National debate over America’s position in the world opened and closed the 1980s. The decade began with Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter, a contest that was widely interpreted as the victory of a muscular and assertive view of America’s world role over a more cautious and multilateral approach to American strategy. By the mid-1980s, as a new Soviet leadership hinted at the end of the ‘new’ Cold War and the Reagan Administration savored a landslide victory in 1984, domestic debate in the United States reopened. Arms control and Central America had already served as Democratic points of attack on the Republican Administration’s foreign policies; the new critics levelled a more profound set of arguments against the Reagan foreign policies. Growing budget and trade deficits, coupled with other economic shortcomings, such as slow productivity growth, threatened to undermine the economic pre-eminence on which America’s international position rested. Paul Kennedy’s analysis of ‘imperial overstretch’ through the ages was the most visible of these skeptical treatments, but his arguments concerning the ill effects of excessive military spending were echoed by others who focussed more narrowly on the twin deficits and their long-term effects on the American economy (Kennedy, 1987; Friedman, 1988).
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