President Jimmy Carter delivers his State of The Union message, Jan. 23, 1980.
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The Carter Doctrine

Carter’s speech heralded a dramatic shift in foreign policy toward a policy of containment of Soviet influence.
Carter’s 32-minute speech heralded a dramatic shift in foreign policy direction, away from the idealistic promotion of human rights and cooperation with Moscow towards a more traditional policy of containment. Alarmist in tone, Carter outlined the implications of the Soviet invasion as posing “a more serious threat to the peace since the Second World War” as it potentially affected “the free movement of Middle East oil” on which the West relied. Carter adopted a more hawkish position by embracing the viewpoint that to fail to stand up sufficiently to Moscow’s aggressive expansionism would only invite future problems. He chose his annual address to publicly and clearly “draw the line,” modeling the speech on the Truman Doctrine. The policy shift represented a victory for hardliners (particularly National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski) over others that favored cooperation over confrontation (such as Secretary of State Cyrus Vance). The choice of the nationally televised speech as a means of delivery underscored the importance Carter attached to the issue, while also serving as an unambiguous public warning to Moscow.

Carter’s speech was generally well received and was punctuated by applause from both sides of the aisle in Congress. Carter scored points for taking a strong stand and setting forth a clear coherent strategy. In his diary he noted the speech was “better received than any I’ve ever made,” and singled out the commitment to the security of the Persian Gulf as “the most significant single thing in the speech.” Indeed, it is significant as this was the first public expression of Washington’s unequivocal commitment to the security of the Persian Gulf region and the containment of the spread of Soviet influence there. It also represented the first time a US president had identified the region as a distinct theater of the Cold War (along with Europe and East Asia) and central to US foreign policy.

Despite the general support, there were criticisms that the policy was “hastily improvised” and “devoid of content,” with Carter simply posturing for political purposes as the 1980 election approached. Carter, however, utilized the support garnered to implement a radical transformation of US defense posture in Southwest Asia over the following months. The largest increases in defense spending since the 1950s and the signing of bilateral agreements allowing for US military bases in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya, augmented Washington’s ability to project its military power
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