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We don’t have any dealings with Cuba. If they’d ever like to rejoin the civilized world, we’d be very happy to help them. But not under the present circumstances. —President Ronald Reagan, April 1982 11 BACK TO SQUARE ONE THE REAGAN YEARS “My opinion of the Russians has changed most drastically,” President Jimmy Carter told reporters on the final day of 1979. “It’s only now dawning upon the world the magnitude of the action that the Soviets undertook in invading Afghanistan.” Any clear thinker should have expected Moscow to do something like that, replied Carter’s principal rival, Ronald Reagan, who believed that “the Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on. If they weren’t engaged in this game of dominoes, there wouldn’t be any hot spots in the world.” To counter the invasion of Afghanistan, he suggested increased pressure on Cuba. A surprised interviewer followed up: “You’re not suggesting that we consider putting the heat on Cuba in retaliation for Afghanistan?” Absolutely, Reagan replied: “I’m suggesting we might blockade Cuba.”¹ So began the election year. The administration’s handling of foreign policy was certain to be a central campaign issue as long as fifty-two U.S. embassy personnel remained hostages in Iran, but President Carter had a second Achilles heel, the domestic economy. In announcing that he would mount a challenge for the Democratic nomination, Senator Edward Kennedy asked the party faithful why anyone would support the reelection of a Democrat who had brought the nation “three more years of Republican inflation , three more years of Republican interest rates, and three more years Back to Square One 363 of Republican economics.”² Over the next six months, the Massachusetts senator captured much of Carter’s base, scooping up a third of the party’s delegates in the primaries and, at the very end of his challenge, flatly ignoring the nominee, an incumbent president, standing inches away on the podium at their convention’s closing ceremony. Then the deeply divided Democrats set out to stop Ronald Reagan’s resurgent Republicans. Calling Carter’s Cuba policy “dangerous and incomprehensible ,” the Republican platform promised to “stand firm with countries seeking to develop their societies while combating the subversion and violence exported by Cuba and Moscow,” a not-so-oblique reference to the turmoil in Central America, where “the Carter Administration stands by while Castro’s totalitarian Cuba, financed, directed, and supplied by the Soviet Union, aggressively trains, arms and supports forces of warfare and revolution.” Only in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon contest had Cuba received more attention; now it was featured in Ronald Reagan’s everyday stump speech: How has Fidel Castro reciprocated the friendship offered by President Carter? Since 1976, Russian pilots have begun flying air cover over the island. Soviet submarines have been sent to Castro’s navy. Nuclearcapable fighter bombers have appeared at Cuban air bases, and a Soviet combat force is discovered holding military maneuvers there. Apparently , to Mr. Carter, this was the last straw. The status quo—that’s Latin for “the mess we’re in”—he said was unacceptable, a few weeks later, it seems, was acceptable. All this, Reagan said, is a perfect example of what happens when an indecisive leader comes face to face with an adversary bent on expansion: “a foreign policy bordering on appeasement.”³ This get-tough view attracted not only conservative Republicans who opposed the Nixon-Kissinger policy of détente but also traditional blue-collar Democrats and especially those Democratic elites who had come to feel homeless in a party dominated by leaders they considered dangerously liberal (Senator Kennedy) or hopelessly inept (President Carter). At the time of Carter’s 1976 election, these elites did not yet have the name by which they would become known—neoconservatives—but that was the year they joined with Reagan Republicans to re-create the McCarthy era’s Committee on the Present Danger, whose purpose was “to alert American policy makers and opinion leaders and the public at large to the ominous Soviet military buildup.” The 150-member committee had one simple explana- 364 Back to Square One tion for almost every foreign policy problem, an explanation voiced best by Eugene Rostow, who went on to direct the Reagan administration’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency: the Soviet Union, he said, is “seeking not to preserve but to destroy the state system that was organized under the Charter of the United Nations in 1945...


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MARC Record
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