Soviet dissidents
receiving harsh
Carter and Foreign Policy
• His biggest failure came in
Iran, where America’s client,
the Shah of Iran, was
toppled by a coalition of
middle class reformers and
religious fundamentalists
led by the Ayatollah
• Historically, the CIA trained
Iranian secret police, SAVAK,
had a notorious record of
human rights abuses. Carter
no longer looked the other
way and called for change.
Carter and Iran
• A revolution deposed
the Shah, who was
refused sanctuary in the
• The revolution was
increasingly radicalized,
resulting in theocratic
government under
Khomeini – who
referred to the USA as
“the Great Satan.”
Carter and Iran
• After the revolution, armed
radical students – with the
connivance of the Khomeini
regime – stormed the US
embassy in Tehran and took
the staff hostage.
• America appeared helpless.
• Military power seemed
useless in this situation.
• A special forces rescue
attempt was launched but it
failed miserably.
Carter and Iran
• Carter’s prestige suffered
irreparable damage as a
result of the hostage crisis.
• 52 Americans were held for
444 days before their release
was secured – negotiated by
the Carter government but
completed by a new
President, Ronald Reagan.
Was the delay an attempt by
the Iranians to annoy a
President they hated? Were
there dealings with the
Republicans to ensure that
Carter’s reputation was
smeared by the delay? Until
Iranian documents are
released, we can only guess.
Ronald Reagan
• Ronald Reagan swept to
power in a right-wing
backlash against the
apparent helplessness of
the US in international
affairs and domestic
financial trouble.
• “Yuppies” criticized social
spending as the root of
American decay.
• Reagan promised to end
the handouts and make
America strong again.
Ronald Reagan
• Reagan promised to cut taxes by
eliminating funding to “welfare
bums, black trouble-makers and
• He promised greater military
• Critics labelled his tax cuts and
spending increases as “voodoo
economics.” Reagan insisted that
cuts would pay for themselves
and that money would trickle
down from corporate profits to
all Americans
• The American public believed in
this congenial ex-actor and
Governor of California.
• They even elected him to a
second term in 1984.
Domestic Policy
Tax cuts were introduced at a time when government spending rose enormously.
While Reaganomics meant cuts of $110 billion a year on welfare, new weapon
systems resulted in the over-all budget increasing by $200 billion a year.
At first this put downward pressure on the dollar, but in later years, American
overseas borrowing led to an over-priced dollar – making American exports
Under Reagan, America became a debtor nation for the first time since the First
World War.
Reagan and Foreign Affairs
• Reagan began with a
black and white view of
Soviet American
relations, leading to an
end to detente and
heightened tensions.
• Reagan supported any
anti-communist regimes,
even the most repressive
right-wing dictatorships
in Central and South
• His view of the USSR as
an “evil empire”
convinced him that Soviet
influence must be fought
anywhere and
Reagan and Foreign Affairs
• His support for the
Nicaraguan Contras (anti
government forces formed
and armed by the CIA) and
his invasion of the
Caribbean state of Grenada
showed his resolve.
• In 1986 an air raid on Libya
was justified by Libyan
activities against Americans
later shown to be incorrect.
• Reagan was quick to resort
to force.
Reagan and Foreign Affairs
• America led a burst in
the arms race which
seemed to end any
hope of international
arms agreements.
• His refusal to
compromise on his pet
project, the Strategic
Arms Initiative even
placed existing
agreements in jeopardy.
• The trillion dollar price
tag was staggering.
Reagan and Foreign Affairs
• Fortunately changes in the
Soviet Union brought a new
and dynamic leader to power
– who actively sought better
American-Soviet relations
despite Reagan’s rhetoric and
• A summit meeting at
Reykjavik, Iceland met with
substantive failure, but began
to build a relationship
between the leaders.
• A later summit meeting in the
United states brought a
dramatic thaw in cold war
antagonism and movement
toward an Intermediate
Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The Reagan Administration
• Reagan seemed to emulate
Eisenhower in his style of
government, delegating
responsibility to others and
having a hands-off
management style.
• However, he had difficulty
coordinating policy.
• Sometimes the US appeared
to have two or even three
contrary objectives at once.
• Secretary of Defense Casper
Weinberger and Secretary of
State George Shultz were
openly hostile to each other.
The Reagan Administration
• Worse, toward the end of his second
term, the activities of Colonel Oliver
North and others, which came to light
in the so-called Irangate Affair,
indicated that his close advisors were
pursuing policies directly opposed to
Congress – perhaps with Presidential
• If he did not know, this was a
government that was out of control.
It is now understood that Reagan
suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease
during his second term. It is
completely credible that by afternoon
he forgot what he was told about in
morning briefings.
• His continuing funding of the Contras
against the wishes of Congress also
tarnished his image.
The Reagan Administration
• In domestic affairs, America
found its industries
becoming less and less
competitive, leading to a
demand to drop its centuryold commitment to liberal
trade practices – something
that Reagan and his
successors resisted. Indeed,
Reagan entered into
negotiations for a free trade
deal with Mexico and
George Bush (Senior)
• Constitutionally unable
to run for a third term
in office, Reagan
handed over Republican
leadership to his Vice
President, George Bush,
who was duly elected to
succeed his popular
The Bush Administration
• Bush inherited huge
budget deficits – the
logical outcome of
• He was fortunate,
however, in getting
an unexpected
windfall from the
collapse of
communism and an
end to the Cold War
in 1989-1991. The
result was an easing
of budget pressure
in later years.
The Bush Administration
• The so-called “peace
dividend” was harder to
take advantage off than
• Military spending was a big
part of the American
economy in many states.
Cutting procurement would
mean shedding jobs.
• Bush’s response was to
increase the deficit and
leave things alone.
• Besides, was the world
really a safer place with the
Cold War over – or would
new threats emerge?
Bush Foreign Policy
• Opposition to American
aims continued in the
world, even with the
Soviets falling into
temporary isolation.
• Like Reagan, Bush wanted
to wield a big stick –
which came down hard
on Panama when the US
invaded to remove an
embarrassing former
Bush Foreign Policy
• When another former
client, Iraq, invaded
Kuwait, Bush showed
himself to be a
sophisticate diplomat,
bringing together an
amazingly disparate
alliance of Western
countries and Arab
nations to pressure and
ultimately use force to
force Iraq out. He
defeated, but did not
oust, Saddam Hussein.
• As Bush noted, there
was now “a new world