What If America Had Elected Walter Mondale in 1984?

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Ms. Klinghoffer is senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, Camden, and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East. She is also an HNN blogger. Click here for her blog.

The current Bush-Kerry debate about the realism of the U.S. led effort to remake the Middle East which is the real goal of the Iraq war reminds me of the 1984 Reagan-Mondale one. This is so because then as now the elections came at a pivotal moment when the price of the American rekindling of Cold War as the price of the war on terror was clear to all but the payoff was not. In other words, what if Mondale had won the 1984 election?

The short answer seems to be that the Cold War with its accompanying fear of a nuclear winter would probably have still been with us. Why? Because Mondale and his experts, like Kerry and his advisors, assumed that the most advantageous policy the U.S. could pursue would be one which would lead us “back” then to the pre-Reagan years; now to the pre-9/11 ones. Those good old days, when Mutual Assured Destruction or terrorism were an accepted part of our existence, a mere “nuisance” rather than the frightening “central focus of our lives.” Experts, especially in Western Europe, considered Reagan’s advocacy of relegating the Soviet Union to the ash heap of history then like Bush’s insistence on defeating Islamism now as an unrealistic goal advocated by a dim-witted cowboy .Indeed, even talking about “evil empire” then--like “evil terrorists” now--not only made the American people more anxious but also less secure by arousing opponents and undermining alliances. These were the arguments forwarded in a number of articles published in the 1984 summer and fall issues of Foreign Affairs, the premier outlet of the American foreign policy establishment.

We cannot change the Soviet system, seriously damage their economy, alter their attitude toward human rights, weaken their hold on Eastern Europe, Mongolia, Afghanistan, or indeed change the rough balance between the Untied States and the U.S.S.R. There is no hope of convergence of the two systems, nor of enmeshing the Soviets in a web of self interests.

But there is hope that a new generation, if accepted as political equals by the West and above all by the United States, if convinced that the aim of the latter is cohabitation rather than destruction of the Soviet system, and increasingly preoccupied by their enormous social and economic problems, will be prepared to return to a more reasonable relationship with the West. They will not make it easy to do so, and an almost excessive amount of patience will be required. But I think it can be done.

Thus ended in the summer 1984 issue of the magazine the article, “The Soviet Union: The Next Decade,” by Robert A.D. Ford, a Canadian who served for more than twenty years as a diplomat in the Soviet Union. Startlingly, Robert Ford’s essentially defeatist conclusions were no more based on a positive evaluation of the Soviet state than today’s expert evaluations of the state of the Arab world or on their pacific intentions. On the contrary, Ford correctly noted the economic and ideological difficulties of the U.S.S.R. and its new leaders’ understanding that without serious reforms the Communist Party would be unable to meet even the “reasonable expectations of the population of an improvement in the standard of living at least comparable to that of the despised Poles or Czechs.” Apparently, Ford’s discussion with the emerging Soviet leadership led him to write the following:

The new leaders are too intelligent and informed to have any illusion about bridging the technological gulf between the U.S.S.R. and the West and Japan or of doing much more than holding their own in the arms race. At the same time the specter of a more stable China gradually modernizing its economy with the U.S. and Japanese help will be a continuing nightmare. Finally, they must face the problems created by the failure of their ideology: the near collapse of the Communist Party in Poland and the need to ensure its de facto rule by a military dictatorship on the other hand, and their inability to make the bulk of the Afghan population accept communism on the other. The West pays little attention to this phenomenon, but it is an important fact in Soviet calculation.

So why was the Reagan attempt to exploit the Soviet difficulties by involving them in a new arms race, challenging their ideology and aiding their Polish and Afghani enemies not the way to go? Because, argued Ford, “it is not very difficult in the Soviet Union’s authoritarian society to rally the ruling class, and indeed the bulk of the population around the leadership in a 'fortress Russia' mentality.” Moreover, any additional pressure on their system would merely reinforce “the feeling that they as Russians are being isolated and humiliated, and as a superpower, ignored.” Hence, the Soviet leadership, elite and people, argued Ford, would be prepared “to pay any price” needed to defend their system just as today Middle Eastern experts warn us that Middle Eastern leaders, elites and people would be willing to pay any price to prevent a Western-led democratization of their system. This, of course, ignores the three million refugees who returned to Afghanistan and participated with great pride in its first elections.

In his article “The Nuclear Debate” published in the fall 1984 issue of the magazine, Robert W. Tucker seconded Ford’s assumption that past Soviet behavior is an accurate predictor of its future behavior: “There is no apparent reason to conclude that on this occasion the Soviet Union would prove unable to do what it has done regularly in the past. Having sacrificed so much to reach its present position of strategic eminence, it may be expected to remain willing to make the necessary effort and sacrifice to keep this position.” Hence, he argued, the Reagan administration’s attempt to regain the lost strategic advantage has made the prospect of nuclear war once again seem close and real. The increased public anxiety caused by such a prospect may lead to the ultimate loss of the Cold War by subjecting “our principle alliance to new and serious strain” and giving rise to an anti-nuclear movement which is convincing Americans that nuclear weapons are “illegitimate.” The argument parallels the one currently forwarded by Kerry and his advisors to the effect that the Iraq war made us less safe by undermining our alliances and giving rise to Anti-Americanism abroad and divisions at home.

“Derided earlier in this century,” Tucker writes, “the view that liberal-capitalist societies are inherently pacific--and even pacifist--is one that can no longer be readily dismissed.” In other words, free societies are “softer” than totalitarian ones. This conclusion was followed and seconded by an article entitled, “The Public Mood,” written by Daniel Yankelovich and John Doble. These two experts reported their finding on the mood of the electorate thus:

The Public agenda survey shows two-thirds of the public (67%) endores the view that the “Soviet Union used détente as an opportunity to build up their armed forces while lulling us into a sense of fall security.

In the 1980 and 1981 the backlash against détente reached a high peak of intensity. The public mood was characterized by injured national pride, unqualified support for increasing the defense budget, and a general desire to see American power become more assertive.

The public is now having second thoughts about the dangers of such an assertive posture at a time when the United States is no longer seen to maintain nuclear supremacy. The electorate is still wary, mistrustful, and still convinced that the Soviets will seize every possible advantage they can; yet, at the same time, Americans are determined to stop what they see as a drift towards nuclear confrontation which, in the electorate’s view, neither we not the Soviet desire. The stage is being set for a new phase in our relationship with the Soviets.

It was those second thoughts that Mondale and his advisors wished to encourage then and Kerry and his advisors wish to encourage now. If the direction of that new phase of superpower relations depended on the outcome of the 1984 elections, the direction of American relations with the Muslim world depend on the outcome of the 2004 elections. By reelecting Reagan, the American people proved that they were willing to pay the price needed to achieve victory and in so doing they enhanced immensely President Reagan’s bargaining power. Consequently, when Reagan refused to negotiate away the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet leadership, elite and people confounded the experts and decided not to make the sacrifices needed to keep up with the Americans in yet another costly arms race.

Similarly, a Bush victory coming as it will in the wake of the Howard victory in Australia is bound to send a powerful message not only to the Islamists but also to our real and nominal Muslim allies that they better join the anti-Islamist fight and take the American demand for reform seriously. A Bush defeat is bound to send the opposite signal. Even if Kerry would like to prosecute the war on terror in Iraq and elsewhere, he would have to overcome the worldwide perception that the electorate has repudiated not only Bush but his forceful policy. In other words, much of the hard work and sacrifices made by the American people in the past three years would be wasted. This may not be fair, but it is nonetheless true and I suspect the American people know it.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Not to take anything away from Mr. Moshe's many cogent and pertinent remarks here, but there is perhaps no single comparison which better sums up the fraudulence of HNN than one which sets Klinghoffer's fanatical and absurd propaganda (which has riddled many, many past pages of HNN) along side the straightforward professional competence of a real and respected historian like Paul Schroeder (whose article can be found via link in Mr. Moshe's post above).

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Wasn't the pipeline built in spite of Reagan and didn't the Soviet empire implode economically despite its excessive dependency on raw material exports ?

Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

Stephen Thomas' reference, 0920 hours, 20 Oct., to the weaknesses of the non-religious West amused me.

For one thing, according to the authors of "The Right Nation" roughly half of Americans say, pray, grace before meals.

For another, were us Christians to evaporate, there goes 22.8%, or 66,407,105 souls, of the U.S. population in Catholics alone. More than that, really. The 66 million figure accounts only for those Catholics registered with parishes. It doesn't include those who refer to themselves as Catholic but rarely go to Mass & don't bother to register with parishes.

For yet another, were us Christians to evaporate, as clearly some folks out there in Left field wish we would, the United States would lose these assets financed, staffed & operated by the Catholic Church alone (in addition are whatever our Protestant & Orthodox brothers furnish):

237 colleges & universities
585 hospitals
1,376 high schools
7,142 elementary schools
85 Non-redidential schools for the handicapped
477 health care centers
1,534 specialized homes
1,117 day care centers
3,044 special centers for social services
213 seminaries

In addition, for instance, presently two new Catholic universities are under construction in the U.S. In addition too are those however many independent Catholic schools, not belonging to dioceses or religious orders but operated under the guidance of the Church. For instance, St. Mary's high school in Colorado Springs is one such school, one not owned or directly controled by the Diocese of Colorado Springs. But the diocese ensures that its teachings are properly orthodox.

The so-called secular U.S. is by & large a Chistian nation with a secular government plus a very windy & overly self-important secular intelligensia.

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

I spent most of my adult life in San Francisco, Chicago and New York City... in the fashionable parts.

Thanks for reminding me that most of the world does not think like these places.

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

Reagan's detractors also used the "incompetent" and "stupid" jibes. They fooled themselves. Reagan used this foolishness to play a game of Rope-a-Dope with his detractors. He beat them every time.

It boggles me to see yet another invocation of this theme.

Reagan got "smart" only in retrospect. I have no doubt that Mr. Chamberlain would have been among those who ridiculed Reagan as a dumb cowboy in the 1980s. You might find yourself eating those words about Bush in the future. You might also remember that Abraham Lincoln was reviled in intellectual circles with the same ferocity those circles aimed at Reagan and Bush.

Could it be that said intellectuals are not very smart?

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

We'll find out in the future if Bush's policy in Iraq is "incompetent." I doubt it.

Just for the record, I'll present my view of what is happening and what will happen.

The U.S. had absolutely no other options with Iraq. Period. Over time, the U.S. response would have been the same no matter who is president. The U.S., as the guarantor of Israeli security, and as the only world power with real political and economic answers, is tragically fated to be in the middle of that conflict.

I am a good, red-blooded, patriotic American, and I am rooting for the good old U.S.A. all the way. I hope Mr. Bush succeeds.

I also believe that the U.S. is fated to lose the War on Terror. The reason is that religious believers outnumber the non-religious, and on top of that, religious believers carry with them strength and commitment that cannot be mustered by the non-religious.

We are in the midst of an historic re-alignment of the world, as China in particular, and Asia in general become the economic and strategic focus. Asian societies will not buy into the moral collapse of western society represented by the destruction of family, tradition and faith. Asian societies want only the economic success of the West.

Just as Asian values are triumphing in the U.S. (witness the overwhelming success of Asian families in both familiar and financial terms), Asian moral and social values will triumph over the failing moral and social values of secular Europe and America.

This battle may take 100 years. But, I have no doubt about the outcome. The secular West is weak, exhausted, and completely without a moral rudder. It is ripe for the taking.

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

The "pre-emptive" part of the Bush doctrine is, indeed troublesome... but not for the reasons generally advanced.

All political policies start out being one thing, and as time elapses, become something entirely different.

I sort of agree with the pre-emptive policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is where doubt creeps in. Once this policy is established, where does it stop and how is it stopped? It is a policy that contains plenty of room for arbitrary abuse and malfeasance on the part of this or subsequent administrations.

Political policy follows a wide arc. The much needed labor reforms of the union movements of the 1930s morphed into the politics of personal corruption by the 1960s. The guarantee of equal voting rights morphed into a demand for racial and sexual preferences. The "slippery slope" I believe this is called.

The pre-emptive doctrine carries with it a vast potential to slide down that slippery slope. I've got to admit, I don't have an answer to how to prevent this.

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

In re-reading my response and yours, I think it is possible to posit another outcome to the War on Terror.

Could be that the political and economical philosophy of the West will continue to triumph, while the social and moral philosophy of the East triumphs.

Leading to a synthesized world wide culture that is a lot more balance and sane that the one we now occupy.

Maarja Krusten - 10/24/2004

This is off topic to the Klinghoffer article, except on the general question of national mood, but there are no referees here on HNN, except self appointed ones, so I'll use the opportunity to address another aspect of violence in the cities. Professor Klinghoffer speaks of the electorate and the national mood in her article, but I think we need reminders that the U.S. is a huge country with communities which sometimes have little in common. That is why I am somewhat leary of polls and surveys of the type she mentions in her article.

The number of children killed in the Washington, DC area has risen sharply in the last year. The problems already were so great 10 years ago, that newspapers reported how some inner city children were pre-planning their funerals, telling people close to them what clothing they should be buried in, because they were so certain they would die before adulthood. I thank God every day that my childhood was not like that and that I live in relative safety in the suburbs.

Since the President lives in Washington, I would like to see him use the bully pulpit more than he has on such issues. Here's what President Clinton said about inner city crime at a press conference back in November 1993. I know some of you dislike him, but please scroll down and read this anyway, what he said makes some sense:

"When children start shooting children the way they're doing now and little kids go around planning their own funerals, what that means is that there are a whole lot of people, millions of people in this country who literally are not even playing by the same set of rules that all the rest of us take for granted.

And we have learned in this country to accept many things that are unacceptable, and I think the president has a pulpit, Teddy Roosevelt's bully pulpit, that I have to use and work hard on and try to live by to try to help rebuild the conditions of family and community and education and opportunity.

And I'll just say one last thing about that. What a lot of these folks that are in such desperate trouble need is a unique combination of both structure and order and discipline, on the one hand, and genuine caring, on the other.

It is impossible to structure life in a society like ours, where there is no family or at least no supervising, caring adult, on the one hand, and on the other hand, where there is no work.

If you go generation after generation after generation and people don't get to work - you think about your lives, think about what you're going to do today, what you did this morning when you got up, what you'll do tonight when you go home.

If you think about the extent to which work organizes life in America and reinforces our values, our rules, and the way we relate to one another and the way we raise our children, and then you imagine what it must be like where there is no work.

I know the budget is tight, I know there are all kinds of tough problems, I know that people with private capital, even with our empowerment zones, may not want to invest in inner cites, in decimated rural areas, but I'm telling you, we have to deal with family, community, education, and you have to have work. There has to be work there."

Maarja Krusten - 10/24/2004

Rural versus urban

Yes, one has a very different view of guns depending on where one lives. In the Washington, DC area, I don't know a single person who hunts although I am sure there are some who travel away from the city to do so. So, I look at guns more in terms of crime than hunting. It's useful to be reminded, as I was by your post, that there are parts of the U.S. where hunting is common and robbers use knives (!!!)in doing stickups. Here are a few snippets from our local paper, which reflect another, less benign view of firearms. A little long, but I hope worth reading, are a snippet from one news story and two extracts from the always eloquent Colbert I. King.

The Washington Post, September 30, 2004
Top law enforcement officials from the District and Prince George's County vowed yesterday to work together with community activists on a new campaign to steer youths away from gun violence. D.C.Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High were among those expressing support for Guns Aside, a grass-roots venture designed by the father of a slain Washington businessman.

Kenneth E. Barnes Sr.,whose son was killed in a robbery in 2001, said he hopes to emulate the work of organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He said he plans a public service campaign, workshops, mentoring programs and a pledge drive to sign up youths who promise to stay away from firearms.

. . . . Some of the most poignant speakers were the youngest. Cortez Carter, 13, an eighth-grader at Hart Middle School in Southeast Washington, told the audience how his father was shot and killed in 1998.

"I don't have anybody to call a father," Cortez said. "The only people that should really have guns are the police and the Army."

The Washington Post, April 12, 2003
"But Can We Liberate Our Children?"
By Colbert I. King

"A 16-year-old sophomore at the District's Cardozo High School was fatally shot at an entrance to the school yesterday, allegedly by a 14-year-old freshman with whom he had been arguing, D.C. police said."

-- The Washington Post, Jan. 6, 1995

"A 16-year-old student at Cardoz high school was shot in the leg yesterday after a lunchtime argument with another student, who fled afterward and later turned himself in to D.C. police, authorities said."

-- The Washington Post, April 2, 2003

In the eight years between Cardozo Shooting I and Cardozo Shooting II, we've put on a display of gunfire in the nation's capital that would make the battle of Basra pale in comparison. Well, that's not quite true, but read on. There's simply no telling how many people in the city have been threatened with a weapon, shot at or shot and wounded since 1995. We do, however, have a better handle on the number of killings that have taken place, inasmuch as the dead can't run away.

Since 16-year-old Antar Hall was pronounced dead at the beginning of 1995, more than 2,300 men, women and children have lost their lives to violence in Washington. That death toll far exceeds the number of American troops killed in action during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the current Operation Iraqi Freedom. And unlike Americans in uniform who lost their lives fighting a foreign foe on behalf of their country, the D.C. slain often fell victim to friends, neighbors, acquaintances and aggrieved parties who were indulging the basest of human motives: greed, revenge, envy, hate and the desire of the strong to prey on the weak. The amazing thing is how we react to each incident as if it has never happened before. Take the school shootings.

In the aftermath of Cardozos I and II, the responses were much the same: shock and hand-wringing about unlocked exterior school doors, and calls for more alarms, cameras, security officers and metal detectors. And, of course, each incident elicited pledges from officialdom to make schools and students safe and secure. In the years since Hall was killed, we've heard similar "safer schools" pronouncements from school superintendents Franklin Smith (1991 to 1996), Julius Becton (1996 to 1998), Arlene Ackerman (1998 to 2000) and Paul Vance (2000 to who knows when).

Still, bullets keep flying and mothers keep crying.


The Washington Post, June 26, 1999

"Our Own Little Kosovo"
by: Colbert I. King

East Capitol Dwellings, where grandmother Helen Foster-El was shot in the back while shielding neighborhood kids from gunfire, is the city's largest public housing project. It is also the nation's capital's own little Kosovo.

The children of Kosovo have lived through a nightmare. But the past year hasn't been exactly a barrel of laughs for East Capitol Dwellings' more than 900 children, either. Not only have they seen a courageous woman tragically gunned down while trying to do the right thing. Three other people have been killed within a block of where Mrs. Foster-El died.

Kosovo's kids know violence. So do the children of East Capitol Dwellings. In addition to the four homicides on one block, seven other murders have taken place within the housing complex. And during the period of last year's homicides, East Capitol Dwellings also recorded 41 assaults.

As with the kids of Kosovo, youngsters in East Capitol Dwellings have been pushed around by terrorists -- except in this case, the marauders are home-grown. Sixth District Cmdr. Rodney Monroe asserts that there is "a constant police presence" in East Capitol Dwellings. Yeah, right. The Post reports that gun-toting drug dealers hijacked the playground built for the kids in April and have held it since. How long would that have lasted in Chevy Chase [an affluent suburban neighborhood]?

One desperate parent, interviewed after Mrs. Foster-El's shooting, pleaded, "We need security. We really need a playground. We just need all the help we can get."

Andrew D. Todd - 10/24/2004

On Rural Politics:

One basic data point you want to understand about West Virginia is this: each fall, out of a population of not quite two millions, about 250,000 residents go hunting, joined by 50,000 out-of-staters. A sizable fraction of the latter are expatriated West Virginians, coming home to hunt. They bag 250,000 deer, and unspecified quantities of bear and boar, not to mention the usual small change of rabbits, etc. This is got-your-deer-yet country. It is not just a matter of sport-- it is also a matter of nontrivial quantities of venison. The deer around where I live are in a kind of sanctuary zone, defined by the rule that you cannot hunt closer than a couple of hundred yards to a dwelling. Their population increase, however, presumably gets pushed out into the hunting zone. Firearms are normal up here, in ways which an urbanite might find it hard to grasp. Oddly enough, the occasional convenience store stick-ups often seem to involve knives, not guns. The implication is that if the criminal had the price of a firearm, he would go and poach some deer instead. Deer do not call the police, swear out warrants, etc. One of the biggest liabilities liberal democrats carry around with them up here is the suspicion that they intend to ban guns.

Here is another economic datum: you can buy an elderly mobile home for something under $2000, approximately its value as scrap steel, and a place to put it can be located along one of the state routes, five or ten miles out of town for very little expense. In some areas, the institution of property tax is breaking down, because the bottom half of the population neither owns nor rents anything with appreciable resale value (*). In and around Morgantown, WV, we do have a few slumlords, but they specialize in preying on the gullibility of undergraduates, not the desperation of the truly poor.

(*) There was a messy case in Preston County, just east of me, a few years ago, in which the county clerk set out to entrap thousands of people into understating their tax liability by $2.50, so that he could hit them with a $25.00 fine as a covert form of poll tax.


There are are some tricky points about distinctions between "likely voters," "registered voters," and those who will actually turn up at the polls. However, based on current polling data, I think that Bush will probably win the election, by a margin so narrow that allegations of tampering will be widespread. However, the deteriorating economic situation, and continued lack of success in the Middle East will confront him with essentially unsolvable political problems. He may be ripe for impeachment within a year or two.

The Israeli army is one of the two best in the world, man for man (the other being the British). It has produced Great Captains (Dayan, Rabin, Sharon) who have been only one notch below Patton and Rommel. The United States Army is simply not in the same league, and tends to cover up its organizational defects with money and firepower. Bush will never be able to do better than the Israelis have done in the West Bank and Gaza, and he may very well do a lot worse. I do not see any reason why the Iraqis could not step up the intensity of their ambushes, etc. tenfold over the next year. Successful guerrilla tactics involve appearing and disappearing, and therefore tend to neutralize firepower, because the firepower cannot see what to shoot at. Firepower is no better than its supporting Intelligence. You cannot have very good Intelligence in a country where your ordinary troops do not speak the language. A tenfold increase in resistance would mean 10,000 American troops killed, and 100,000 injured in 2005, and would leave no alternative to conscription.

In terms of the economic situation, robotics are about to take off. Unemployment will surge drastically, especially in the comparatively well-paid, traditionally male, sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and transportation.


Women have already gone through this transition-- the single largest body of nonprofessional skilled women workers were secretaries, clerks, etc. Given their paperwork occupations, they were naturally affected by computers and the internet. Now it's the men's turn. I saw a harbinger of this a few years ago. My landlord ordered a 10,000 sq. ft., three floor apartment building from a catalog, so to speak. It came in ten modules, each pulled by a big truck, and a crane stacked them together. The truckers and crane operator's wages might have amounted to fifty cents or a dollar per square foot. Most of the work will have been done in a factory, by semi-skilled workers who were making minimum wage or a little above. You don't have to be a carpenter to build houses in the deskilled context of a prefabricated house factory, any more than you need to be a mechanic to work on the assembly line at Ford. However, the next step is actual robotics, eliminating even the assembly-line workers. Competitive pressure will force businesses to adopt robotics swiftly, and the effect will be to target those workers most likely to vote for Bush. The types of jobs which tended to get exported to Mexico or the Orient during the 1980's and 1990's were concentrated in light industry. They involved the manufacture of small, light, easily portable objects, often anonymous, which tended to be made by women. Garments were of course a prime example, but another major sector was light electrical parts. See, for example, William M Adler, _Mollie's Job_ , 2001, for the story of fluorescent light ballasts which were made first in New Jersey, then in Mississippi, and ultimately in Mexico. With robotics, on the other hand, the emphasis is on the less portable jobs.

The Republican party is the party of business. That means that in a regime where business is very unpopular, the Republicans will have more than their share of compromising entanglements. Think of a hundred Enrons, all at once. Bush's mental blinders may actually make the system worse. He had undue difficulty passing his tax cut bills because he was reluctant to throw in modest sweeteners for people with modest incomes. His attitude was in effect: "they aren't paying tax anyway, what more do they expect." It is not a matter of balanced budgets exactly, but more of a sense of moral entitlement. I suspect Bush will have difficulty doing things like expanding Social Security to mop up unemployment.

Maarja Krusten - 10/24/2004

Prof. Klinghoffer refers to articles about U.S.-Soviet relations by Tucker and Ford and to surveys on the mood of the electorate in the 1980s. But how informed was the electorate in 1984 and how informed is it now? Surveys reflect opinion, not what it is based on. What are the chances that many of the people surveyed by Yankelovich had read articles such as the ones by Ford and Tucker? Pretty slim, I would guess.

Over on Cliopatria, Robert "KC" Johnson has some discouraging news in his blog entry on "The Fox News/NPR Effect":

"The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland has a fascinating poll, completed in early October, on how the source of citizens’ news and their political affiliation affects their views on factual issues. Some of the findings:

---47% of Bush supporters still believe that Iraq had WMD, while 25% more believe that Iraq had a major program for developing the weapons;

---57% believe that the Duelfer Report concluded Iraq had a major WMD program;

---56% think that most experts argued that Iraq had WMD;

---55% think that the 9/11 Commission concluded that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda.

Kerry supporters have the overwhelmingly opposite viewpoints on each of these questions."

Absent similar information about the knowledge level and perceptions of all the voters (I among them) who chose Reagan over Mondale, it is hard to tell what lay behind the national mood in 1984.

As always, my comments reflect my 14 years working with Nixon's tapes and records, an experience which taught me much about how Presidents seek to manage the news, create images, etc. (The story of the Reagan administration that is reflected in contemporaneous archival records largely remains undisclosed to the public as of 2004.) As was noted elsewhere during this election season, the Nixon White House encouraged letter writing campaigns--the placement in newspapers of letters to the editor which looked as if they were spontaneous but were generated by the administration. Would such letters really reflect "the national mood," for example? How many other Presidential aides have used similar tactics, before and after David Gergen perfected the art of spin during the Reagan administration?

Maarja Krusten - 10/24/2004

Thanks for the tip about _Fire and Ice_. I didn't know about that book until Val mentioned it. I just looked it up on Amazon, there are some interesting reviews. One says of author Michael Adams that "He notes being particularly interested in finding out 'why an initially "conservative" society like Canada has ended up producing an autonomous, inner-directed, flexible, tolerant, socially liberal, and spiritually eclectic people while an intentionally "liberal" society like the United States has ended up producing a people who are, relatively speaking, materialistic, outer-directed, intolerant, socially conservative, and deferential to traditional institutional authority. Why do these two societies seem to prove the law of unintended consequences?'"

Another reviewer mentions that she "was surprised to learn that Canada has more in common with New England than New England has in common with the Deep South. And that the cultural trends among young people are very divergent from the 60+ crowd, and not always in the direction I expected."

As anyone who has read my postings knows, I'm fascinated by why people react to issues as they do. Sound like a book worth reading. Thanks, Val.

Maarja Krusten - 10/24/2004

Interesting post, Val, on the differences between the Canadians and U.S. citizens who believe the man should be head of the household. Here in the U.S., I wonder if there is a correlation between those who believe the man should head the household and what op ed columnists sense about the political divide in this country. Many op ed writers have sought to figure out why people vote for Republicans or Democrats and why the nation is split the way it is. Consider what you posted in the context of these extracts from recent columns by Ellen Goodman in the Washington Post and David Brooks in the New York Times.

(1) "How Exactly Are We Safer," By Ellen Goodman
Saturday, September 25, 2004

"These beliefs reflect what George Lakoff has described as the two different worldviews of conservatives and liberals. A linguist by training and an ardent "re-framer" of progressive politics, Lakoff describes the great divide as related less to political ideology than to child-raising models. Conservatives subscribe to the "strict father model" while liberals abide by the "nurturant parent model."

(2) The More Things Change. . .By DAVID BROOKS
Published: October 23, 2004

"Republicans, from Reagan to Bush, particularly admire leaders who are straight-talking men of faith. The Republican leader doesn't have to be book smart, and probably shouldn't be narcissistically introspective. But he should have a clear, broad vision of America's exceptional role in the world. Democrats, on the other hand, are more apt to emphasize such leadership skills as being knowledgeable and thoughtful. They value leaders who can see complexities, who possess the virtues of the well-educated.

Republicans and Democrats have different conceptions of the presidency. Republicans admire a president who is elevated above his executive branch colleagues. It is impossible to imagine George W. Bush or Reagan as a cabinet secretary. Instead, they are set apart by virtue of exceptional moral qualities. Relying on their core values, they set broad goals and remain resolute in times of crisis.

Democrats see the presidency as a much more ministerial job. They admire presidents who engage in constant deliberative conversations. Democrats from Carter through Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore and Kerry have all been well versed in the inner workings of government. It is easy to imagine each of them serving as a cabinet secretary.

It just so happens that America is evenly divided about what sort of leader we need: the Republican who leads with his soul or the Democrat who leads with his judgment. Even the events of the past four years have not altered that disagreement."

October 12, 2004
"Not Just a Personality Clash, It's a Conflict of Visions," By DAVID BROOKS.

"Politicians from the more sparsely populated South and West are more likely, at least in the political and economic realms, to champion the Goldwateresque virtues: freedom, self-sufficiency, individualism. Politicians from the cities are likely to champion the Ted Kennedyesque virtues: social justice, tolerance, interdependence.

Politicians from sparsely populated areas are more likely to say they want government off people's backs so they can run their own lives. Politicians from denser areas are more likely to want government to play at least a refereeing role, to keep people from bumping into one another too abusively.

Neither group lives up to its ideals with perfect consistency, but this is what both groups say."

Val Jobson - 10/23/2004

Very interesting, especially the first one. Thank you. Further to that article, you may be interested in a discussion by a survey company about the difference in responses to the statement "The father of the family must be the master in his own house." The percentage of Americans who agree with this has risen over the years, while in Canada and Europe it has decreased.

This is also discussed in a book: Fire and Ice. The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values. Written by Michael Adams, Published by Penguin Canada, 2003 ISBN: 0-4-301422-6

N. Friedman - 10/23/2004


"ghastly immorality" as in shooting kids in the back as they flee? Or, do you have in mind beheading people and taping the event? Or, perhaps you mean, blowing people up in restaurants? Or, maybe you mean rape rooms?

Now, if you want to say that the Iraq war makes no sense, one might agree with you. However, in the course of discussing morality, the present fight pits an imperfect US, a vile Europe and an even more vile Muslim world.

chris l pettit - 10/23/2004

To help explain some of your ghastly immorality...



Oscar Chamberlain - 10/21/2004

Indeed, while I like those big cities, it helps keep me grounded to live in a relatively rural area.

However, I will admit I do sometimes wish that people saw academics as individuals and not as some perverse group think organism.

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/21/2004

Dave, Very good points. However, you (and many others) suggest a stronger dichotomy between the Christian and the secular than actually exists.

Most American Christians mingle some secular ideas with their Christianity. Few people without a stated faith are utterly devoid of religious ideas or ideals, even in the windy realms of academia.

Much of this depends on how one defines "Christian" (or "religious, for that matter) and "secular." Your list implies a pretty broad definition of Christian as it hinges on institutions and not individuals. A narrower definition might focus on how the individuals within those institutions define their relationship with Christianity. I would be interested to see what a study based on that would find concerning the relationship between the Christian and the secular.

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/20/2004

It's so hard in the midst of debate to admit our own doubts. I have mine about Kerry, though I am comfortable in my support of him; you have concern for some of Bush's policies even though you are comfortable with supporting him.

I think one of the truly bad things about the "no prisoners, winner take all" mentality out there, on both sides, is that by dismissing all doubts, we make it very very hard to find good compromises. Good compromises begin by remembering that no one person, or set of ideas, is perfect.

It's imperfection that leaves room for negotiation, at least for negotiation within a nation.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 10/20/2004

Mr. Thomas,
I thank you for your reasonable post. It is certainly well-thought out and I agree, only history will show whether this war was a massive failure or not.

My own view of the situation, as you might suspect, differs significantly from yours. Allow me to present it as a reaction to your points, even while respecting our disagreements.

1) “The U.S. had absolutely no other options with Iraq. Period.”

I do not agree with this assessment. At the time of the invasion, we had good reason to believe that inspections and sanctions had been relatively successful in preventing Iraq from becoming a serious threat to us or its neighbors up until 1998 when the inspectors left. Before the invasion began, Bush was able to use the threat of attack to force Iraq into making considerable concessions (Resolution 1441), including a return of inspectors.

The first report indicated that while Iraq was not completely cooperating, the inspections had uncovered some banned missiles that exceeded the agreed upon range, which Iraq then willingly destroyed. At this point in time, there was no conclusive evidence that Saddam Hussein, who controlled only about 1/3 of the country, posed any form of military threat to the United States or our allies.

So, what were some other options that we could have used, instead of invasion? I can think of the following:
a- Allow the inspections to continue until they either discover WMD, OR until they determine that Iraqi non-compliance prevents them from doing their job, after which time invasion may have been the last resort
b- Decide what it is that we want, and then force Iraq to agree to our new (presumably reasonable) terms.
c- Simply allow the status quo to continue until such time as our efforts in Afghanistan were complete, we have significantly destroyed AQ, and we found ourselves ready and able to direct all of our attention on Iraq.

Any one of the above 3 things would have, in my opinion, the following advantages over our current action: It would have allowed the US to honestly say to the international community that war was a last resort, it would have given us time and credibility to built a true international coalition, and it would have enabled us to direct our efforts at the people who actually attacked this country.

2) “Over time, the U.S. response would have been the same no matter who is president.”

This may very well have been true, but it I have difficulty of conceiving how the war could have been orchestrated worse than it has been. The timing, tactics, and nation-building would have been dramatically different under another president, in my opinion, even assuming that the invasion would have occurred regardless.

3) “I am a good, red-blooded, patriotic American, and I am rooting for the good old U.S.A. all the way. I hope Mr. Bush succeeds.”

I have no disagreement with you there and share your hopes. However, based on past experience and history, I believe that success is far more likely under a Kerry administration than under Bush. Whoever wins, though, will have my full support in trying to achieve victory over there.

4) “I also believe that the U.S. is fated to lose the War on Terror. The reason is that religious believers outnumber the non-religious, and on top of that, religious believers carry with them strength and commitment that cannot be mustered by the non-religious.”

While I might agree with the statement above, I believe that the war on terror can be won so long as it is reconceptualized. If our goal is, as the administration says, to kill anyone who doesn’t like us and to invade any country that would potentially harm us if they only had the means, then I agree it is not winnable. However, I do believe that a war against actual enemies that are willing and able to do us immense harm could in fact be won with a combination of military, humanitarian, educational, and law enforcement mechanisms..

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/20/2004

Thanks you for your response. It is good to have a sense of the basis of your thought.

My chief objection to Bush's policy in Iraq is not the invasion itself. At the time, I was not sure it was a good idea, but I could not honestly say that it was wrong either.

What has upset me profoundly is that Bush's stated goals are not matched by his actions. He ignored the estimates of forces needed to occupy (as opposed to conquer) Iraq made before the war. When those estimates proved correct, he still ignored them. To the extent that our military has done good there, and they have, they have done so despite the civilian leadership in Washington, not because of it.

It is this profound mismatch that leads me to call him incompetent.

I am less certain than you of the inevitablity of our defeat. I believe that, over the long haul, the most important tenents of western ideals can triumph. However, they can only do so if we act intelligently in defense of our interests and if we show that we actually trust those ideals.

A tough balance. I cannot swear that Kerry is up to it, but I know that Bush is not, unless he grows in ways that he has not shown to date.

Andrew D. Todd - 10/20/2004

Basic economic issues do not generally build up as fast as politicians change office. When politicians claim credit for economic events, they are ultimately something of impostors.

The one drastic economic event preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union was the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986. It very probably contributed to Gorbachev's determination to enforce Glasnost/Perestroika, starting in 1987, even at the expense of a confrontation with the communist bureaucracy. No doubt, like De Lampedusa's Prince of Salinas, he felt that "things must change to stay the same." Estimates of ultimate losses from radiation sickness resulting from Chernobyl are in the thousands.



Now, I presume that the Republican Party does not wish to claim credit for Chernobyl.

Things like strategic weapons are essentially make-believe. The balance of probability is that half of the American Minuteman missiles might have exploded in their silos if anyone had ever tried to launch them, and some might have rained down on Chicago or Los Angeles instead of Moscow. The nature of such weapons is such that they cannot be realistically tested. Much the same reasoning applies to conventional forces in Europe. No one was remotely desperate enough to take a gamble about whether they would lose one city or ten cities or a hundred cities. It was not for nothing that Herman Kahn gained the appellation of "Dr. Strangelove." The Russians could perfectly well have saved money by building as many Potemkin missiles as they liked. Professional "hawks" in the west generally had career incentives for believing in the most extreme possible Soviet capabilities. See, for example, the case of the exaggeration of the performance of the Mig-25.

I doubt that modern internal weapons spending actually drains resources from an economy. Modern weapons production is not mass-production. Weapons programs involve, typically, a thousand times fewer units than, say, automobile production. Weapons manufacturing creates large numbers of skilled and interesting jobs for the kinds of people who would not dream of working on an assembly line to produce consumer goods. If they could not be weapons engineers, they would be poets instead. Here is an example of graffiti written by shipwrights: "See Harold Work, 50 cents-- No Refunds" (Michael S. Sanders, The Yard: Building a Destroyer at the Bath Iron Works_, 1999, p.99). No assembly line worker would ever write anything like that.

The economic weakness of the Soviet Union was probably in its refusal to modernize its civil economy. One archetypal instance might be the refusal to produce meaningful numbers of personal computers. You can use a personal computer to expedite business-- or to publish subversive literature. It does either job equally well. The same applies for older and cruder devices such as photocopiers.

For the time window of 1960-1980, when the origins of the Soviet Collapse were forming themselves, the key ingredient of mass production was wretched peasants. To successfully set up mass production, you needed peasants who did not mind the grottiest assembly line job, because it was still better than stoop labor in the fields. The ongoing point of contention in western countries was management's efforts to speed the line up from forty-eight jobs per hour to a hundred jobs per hour (GM's Lordstown strike). Things like automobile manufacturing migrated to the orient, because Korean peasants could be made to do a hundred jobs per hour. In a land-rich country, such as the United States or Russia, agricultural modernization is a prerequisite for mass production. The Soviets went to great efforts to keep their peasants on the land, because they were afraid of the consequences of large numbers of peasants in cities, forming mobs and suchlike. Similarly, if every peasant had an automobile, they might all suddenly decide to drive to Moscow.

The most important legacy of Reaganomics was the extent to which import restrictions were dismantled in the United States and Europe. This resulted in our working classes becoming definitively awash in manufactured consumer goods of all types. The news spread much further than the goods did, and the ultimate result was ordinary Russians wanting to know why they did not have this, that, and the other thing. Hence you have the classic "revolution of rising expectations."

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/20/2004

Concerning Reagan: probably at first I did underestimate him. Over time, I grew to dislike much of what he did in both foreign an domestic spheres intensely, but I understood that he was going about it quite competently.

Concerning your reply: I notice that you avoided answering my criticism of Bush's policy in Iraq, too.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/19/2004

True on the pipeline. It was hoped by the Soviet Union to make Europe energy dependent on them. For the most part, the alliance was able to limit, by agreement, gas imports to Europe of less than 30% of gas use. The majority of Soviet exports continued to be to Eastern Europe, and the Euro pipeline did not become the cash cow they had hoped for, despite the fact that the Soviet Union had enough gas reserves to induce near total dependency, had Europe bought all they had to sell.

One of the reasons it imploded economically was that it had built up, in the 70's, a massive defense sector, so as to dominate NATO in conventional weapons, then parleyy that into political and economic concessions. This sector represented at least twice the proportion of GDP as it represented in the US, and the inefficiency of capital there (including backward technology -- the T Directorate leaks were reduced to a trickle) required a capital/output ratio of at least three times that of the US. The end result was that at least a third of Soviet capital was tied up in defense production -- not a good thing when the civilian sector wasn't much more efficient. The Soviet Union gambled that they could get through military bluff what they couldn't get strictly through their politics nor their economic system. If the US and the rest of Europe had adopted something like the Ostpolitik of Germany, the Soviet Union might still be alive today. But the Soviet bluff couldn't even stop deployment of INF. or at least that's how it was explained to me.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/19/2004

Slight disagreement. In attacking Libya, post 1984, Reagan showed he was willing to take on Soviet client states. And would Mondale have continued Reagan's policies?

Reagan had used great diplomatic muscle, and strained alliance relations, in denying Soviet plans for a gas pipeline into Europe. That pipeline would have given the Soviet Union economic coercive force over Europe, and provided foreign hard currency for the technology it need to buy. Reagan also used great muscle to shut down the technology shopping list of the T Directorate of the KGB by beefing up alliance cooperation through CoCom.

What would Mondale have done, and what would have been the likely result? The evidence on that seems too thin to venture very far.

Andrew D. Todd - 10/19/2004

A seventeenth century British historian I used to know once observed that the Soviet Union collapsed essentially because of its success, not because of its failure. The communists succeeded in developing the Russian economy to the point that it was reliably doing things like feeding people. Once people no longer worried about where their next meal was coming from, they started having bigger and more complicated desires, such as western consumer goods or, in Soviet Central Asia, Islamicism. The result was Afghanistan. The notorious "Peter Principle." applies-- the Soviet government succeeded at one thing, and in consequence, was promoted to its level of incompetence. Andrei Amalrik noted the symptoms back in the late 1960's (_Will The Soviet Union Survive Until 1984_, 1970). Farley Mowat (_The Siberians_, 1970) talks about the Russian migration to Siberia as a wave of freedom-seeking ("get so deep into Siberia that the bureaucrats in Moscow cannot tell you what to do"). He further explores the ways in which Yakut intellectuals sought to embellish and glorify their native culture.

One might add that the American "National Security State" is going through a similar kind of crisis. Alvin Toffler pointed out, twenty years ago, that American Capitalism and Soviet Communism were basically the same kind of animal. When one collapses, it is a warning for the other.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/19/2004

... in his second term that mattered, as far as the Cold War goes. In fact, Mondale's less aggressive posture would probably have produced the same result: attempts at internal reform in the USSR, leading to collapse of totalitarianism.


If we want to talk about whether GHW Bush did or (2nd term) Mondale would have handled the actual collapse better, we can, but you better bring something more than this to the table.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 10/18/2004

Aside from the obvious difficulty in predicting what a Mondale victory would have brought, there are many things about this article that I dispute:

1) “Experts, especially in Western Europe, considered Reagan’s advocacy of relegating the Soviet Union to the ash heap of history then like Bush’s insistence on defeating Islamism now as an unrealistic goal advocated by a dim-witted cowboy .”

The difference between the USSR and terrorism is almost too obvious to mention, but I will anyway: Islamisim is a religious movement, and will be defeated as easily as Christian fundamentalism would be. The Soviet Union was a government and, like any other government on earth, could potentially be overthrown, invaded, collapse, etc.

2) Klinghoffer calls “defeatist” the following statement: “But there is hope that a new generation… will be prepared to return to a more reasonable relationship with the West.”

In fact however, this is exactly what happened! As Lawrence S. Wittner notes in another article posted this week, “Although President Reagan also deserves credit for fostering nuclear disarmament and the end of the Cold War, it is not for his dangerous and expensive weapons systems. As Colin Powell observed, what Reagan contributed was "the vision and flexibility, lacking in many knee-jerk Cold Warriors, to recognize that Gorbachev was a new man in a new age offering new opportunities for peace." In other words, what this author derides in Mondale is actually what many historians credit for wining the Cold War.

4) “Hence, he argued, the Reagan administration’s attempt to regain the lost strategic advantage has made the prospect of nuclear war once again seem close and real. The increased public anxiety caused by such a prospect may lead to the ultimate loss of the Cold War by subjecting “our principle alliance to new and serious strain” and giving rise to an anti-nuclear movement which is convincing Americans that nuclear weapons are “illegitimate.” The argument parallels the one currently forwarded by Kerry and his advisors to the effect that the Iraq war made us less safe by undermining our alliances and giving rise to Anti-Americanism abroad and divisions at home.”

Unless there is a missing portion of the essay here, the argument has absolutely nothing in common with Kerry’s argument about Iraq. The argument cited was that the Reagan’s policies could lead to nuclear war, and thus soften American attitudes, and thus was dangerous. This has no connection whatsoever to the current situation. The Iraq war now has no rational justification. It has cost us over 1000 lives and counting, over $120 billion and counting, isolated us from the rest of the world, and severely hampered out ability to respond to any other threat. Not only does Kerry’s position in no way resemble Robert W. Tucker’s, but it is absolutely correct.

I would highly recommend the following article for a more elaborate articulation of why Iraq made us less safe:

5) “Similarly, a Bush victory coming as it will in the wake of the Howard victory in Australia is bound to send a powerful message not only to the Islamists but also to our real and nominal Muslim allies that they better join the anti-Islamist fight and take the American demand for reform seriously.”

I find it far more likely that a Bush victory would lead many states wishing that they could do what N. Korea and Iran have chosen to do: whatever it takes to deter an American invasion. America under Bush may be able to extend an empire across even more borders (although I doubt it given how we are bogged down in Iraq), but ultimately, we better be prepared to accept an even stronger enemy than we do now.

6) “Even if Kerry would like to prosecute the war on terror in Iraq and elsewhere, he would have to overcome the worldwide perception that the electorate has repudiated not only Bush but his forceful policy.”

I would certainly hope so. In doing this, Kerry would have the credibility to engage N. Korea, Iran, and the entire Middle East in a way that Bush simply cannot. Such a scenario is one that brings me nothing but hope.

7) “In other words, much of the hard work and sacrifices made by the American people in the past three years would be wasted.”

This is simply farce. Our work in Afghanistan, which Kerry supported 100%, would not be a waste. However, if the author is referring to the Iraq war, then unfortunately, it has already been a waste, and much worse. A waste would imply that the war had no meaningful outcome, and that is not true, it has had a meaningful outcome- a chaotic country in the heart of the middle east that acts as a new front in the war on terror and gives our enemies exactly what they want.

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/18/2004

Reagan was competent. Bush is not. It boggles me that people who support Bush in the name of the War on Terror are unwilling to consider just how damaging that incompetence has been to that campaign.