The Carter Curse

In the National Interest, Nikolas Gvosdev suggests that in order to avoid the kind of infighting that led to the paralysis of the Carter administration’s foreign policy, President-elect Obama should task his national security team based on their constituencies, and then manage them properly to keep them out of each other’s lanes.

It makes sense, but there’s one thing that’s always escaped me about the “Carter paralysis” analogy: Given the hand he was dealt in terms of the post-Watergate institutional crisis of the presidency, and the post-Vietnam crisis of American global influence, not to mention the domestic faultlines and divisiveness of the un-resolved cultural revolution of the Sixties, was Carter’s foreign policy record really all that paralysed? SALT 2, Camp David Accords, an attempt to integrate a much-needed human rights plank into U.S. foreign policy in Latin America? Yes, there were blunders (the handling of the Shah of Iran’s entry to the U.S., for instance), but I’ve always wondered whether the image of paralysis was an epiphenomenon of the Iran hostage crisis, which was by nature the kind of standoff that involves a good deal of not moving. But not moving is not the same thing as paralysis, so is it fair for what is admittedly the enduring image of his presidency to serve as a stand-in for the rest of the picture?

Honest question, since I was still more concentrated on American League box scores than American foreign policy at the time. Feedback welcome.

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