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Mid-1970s: Hawks, Neoconservatives Join Forces to Oppose Detente, Arms Control Talks

The middle of the 1970s sees a fundamental paradigm shift among American conservatives and some formerly liberal intellectuals.
'Hawks' Disenchanted with Detente - Republican and Democratic “hawks,” defined by author J. Peter Scoblic as relatively conservative “establishment policy makers who played a higher premium on confrontation and the use of military force than did their more ‘dovish’ colleagues,” become more and more disenchanted with the US’s relations with the Soviet Union. They don’t believe that the program of detente—a gradual thawing of relations that foresees the end of the Cold War—has provided the US with any real benefits, but has allowed the USSR to build an enormous military and nuclear stockpile, more than enough to coerce the US into following its wishes. This reflects the mindset of former presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), who had fought negotiations with the USSR since the Eisenhower administration.
Anti-Communist 'Neoconservatives' - On the other side of the debate, a group of formerly liberal intellectuals unhappy with the Democratic Party’s pacifist post-Vietnam foreign policy positions find themselves bringing their militantly anti-Communist views across the aisle to join forces with their former conservative opponents. This group will eventually dub themselves “neoconservatives” (see Late 1930s - 1950s).
Joining Forces - Scoblic will write: “Like sheets of ice calving away from a glacier, the hawks and the neoconservatives fell away into the sea of conservative discontent that had been lapping at Washington’s centrist foreign policy establishment for decades. These converts shared the conservative belief that, in the Soviet Union, the United States faced an ideological enemy with messianic goals. The neoconservatives, particularly, subscribed to the simplistic good-versus-evil, us-versus-them schema that animated the Right. They believed that there were clear sides in the Cold War and worried that Democrats had forgotten this defining principle. The hawks were less moralistic but no less explicit in their assessment of the Soviet threat. They agreed that MAD [the theory of nuclear “mutual assured destruction” that says neither side will risk nuclear war because of the likelihood that both sides will be destroyed] was a choice, that nuclear war fighting was a better strategy, and that negotiation was of little value—and in doing so they effectively accepted the Manichaean worldview that had led conservatives to the same conclusion.
'Systematic Failures' of US Intelligence Community - The neoconservatives in particular bring the view that the US intelligence community has, through incompetence or perhaps outright collusion with the Soviets, systematically underestimated the Soviet threat for years, and their own assessments—based on instinct and political convictions rather than ascertainable data—are inherently more accurate than those of the CIA or the NSA. “In essence,” Scoblic will write, “they argued that the nature of the Cold War was something to be morally intuited, not empirically observed.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 75-76]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Barry Goldwater, Eisenhower administration

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

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