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Sea Power and Maritime Affairs Lesson 19: The Era of Retrenchment: Presidents Ford and Carter, 1974-1980 Learning Objectives

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Sea Power and Maritime Affairs

Lesson 19: The Era of Retrenchment: Presidents Ford and Carter, 1974-1980


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Learning Objectives

  • Understand the Navy under President Ford and the political and economic factors that contributed to the Carter Administration viewpoint of the Navy’s role in Military Strategy and foreign relations.

  • Know the evolution of strategic thinking and the defense policy during of the Carter Administration and the internal political factors that influenced these policies.

  • Comprehend the policy goals that preceded the Reagan defense buildup and the internal political situation that enabled it.



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The Navy Under President Gerald Ford (1974-1976)

  • VIETNAM: Extreme frustration –Congress would not fund $1 billion for SVN

  • USSR:

    • “Peaceful coexistence” interpreted as rivalry for dominance through client states in Third World,notably Africa (Angola, Kenya, Zaire)

    • Nuclear arms race intensifies

      • USSR develops triple-MIRVed IRBM, SS-20; Backfire bomber

      • US develops Trident SSBN; total of 8,500 warheads (nearly 3,000 increase in five years)

      • SALT-II dead in water


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MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT: 12 MAY 1975

  • Cambodian communist forces seize 40 man American commercial vessel.

  • Diplomacy fails to gain release

  • Pres. Ford sends in USAF, USN, USMC (largest deployment since Vietnam)

  • Recapture: 15 Marines killed; 50 wounded!


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Economic Inflation: Technology Costs

By 1975, the Navy’s 200th anniversary, the Navy had less than 500 ships,

the smallest since 1976.



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Decline of the U.S. Navy Under Carter (1977-1981)

  • Background: He inherited a congressional and popular antimilitary attitude as well as a reduced Navy composed of older ships.

  • Diplomacy: He believed containment could not be achieved through diplomacy and did not think the Soviets were a world threat.

    • Salt I

    • Salt II


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The Carter Naval Policy

  • The President did not support naval expansion.

  • His five-year building programs were extremely austere.

  • He de-emphasized the “presence” mission of the Navy.

  • He limited the conceptual basis for the Navy’s size to plan for SLOC protection and support of the major U.S. commitments to Europe.

  • The Iranian crisis (1978-1981) forced Carter to send warships to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean



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So that's what our almighty government has had up its sleeve since Day One to help our 50 brave American hostages in Iran -- a military slapstick comedy routine, played out in the deserts of Iran!

Denver PostSheldon J. Potter, Letter to the Editor

People have been severely criticizing Carter for doing nothing. But now when he does something and it doesn't work he is going to be severely criticized again.

Arvid Laingen, brother of a hostage, quoted in "Minnesota Relatives of Hostages Differ Sharply on Rescue Mission"


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The Carter Naval Policy since Day One to help our 50 brave American hostages in Iran -- a military slapstick comedy routine, played out in the deserts of Iran!

  • 1979, Anti-American Ayatollah Khomeini comes to power in Iran

    • De-stabilizes the region for U.S.

    • Since 1953 Iran was American friendly: imported in excess of 10.5 million dollars of arms

  • 1980, failed rescue attempt with hostages in Iran

  • Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

    • U.S. supports anti-Soviet fighters with high-tech arms

    • Conflict lasts 10 years

      • Soviets Withdraw, leaving Afghanistan in hands of warlords, (ultimately, anti-U.S. Taliban)


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Carter Doctrine since Day One to help our 50 brave American hostages in Iran -- a military slapstick comedy routine, played out in the deserts of Iran!

  • “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an attack on the vital interests of the U.S.”

    • State of the Union, 1979


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Consequences: Ford/Carter since Day One to help our 50 brave American hostages in Iran -- a military slapstick comedy routine, played out in the deserts of Iran!

  • Carter policy of Soviets being European Continental Threat only badly damaged the Navy’s ability to handle crisis in Middle East.

    • American Embassy in Tehran

    • Stability in Middle East

    • Iran/Iraq War

  • Regan easily elected in 1980

    • Carter’s dealing with hostages in Iran

    • Soviet threat


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Learning Objectives since Day One to help our 50 brave American hostages in Iran -- a military slapstick comedy routine, played out in the deserts of Iran!

  • Understand the Navy under President Ford and the political and economic factors that contributed to the Carter Administration viewpoint of the Navy’s role in Military Strategy and foreign relations.

  • Know the evolution of strategic thinking and the defense policy during of the Carter Administration and the internal political factors that influenced these policies.

  • Comprehend the policy goals that preceded the Reagan defense buildup and the internal political situation that enabled it.


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Discussion since Day One to help our 50 brave American hostages in Iran -- a military slapstick comedy routine, played out in the deserts of Iran!

Next time: President Reagan and Maritime Strategy


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