Learn more about Reagan Doctrine
The Reagan Doctrine was an important strategy orchestrated and implemented by the United States to oppose the global influence of the Soviet Union during the final years of the Cold War. While the doctrine lasted less than a decade, it was a centerpiece of American foreign policy from the mid-1980s until the end of the Cold War in 1991.
Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. provided overt and covert aid to anti-communist resistance movements in an effort to "rollback" Soviet-backed communist governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The doctrine was designed to serve the dual purposes of diminishing Soviet influence in these regions of the world, while also potentially opening the door for democracy in nations that were largely being governed by Soviet-supported autocrats.
 History of U.S. Presidential "doctrines"
The Reagan Doctrine followed in the post-World War II tradition of U.S. Presidents developing foreign policy "doctrines", which were designed to reflect these Presidents' global challenges and proposed foreign policy solutions to them.
The tradition started with the 1947 Truman Doctrine, under which the U.S. provided support to Greece and Turkey as part of a Cold War strategy to keep these two European nations out of the Soviet sphere of influence. The Truman Doctrine was followed by the Eisenhower Doctrine, the Kennedy Doctrine, the Johnson Doctrine and the Nixon Doctrine, all of which defined the foreign policy approaches of these respective U.S. Presidents on some of the largest global challenges of their administrations.
 Origins of the Reagan Doctrine
 Carter administration and Afghanistan
At least one component of the Reagan Doctrine technically pre-dated the Reagan Presidency. In the final year of the Carter administration, following the December 24, 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the U.S., along with China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, began providing covert military assistance to Afghanistan's mujahideen, in an effort to drive the Soviets out of the nation, or at least raise the military and political cost of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The policy of aiding the mujahideen in their war against the Soviet occupation was originally proposed by Carter national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, implemented by U.S. intelligence services, and enjoyed broad bipartisan political support.
 Heritage Foundation initiatives
With the arrival of the Reagan administration, the Heritage Foundation and other conservative foreign policy experts saw a political opportunity to significantly expand Carter's Afghanistan policy into a more global "doctrine", including U.S. support to anti-communist resistance movements in Soviet-allied nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. According to the book Rollback, "it was the Heritage Foundation that translated theory into concrete policy. Heritage targeted nine nations for rollback: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, Nicaragua and Vietnam".
Throughout the 1980s, the Heritage Foundation's foreign policy expert on the Third World, Michael Johns, the foundation's principal Reagan Doctrine advocate, visited with resistance movements in Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and other Soviet-supported nations and urged the Reagan administration to initiate or expand military and political support to them. Heritage Foundation foreign policy experts also endorsed the Reagan Doctrine in two of their Mandate for Leadership books, which provided comprehensive policy advice to Reagan administration officials.
The result was that, in addition to Afghanistan, the Reagan Doctrine was rather quickly applied in Angola and Nicaragua, with the U.S. providing military support to the UNITA movement in Angola and the "contras" in Nicaragua. Speaking to the Heritage Foundation in October 1989, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi called the Heritage Foundation's efforts "a source of great support. No Angolan will forget your efforts. You have come to Jamba, and you have taken our message to Congress and the Administration". U.S. aid to UNITA began to flow overtly after Congress repealed the Clark Amendment, a long-standing legislative prohibition on military aid to UNITA. Savimbi told the Heritage Foundation in 1989 that the amendment's repeal was "very much associated with your efforts. This foundation has been a source of great support"
Following these victories, Johns and the Heritage Foundation urged further expanding the Reagan Doctrine to Ethiopia, where they argued that the Ethiopian famine was a product of the military and agricultural policies of Ethiopia's Soviet-supported Mengistu Haile Mariam government. Johns and Heritage also argued that Mengistu's decision to permit a Soviet naval and air presence on the Red Sea ports of Eritrea represented a strategic challenge to U.S. security interests in the Middle East and North Africa.
 Reagan administration advocates
Within the Reagan administration, the doctrine was quickly embraced by many of Reagan's top national security and foreign policy officials, including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and a series of Reagan National Security advisors including John Poindexter, Frank Carlucci and Colin Powell.
Reagan himself was a vocal proponent of the policy. Seeking to expand Congressional support for the doctrine in his February 1985 State of the Union Address, Reagan said: "We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives...on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua ... to defy Soviet aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth. Support for freedom fighters is self-defense."
As part of his effort to gain Congressional support for the Nicaraguan contras, Reagan labeled the contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers", which was controversial because the contras, while ostensibly fighting for "freedom", had sometimes shown a disregard for human rights There also were allegations that some members of the contra leadership were involved in cocaine trafficking.
Reagan and other Reagan Doctrine advocates also argued that the doctrine served U.S. foreign policy and strategic objectives and was a moral imperative against the former Soviet Union, which Reagan, his advisors and supporters labeled an "evil empire."
 Other advocates
Other early conservative advocates for the Reagan Doctrine included influential conservative activist Grover Norquist, who ultimately became a registered Washington lobbyist and economic advisor to Jonas Savimbi's UNITA movement in Angola , and former Reagan speechwriter (and current U.S. Congressman) Dana Rohrabacher, who made several secret visits with the mujahideen in Afghanistan and returned with glowing reports of their bravery against the Soviet occupation .
 Phrase's origin
In 1985, as U.S. support was flowing to the mujahideen, Savimbi's UNITA, and the Nicaraguan contras, columnist Charles Krauthammer, in an essay for Time magazine, labeled the policy the "Reagan Doctrine", and the name stuck.<ref>"The Reagan Doctrine", by Charles Krauthammer, Time magazine, April 1, 1985</ref>
 "Rollback" replaces "containment"
The Reagan Doctrine was especially significant because it represented a substantial shift in the post-World War II foreign policy of the U.S. Prior to the Reagan Doctrine, U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War was rooted in "containment", as originally defined by George F. Kennan, John Foster Dulles and other post-World War II U.S. foreign policy experts.
Although a similar policy of "rollback" had been considered on a few occasions during the Cold War, the U.S. government, fearing an escalation of the Cold War and possible nuclear conflict, chose not to confront the Soviet Union directly. With the Reagan Doctrine, those fears were set aside and the U.S. began to openly confront Soviet-supported governments through support of rebel movements in the doctrine's targeted countries.
One perceived benefit of the Reagan Doctrine was the relatively low cost of supporting guerilla forces compared to the Soviet Union's expenses in propping up client states. Another perceived benefit was the lack of direct involvement of American troops, which allowed the U.S. to confront Soviet client states without sustaining casualties.
 Covert implementation
As the Reagan administration set about implementing the Heritage Foundation plan in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua, it first attempted to do so covertly, not as part of official policy. "The Reagan government's initial implementation of the Heritage plan was done covertly", according to the book Rollback, "following the longstanding custom that containment can be overt but rollback should be covert". Ultimately, however, the administration adopted the policy and supported it more openly.
 Congressional votes
While the doctrine benefited from strong support from the Reagan administration, the Heritage Foundation and several influential Members of Congress, many votes on critical funding for resistance movements, especially the Nicaraguan contras, were extremely close, making the Reagan Doctrine one of the more contentious American political issues of the late 1980s.<ref>A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990, Robert Kagan, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996)</ref>.
 Reagan Doctrine and the Cold War's end
As arms flowed to the contras, Savimbi's UNITA and the mujahideen, the Reagan Doctrine's advocates argued that the doctrine was yielding constructive results for U.S. interests and global democracy.
In Nicaragua, pressure from the contras forced the Sandinistas into holding free elections, which the Sandinistas then lost. In Afghanistan, the mujahideen bled the Soviet Union's military, fostered discontent among the families of Soviet soldiers sent to fight the long-running war, and stirred up nationalist feeling in the Islamic-populated Republics of the Soviet Union. In Angola, Savimbi's resistance ultimately led to a decision by the Soviet Union and Cuba to bring their troops and military advisors home from Angola as part of a negotiated settlement.
All of these developments were Reagan Doctrine victories, the doctrine's advocates argue, laying the ground for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself.<ref>"It Was Reagan Who Tore Down That Wall", Dinesh D'Souza, Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2004</ref>.
 Thatcher's view
Among others, Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has credited the Reagan Doctrine with aiding the end of the Cold War. In December 1997, Thatcher said that the Reagan Doctrine "proclaimed that the truce with communism was over. The West would henceforth regard no area of the world as destined to forego its liberty simply because the Soviets claimed it to be within their sphere of influence. We would fight a battle of ideas against communism, and we would give material support to those who fought to recover their nations from tyranny".
 Death of Savimbi and Contra leader
While resistance movement leaders in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua were strengthened considerably by U.S. military support, their role as leaders of these anti-communist movements also made them understandable enemies of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-allied governments they were fighting. The result was that these resistance movement leaders faced repeated assassination attempts, and were prime military targets in the wars in their respective countries.
In February 1991, following a ceasefire and while negotations were taking place for possible elections in Nicaragua between the Sandinista government and the contras, the contras' top military commander, Enrique Bermúdez, was shot and killed by an assassin in Managua. Bermudez' murder briefly ended the Nicaraguan ceasefire, as contra fighters resumed fighting.
In February 2002, UNITA's Jonas Savimbi was killed by Angolan military forces in an ambush in eastern Angola. Savimbi was succeeded by a series of UNITA leaders, but the movement was so closely associated with Savimbi that it never recovered the political and military clout it held at the height of its influence in the late 1980s.
 End of Reagan Doctrine
The Reagan Doctrine, while closely associated with the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan and his administration, continued into the administration of Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, who assumed the U.S. Presidency in January 1989. But Bush's Presidency featured the final year of the Cold War and the Gulf War, and the Reagan Doctrine soon faded from U.S. policy as the Cold War began to end.
In Nicaragua, the contra war ended after the Sandinista government, facing military and political presure, agreed to free and fair elections, in which the contras' political wing participated, in 1990. In Angola, an agreement in 1989 met Savimbi's demand for the removal of Soviet, Cuban and other military troops and advisors from Angola. Also in 1989, in Afghanistan, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev labeled the war against the U.S.-supported mujahideen a "bleeding wound" and ended the Soviet occupation of the country.
 Reagan Doctrine and Afghanistan's al-Qaeda
Some critics of the Reagan Doctrine assert, in retrospect, that the Reagan Doctrine ultimately led to blowback against the U.S. By strengthening radicalized al-Qaeda terrorist cells in Afghanistan's mujahideen, which ultimately turned against the U.S. in the September 11, 2001 attacks and other acts of global terrorism, critics say the Reagan Doctrine's support for these elements in Afghanistan actually proved the genesis of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Critics also alleged that, by contributing to unnecessary bloodshed in underdeveloped countries, the Reagan Doctrine helped unite many countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East against the U.S. and its foreign policy.
 Overextending U.S. foreign policy
Also, while the Reagan Doctrine enjoyed strong support from conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, the libertarian-oriented Cato Institute opposed the Reagan Doctrine, arguing in 1986 that "most Third World struggles take place in arenas and involve issues far removed from legitimate American security needs. U.S. involvement in such conflicts expands the republic's already overextended commitments without achieving any significant prospective gains. Instead of draining Soviet military and financial resources, we end up dissipating our own".
Even Cato conceded, however, that the Reagan Doctrine had "fired the enthusiasm of the conservative movement in the United States as no foreign policy issue has done in decades". While opposing the Reagan Doctrine as an official governmental policy, Cato instead urged Congress to remove the legal barriers prohibiting private organizations and citizens from supporting these resistance movements.
 Drugs and human rights abuses
Finally, there was criticism that the groups supported by the Reagan Doctrine did not hold the moral or ethical values that warranted U.S. support. Some alleged, for instance, that the Nicaraguan contra leadership was involved in the trafficking of cocaine. There also were allegations of human rights abuses by most of the movements supported under the Reagan Doctrine.
 See also
 Reagan Doctrine and Reagan foreign policy
 Reagan Doctrine criticism
- The Power of Nightmares, a BBC series (three programs in all) that examines the inter-relationships between Islamic terrorism and the Reagan Doctrine.
- "Bin Laden", a hip hop music song by Immortal Technique and Eminem blaming the Reagan Doctrine and the U.S. government for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
 External links
 Reagan Doctrine descriptions and history
- "The Reagan Doctrine" at the U.S. Department of State's Official Web Site.
- "The Reagan Doctrine: The Guns of July", by Stephen S. Rosenfeld, Foreign Affairs magazine, Spring 1986.
 Reagan Doctrine books
- Rollback: Right-wing Power in U.S. Foreign Policy, by Thomas Bodenheimer and Robert Gould, South End Press, 1989.
- The Reagan Doctrine: Sources of American Conduct in the Cold War's Last Chapter, by Mark P. Lagon, Praeger Publishers, 1994.
- The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War, by Raymond L. Garthoff, Brookings Institution, 1994.
- Deciding to Intervene: The Reagan Doctrine and American Foreign Policy, by James M. Scott, Duke University Press, 1996.
 Reagan Doctrine support
- "A U.S. Strategy to Foster Human Rights in Ethiopia", by Michael Johns, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder # 692, February 23, 1989.
- "The Coming Winds of Democracy in Angola", by Jonas Savimbi, Heritage Foundation Lecture # 217, October 4, 1989.
- "Savimbi's Elusive Victory in Angola", by Michael Johns, Congressional Record, October 26, 1989.
- "The Principles of Conservatism", by Honorable Margaret Thatcher, Heritage Foundation Lecture, December 10, 1997.
- "The Ash Heap of History: President Reagan's Westminster Address 20 Years Later", by Charles Krauthammer, Heritage Foundation Lecture, June 3, 2002.
 Reagan Doctrine criticism
- "U.S. Aid to Anti-Communist Rebels: The 'Reagan Doctrine' and its Pitfalls", by Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato Policy Analysis # 74, Cato Institute, June 24, 1986.
- "The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations", by Gary Webb, National Security Archive, George Washington University, August 1996.
- "How We Ended the Cold War", by John Tirman, The Nation, October 14, 1999.
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