After Republican Gerry Ford’s odd ascension to the Presidency—which many was marred by his decision to pardon Richard Nixon and with the fall of Vietnam to the communists—Americans were eager for a change. Ford lost re-election to Democrat and former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, a Washington outsider.
Carter took over the country at a time of mounting crises. Foreign policy issues effected domestic issues. Carter was at the helm for some foreign policy triumphs, but there were also unresolved crises. While his domestic policies attempted to deal with them, they met limited success.
Since the end of World War II, tension in the Middle East was at an all-time high, especially after the creation of Israel. The United States supported the creation of the Jewish homeland, making enemies throughout the region. Since the creation of Israel, the nations around it went to war with it several times (1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973), led by Egypt. Each time, the United States supported Israel.
In Carter’s greatest achievement, leaders from Egypt and Israel made a historic peace agreement, negotiated at the Presidential vacation home, Camp David. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords in 1978. It was the first peace agreement any Arab nation made with Israel.
The Middle East is of particular interest to western countries because it became the prime supplier of oil to the world. In the late 1970’s, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)—an trade organization of countries that produce oil that sets prices and production levels—decided to cut oil production. This created a shortage and drove up prices. But when the price of crude oil goes up, it effects everything. Gasoline goes up. The cost of transporting goods goes up, raising the price of everything. The net result is inflation. The gas shortages of the late 1970’s was so severe, that people had to wait in long lines to fill up their cars. Sometimes gas wasn’t available in areas all the time.
In 1979, a bad, U.S. supported dictator in Iran was overthrown. The government was taken over by extreme Islamic fundamentalists led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini was openly hostile to Western culture and the United States. As part of this takeover—the Iranian Revolution (1979)—Americans in the country and sympathetic counties—embassy workers and reporters—were held hostage. For instance, this happened in Lebanon when students stormed the U. S. embassy and took 66 Americans hostage. Carter tried to negotiate to free the hostages, but Khomeini had cut off all diplomatic relations with the Untied States. Carter’s inability to secure the release of the hostages made him and the country look weak.
While Carter followed Nixon’s Cold War foreign policy of détente, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, tension between the superpowers rose. The United States boycotted the Summer Olympics in 1980 in Moscow, for instance.
At the end of Carter’s only term in office, people were dissatisfied. Economic problems of inflation and gas shortages, along with international crises like the hostages in Iran and a rise of global terrorism from extreme Islamic fundamentalist groups, caused people to not vote for him when he sought re-election in 1980.