H-Diplo Roundtable XXIV-1 on Donaghy.  The Second Cold War: Carter, Reagan, and the Politics of Foreign Policy

George Fujii Discussion

H-Diplo Roundtable XXIV-1

Aaron Donaghy.  The Second Cold War: Carter, Reagan, and the Politics of Foreign Policy.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2021.  ISBN:  9781108838030 (hardback, $59.99).

6 September 2022 | https://hdiplo.org/to/RT24-1
Editor:  Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Thomas Maddux | Production Editor: George Fujii


Introduction by Thomas Schwartz, Vanderbilt University. 2

Review by Andrew L. Johns, Brigham Young University and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. 4

Review by Henry Maar, University of California, Santa Barbara. 9

Review by Aileen Teague, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M.. 13

Response by Aaron Donaghy, University College Dublin. 16




Perceptive readers of H-Diplo may well doubt the complete objectivity of my introduction to Aaron Donaghy’s new book.  As an active practitioner of “intermestic” history, namely the emphasis of the ‘foreign-domestic nexus’ in the study of American foreign relations, it might be expected that I would have high praise for Donaghy’s approach.  Indeed, my blurb on his book jacket reads, “The Second Cold War is the most compelling and perceptive book I have read detailing the intimate connection between the making of American foreign policy and the influence of domestic politics during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Written in an engaging and fast-paced style, the book captures this important period in American history with understanding and nuance. An outstanding achievement.”  So, I certainly liked the book.  I can say with a certain relief that Aileen Teague, Henry Maar, and Andrew Johns have largely concurred with my judgment, if not in as hyperbolic a fashion as my blurb. 

Although each of the reviewers have minor reservations or criticisms of the book’s omissions, writing style, and even the word ‘intermestic,’ they largely agree that Donaghy has written a very important book.  They praise its extensive research, clear and jargon-free writing, and thought-provoking conclusions.  Johns dislikes Donaghy’s frequent use of subheadings within the manuscript, Marr raises some historiographical issues about Donaghy’s choice to end in 1985, and Teague does not think the book is as successful in its earlier chapters in making the connection between foreign policy and domestic politics.  Donaghy offers a very full response to these criticisms, as well as to the larger question of taking the intermestic approach.  He notes, in a very straightforward and direct manner, that while other approaches to this era are certainly possible, he grounded his work in political history because it “holds the most explanatory power.”  I could not agree more with this statement, and I think that the question of whether it offers the most compelling explanation for past events is one that historians must always consider.

For this reason, I found one of the reservations raised by Teague to be the most interesting and thought-provoking.  If domestic politics were central to foreign policy, why did the Reagan Administration largely maintain its Central American policy even after the 1984 election?  The maintenance of this policy led to disaster, with the Iran-contra affair the outcome.  Donaghy seeks to answer this by painting the issue as one that the Democrats raised in portraying Reagan as reckless and likely to get the United States into another Vietnam-like conflict.  Reagan sought to diffuse this criticism through his outreach to the Soviet Union and a toning down of his Cold War rhetoric.  However, the continuity of the regional policy suggests factors that intermestic-minded historians – and I include myself - need to remember.  Policies can develop constituencies and a momentum that make it very difficult to change course, even if the domestic political constellation changes markedly.  For such cases, historians need to seek out other factors with explanatory power, a recognition that we should steer away from any “one size fits all,” approach to historical thinking.

Donaghy ends his reply by regretting the degree to which historians of US foreign relations have ceded ground to political scientists, exploring many other approaches to American foreign policy but neglecting the domestic political considerations.  Hopefully his book will inspire younger scholars and graduate students to reclaim this scholarly territory for historians.



Dr Aaron Donaghy (FRHistS) teaches American and international history at University College Dublin. Previously, he was EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow at Harvard University and the University of Nottingham. Donaghy is the author of The Second Cold War: Carter, Reagan, and the Politics of Foreign Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2021), and The British Government and the Falkland Islands, 1974-79 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). He is now working on a study of America, the West, and the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.

Thomas Schwartz is the Distinguished Professor of History at Vanderbilt University.  His most recent book is Henry Kissinger and American Power: A Political Biography (Hill and Wang, 2020).

Andrew L. Johns is Professor of History at Brigham Young University and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.  He is the author or editor of six books on U.S. foreign relations and political history, including Vietnam’s Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (‎ University Press of Kentucky, 2010); A Companion to Ronald Reagan (Wiley Blackwell, 2015); and The Price of Loyalty: Hubert Humphrey’s Vietnam Conflict (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).  He has served as editor of Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review since 2011; serves as general editor of the “Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace” book series, published by the University Press of Kentucky; and is past president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association.

Henry Maar is a modern US historian specializing in peace activism, foreign policy, and the Cold War. He received his PhD in History from UC Santa Barbara in 2015 and was the Agnese N. Haury Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of the United States and the Cold War at Tamiment Library, NYU. His book FREEZE! The Grassroots Movement to Halt the Arms Race and End the Cold War has been released by Cornell University Press.

Aileen Teague is an Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. She previously held a postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. Teague earned her Ph.D. in History from Vanderbilt University in 2018 and served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2006 to 2014. Her work has been published in academic journals including Diplomatic History and the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. Her chapter, “The War on Drugs in Mexico” is forthcoming in David Farber, ed., The War on Drugs: A History (New York University Press). She is currently drafting a book manuscript that examines the effects of United States drug policies and policing efforts on 1970s and 1980s Mexican politics and society.



“It’s All Political Now”

Like most academics, I read a lot: history (obviously), fiction, and articles of all kinds.  Typically, I can tell within the first couple of pages whether I will like a book by an author I have never read.  But it is the rare scholarly book where I find myself spending the first twenty pages agreeing–sometimes out loud despite being alone–with virtually all of an author’s assertions.  Aaron Donaghy’s compelling book, The Second Cold War: Carter, Reagan, and the Politics of Foreign Policy, had me doing exactly that.  Relying on extensive archival research, particularly in the still-emerging/declassifying collections at the Carter and Reagan presidential libraries, Donaghy makes a powerful case for the influence of domestic political considerations on US foreign policy decisions and actions during the period 1979 to 1985.[1] 

Donaghy’s book is an excellent addition to our understanding of both the Carter and Reagan presidencies.  While the literature on the Reagan administration has grown exponentially in recent years, scholarship on Carter’s foreign policy has been less robust for a variety of reasons.[2]  Donaghy’s book pays particular attention to Jimmy Carter’s final year in the Oval Office and to the pre-Mikhail Gorbachev era of Ronald Reagan’s tenure, choosing the period of the so-called “Second Cold War” from 1979-1985 as the focus on his analysis.  Donaghy suggests that not only does this chronology offer important lessons for crisis management, but that the symmetrical policy reversals of Carter in 1979 and then Reagan in 1984 deserve more scrutiny than scholars have devoted to them  He argues that together the two presidents “helped lead to the rise and fall of the last great Cold War struggle” and challenge the “misconception that the change in U.S. policy and easing of tensions began only with the arrival of [Soviet leader] Gorbachev” (5).

Moreover, the author’s acute focus on the nexus of domestic politics and foreign policy represents an important reminder that not all histories of US foreign relations need to engage the international or transnational interpretive paradigms in order to have explanatory value.  Indeed, he echoes the trenchant argument made by Fredrik Logevall that “Some topics and analyses are and should be U.S.-centered, a point sometimes forgotten in the emerging international history orthodoxy....What is striking, though, is how often studies altogether omit domestic politics, treating professional politicians involved in foreign relations as though they were not politicians at all.”[3]  Throughout the book, Donaghy’s emphasis on the ‘intermestic’ aspects of US foreign policy underscores Thomas Zeiler’s observation over a decade ago that “rooting the field in international history risks losing sight of the Americanness that is the very character of U.S. diplomatic history.”[4] The author rightly concludes that “the reality is that American foreign policy has always been inherently political–that with rare exception there is no such thing as apolitical foreign policy” (294). Politics do not, in fact, stop at the proverbial water’s edge.  

One could find fault with Donaghy’s assertion regarding the “decline of political history as a field of study” and his conclusion that the “disorderly nature of politics is at odds with the academic ethos, which tends to reward neat, conceptual frameworks.” (5)  Here, the author takes the field to task for its over-reliance on international and de-centered approaches and builds on the arguments made by Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, as well as Hal Brands.[5]  But Donaghy does employ a specific (though relatively narrow) and consistent definition of ‘domestic politics’ in the book, and he correctly notes that one of the unfortunate results of the de-centering of the United States in the literature is a “distorted portrayal of how decisions were reached” and a lack of appreciation for “what influenced [policymakers’] risk calculus; why they chose certain policies and discarded others; or why they decided to change course at a given time.”  Only by examining and understanding the influence of domestic variables like election campaigns, congressional restraints, party politics, and public opinion can historians create a complete and accurate picture of US foreign policy.  Thus, Donaghy’s methodological approach “integrates discussion of domestic politics into an interpretive framework which also gives attention to geostrategy and ideology in explaining” how events unfolded in these two administrations (6-7).

Three central themes animate the book: the way in which political pressures such as elections shaped risk perception for the two administrations; the influence of credibility–whether domestic, personal, or international–on policymakers during the Second Cold War; and the significant degree to which Carter and Reagan timed policies and decisions based on domestic political calculations.  Donaghy concludes that the “role of domestic politics ranks near the top of the causal hierarchy” for both presidents.  In each administration, domestic pressures led to policy change as Carter and then Reagan subordinated ideology and principles as required by political circumstances. (17) In making this argument, Donaghy demonstrates a keen appreciation for the US context in which these events occurred while studiously avoiding making his argument monocausal.  While he recognizes the influence of international factors, the author finds that domestic political considerations played the pivotal role in determining the timing and nature of the decisions made by the two presidents.

Making Donaghy’s book even more thought-provoking is the fact that he recognizes the continuities and similarities between two administrations that scholars traditionally portray as having had little in common.  The parallels between the policy shifts in the fourth years of the Carter and Reagan presidencies that resulted from an increased emphasis on domestic political considerations form the nucleus of Donaghy’s argument. Carter came to office in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.  He was determined to base US foreign policy on a new set of priorities–including human rights, environmental concerns, and morality–as a way to restore faith in the United States, both at home and abroad.  Carter’s speech at the University of Notre Dame in 1977 encapsulated this fundamental shift away from containment as the foundation of the US engagement with the rest of the world.[6]  But even so, Carter recognized the political utility of this approach from the start, deploying this value-based approach as a weapon to attack Gerald Ford during the 1976 presidential campaign.

Carter reversed course because the combination of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which caused the president serious problems both internationally and politically. Donaghy notes that throughout 1980, in an effort to address these concerns and with a keen eye on his reelection campaign, “Carter’s foreign policies bore little resemblance” to the goals outlined at Notre Dame (112). Indeed, that speech features prominently in the book as a contrast to the president’s actions during his final year in office.  During 1980, for example, Carter announced the Carter Doctrine, which extended US containment policy to the Persian Gulf, as well as Presidential Directive (PD) 59.  Both policies reflected the complete reinvention of the president’s foreign policy approach that owed a great deal to the domestic political criticism he faced during the 1980 presidential campaign.  In particular, PD-59 caused controversy in the press and among Carter’s liberal opponents within the Democratic Party like Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who accused the president of attempting to “out-Republican the Republicans” during his primary challenge for the Democratic nomination (107). Carter’s “foreign policy became bound up in electoral politics,” and with mounting criticism from both his own party and the GOP, he “would stake his credibility on a vigorous, alarmist response to the Soviet invasion” (78).[7] 

 A similar transformation occurred for Reagan during his fourth year in office.  During the first three years of his presidency, Reagan’s actions and inflammatory rhetoric, including the famous ‘evil empire’ speech in 1983, reflected his conservative ideology.  In particular, the tenets of the Committee on the Present Danger dominated his foreign policy framework as Reagan dealt aggressively with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, decreed the Reagan Doctrine and expanded US anti-Communist activities around the globe, and increased pressure on Moscow with policies like National Security Decision Directive (NSDD)-32, which proved even more hawkish than Carter’s PD-59.  Perhaps most significant was the announcement in March 1983 of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).  Donaghy’s discussion of SDI is quite interesting, particularly when he details the internal bureaucratic maneuvering and opposition to Reagan’s grandiose scheme and the Soviet response to the proposal (173-183). The administration’s confrontational stance culminated in 1983 in what the author characterizes as “the most dangerous year” of the Second Cold War, which saw the tragic KAL incident, the near-catastrophic Able Archer 83 exercise, and the rising fears of nuclear conflict which were stoked by the airing of the film The Day After.[8]

Yet the combination of the nuclear freeze movement, congressional pushback against the administration’s policies in Central America, and the emerging Democratic strategy for the 1984 presidential campaign reflected the fact that Reagan was losing public support for his handling of US foreign policy.  This would prove problematic as the president’s re-election campaign approached.  As a result, Reagan’s advisers–especially James Baker and Richard Wirthlin argued that “We must strongly position the President on the ‘peace’ side of the peace through strength formula” (208) leading up to the election.  Moreover, Reagan’s growing concern regarding the state of US-Soviet relations was genuine, which led him to embrace his pragmatic side over his ideological inclinations.  What followed in 1984 was a dramatic shift in rhetoric and tentative efforts at conciliation with Moscow aimed at reducing the tensions of the past five years.  Donaghy points out that while NSSD-75 came in early 1983, in retrospect its tone set the stage for Reagan’s subsequent overtures to the Soviets that ultimately led to his series of summit meetings with Gorbachev, the arms control agreements (including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) that followed, and the eventual end of the Cold War.  Donaghy notes that the promulgation of NSSD-75 and the internal conversations that followed “marked the start of a shift in the power struggle” within the administration, one “away from the hard-shell conservatives and toward the pragmatists–a category that would increasingly feature the president” (168-169). For Donaghy, this reality suggests that contrary to much of the recent literature, Gorbachev should not receive all of the credit for the events that led to the end of the Cold War.  Reagan’s reversal and his subsequent efforts to de-escalate the Cold War deserve approbation as well.[9]

One of the interesting points that Donaghy makes concerns the role played by Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.[10]  An unrepentant cold warrior and militant hawk toward the Soviet Union, Brzezinski used Carter’s domestic political situation to help manipulate the president into taking a firmer posture toward Moscow throughout the 1980 presidential campaign, especially after Secretary of State Cyrus Vance–whose worldview differed markedly from that of Brzezinski, particularly in regard to US relations with the Soviets–resigned in the wake of the failed hostage rescue mission in Iran.  Donaghy quotes a memo that Brzezinski sent to Carter in 1980 which the national security adviser urged Carter to do “the things that you should do because of their potentially positive impact on foreign policy and domestic politics; and [do] the things that you should not do because they either detract from your foreign policy accomplishments, or because they would complicate your domestic political situation” (63). In fact, Donaghy notes that Brzezinski “drew Carter’s attention to the foreign-domestic nexus perhaps more than any other adviser,” but that he did so primarily in the service of a more confrontational posture toward Moscow (101-102). As the author demonstrates, using domestic political arguments in an effort to change a president’s foreign policy stance has a long, although not always successful, history in the US context.[11]

Throughout the book, Donaghy provides scores of examples of domestic politics influencing choices by both presidents.  Carter’s decision to admit Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the United States for medical treatment in large measure resulted from his concern over attacks from the shah’s allies on the right for refusing to aid a longtime ally.  This carried even more weight for the administration given the need to maintain former secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s support for the ratification of the SALT II treaty.  Donaghy frames Reagan’s decision to reverse Carter’s grain embargo–which had been imposed at the height of the US-Soviet tensions in 1980–as being driven “purely from domestic politics” (131).  Despite Reagan’s incendiary anti-Soviet rhetoric, domestic political interests, including intense pressure from Republican senators in farm belt states, prevailed in convincing Reagan to lift the sanctions.  The political context in which the Strategic Defense Initiative was announced falls into a similar category.  In early 1983, the combination of the nuclear freeze movement, opposition to the administration’s foreign policy, defeats in Congress, a struggling economy, and low public approval ratings provided the backdrop for Reagan’s announcement in March of the new program.  Donaghy argues that for Reagan, “SDI could both lessen the nuclear threat and offset his domestic opposition–shoring up the administration’s left and right flanks simultaneously... SDI was as much a response to a political crisis as a strategic one.” (179, 181)

In what is an otherwise terrific study, there are a few quibbles.  Organizationally, the frequent–and, frankly, mostly unnecessary–subheadings break up the narrative to the point of distraction throughout the book.  In addition, the chapters tend to read as if they were written as separate articles rather than as part of a unified narrative.  As a result, the prose tends to be repetitive in numerous places.  Tighter editing would have avoided repeated quotations and analytical points, streamlining the argument and the text in a way that would make it more accessible.  One could question the relative lack of international context and analysis, although this is largely understandable given Donaghy’s methodological approach and is balanced by the intricate and excellent discussion of policymaking within the domestic political context of both presidencies.  These minor concerns notwithstanding, Aaron Donaghy’s book deserves close attention, both for its emphasis on the undeniably crucial nexus of domestic politics and foreign policy and for its cogent insights into the Carter and Reagan administrations.


How do we best understand the dynamics that influence American foreign policy? It is a question that scholars of American diplomatic history have debated since the founding of the field. Two dominant modes of scholarship emerged early on, offering different explanations and research methodologies to explain American foreign relations. Scholars who follow in the footsteps of Samuel Flagg Bemis seek explanations for American foreign policy by looking at international developments in contrast with the scholars who follow the path of Thomas Bailey in exploring domestic explanations. [12] In recent years, the field has taken an international turn, making use of new archival findings in various countries while centering explanations for the end of the Cold War on non-state actors, even as the larger profession eschews traditional political history.[13]

Aaron Donaghy’s The Second Cold War challenges the international trend by firmly centering this account of the late Cold War on the binary between domestic politics and foreign policy. As Donaghy observes, international explanations of American foreign policy run the risk of becoming “ahistorical” by ascribing too much agency to overseas actors than they warrant (6). Donaghy does not, however, shun the international entirely, but seeks to build on the concept of the “intermestic”[14]—a useful phrase blending the international and domestic explanations of foreign policy (perhaps not the most catchy or influential of phrases). Nevertheless, Donaghy applies this concept to what some scholars have called the “second Cold War”—a period Donaghy defines from between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (December 1979) and the conclusion of the 1985 Geneva Summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. By applying the themes of the intermestic, credibility, and timing, Donaghy illuminates not just how domestic politics influenced American foreign policy in the late Cold War, but actively challenges us to reconsider the periodization of the Cold War, which is traditionally seen as lasting from1945 to 1991.[15]

Donaghy spends the first three chapters on the ‘Carter turn.’ While previous scholarship has dismissed domestic politics as the explanation for Carter’s foreign-policy turn,[16] Donaghy successfully demonstrates Carter’s building of domestic political support for arms control and the U.S.-Soviet relationship more generally. In the wake of the Vietnam War, Carter entered office eager to end the arms race and renew détente (a policy that increasingly came under attack both from hardline Republicans and from elements within the Democrat Party such as Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson). Donaghy outlines the fundamental role that domestic politics played throughout Carter’s often schizophrenic foreign policy. He demonstrates aptly how the U.S.-Soviet relationship and Carter’s desire for an arms control treaty were imbedded in almost every foreign policy decision the Carter administration undertook, from the U.S. response to the Ogden War between Somali and Ethiopia, to the US-China relationship, and even the Carter-Torrijos treaty with Panama.

What stands out in these chapters is how much of Carter’s more hawkish shift on foreign policy can be laid at the feet of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who routinely appears as the voice of warning to Carter on the domestic consequences of going ‘soft.’ Donaghy shows how often Carter would listen to the more-dovish Secretary of State Cyrus Vance only to then have a change of mind after listening to Brzezinski. Likewise, Henry Jackson feels omnipresent in Carter’s arms control decisions, so much so that the Soviets even referred to Jackson as possessing an “invisible chair” at the talks (37). Thus, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan became a self-fulfilling prophesy, confirming all the hardline suspicions of the Soviets while making it politically impossible for Carter to pass SALT II in the Congress. It further opened the door for critics who labeled Carter as ‘weak’ and for Ronald Reagan to make the argument in 1980 that the pursuit of arms control “had been misguided all along” (78).

The majority of The Second Cold War deals with the first term of the Reagan administration. Reagan entered office determined to build on the defense increases of the late Carter years, even though, as Donaghy shows, Reagan’s own advisors understood that the United States was not behind in the arms race. Stacking his administration with figures from the hawkish Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), Reagan championed higher defense spending and suggested the United States suffered from a ‘window of vulnerability’ with the Soviets. A new, more aggressive US appeared to be emerging. But as Donaghy demonstrates, for all of Reagan’s bluster about overcoming the dreaded ‘Vietnam Syndrome,’ the administration was constrained by domestic political factors such as support for the War Powers Act and the population’s lack of tolerance for further overseas interventions (120). Donaghy further uses these chapters to demonstrate how the so-called ‘Reagan Reversal’[17] was in fact the result of domestic political considerations.

While Donaghy curiously claims that the Reagan administration “resisted criticism during its first two years,” ignoring “calls for a nuclear freeze and a more flexible negotiating position” (16), his own research appears to demonstrate how the administration was shifting on arms control as early as 1981. For example, Donaghy shows how Reagan’s foreign policy advisor and first National Security Advisor Richard Allen dismissed with ‘contempt’ the Zero Option, telling his audience at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) that only “‘pacifist’ elements ‘believe that we can bargain the reduction of a deployed Soviet weapons system for a promise not to deploy our own offsetting system,’” (139). The administration, however, saw the political advantages of the Zero Option and soon co-opted it. Beyond this, we might also find more evidence of an earlier Reagan-shift with Reagan’s decision to stay within the boundaries of SALT II (despite campaigning on shelving the treaty) and his public declaration in the spring of 1982 that his “heart and soul” were in “sympathy with the people that are talking about the horrors of nuclear war.”[18] These examples strike me as furthering Donaghy’s argument as they demonstrate how integral public opinion was even to the most sensitive of national security issues. 

Donaghy convincingly demonstrates that domestic political considerations were already changing the course of the Reagan administration’s approach to arms control and its relationship to the Soviet Union by at least 1983, and certainly before Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Soviet Union. Following extensive losses in the 1982 midterms (including the passage of nine nuclear freeze resolutions at the state level) and Reagan’s Zero Option doing “nothing to quell public disquiet about the nuclear arms race,” the nuclear freeze issue became a “political liability” for the administration (141, 143). Donaghy  wonderfully details  the inner-workings of the Reagan administration’s ‘anti-freeze’ plan and persuasively links Reagan’s push for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or ‘Star Wars’ as critics labeled it) to the political necessity of co-opting the Freeze campaign.  Furthermore, he aptly demonstrates how Reagan’s famous ‘Evil Empire’ speech at the National Association of Evangelicals was a way of deterring evangelicals from joining the movement. Far less attention, however, is given to the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter on war and peace. The book thus misses an opportunity to flesh out the significance of the Catholic bishops and their pastoral letter on nuclear weapons to the Reagan administration’s ties to Catholic voters and to both political parties’ electoral chances in 1984. This is surprising given the overall centrality of Catholics within the Reagan administration, and their relationship to the politics of abortion and the culture wars.[19]

Donaghy’s final chapters demonstrate the significance of foreign policy (and US-Soviet relations moreover) to the Reagan administration’s re-election campaign and the eventual Geneva Summit. Whereas Reagan campaigned as a more hawkish figure in 1980,[20] Donaghy contrasts this portrayal with the more centrist Reagan that emerged in 1984 who spoke of “Ivan and Anya” sharing a room with “Jim and Sally.” With no language barrier between them, Reagan believed the two couples would discuss their commonalities and not argue about their systems of government. Internally, members of the Reagan administration were left to wonder, “‘Who wrote this shit?’” (236). As Donaghy observes, Reagan had shifted from a “hawk” to an “owl” (236) and in so doing eased the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union while further evading charges that his re-election would lead the United States into a nuclear war. Reagan’s reversal thus paved the way for a renewed détente alongside the emergence of Gorbachev .     

While the time period of The Second Cold War (1979-1985) is politically very rich indeed, when scholars define the second Cold War as having ended in 1985, the years and events that follow become more of an afterthought. Geneva may have laid the groundwork for future arms control negotiations and superpower summitry in Reykjavik and Moscow, but the events from the Iran-Contra Affair to 1986’s Daniloff Affair (wherein the Soviets arrest journalist Nicholas Daniloff on trumped up charges of espionage setting off a minor diplomatic crisis) strike me as being significant to the periodization of the period, as they show us the tensions that still exist and the events that will shape US-Soviet diplomacy. To be sure, there is a world of difference in US-Soviet relations in 1986 when contrasted with 1983, and Donaghy is certainly within his rights to make an argument for the Geneva Conference of 1985 as the end date of the Second Cold War (and, presumably then, the Cold War itself). Though the end of the Cold War is traditionally linked with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, historians might also consider the signing of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty (1987) as an end point due to its elimination of the controversial Euromissiles that underscored US-Soviet tensions in the period, or perhaps the various revolutions of 1989. In focusing on the late Cold War in the years prior to Gorbachev’s ascendency, Donaghy joins a wave of recent scholarship that decouples the collapse of the Soviet Union from the end of the Cold War. He furthermore aptly demonstrates how U.S. domestic politics acts as a driving force for U.S.-Soviet relations in the late stages of the Cold War.[21]

Ultimately scholars will have to grapple with several fundamental questions Donaghy’s work raises, particularly when it comes to periodization. When did the Cold War begin and when did it end? Should we continue to treat it as one contiguous conflict, or does it depend on our vantage point (that is, if the first Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union ended presumably during the period of détente, did the Cold War still exist elsewhere?). Likewise, if we accept the notion that there was a second Cold War, was détente simply a pause in the larger global conflict after 1945 (or even earlier)? Donaghy’s work furthermore raises important questions regarding the “intermestic” approach and whether it can be applied to other histories of the Cold War, or even successfully combined or weaved into a larger narrative with the “international turn.” Richly researched and well-argued, The Second Cold War adds much to our understanding of the events that led to the conclusion of the Cold War and deserves a wide audience. It is clearly written and jargon-free, making it accessible to both graduate students and upper-division undergraduates who may be unfamiliar with the historiography.



With increased tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union after détente, a new, more dangerous Cold War emerged in 1979. Bookended by a series of foreign policy defeats under President Jimmy Carter and the more aggressive responses taken by Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, this “second Cold War” contained major historical episodes including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Olympic boycotts by both superpowers, the tragedy of Korean Airlines Flight 007, U.S. efforts to eliminate communism in Central America, and years of foot dragging in arms control. Only with the ascension of the reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 did tensions between the two superpowers begin to decrease. Aaron Donaghy’s The Second Cold War examines how and why the Cold War escalated and why tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to recede nearly six years later.

Impeccably researched and engagingly written, Donaghy’s explanation is anchored in domestic political history. For most of the Carter and Reagan administrations, both presidents pursued policies akin to their ideological convictions. The more left-leaning Carter tackled an ambitious human rights agenda and practiced policies of restraint, while the more hawkish Reagan supported an arms buildup and achieved little in the way of negotiations with the Soviets. Donaghy argues, however, that due in large part to political considerations at home, both Carter and Reagan pivoted during their fourth years in office. Criticized as weak on national security in the runup to the 1980 elections, Carter shifted to the right. The ‘Carter Doctrine,’ which extended containment to the Persian Gulf, exemplified Carter’s rather abrupt policy change. On the other hand, by his fourth year, Reagan found that he could not obtain congressional funding for his military initiatives, among them the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), without improving relations with the Soviets. Amidst an economic recession at home and widespread calls for a nuclear weapons freeze, Reagan turned quickly toward the center, a shift that ultimately paved the way for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) (8).

The Second Cold War makes a number of historiographical contributions. First, considering that most studies of this era focus on Reagan and Gorbachev’s personal rapport, Donaghy’s examination of the more uncertain years prior to Gorbachev’s ascension to power offers a fresh departure from the more common periodization.[22] Through the lens of domestic politics, disorderly as it was, the end of the Cold War was anything but a foregone conclusion during the early 1980s. Between 1979 and 1985, the personal relationships between both Carter and Reagan and their Soviet counterparts—Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko—were uncertain at best and on the verge of unravelling at their worst. In addition, The Second Cold War is part of a group of studies seeking to “recenter” the historiography of US foreign relations following the “transnational turn.”[23] According to Donaghy, transnationalism has prioritized the study of non-state actors and assigned “too much agency to the international sphere” (6). His response is a study grounded in the “intermestic” (6). Major foreign policy issues such as SDI or the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were bound up in considerations at home, considerations which included party wrangling, clashing personalities, and shifts in public opinion (4-7).

The study starts out strong with a chapter on the “dwindling of détente,” which describes the initial goals of the Carter administration. These included moving away from anti-Communism as the driving imperative for US policy while attempting to negotiate with the Soviets. But a questionable Soviet human right records complicated the bilateral relationship during the Carter years. While distancing himself from the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and the resignation of Richard Nixon, Carter found himself continually undermined by recalcitrant neoconservatives who warned of a Soviet arms buildup and expansion in the Third World (22). To address “public complacency” regarding the Soviet threat, veteran neoconservatives, among them Paul Nitze, formed organizations like the Committee on the Present Danger to warn the American people about the threats posed by the Russians (38-39).

Chapters 2 and 3 address Carter’s shift to the right. Chapter 2 explores the 1980 election and the struggles Carter faced at home in securing SALT II. At home, amidst an economic recession, mounting inflation due to an oil crisis, and intraparty squabbling, Donaghy shows how the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) and other conservative groups denounced Carter’s approach to the Soviet Union, leaving the president little wiggle room to accomplish his objectives. Carter was forced to accept militarized policies such as the MX mobile ICBM system (Missile Experimental) so that he could pass SALT II through Congress. Other foreign policy dilemmas intensified Carter’s rightward pivot. Through the lens of US domestic politics, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran Hostage Crisis, which Donaghy examines in Chapter 3, could not have come at a worse time. They exemplified the vulnerability of the US to the Russians that neoconservatives feared under Carter’s leadership. As evidence of Carter’s sudden about-face, Donaghy offers the “Carter Doctrine” and policies such as Presidential Doctrine-59, which granted the president more flexibility in planning for nuclear war (105).

Chapter 4 transitions into Reagan’s initial years in office. His “peace through strength” approach included supporting a military buildup, providing covert assistance to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, cancelling the economic assistance Carter had provided to the leftist Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and continuing to support violent, right-wing regimes throughout Central America (129). According to Donaghy, the “ghost of Vietnam” lingered throughout Reagan’s presidency with Democrats reluctant to become entangled in military conflicts abroad at the same time that Reagan wanted to overcome the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome” (131). Here, the ramifications of American commitment in Vietnam, and each president’s response to them, are not developed as much as they should have been. That both presidents were responding to such a pivotal loss in U.S. prestige was critical to their foreign and domestic policies.

Chapter 5, which focuses on the nuclear freeze campaign, and Chapter 6, which examines the impact of SDI and Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ speech, are among the most interesting. Reagan entered office during an uncertain time in East-West relations. When his hardline approach yielded few results, the more centrist nuclear freeze campaign reflected changes in public opinion that favored reducing tensions with the Soviet Union. By 1984 (covered in Chapter 6), Reagan realized that, paradoxically, in order to both achieve the military buildups that appeased his more hardline supporters and guarantee funding for SDI, he would have to work with Congress and negotiate with the Soviets.

Still, by 1983—which deputy intelligence director, Robert Gates coined “the most dangerous year in the second half of the Cold War” (184)—hardliners continued to complicate Reagan’s foreign policy initiatives. Changes in Soviet leadership and continued engagement in the Third World stoked neoconservatives’ fears, to be sure, but US initiatives—Donaghy points to Able Archer 83, the NATO military exercise in Western Europe, in Chapter 7—also aroused Soviet fears. In order to break the stalemate, Reagan, like Carter before him, had little choice but to move to the center in order to appease domestic political constituents. Donaghy details this shift in Chapter 8, before analyzing the slow road to launching START and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The resolution of the book comes in the final chapter with Gorbachev’s ascension to power. The arrival of Gorbachev, who was an agent of change in the Soviet Union between 1985 and 1989, was perfectly timed, especially through the lens of US domestic politics. It bore fruit in the form of an opening in US-Soviet relations that ultimately rationalized Reagan’s centrist shift, even if it put the Soviet Union on a path toward eventual disintegration.

The Second Cold War is an important contribution to the historiography of domestic politics during the late Cold War.[24] Donaghy’s study is rich with insights on the transition between the Carter and Reagan presidencies. Though the two presidents could not have been more personally or ideologically different, the book demonstrates how both leaders’ policy agendas hinged on the common struggle they faced in aligning their actions abroad with political shifts at home.

While the domestic focus of the study is a notable strength of the book, at times I wondered if it was a sufficient response to the gaps that Donaghy argues have been created in the field of U.S. foreign relations history by the transnational turn. In chapters 2 and 3, I found the domestic focus of the work to be either uneven or gathered rather hastily at the end of the chapter. There seems to be a substantial focus on the international elements of the narrative, which undermines the stated historiographical contribution of the book. Similarly, the book’s contributions in US domestic issues, particularly the sense of fear and fragmentation that characterized bilateral relations in these years, left me wanting to know more about Soviet domestic politics. It was a reminder to this reader at least of why transnational perspectives are so important. 

As a historian of US-Latin America relations, I was also interested in Donaghy’s treatment of Carter and Reagan’s policies toward Central America. Although I am convinced that a modicum of domestic rationales shaped Reagan-era foreign policies, I am not convinced that the Central America case fits neatly into the argument of sudden policy shifts during the fourth years of the Carter and Reagan administrations. With Reagan in particular, a more hardline approach in the region continued well after 1985.

My comments notwithstanding, Donaghy’s study reminds us that domestic political considerations are ubiquitous in the execution of a president’s foreign policy. Given the polarized nature of domestic politics and a seeming inability to reach consensus on issues abroad, The Second Cold War demonstrates that domestic politics and their impact on foreign affairs have a much longer history.



I thank Tom Maddux, Diane Labrosse, and the H-Diplo team for organizing this roundtable, Tom Schwartz for his kind introduction, and Andrew Johns, Henry Maar, and Aileen Teague for their thoughtful responses. It’s wonderful to learn that The Second Cold War has been so well-received. Johns describes the book as “compelling,” “powerful,” “thought-provoking,” and “an excellent addition to our understanding of the Carter and Reagan presidencies.” Teague praises it for being “impeccably researched,” “engagingly written,” and “rich with insights.” Maar commends the book for being “clearly written and jargon-free, making it accessible to both graduate students and undergraduates.” I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the book and reflect on their analyses, including those points of minor concern or disagreement.

The Second Cold War is a work of political history, whose primary focus is American foreign policy. My aim was to provide the best understanding of why US policy went in the direction that it did during the late Cold War—under two successive (but altogether different) presidents and administrations. As the reviewers point out, the book is centered on the foreign-domestic nexus, or the “intermestic” dimension. This is not the only approach that could have been adopted. Recent decades have seen a proliferation of fine studies examining US foreign policy (and the Cold War) through the lens of culture, ideology, race, religion, gender, and human rights.[25] I chose to ground my work in political history because, to my mind, it holds the most explanatory power. Three interrelated themes—risk, credibility, and timing—pervade the narrative.

The book covers a roughly ten-year timeframe, beginning with Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 and concluding with the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev summit in Geneva in late 1985, with a discussion of the end of the Cold War in the epilogue. This era saw détente give way to a new and more dangerous confrontation—one that contained the most serious challenges to East-West relations during the second half of the Cold War. As such, a broader objective was to explain how and why the Cold War intensified in the late 1970s and early 80s, and why tensions then started to recede. Early in the course of my research, I began asking a pivotal question: What led both presidents to adopt policies in their fourth year in office that were so at odds with the course they had earlier pursued, and on which they staked their reputation? This is an American-centered question, which demands deep immersion in the American archival records.

What I found was that these symmetrical shifts were largely (but by no means entirely) the product of domestic political concerns. Implemented in the election years of 1980 and 1984, respectively, they contributed to the rise and fall of the last great Cold War struggle between America and the Soviet Union. In 1977, Carter had set out to reorient US foreign policy by pledging to curtail defense spending, scale back military engagement, and reduce nuclear arms. He bemoaned the “inordinate fear of communism” (46) and exaggerations of the Soviet threat. Yet by 1980 Carter had become a Cold Warrior. He instituted wide sanctions against Moscow, announced a five-year defense program with a large increase in military spending, extended the containment doctrine to the Persian Gulf, and unveiled Presidential Directive 59 (PD-59), an aggressive nuclear targeting policy. Reagan’s transformation was the inverse. He arrived in office as the quintessential anti-Communist hardliner. Reagan oversaw the largest peacetime military build-up, publicly denounced Soviet policies (domestic and foreign), placed hawkish ideologues in top positions, and sided with them at National Security Council debates, where the key decisions were crafted. Meetings with Soviet leaders were notable by their absence. In 1984, however, Reagan instituted meaningful changes in tone and policy. He declared that 1984 was “a year of opportunities for peace,” (221) reversed the sanctions that had been imposed on the USSR in 1980, directed officials to pursue a string of bilateral agreements (diplomatic, economic, and military), and invited Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to a White House meeting. The diplomatic offensive was pursued despite worsening Soviet behavior at home and abroad, and veered from the formal strategy statements (e.g., National Security Decision Directives 32 and 75).

As Johns notes, I do not contend that every position taken by Carter and Reagan was driven by partisan wrangling, electioneering, or personal ambition. Foreign policy decisions seldom have monocausal roots. Geostrategic concerns, for example, played a part in shaping Carter’s response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. Ideological convictions helped guide Reagan’s reaction to the Polish crisis in 1981-82. My task was to integrate discussion of domestic politics into an interpretative framework which also devoted attention to themes such as strategy and ideology in explaining the course of events. What is important, however, is that even the most strategic or ideological issues were always viewed through a domestic political (and personal) lens, which determined the nature and timing of foreign policy initiatives. Take, for example, Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proposal of March 1983, which—contrary to what has been written in the extant literature—was chiefly unveiled in response to mounting public pressure and congressional obstruction of his strategic defense program. I therefore adopted an “intermestic” approach, looking at how the international and domestic agendas become entwined.[26] Only by examining the full landscape—international and domestic—can we truly grasp how the key figures operated: what influenced their risk calculus; why they chose certain policies and discarded others; or why they decided to change course at a given time. These are questions which cannot be answered without examining domestic variables such as congressional restraints, electoral strategizing, party politics, and public opinion. All three reviewers find great explanatory power in the “intermestic,” particularly Johns and Maar— even though they are not enamored with the term itself.

Nor do I dismiss the importance of international or transnational history. I hugely value these approaches and need no persuading of their utility. International and transnational studies have enriched my understanding of the Cold War (and beyond), and I frequently avail of them in my research and teaching.[27] My new project, a study of America, the West, and the Yugoslav Wars, draws on archives from several nations. As I make clear in the epilogue, international and transnational perspectives are vital, illuminating the effects of US actions around the globe, whether harmful or benign. But they do not necessarily bring us closer to understanding how and why American foreign policy is formed—and at times may take us further away from that endeavor. To neglect the role of domestic politics is to ignore the internal sources of America’s external behavior, limiting our perception of how and why the US acts internationally.[28] It distorts the context in which policy is made by downplaying the forces and constraints—real and perceived—with which decision-makers have to contend: public opinion, election campaigns, party politics, personal ambition, the media, interest groups, and Congress, the world’s most powerful legislative body. I thus find strength in Robert McMahon’s formulation, penned some two decades ago, that American foreign relations history should be a “Janus-faced” field—looking inward as well as outward.[29]

In a book such as this, there is a binary element at play. To allot greater attention to the international sphere, for example, would inevitably mean reducing the analytical focus on the domestic, and vice-versa. Teague suggests that I devote too much attention to the international side, which detracts from the historiographical contribution. Johns argues the opposite—suggesting that more international analysis could have been provided, while acknowledging my methodological aims. I will answer this in several ways. First, international and transnational histories of the Cold War are not in short supply. Were I to conduct a broader study of Western policy, for instance, my approach would surely be different. The primary focus of this study, however, is the vital “how and why” questions of American policy. One must therefore impose some sort of methodological parameters, since otherwise the enterprise becomes amorphous. Second, space constraints force ruthless decisions on what to include in the book. For example, cutting my analysis of domestic politics and devoting word space to the efforts of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau might have offered the reader greater insights into Canadian views, or the dynamics of the NATO alliance.[30] But it would not have served the purposes of the book, which is to provide the best understanding of how and why US foreign policy went in the direction that it did during the late Cold War. To examine the actions of American decision-makers is to consider a wide range of influences, external and internal. But they do not all carry the same causal force—a crucial component of any historical study yet one that is too often obscured.

To be clear: I do not argue that nations such as Canada, France, Great Britain, the USSR, and West Germany did not have agency in their own right. Most certainly they did. Figures such as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher all feature in The Second Cold War. Rather, I show that when it comes to explaining the actions of American decision-makers, political calculations (and personal considerations) usually prevailed. And even when they did not, the domestic context nearly always dictated the timing and tenor of US policy initiatives. America’s status as the world’s most powerful nation (by almost every measurement), its uniquely decentralized political system, and the perpetual cycle of election campaigns—all are realities which have shaped the conduct of US foreign affairs in the post-1945 era.

Teague argues that more attention could have been devoted to the legacy of the Vietnam War.[31] This is a fair point, although I do at various stages discuss the matter with respect to both administrations and to public opinion. One reason why I do not delve even deeper is that my study is primarily concerned with East-West affairs rather than the question of military intervention. (Central America, for example, features more as a subplot in this study.) Had I been more concerned with the latter, Vietnam would certainly have been a central theme. Indeed, in my current research on the Bosnian War of the 1990s (where the question of military intervention looms large), it is striking how often Vietnam was invoked by American policymakers opposed to a greater US role.

On Central America, Teague is surely correct in her assertion that there was no dramatic change in the Reagan administration’s outlook during this period. Nowhere in the book do I suggest otherwise. As I explain in chapter 8 (which covers 1984), the status quo gravely worried Reagan’s pragmatic advisers. The military withdrawal from Lebanon and policy shifts toward the USSR were not accompanied by a similar reversal in Central America—despite congressional intrusions. This “obsession” would land Reagan and others in serious trouble during his second term.[32] However, what should be kept in mind is that Reagan’s policy was effectively weaponized by his political opponents, who, in casting the president as “dangerous” and “reckless,” consistently drew parallels between the conflict in Central America and the prospect of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. This affected public attitudes, as opinion polls—and Reagan’s election campaign plan—revealed. Playing politics with foreign policy was not confined to those in the White House.

Maar shares my view on the importance of the nuclear freeze movement in shaping attitudes among those in Congress and, subsequently, in the Reagan administration. He is full of praise for how I detail the inner-workings of the administration’s “anti-freeze” plan and link Reagan’s push for SDI to the political necessity of co-opting the freeze campaign. Still, Maar maintains that I ought to have devoted more attention to the role of the Catholic bishops and their pastoral letter on war and peace. This is a valid point—Maar has just written a wonderful book on the freeze campaign which addresses this very topic.[33] I could have extended the chapter on the freeze movement to stress the significance of the bishops’ letter and the administration’s concern with Catholic voters. Given the book’s space constraints, however, such an addition would have come at the expense of some other theme in another chapter.

Maar makes some interesting points regarding periodization and the late Cold War. But I do not suggest in the book that the Cold War ended in Geneva in November 1985. Far from it. There was still an enormous amount of work ahead, and ample opportunity for hawks in Washington and Moscow to have derailed the quest to negotiate and compromise. That they failed owed much to the efforts of Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Ambassador Jack Matlock, who rejected the advice of naysayers who were opposed to negotiation, and who cast Gorbachev as duplicitous and overhyped the Soviet threat. But a genuine breakthrough would not have been possible without Gorbachev, who, as I stress in chapter 9 and the epilogue, was the principal human agent of change in the Cold War endgame. Notwithstanding the Soviet economic stagnation, had one of the conservative nationalist elites succeeded Konstantin Chernenko (such as Grigory Romanov or Viktor Grishin), it is unlikely that Soviet policy in the late 1980s—domestic or foreign—would have undergone serious reform. The Cold War would have looked very different.[34] That Gorbachev’s ascension only occurred because three Soviet leaders, none of whom contemplated meaningful reform, died within the space of 30 months serves to remind us of the importance of contingency and human agency in explaining historical change.

In a particularly kind and thoughtful review, Johns invokes Thomas Zeiler’s observation that “rooting the field in international history risks losing sight of the Americanness that is the very character of US diplomatic history.”[35] I could not agree more. I speak as an Irishman, and a European, who is keenly aware of the extent to which domestic political considerations shape American foreign policy—yet baffled by how often this element is either downplayed or missing entirely from historical scholarship. Indeed, as Fredrik Logevall and Daniel Bessner note, “historians have largely ceded this ground to political scientists.”[36] It is a deeply regrettable development in the field. For as events in recent years have shown, US political structures and the actions of those who wield power have enormous consequences, and not just for Americans.

Johns, whose work I much admire,[37] describes The Second Cold War as “a terrific study,” but has quibbles with the layout. This particular book was written for a wider academic audience: scholars, graduates, and undergraduates alike. The presence of subheadings (as opposed to an asterisk or double-space) was thus designed to indicate the introduction of a new theme or topic. Younger students, for example, may be less au fait with complex subjects such as the zero option, “interim restraint,” or the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. To some extent this is subjective. Other reviewers of the book, including those in this roundtable, have specifically praised its clarity and accessibility to a wide audience. Ultimately, readers will render their own verdicts on the style and substance.

My thanks once again to Johns, Maar, and Teague for their thoughtful responses, and to Tom Schwartz for his introduction. Their comments have given me much to ponder as I contemplate the continuing uncertainties of the academic job market, and my own future in it.


[1] On the importance of domestic politics as a methodological approach in the history of US foreign relations, see for example Ralph B. Levering, “Is Domestic Politics Being Slighted as an Interpretive Framework?” SHAFR Newsletter 25:1 (March 1994), 17-35; Jussi M. Hanhimäki, “Global Visions and Parochial Politics: The Persistent Dilemma of the ‘American Century,’” Diplomatic History 27:4 (September 2003), 423-447; Fredrik Logevall, “Domestic Politics,” in Frank Costigliola and Michael J. Hogan, eds., Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations, 3rd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 151-167; Jason Parker, “‘On Such a Full Sea Are We Now Afloat’: Politics and U.S. Foreign Relations across the Water’s Edge,” Perspectives, May 2011, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/may-2011/political-history-today/on-such-a-full-sea-are-we-now-afloat; and Thomas A. Schwartz, “‘Henry,...Winning an Election is Terribly Important’: Partisan Politics in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations,” Diplomatic History 33:2 (April 2009), 173-190.  Representative scholarship employing this methodology includes Melvin Small, Democracy and Diplomacy: The Impact of Domestic Politics on U.S. Foreign Policy, 1789-1994 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Robert David Johnson, Congress and the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Andrew L. Johns and Mitchell B. Lerner, eds., The Cold War at Home and Abroad: Domestic Politics and U.S. Foreign Policy since 1945 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2018); Julian E. Zelizer, Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security–From World War II to the War on Terrorism (New York: Basic Books, 2010); Andrew L. Johns, Vietnam’s Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010); and Andrew Johnstone and Andrew Priest, eds., U.S. Presidential Elections and Foreign Policy: Candidates, Campaigns, and Global Politics from FDR to Bill Clinton (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017).

[2]Recent scholarship on Carter’s foreign policy includes Umberto Tulli, A Precarious Equilibrium: Human Rights and Détente in Jimmy Carter’s Soviet Policy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020); Nancy Mitchell, Jimmy Carter in Africa: Race and the Cold War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016); and Daniel Strieff, Jimmy Carter and the Middle East: The Politics of Presidential Diplomacy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).  On Reagan’s foreign policy, see for example Simon Miles, Engaging the Evil Empire: Washington, Moscow, and the Beginning of the End of the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020); James Graham Wilson, The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); Rasmus Sinding Søndergaard, Reagan, Congress, and Human Rights: Contesting Morality in U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020); Andrew L. Johns, ed., A Companion to Ronald Reagan (Malden: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015), especially chapters 16-26; and Bradley Lynn Coleman and Kyle Longley, eds., Reagan and the World: Leadership and National Security, 1981-1989 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2018).

[3]Fredrik Logevall, “Politics and Foreign Relations,” Journal of American History 95:4 (March 2009), 1075, 1076-1077.

[4] Thomas W. Zeiler, “The Diplomatic History Bandwagon: A State of the Field,” Journal of American History 95/4 (March 2009), 1060.  As an aside, while I wholeheartedly agree with the concept it defines and its undeniable relevance as a methodological approach in studying the history of US foreign relations, I cannot stand the term ‘intermestic.’  Bayless Manning of the Council on Foreign Relations did historians no favors by creating it in 1977, and Campbell Craig and Logevall exacerbated the problem by popularizing it in their book, America’s Cold War.  Of course, I do not have an artful term to replace it, but perhaps someone more creative than I will coin a new, less artificial one. See Campbell Craig and Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2009).  Full disclosure: Logevall was my graduate adviser, and I have given him grief about ‘intermestic’ on many occasions.

[5] Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, “Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?” New York Times, 29 August 2016; and Hal Brands, “The Real Gap,” The American Interest 13:1 (September/October 2017), 44-54.  The Logevall and Osgood essay generated significant conversation and some controversy among historians about the accuracy of their conclusions and the authors’ definition of ‘political history,’ including an exchange with Marc Stein in the January 2017 issue of Perspectives on History, the news magazine of the American Historical Association (https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2017/political-history-an-exchange).

[6] Carter’s speech at Notre Dame is available at https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/address-commencement-exercises-the-university-notre-dame.  On Carter’s foreign policy, see for example Gaddis Smith, Morality, Reason, and Power: American Diplomacy in the Carter Years (New York: Hill & Wang, 1987); and Scott Kaufman, ed., A Companion to Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter (Walden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), especially chapters 16-18 (272-334) and 24-25 (430-469).

[7] On Kennedy’s challenge to Carter, see for example Timothy Stanley, Kennedy vs. Carter: The 1980 Battle for the Democratic Party’s Soul (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010).

[8] Korean Air Lines flight 007 was shot down on 1 September 1983 by a Soviet fighter, killing 269 passengers and crew including Representative Larry McDonald (D-GA).  The flight had crossed into Soviet airspace due to a navigational mistake.  Able Archer 83 was a NATO military exercise in November 1983 designed to simulate a period of conflict escalation culminating in a nuclear exchange.  The complexity and realism of the operation, combined with tense relations between Washington and Moscow, let the Soviets to put their nuclear forces on alert in anticipation of a nuclear first strike by NATO.

[9] On this point, see for example Beth A. Fischer, The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000).

[10] On Brzezinski, see for example Justin Vaïse, Zbigniew Brzezinski: America’s Grand Strategist, trans. by Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018).

[11] One unsuccessful attempt to employ this strategy was Hubert Humphrey’s February 1965 memorandum that tried to convince Lyndon Johnson to end the US involvement in the Vietnam conflict.  See Andrew L. Johns, The Price of Loyalty: Hubert Humphrey’s Vietnam Conflict (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), especially chapter 2.

[12] Samuel Flagg Bemis, A Diplomatic History of the United States (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1936); Thomas Bailey, The Man in the Street: The Impact of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1948).

[13] For accounts of the Cold War emphasizing transnational, non-state actors, see, for example, Christian Peterson, Globalizing Human Rights: Private Citizens, the Soviet Union, and the West (New York: Routledge, 2011); Sarah Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Daniel Thomas, The Helsinki Effect: International Norms Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018); Joe Renouard, Human Rights in American Foreign Policy: From the 1960s to the Soviet Collapse (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). We might also include here works that have focused on the Nuclear Freeze movement and transnational antinuclear activism as central to the ending of the Cold War. See, for instance, David Cortright, Peace Works: The Citizen’s Role In Ending The Cold War (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993); Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999); Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb, Vol. 3: Towards Nuclear Abolition (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

[14] This phrase is most closely associated with Campbell Craig and Frederick Logevall’s America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge: Belknap Press/Harvard, 2009); however, as Donaghy observes, the phrase predates them.

[15] For the traditional Cold War framework, see, among other accounts, Walter LaFeber, America, Russia, and the Cold War (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004); John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (New York: Penguin Press, 2005); Melvyn Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007); Craig and Logevall, America’s Cold War; Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (New York: Basic Books, 2019).

[16] Brian Austen, Carter’s Conversion: The Hardening of American Defense Policy (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009). 

[17] See Beth Fischer, The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997). Fischer posits Reagan’s shift from hawk-to-dove was due to the effect the Able Archer ’83 wargames incident had on the president in combination with his own antinuclear instincts. 

[18] “Question and Answer Session with Reporters, April 20, 1982,” The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/question-and-answer-session-reporters-domestic-and-foreign-policy-issues-0

[19] During the 1980 election, Reagan narrowly took the (traditionally Democratic) Catholic vote from Carter 47-46 percent. Although this was only a five percent gain from Gerald Ford in 1976, for Carter, it was an eleven-percent decline. Memo, Elizabeth Dole to Edwin Meese III, James A. Baker III, Michael Deaver, “Catholic Strategy [1 of 3],” Robert Reilly Series II Subject File, Box 2, OA1241, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. For the broader significance of Catholics to the Reagan administration, see Lawrence J. McAndrews, What They Wished For: American Catholics and American Presidents, 1960-2004 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014), esp. ch. 6.

[20] For accounts of Reagan’s 1980 campaign, see (among others), Laura Kalman, Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010); Craig Shirley, Rendezvous with Destiny: The Campaign That Changed America (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010); and Rick Perlstein, Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020).

[21] See, for example Ralph L. Dietl, The Strategic Defense Initiative: Ronald Reagan, NATO Europe, and the Nuclear and Space Talks, 1981–1988 (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018); Simon Miles, Engaging the Evil Empire: Washington, Moscow, and the Beginning of the End of the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020); and my Freeze! The Grassroots Movement to Halt the Arms Race and End the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021). For accounts that focus on the relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev as the driving factor of the late Cold War, see, Jack Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (New York: Random House, 2004); James Graham Wilson, The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014); Robert Service, The End of the Cold War, 1985-1991 (New York: Public Affairs, 2015).

[22] See, for example: James Graham Wilson, The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev's Adaptability, Reagan's Engagement, and the End of the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014).

[23] Daniel Bessner and Fredrik Logevall, “Recentering the United States in the Historiography of American Foreign Relations,” Texas National Security 3:2 (2020): 38-55, and the H-Diplo forum on that article at https://issforum.org/roundtables/PDF/Roundtable-XXI-42.pdf; Campbell Craig and Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge: Belknap Press/Harvard, 2009), 4-12.

[24] See for example: Barbara Keys, Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014); Hal Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016); Kyle Longley, “An Obsession: The Central American Policy of the Reagan Administration,” in Bradley Lynn Coleman and Kyle Longley (eds.), Reagan and the World: Leadership and National Security, 1981-1989 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2017), 211-231.

[25] See for example: Elizabeth Borgwardt, A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005); Robert Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001); Christopher Endy, Cold War Holidays: American Tourism in France (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Petra Goedde, GIs and Germans: Culture, Gender, and Foreign Relations, 1945–1949 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); Joseph Henning, Outposts of Civilization: Race, Religion, and the Formative Years of American-Japanese Relations (New York: New York University Press, 2000); Julia Irwin, Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Seth Jacobs, America’s Miracle Man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem, Religion, Race, and U.S. Intervention in Southeast Asia (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004); Barbara Keys, Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014); Nancy Kwak, A World of Homeowners: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945–2000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Brenda Gayle Plummer, Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012); Sarah Snyder, From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018); Lauren Frances Turek, To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020); Penny Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); Penny Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004); Reinhold Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria After the Second World War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

[26] See for example: Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge: Belknap Press/Harvard, 2009), 4-12.

[27] To name but a few: Paul Thomas Chamberlin, The Cold War’s Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace (New York: HarperCollins, 2018); Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999); Sarah Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Human Rights Network (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[28] Andrew Johns, Vietnam’s Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 6-7.

[29] Robert McMahon, “Toward a Pluralist Vision: The Study of American Foreign Relations as International History and National History,” 35–50, in Michael Hogan and Thomas Paterson, eds., Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations (Second Edition) (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

[30] See for example: Luc-André Brunet, “Unhelpful Fixer? Canada, the Euromissile Crisis, and Pierre Trudeau’s Peace Initiative, 1983–1984,” The International History Review 41:6 (2019), 1145-1167.

[31] For an excellent analysis, see: Christian Appy, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (New York: Viking, 2015).

[32] Kyle Longley, “An Obsession: The Central American Policy of the Reagan Administration,” 211–31, in Bradley Lynn Coleman and Longley, eds., Reagan and the World: Leadership and National Security, 1981–1989 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2017).

[33] Henry Richard Maar III, Freeze! The Grassroots Movement to Halt the Arms Race and End the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2022).

[34] Numerous Sovietologists have emphasized this point. See for example: Archie Brown, Seven Years that Changed the World: Perestroika in Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970–2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Mark Kramer, “Ideology and the Cold War,” Review of International Studies 25:4 (October 1999), 539-576.

[35] Thomas W. Zeiler, “The Diplomatic History Bandwagon: A State of the Field,” Journal of American History 95:4 (March 2009), 1060.

[36] Daniel Bessner and Fredrik Logevall, “Recentering the United States in the Historiography of American Foreign Relations,” Texas National Security Review 3:2 (Spring 2020), 53.

[37] See for example, Johns, Vietnam’s Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2010); Johns and Mitchell Lerner, eds., The Cold War at Home and Abroad: Domestic Politics and US Foreign Policy since 1945 (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2018); Johns, The Price of Loyalty: Hubert Humphrey’s Vietnam Conflict (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).