Politics were heavily influenced by foreign policy issues during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. The Vietnam War was one of the defining events—if one can refer to a military struggle that lasted over 15 years an “event”—of the period in question. Together with domestic conflicts involving civil rights,...
Politics were heavily influenced by foreign policy issues during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. The Vietnam War was one of the defining events—if one can refer to a military struggle that lasted over 15 years an “event”—of the period in question. Together with domestic conflicts involving civil rights, the Vietnam War was the single most influential issue of the era.
While the Cold War was never far removed from people’s consciences, and the specter of nuclear war was a daily concern, the contentiousness surrounding the American involvement in Southeast Asia drove politics. President Lyndon Johnson created “Great Society” programs and helped advance civil rights. These achievements were politically negated by the adverse public response to his actions in Vietnam. He chose not to run for reelection, deciding instead to retire from politics. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968, during which the party’s nominee for president would be anointed, was thrown into chaos by public protests over the ongoing war.
The Vietnam War continued to heavily influence American politics throughout much of the 1970s. President Richard Nixon, elected on a mandate to bring people together and withdraw American troops from Vietnam, found himself mired in the same conflict that destroyed the political career of his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. Democratic politics surrounding the war played a major role in the Nixon White House’s decision to wiretap the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. He conducted a series of measures intended to undermine the political opposition—practices known then as “dirty tricks.” They culminated in the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon Administration.
With the end of major American military involvement in Vietnam in 1973 and the final withdrawal from that country in 1975, foreign policy concerns focused more on Cold War considerations. Foremost was the Soviet Union’s enormous buildup of strategic nuclear weapons. Developments in the Middle East would also have long-lasting repercussions. These concerns were especially influential to the Carter and Ford presidencies. The 1973 Yom Kippur War saw the combined armies of Egypt and Syria launch a surprise attack on Israel. The United States provided supplies for the beleaguered Jewish state, and their actions supporting Israel culminated in an embargo by the oil-producing countries of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which was dominated by Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya. There were profound political and economic ramifications of this embargo on the American economy and politics.
The combination of public exhaustion over the drawn out American involvement in Vietnam and over the Watergate scandal helped Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter to get elected to the presidency in 1977. Carter represented a rejection of American politics as they had been practiced over the previous decade. As with Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, however, foreign policy issues would adversely affect the Carter presidency. While the country had recovered from the 1973 oil embargo in terms of oil supplied, the shock of that embargo on the economy remained. Oil prices were higher, which impacted the economy as a whole. Inflationary pressures weakened the national economy. Carter was tormented by the continued buildup of the Soviet Union’s military; the president’s final budget submission for the military represented a reluctant acquiescence to the need for the United States to counter Soviet activities. Defense budgets began to grow after a post-Vietnam lull. The switch diverted tax dollars from domestic programs to military expenditures.
The final foreign policy issues of the 1970s heavily influenced the United States both politically and economically. The Iranian Revolution of 1979—and that year’s consequent oil crisis—brought about the rise of energy as a major concern and policy issue. Carter establishing the Department of Energy as a response to increased instability. The new Iranian regime also seized the American Embassy in Tehran and held US diplomats and others hostage for the duration of Carter’s presidency. The twin developments of Soviet aggression, including the December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and the crisis in Iran fatally weakened the Carter administration.
In short, politics and economics in the United States were heavily influenced by foreign policy issues throughout the late 1960s and 1970s.