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The book explores Carter’s human rights policy and its contradictory impact on US–Soviet affairs. It argues that the administration envisioned its approach to the Soviet Union as moving along two interdependent tracks that were supposed to form a “virtuous circle”. On the one side, the United States aimed to renew its ideological challenge to the USSR through human rights and to persuade the Soviets to ease internal repression in order to strengthen Congressional support for détente and arms control. On the other, continuing the bipolar dialogue, the administration aimed to promote human rights further in the USSR. Contrary to what he envisioned, Carter was caught between Scylla and Charybdis. The more vigorously the White House pursued human rights in bipolar relations, the more the Soviets lost interest in détente; the more the administration relegated human rights to quiet diplomacy, the more critics within the United States accused the president of abandoning his commitment to human rights. Trapped in this contradiction, Carter’s human rights policy did not build domestic support for arms control and worsened bipolar relations. In the end, the White House lost the opportunity to stabilize bipolar relations and the domestic support Carter had managed to garner in 1976. Critics of détente, helped by the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, defeated him.
The chapter aims at investigating the role of the Reagan administration in organising the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Contrary to previous understandings, which tend to dismiss federal government involvement in the organisation of the Games, it highlights the political and diplomatic actions undertaken by the Reagan administration to organise a perfect performance of the Olympics and to sell the world reaganism through the Los Angeles Games. With the creation of an Olympic task force within the White House, the Los Angeles Games were perceived as a showcase for Ronald Reagan's America. The task force immediately concluded that the federal government would act behind the scenes, providing all the necessary security measures for the LAOOC and the Games, coordinating diplomatic actions and looking over consular practices. Tasks increased when the Soviets announced their boycott: the White House defined a clear damage-limiting strategy. In its conclusions, the chapter discusses a sort of paradox: the Reagan administration was increasingly involved in the promotion of what it presented as a government-free edition of the Olympics.
The chapter discusses the place of human rights between 1945 and the early 1970s. It suggests that human rights entered American foreign policy only in the 1970s, as a consequence of transformations taking place at the transnational, international and national levels. It argues that Congress played a major role in introducing human rights into American foreign policy, as a reaction to Kissinger’s amoral foreign policy. However, far from becoming a unifying principle for American foreign policy, the surge on human rights reflected a double-headed and contradictory interest in human rights. To liberals and “new internationalists”, such as Donald Fraser, human rights should become the fundamental tenet of a new foreign policy for a more interdependent and global international system. To conservatives and “neoconservatives”, such as Henry Jackson, human rights come to be identified with an ideological weapon to fight bipolar détente and relaunch containment.
Once at the White House, Carter moved swiftly to give human rights high priority in America’s foreign policy. The chapter recognizes that Carter’s human rights campaign was almost global but it focuses on its impact on bipolar détente. It argues that Carter conceived human rights and détente as interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Conscious that the American public’s attitude towards détente represented a major obstacle to bipolar dialogue, the White House hoped to build a domestic consensus on détente through a firm stance on Soviet violations of human rights. At the same time, through the continuation of détente, it tried both to ideologically challenge the Soviet Union and to promote human rights there.
The chapter focuses on the decline and collapse of bipolar détente in 1979 and the domestic backlash against Carter’s equilibrium between human rights and détente. Since late 1978, the conclusion of SALT II dominated both bipolar relations and the political debate within the United States, and human rights were relegated to quiet diplomacy channels. This brought a backlash against Carter’s foreign policy, led by neoconservative critics, such as Jeane Kirkpatrick. After the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, détente was finally over and Carter’s difficult balance between arms control and human rights ended. Human rights remained on the American agenda but the issue became a mere propaganda tool to be used against the Soviets.
The chapter zooms in on the place of human rights during the 1976 American presidential elections. It argues that Jimmy Carter was a latecomer to the new human rights language. Beyond his deep religious and moral beliefs, the chapter points out three major issues for Carter’s human rights commitment. First, the creation of many transnational groups monitoring Soviet compliance with the human rights provisions of the CSCE and the establishment of a specific Congressional Commission on this issue contributed to putting human rights under the spotlight. Second, the chapter argues that a strong commitment to the promotion of human rights abroad offered an opportunity to unify Carter’s Democratic Party, which at the time was split over foreign policy issues. Finally, the chapter narrows its focus on Carter’s advisers for foreign policy during the electoral campaign, Cyrus R. Vance and, especially, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The chapter focuses on 1978, when the Carter administration’ decided to discuss Soviet violations of human rights through quiet diplomacy and private channels. The chapter explains this shift through a twofold rationale. First, it argues that the administration was satisfied with the early achievements of its campaign. Moving human rights from open to quiet diplomacy would strengthen both what the White House identified as positive trends in the Soviet record on human rights and the conclusion of SALT II negotiations. Second, the Carter administration tried to confine human rights to backchannels to address growing protests within the United States. To many liberals within the United States, the human rights campaign was becoming a new anti-Soviet crusade. This shift, however, occurred at a time when the Soviets condemned many prominent dissidents and the White House left its flank exposed to conservative critics, who accused the White House of being too soft on Soviet violations of human rights.
The introduction provides a general overview of the book and its main ideas. It details three specific concepts. First, it argues that Carter’s human rights diplomacy should be understood in the bipolar context. Second, it points out that détente and human rights intertwined and overlapped in unexpected, ambiguous and contradictory ways. In particular, it argues that the Carter administration tried to develop a human rights policy that was complementary and functional to détente: through a firm stance on Soviet violations of human rights, Carter sought to legitimate détente within the United States, where it was increasingly questioned. Finally, it explains that Carter’s political balance between détente and human rights soon revealed itself unable to simultaneously satisfy both the Soviets and the American public.
The Conclusion discusses the failure of what Carter had envisioned as a virtuous circle between the human rights campaign and bipolar détente. It argues that the rationale for such a failure was threefold. First, the White House underestimated Soviet resistance to the human rights campaign. Second, the domestic consensus for a human rights-based foreign policy was illusory, precarious and short-lived. Finally, Carter’s strategy was based on a negotiation process with partners – the Soviet Union and American opponents of détente – who had no interest in negotiating on their counterparts’ terms.