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Content Reading Guide: President Jimmy Carter
Not only had Richard Nixon, who was elected President in 1968, become entangled with the Watergate Scandal, in which men under his leadership broke in to the Democrat Headquarters, in the Watergate building, to steal information, he also possessed hours upon hours of recorded meetings, on tape, that had the potential to link him to other forms of illegal activity. The Watergate Scandal created massive tension in the USA. President Nixon had resigned office and his Vice President, Gerald Ford, pardoned him of all crimes connected to various scandals. Ford’s initial action as President was divisive. Many felt that, if others went to prison for scandals like Watergate, Nixon should as well. The economy was also facing growing inflation and unemployment. These factors led to Ford’s defeat to a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, in the Election of 1976.
While Nixon and Ford entered into unprecedented cooperation with Communist nations, such as the USSR and China, Carter took a different approach. Nixon and Ford believed you had to “face reality.” China and the USSR were too influential to ignore. Therefore, they pursued dialogs with these Communist nations. This policy was called Realpolitik. President Jimmy Carter had a different approach. He only wanted to cooperate with nations that would protect Human Rights, such as the freedoms of religion, speech, the right to petition, and so on. Since the Cold War began, the USA supported various nations that had dictatorships, such as in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. The reason the USA supported these countries was because, while they were dictatorships, they opposed Communism and were viewed as allies in the Cold War against the USSR. Carter felt this was inconsistent of the USA. Carter insisted that he would only fully cooperate with nations that protected Human Rights. He ceased the broad cooperation that nations like Nicaragua had received in the past. While many respected the goal of Carter to see other nations pursue Human Rights, they also felt his policy was naïve and unrealistic. These critics felt that Carter had to work with oppressive nations, such as Nicaragua, to ensure that these nations did not fall to Communism. Not only that, but the USA had reduced tension with the USSR under Nixon and Ford. Yet, the USSR denied many citizens Human Rights and Carter reduced cooperation with the Soviet Union. Many felt this would escalate Cold War hostilities again and felt Carter needed to cooperate more the USSR.
The USA had become radically dependent of foreign oil and Carter asserted this contributed to the bad economy. He claimed the USA must reduce its dependence on foreign oil. Carter pursued energy saving measures, such as encouraging car companies to cease making “gas guzzlers” that used fuel quickly while running. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) increased oil prices again. Inflation radically increased and the economy grew worse. The worsening economy damaged Carter’s popularity. Religious tension between Jews and Muslims, disputed fights over land claims, and other factors contributed to many battles between Egypt and Israel, since Israel became a nation in 1948. At the Camp David accords, in 1978, Carter persuaded the President of Egypt, Anwar El Sadat and the Israeli Prime minister, Menachem Begin, to sign a peace treaty and cease fighting. This was a major victory for Carter. Israel gave land back to Egypt and Egypt recognized Israel as a nation. Egypt was the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel as a country.
Loosely connected rebel, Muslim groups in Afghanistan, called the Mujahedeen, pursued Jihad, or Holy War, against the Communist, Soviet influence in their region. Foreigners also arrived to fight in Afghanistan against the USSR. Notorious among them was a Saudi named Osama bin Laden, whose group eventually turned against the USA, evolved into Al-Qaeda, and attacked the USA on 9/11/2001. Yet, in this time period, the USA gave aid to the rebels in Afghanistan, which included people like Osama bin Laden. While many in the USA opposed the theocracy of Muslim extremists, they wanted to take a stand against their main Cold War rival, the USSR.
Iran had been an ally of the USA that had supported the West during the Cold War. Iran was led by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In 1979, extremist Shi’ite Muslims, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Mostafavi Moosavi Khomeini, took over Iran and implemented a theocracy based on their interpretation of Islam. During the Iran hostage crisis, extremists took American hostages in the USA embassy in Iran. The Americans remained hostages for 444 days. Carter could not secure their release. The next President, Ronald Reagan, was able to get Iran to release the hostages.
Partially due to the struggling economy, Iran Hostage Crisis, and other problems in the Middle East, Jimmy Carter lost the Election of 1980 to Ronald Reagan