America must strengthen itself to thwart globally the Soviet Union's "ruthless" Afghanistan-model of international behavior, the Democratic platform declares, while holding a path open for "a more genuine and reciprocal [American-Soviet] detente."
The double-strand foreign policy that the Democrats will carry into the presidential campaign is exemplified in one sentence deliberately aimed at their Republican challengers:
"A long-term strategy for the 1980s requires a clear view of the Soviet Union, a view without illusion that our adversary is either benign or omnipotent."
In contrast to the GOP platform's demand for ultimate "military superiority" over the Soviet Union, the Democratic platform declares that "America's military strength is and must be unsurpassed." In other words, military superiority is treated as an unattainable and implausible goal, as Defense Secretary Harold Brown and Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie have declared it to be. The Democrats suggest that "parity" is the only meaningful goal in the nuclear age.
But only in comparison to the 1980 Republican platform is the Democratic language on American-Soviet relations moderate by historical standards. Its denunciation of the Soviet Union contains some of the most blistering verbiage that has appeared in Democratic platforms in a generation.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 is excoriated as "military aggression," outright "murder" and "ruthless" violation of "all norms of international law and behavior." "We must reject," the platform declares, "the easy mythology that the Soviet Union sees the world as we do." d
Nevertheless, the Democrats declare, "we must continue to pursue both security priorities: deterrence of Soviet aggression and balanced arms control agreements." The derailed nuclear strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II), which the Republican platform scorns, must be pursued, the Democrats maintain, not as a favor to the Soviet Union, but "because it is an important way of restraining Soviet behavior."
Probably the most politically contentious portion of the Democratic foreign policy and defense planks, however, is the Democratic version of the Carter administration record versus the records of the Nixon and Ford administrations.
The two parties' versions of recent American defense history send them both into the election campaign in full political battle cry.
By Democratic account, "the Nixon-Ford administration presided over a steady decline of 33 percent in real U.S. military spending between 1968 and 1976," and handed over to President Carter a nation so divided and disillusioned that "the very term 'national security' became synonymous with the abuse of power, deceit and violation of public trust."
Obliquely disposing of the 1976 Democratic platform pledge to seek a reduction of "about $5 billion to $7 billion" in defense spending, the 1980 platform states: "It was the Democratic Party's greatest hope that we could, in fact, reduce our military effort. But realities of the world situation, including the unremitting buildup of Soviet military forces, required that we begin early to reverse the decade-long decline in American defense efforts." (The 1980 Republican platform, anticipating the Democratic stance, declares, "We deplore Mr. Carter's personal attempts to rewrite history on defense budgets.")
Among those issues on which the Republican and Democratic platforms do converge, both parties heavily underscore commitments to the military security of Israel, a highly sensitive domestic political issue. But while the Republican platform endorses the Israeli-Egyptian peace process that President Carter launched, it charges that "the Carter administration's vacillations" have endangered that process."