“I’m sorry, what?” No doubt, those are three words you never want to hear from the moderator of the presidential debate in which you are engaged…on national television. The year was 1976 and The New York Times’ Max Frankel was visibly flummoxed when President Gerald Ford famously said, “There is no Soviet Domination of Eastern Europe.” Frankel was diplomatic enough to clarify, to give Ford a Freudian out: “Did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it’s a communist zone?” In what would haunt him to the day he lost the election, Ford insisted that Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia were free from Soviet interference.
What’s sad is that Ford likely misspoke and dug deeper not wanting to appear to have gaffed. He had full grasp of the Soviet’s reach. In a recently de-classified phone transcript from December 10, 1975, Ford’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged the president to clamp down on resistance inside Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon. Preoccupied with the upcoming election, Ford decided to placate the hawks who opposed Kissinger’s policies of détente and strategic arms control. As Ambassador Raymond Garthoff remarked years later, 1976 was a “turning point in American-Soviet relations” because the Ford White House decided to “shelve” détente until after the elections.
Not only did the hawks not get their way in the end, they lost their man in the White House who was replaced by one James Earl Carter, Jr., the 76th governor of Georgia who went on to become the 39th U.S. President. Garthoff, who served as ambassador to Bulgaria under Carter and considered to be a preeminent Cold War expert, was not Carter’s closest foreign affairs advisor. When Carter announced his candidacy to an incredulous media, he proclaimed himself to be an “eager student” of a Polish American diplomat by the name of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who would go on to become his National Security Advisor.
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Danielle DiMartino Booth is CEO and Director of Intelligence at Quill Intelligence
For a full archive of my writing, please visit my website — www.DiMartinoBooth.com
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