Leslie H.








INT: But when the Soviets did invade Afghanistan, and then Carter pronounces the Carter Doctrine, do you think it was an influence in his final reaction (Overlap) to December '79?

JK: (Overlap) That's an interesting... That's an interesting question... I've just spoken of that meeting that we had... we in the Coalition... it was called CDM - Coalition for a Democratic Majority - had with Carter was after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which had occurred the previous year, and which was the starting point of our conversation, because President Carter had said that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - which was very brutal, of course, and continued for many years - was a great shock to him and had from which he had learnt a great deal about the Soviet Union, more than from any single event, I think he said, in his life previously. And in fact, the Carter Administration did change some policies: they did adopt some new policies which at least foresaw... if they did not immediately undertake, they foresaw the reinforcement of American and Western military strength. But when you know, Carter later denied, if you will, that he had ever changed his mind about the Soviet Union and that he had any different conception about their sort of intentions in the world after Afghanistan than before; and he said this in his conversation with us, the CDM group - which, by the way, was undertaken at his initiative, not our initiative... that's ... If you want to talk to someone who remained a very active Democrat after, and was involved in most of these events, that would be Ben Wattenberg...... he was there and he was engaged with us.

INT: Well, the things that Carter did do on some of the other questions - do you feel that the Committee and the Democratic Committee influenced his decision to increase the defense budget, and just before that, to...?

JK: Well, you know, I don't know. I mean, you have to know a person very well to know what their motives are and what goes on in their minds before they change their policies, alter their policies somewhat. His change was not dramatic. I don't know President Carter well at all. And I believe that it was Soviet... you know, expansionism and assertiveness, violence... He was also an ever more realistic... or at least he was developing a lot of concern about what the Soviets were doing in the Caribbean and Central America, and he came... after having assisted certainly the Sandinistas to come to power in Nicaragua. We were the first country in the world to recognize the Sandinista Government. For example, in Nicaragua, Carter did this, he provided official diplomatic recognition to the new Sandinista Government, which was a communist government, it was a Marxist-Leninist government. The leadership described themselves again and again as Marxist-Leninist, attended the Soviet birthday party every year. But Carter had recognized them at the time that a large group of South American diplomats who were active in the struggle for democracy in South America generally and Central America particularly, were in fact planning and engaged and ready to take off for Nicaragua with a different, non-Marxist-Leninist alternative to the Sandinistas. So he continued the policies, but he got more concerned about them, about their consequences; he became more concerned, he became aware of the extent to, I think... or at least of the fact that there was a steady flow of arms from the Soviet Union to Cuba, to Nicaragua... to El Salvador, and the US policies toward El Salvador were sort of altered a bit to explicitly support non-communist democratic leadership, like Napoleon Duarte in El Salvador. I think that the concern about all this was growing in the Carter Administration. If you read Bob Pastor's book... well, you've talked to Zbigniew Brzezinski certainly - they will tell you that the concern was growing and that there were some changes made in policy in response to their changed views and the President's concern. But it was slow to... you know, slow to change. I think, however, the changes that Carter.. undertook could not be said to have been a result of the Committee on the Present Danger or the Coalition for a Democratic Majority: I think they were a response to the policies of the Soviet Union and his own... being in a position of responsibility for American policy in response to those Soviet ex-policies; I think he had to face some very unpleasant facts. You can hear about this, I think, more accurately from Zbigniew Brzezinski or Robert Pastor or some (Overlap) of the people who were working in his Administration...

INT: ... Dr Brzezinski...

JK: ... and pushing him in that direction, right.

INT: But if... he did take a much firmer stand, President Carter...

JK: Somewhat firmer stand, but not as firm as we believed was required, but somewhat firmer.

INT: Even if he took not as firm a stand as you would have preferred...

JK: Or as Ronald Reagan would take just a year later.

INT: Well, I was going to ask you: why do you think Carter was so overwhelmingly defeated by Reagan?

JK: Well, I think that the American people, for whom I have very great regard, let me say, a very high opinion... that's... understood that the world had become a good deal more dangerous; they understood that the Soviets were, for example, continually on the offensive in a very aggressive way, and unhelpful way, anti-democratic way in the United Nations, and I think the American people understood that very well. I learned that when I went to the UN, just a year later. Many people understood that the Soviets were more aggressive in the world; they understood they'd invaded Afghanistan... (A few incoherent words)... and they understood that we had withdrawn and something that was being interpreted worldwide as a defeat. However we interpreted it, everybody else called it a defeat. And I have no doubt that the American people generally believe the world is safer, and that we are safer, when we are stronger. And they ... you know, they understood that we had lost clear-cut military superiority, and they wanted a change. I think that was the principal reason. Now economic well-being, standard of living, is always important at elections, and quite reasonably so, because that's what affects people's lives most directly; and it is also true that there were fairly severe economic problems that developed during the Carter years, which he himself discussed from time to time when he talked about, you know, the misery index, and inflation was rising and unemployment was rising, and our productivity was down and our sort of standing... our economy as well as our military might had diminished, and the American people wanted a change, and they believed that Ronald Reagan (Interruption) would...


INT: Could you just summarize for us why you think Carter was defeated so overwhelmingly by Reagan?

JK: Right. Well, I think that President Carter was defeated because of the economic problems - I want to be clear: I think they played a role. I'm a political scientist and I study these things, and I know that economic problems, with the rising unemployment and inflation and low productivity and so forth, were a factor in that election, in that defeat of President Carter. But I think that... there was what he himself called a "growing spirit of malaise" in the United States, and that malaise related, I believe, to a popular sense of the decline of American strength and of Western strength, and also of American clarity and purpose in the world. And I think that Ronald Reagan was also a marvelous campaigner, who was very skilful in presenting himself and making the case for a change, for, you know, persuading.. Americans what is always easy to persuade Americans of, and that is that things can be better than they are, and they don't have to be that way. And I think that Ronald Reagan is a very skilful campaigner, just like Bill Clinton is a very skilful campaigner, and it's important never to underestimate that factor. But he sort of stood, he projected a purpose of rebuilding the Western strength and purpose. And I think that's what helped, the combination of those two.