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3Jie
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^ V ^ o ln g tO Il
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W u n C
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C o l u m b ia n C o l l e g e o f a r t s a n d S c ie n c e s

July 2, 2001

I hereby certify that Paul Labedz has passed the Final

Examination for the degree o f Doctor o f Philosophy on

May 31, 2001 and that this is the final and approved form

o f the dissertation.

Michael Moses
Associate Dean for
Graduate Studies

Dissertation Research Committee:

Cynthia McClintock, Professor o f Political Science and


International Affairs, Director
Martha Finnemore, Associate Professor o f Political Science and
International Affairs, Reader
Maurice Alden East, Professor o f International Affairs and Political
Sciences, Reader

S t u d e n t S e r v ic e s C e n t e r
P h il l ip s H a l l 107 W a s h i n g t o n , D C 20052 12021 994-6210 Fa x 12021994-6213

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CHANGING BELIEFS AND CHANGING POLICIES

Explaining Transitions in U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Central America

During the Reagan and Bush Years

By

Paul A. Labedz

B.A. June 1989, The State University o f New York at Buffalo


M.Phil. May 1997, The George Washington University

A Dissertation Submitted to

The Faculty of

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences


Of The George Washington University in partial satisfaction
Of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

August 31, 2001

Dissertation directed by

Cynthia McClintock
Professor o f Political Science and International Affairs

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UMI Number: 3018427

Copyright 2001 by
Labedz, Paul A.

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For my parents, Anthony and Mary Labedz, my wife and partner, Missy, and
my daughter, Nadia

ii

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ABSTRACT

Changing Beliefs and Changing Policies: Explaining Transitions


in U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Central America in the
Reagan and Bush Years

Paul A. Labedz

This study argues that a presidents foreign policy beliefs represent a critical

independent variable that must be considered together with system-level and

domestic-level variables in order to understand the causes behind changes in U.S.

foreign policy. The relationship between presidential beliefs and changes in U.S.

foreign policy was investigated through an examination o f a specific foreign policy

activity: namely, shifts in U.S. intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua during the

Reagan and Bush presidencies.

A modified version o f the operational code construct was used to develop the

belief systems of President Reagan and President Bush. This analytical model

consisted of the presidents national self-image, images o f allies and adversaries, as

well as beliefs concerning international politics, the flow o f history, and the nature of

change. To assess the impact o f a presidents beliefs on foreign policy behavior, I

utilized Alexander Georges congruence method to show why certain policy options

were selected rather than others.

The central hypothesis o f this dissertation linking presidential foreign policy

beliefs and changes in U.S. foreign policy behavior was examined through two case

studies: U.S. policy toward El Salvador from 1980-1992 and U.S. policy toward

Nicaragua from 1980-1990. The empirical evidence from the case studies served to

confirm the hypothesis, albeit with reservations. The fundamental difference between

iii

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Reagans and Bushs policies toward El Salvador and Nicaragua turned out to be the

two presidents different beliefs concerning the usefulness o f diplomatic negotiations

in securing U.S. interests in the region, with Reagan being generally averse to their

use and Bush being generally open to them.

iv

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION I
Case Selection 5
Methodology 6
Data 12
Limitations and Possible Solutions: 15
Generalization 15
Validity 18
Data Limitations 20

CHAPTER 1: EXPLANATIONS FOR U.S. POLICY TOWARD CENTRAL 27


AMERICA
System-level Explanations 29
Domestic-level Explanations 37
Individual-level Explanations 44

CHAPTER 2: FOREIGN POLICY, U.S. INTERVENTION, 50


AND PRESIDENTIAL BELIEF SYSTEMS
Dependent Variable: U.S. Intervention 50
Independent Variable: Foreign Policy B elief System 55
Rules o f Evidence 69

CHAPTER 3: THE REAGAN BELIEF SYSTEM 75


National Self-Image 75
Image of Allies 84
Image o f Adversaries 91
The Fundamental Nature o f International Politics 105
The Flow of History 113
The Nature of Change 118

CHAPTER 4: THE BUSH BELIEF SYSTEM 127


National Self-Image 128
Image of Allies 137
Image o f Adversaries 145
The Fundamental Nature o f International Politics 154
The Flow of History 162
The Nature o f Change 167

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CHAPTER 5: U.S. POLICY TOWARD CENTRAL AMERICA IN THE 1980s 182
Ronald Reagan's Approach to Central America: A B rief Overview 182
The crisis in El Salvador 183
The Reagan Response 186
The Congruence Method and Reagans policy choices 188
for El Salvador
Reagan Confronts the Sandinistas in Nicaragua 212
Why wasn't a military option selected in El Salvador 234
or Nicaragua?
Bush Takes Command 238
The Bush Agenda for El Salvador 240
The Continuing Saga o f Nicaragua 253
What about Panama? 271

CONCLUSION 280
The System-Level Explanation 281
Domestic-Level Explanations 285

BIBIOGRAPHY 292

vi

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LIST OF TABLES AND DIAGRAMS

TABLE 1: DEGREES OF INTERVENTION 52

DIAGRAM 1: REAGANS POLICY CHOICES FOR EL SALVADOR, 190


1981-1989

DIAGRAM 2: REAGANS POLICY CHOICES FOR NICARAGUA, 216


1981-1989

DIAGRAM 3: BUSHS POLICY CHOICES FOR EL SALVADOR, 242


1989-1992

DIAGRAM 4: BUSHS POLICY CHOICES FOR NICARAGUA, 255


1989-1992

vii

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1
Introduction

What contributes to change in a state's foreign policy behavior? This dissertation

argues that a president's foreign policy belief system is a crucial variable that helps to

explain shifts in a state's foreign policy. In the broadest sense, a foreign policy belief

system is the individual's prism through which information emanating from the

international environment is filtered. It represents a hierarchical organization of political

attitudes and ideas that provide the individual with a road map for understanding and

acting within his/her political environment. Foreign policy behavior refers to the outward

directed behavior o f a state aimed at influencing other states within the international

system. The purpose o f this dissertation will be to assess whether different presidential

belief systems influence the direction of a state's foreign policy behavior. And,

specifically whether the different set of foreign policy beliefs held by Ronald Reagan and

George Bush contributed to changes in U.S. foreign policy toward El Salvador and

Nicaragua in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Unfortunately, the predominant explanatory models in the study o f international

relations tend to de-emphasize the impact o f beliefs on foreign policy behavior. In

general, system-level explanations, such as those offered by neo-realist and dependency

scholars tend to be overly deterministic, focusing far too much attention on balance of

power considerations and economic interests, respectively, in explaining changes in

foreign policy. Moreover, these approaches have difficulty making specific predictions

about state actions. In addition, neither school acknowledges that the way a state may

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2
define its national security or economic interests can be influenced by the beliefs held

by its political leaders. Domestic-level explanations, on the other hand, while placing

greater emphasis on a number of alternative independent variables, such as the role of

divided government and the impact o f bureaucratic infighting, and who tend to be quite

strong in explaining how a new policy emerges, have difficulty explaining why different

presidents respond to these internal constraints in different manners. Proponents o f the

image-based political-psychology school have developed a persuasive argument linking

elite perceptions o f other states in the international arena to certain policy choices;

however, this approach is weakened by its neglect o f a leader's national self-image,

beliefs concerning the flow of history, and their beliefs about the nature o f change.1 It is

my contention that the existing literature needs to be complemented by a new approach

that establishes a correlation between presidential foreign policy belief systems and

changes in a state's foreign policy behavior. I will show that foreign policy belief

systems play a part- albeit, not the only part- in contributing to change in a state's foreign

policy. Other influences such as shifts in the international distribution of power along

with domestic-level variables are also o f vital concern. In sum, what this dissertation

seeks to do, then, is to demonstrate the importance o f presidential foreign policy beliefs

in contributing to changes in a state's foreign policy behavior, while also keeping in mind

structural and domestic-level determinants.

The relationship between political belief systems and changes in a state's foreign

policy behavior will be investigated through an examination o f a specific foreign policy

1 National self-image refers to a presidents idealized image o f the state. This concept will be
explained in greater detail in chapter 2

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activity: namely, shifts in U.S. policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua during the

Reagan and Bush years. After nearly ten years of staunch opposition to the revolutionary

movement in El Salvador and the Sandinista government in Nicaragua during the 1980s,

the transition from President Reagan to President Bush represented a major turning point

in U.S. foreign policy toward these nation-states. Shortly after taking office, President

Bush scaled back covert and overt military support for right-wing forces operating in the

region and began pushing for a negotiated peace settlement to outstanding disputes-

practices deemed anathema by the Reagan administration. As will be pointed out in

subsequent chapters, it was their positions on the usefulness o f negotiations as a viable

means of securing U.S. interests in El Salvador and Nicaragua that most clearly

differentiated Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Considering that the two presidents came from the same political party, reached

the pinnacle o f their political careers during the Cold War, shared a similarly divided

government, and held a few top-level foreign policy advisors in common, a number o f

intriguing questions come to mind: (1) Why was there not a continuation o f a similar

foreign policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua after the presidential transition? (2)

How much can the change in policy be attributed to different foreign policy beliefs of

President Reagan and President Bush? (3) Was the change in policy merely a reflection

o f the diminishing tensions in East-West relations? (4) Or, was the battle between the

President and Congress for control o f the foreign policy agenda the key explanatory

variable? (5) Does one needs to look at multi-level factors to explain these shifts in

policy?

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In the broadest sense, this dissertation tests whether:

Changes in U.S. foreign policy are correlated with different foreign policy belief systems

among U.S. presidents?

More specifically, it tests whether:

Shifts in U.S. interventionist behavior toward El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s are

directly correlated with the different foreign policy belief systems o f Ronald Reagan and

George Bush?

Given the efforts by scholars to discern a post Cold-War foreign policy pattern for

the United States, it becomes imperative for students o f U.S.-Latin American relations to

understand which factors have led to changes in U.S. foreign policy in the past,

particularly relating to intervention in the internal affairs of other states. A qualitative

research design will be used to investigate the relationship between foreign policy beliefs

and foreign policy behavior. The qualitative design will include a content analysis of the

public addresses, personal memoirs, internal correspondences, autobiographies, and

biographies o f the two presidents as well as their leading foreign policy advisors in order

to infer the two presidents foreign policy belief systems. The data sources were selected

in a non-random fashion and reflected the central research concern: namely, Reagans

and Bushs general foreign policy beliefs and in particular their beliefs concerning the

actors and events taking place in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

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Case Selection

In order to isolate the impact o f belief systems on foreign policy behavior (types

or degrees of intervention), it is necessary to select cases on the basis o f what Przeworski

and Teune call the "most similar systems" design.2 Even though their description on this

technique centers on cross-country comparisons, the same logic can be applied to

examining different presidents within the U.S. political system. The objective in this type

o f research design is to select two or more cases that share a num ber o f characteristics in

common with respect to a particular empirical phenomenon that the investigator is

seeking to explain. These shared characteristics or variables are then considered

'controlled.' Those variables that remain are then used to compare the different outcomes

on the selected dependent variable.

With respect to the U.S. policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s,

both Reagan and Bush came from the same political party and experienced a similarly

divided government vis-a-vis the executive and legislative branches. Moreover, both

presidents received advice from many o f the same foreign policy advisors. Consequently,

one can at least in part control for the independent effects of partisanship and

bureaucratic influence on changing foreign policy behavior. One purpose o f this

dissertation, therefore, will be to demonstrate the impact of presidential belief systems on

changes in U.S. policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua.

2 Adam Prezeworski and Henry Teune, The Logic o f Comparative Social Inquiry (New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1970). pp. 34-39.

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An even more important reason for examining this set o f cases is that the events

taking place in El Salvador and Nicaragua were, with the possible exception o f U.S.-

Soviet relations, the single most important issue-area for U.S. foreign policy throughout

the 1980s. President Reagan gave more public addresses concerning U.S. policy toward

Central America than for any other region in the world. By 1986 Reagan suggested:

Since the beginning o f my first administration there has been no foreign policy issue

more directly affecting United States national interests than the conflict in Central

America, for this conflict challenges not only our strategic position but the very

principles upon which the nation is founded.3 William LeoGrande writes that not since

the Vietnam conflict "had Americans been so bitterly divided over a foreign policy issue

as they were over Central America" and that "Central America became a symbol and test

case for demonstrating Reagan's new hard line against international communism." It was

indeed the last major battle o f the Cold War.4

Methodology

The general methodology for this dissertation is a structured, focused comparison

that uses a disciplined-configurative mode o f analysis. As mentioned above, the cases to

be analyzed were selected carefully to control for the effects o f other potential

explanatory variables. This provides the study with its structure and focus. With respect

3 Assistance for Nicraguan Democratic Resistance, 25 February 1986, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document
# NI02677.
4 William LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America. 1977-1992 (Chapel Hill, NC; University o f North
Carolina Press, 1998) pp. ix-xi.

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to disciplined & configurative, Harry Eckstein notes that the chain o f inquiry in

disciplined-configurative studies, "runs from comparatively tested theory to case

interpretation, and thence, perhaps via ad hoc additions, newly discovered puzzles, and

systematized prudence, to new candidate-theories."5 Stephen Van Evera describes this

type o f study as a theory testing, literature assessing, historical-explanatory dissertation.6

This dissertation attempts to point up the need to combine first level variables

(belief systems) with second and third level variables (domestic politics and international

structure, respectively) in order to offer a fuller explanation o f the causes behind changes

in a state's foreign policy. Admittedly, some might argue that an analysis making the case

that it takes a lot o f variables to explain a given empirical phenomenon is not very

intellectually satisfying. However, a useful dissertation need not always create, or, for

that matter, even test specific hypotheses or theories. An equally important goal for

advancing social science is to apply existing hypotheses and/or theories to see how well

they fit in different sets o f circumstances. Van Evera, in particular, makes the case that

political scientists should not shy away from historical- explanatory and historical-

evaluative dissertations. He is indeed quite correct to suggest: if theories are never

applied, then what are they for? Theories have value only if the are eventually put to

work to explain, assess, prescribe.7 Simply put, this dissertation is going to test the

5 A discussion o f the Structured, Focused Comparison method can be found in Alexander L. George, "Case Studies and Theory
Development: The Method o f Structured, Focused Comparison," Paul G. Lauren, ed.. Diplomacy: N ew Approaches in History.
Theory, and Policy (London: Free Press, 1979). The quotation is taken from Harry Eckstein, "Case Study and Theory in Political
Science," Regarding Politics (Berkeley, CA; University o f California Press, 1992) pp. 139-140.

6 For a very useful discussion o f the principal functions o f a doctoral dissertation in political science consult, Stephen Van Evera,
Guide to Methods fo r Students o f Political Science (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997) pp. 89-95.
7 Ibid. p. 93.

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validity o f one type o f belief system theory, namely that associated with Doug Blums

refinement o f the operational code (see chapter 2).

In particular, this dissertation will focus on the different methods o f intervention

chosen by Reagan and Bush to respond to the left-wing government in Nicaragua and the

revolutionary movement in El Salvador. Some o f the questions that this study seeks to

answer include, but are not limited to: how does one account for the end o f U.S. support

for the covert war in Nicaragua? What explanations can be given for the Bush

administration's pressure on the Cristiani government to negotiate with the FMLN after

nearly ten years o f opposition to the leftist movement? Did the end o f the Cold War mark

the end of U.S. opposition to indigenous rebel movements in Central America? How

much weight should be given to internal political forces in the United States, for example,

public opinion, personnel changes in the executive branch, congressional and

bureaucratic opposition to the involvement in Central America with respect to changes in

policy? How much weight did the end of the Cold W ar play in all these changes?

Linking beliefs and behavior will require combining what Alexander George calls

the process-tracing and the congruence method.8 In process-tracing, the analyst

attempts to uncover the intervening steps between a set o f beliefs and a given behavior

within the overall context o f the policy-making environment. George notes: "this

technique seeks to establish the ways in which the actors beliefs influenced his

receptivity to and assessment o f incoming information about the situation, his definition

of the situation, his identification and evaluation o f options, as well as, finally, his choice

8 Alexander L. George, "The Causal Nexus between Cognitive Beliefs and Decision-Making Behavior: The Operational Code Belief
System," in Lawrence Falkowski, ed.. Psychological Models in International Politics (Boulder: CO; W estview Press, 1979) pp. 94-
124.

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9
o f a course of action."9 Applying the process-tracing method in this dissertation will

require uncovering the core and intermediate beliefs (see chapter 2) held by Reagan and

Bush and then to see if indeed these were in any way used in assessing new information,

defining the situation, and ultimately helping them to identify and evaluate options.10

To make the leap from the existence o f certain beliefs to their influence on

subsequent behavior requires coupling the process-tracing method with the

congruence method.11The basis for the congruence method is to check for consistency

between beliefs and selected courses of action. Once again, George provides us with

needed insight into the technique:

The determination o f consistency is made deductively. From the actor's beliefs,

the investigator deduces what implications they have for decision. If the

characteristics of the decision are consistent with the actor's beliefs, there is at

least a presumption that the beliefs may have played a causal role in this particular

instance o f decision-making.12

The means of ensuring that a given set of beliefs are in part responsible for a given

action, however, requires that the analyst demonstrate that these beliefs could have either

been consistent or inconsistent with other available courses o f action. It must be shown

9 Ibid. p. 113
10 The specific content o f the belief system model that I use for this study is described in detail in Chapter 2.
11 The benefits o f combining Georges process-tracing method and congruence method are well illustrated in Yuen Foong Khong,
Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions o f1 965 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1992)
12 Ibid., p. 106.

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that the option that was actually selected followed logically from the beliefs that are

held by the decision- maker. Put somewhat differently, the analyst must engage in

counter-factual thought experiments to show that the beliefs held would in most cases

apply to the course o f action taken, and not the hypothetical situations. If one can show

that the decision-makers beliefs were consistent with the chosen option, then the strength

o f beliefs as a potential independent variable increases.

A key question that needs to be answered at this point, however, is: how are

beliefs measured? In other words, how does one know a belief when they see one?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. An individuals beliefs can

never be observed and measured directly. That does not mean, however, that beliefs and

attitudes cannot be inferred from observable indicators. Richard Herrmann suggests that

two types o f evidence exist that scholars can use to gauge the beliefs o f leaders,

specifically: 1) the behavioral predispositions o f the individual, and 2) the

communications, both written and oral, o f the individual.13 Because the dependent

variable for this study is foreign policy behavior, it would be tautological to use the first

type of indicator to measure beliefs, namely behavior causing behavior. Consequently,

primary emphasis in this study will be given to assessing the communications of Reagan

and Bush to discern their foreign policy beliefs.

Drawing inferences from both the written and oral communications of the two

presidents will require the use o f a content analysis o f their public and private statements.
13 Richard K. Herrmann, Perceptions and Behavior in Soviet Foreign Policy (Pittsburgh, PA: University o f Pittsburgh, 1985). p. 22.
For alternative means o f measuring perception consult. Ole R. Holsti. "The Operation Code Approach: Problems and Some
Solutions," Christer Jonsson, ed.. Cognitive Dynamics and International Politics. (London: Frances Pinter, 1982) pp. 75-91.
Alexander George. "The Causal Nexus Between Cognitive Beliefs and Decision-Making B ehavior the Operational Code, pp. 95-
124.

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In this study, I have chosen to use a qualitative content analysis o f the communications

made by two presidents and their closest foreign advisors rather than a quantitative

content analysis for two important reasons.14 First, examining documents for statements

that are linked to previously established hypotheses minimizes the danger of coding

irrelevant content in a communicated statement. Prior to conducting a quantitative

content analysis, the investigator must develop a coding scheme and decide which units

in the communication are to be recorded. The danger involved, o f course, is that the

coding scheme may overlook some of the nuances in a statement and fail to record

important communications that do not happen to fall within the analysts pre-designed

coding scheme.

Second, changes that take place in a speakers strategy are not often captured by

quantitative content analyses. The order, context, and sequence of a communication

matter tremendously. Unfortunately, in many quantitative content analyses, each

communicated unit that falls within a pre-established category is counted as if it is o f

equal significance, regardless o f where the utterance falls within the communication. By

contrast, in the qualitative content analysis used below, careful consideration is made to

determine who said what, how, to whom, and under what circumstances, and with what

affect.15

The overall goal o f this project, then, is to discern, through an examination o f the

two presidents communicated statements, what belief systems these men held and to see

14 For a very good discussion o f the benefits o f using a qualitative content analysis o f documents, consult Alexander George,
Propaganda Analysis (Evanston, IL: Row and Peterson, 1959)
15 Alexander George in Propaganda Analysis (Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson, 1959) makes a persuasive case for the use o f a
qualitative content analysis o f public documents.

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if their beliefs shaped the type o f intervention that was used in responding to events

taking place in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Data

The data that is used in this study are the foreign policy speeches and press

conferences o f Ronald Reagan and George Bush as well as their private reflections

concerning U.S. foreign policy found in their personal memoirs, autobiographies and

internal administration correspondences.

In addition, I conducted a qualitative content analysis o f the foreign policy

statements of the two presidents leading foreign policy advisors. This information was

obtained in their respective autobiographies. The importance o f examining these data

sources is to assess whether the president and his key advisors possessed a different set of

foreign policy beliefs. The expectation is that the president will consult with advisors

who have beliefs similar to his own. I f the presidents most important foreign policy

advisors have beliefs that are different from the presidents and if subsequent U.S. policy

reflects the beliefs o f the advisor(s), then this adds strength to a point being made by

those who claim that bureaucratic politics is the key factor in explaining change in U.S.

foreign policy.

Presidential speeches and press conferences were obtained from The Public

Papers o f Presidents o f the United States, a U.S. Government Printing Office publication

containing the public communications o f President Reagan and President Bush. To

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supplement these public statements, specifically as it related to the two presidents

beliefs concerning U.S. policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua, I analyzed a range of

internal policy documents, including presidential directives, memos, meeting notes,

briefing papers, and White House communications, found within the National Security

Archive. The reason for utilizing these internal documents was to check to see if what

these presidents said in public corresponded to what they said in private. I f there is a

close match, then the statements made by the president in his public addresses were more

likely to reflect his true beliefs.

Sixty speeches were analyzed from the Public Papers for President Reagan:

twenty-six (26) for his first administration and thirty-four (34) for his second

administration.16These public statements were selected from a list o f speeches that the

Reagan Presidential Library classified as Ronald Reagans major speeches. When

combined with the presidents speeches found in the National Security Archive, they

represent all o f Reagans speeches on Central America. An additional ten pre-

presidential speeches given by Reagan were examined from a collection compiled by

Alfred Balitzer.17

One o f the main purposes o f this project was to uncover the presidents general

foreign policy proclivities. Therefore, a systematic review was made o f all o f President

Reagan speeches that were made on U.S. foreign policy and Central America.

16 The reason for the variation in the number o f speeches analyzed in the first versus second Reagan administration is that during the
second term, the president gave more speeches on Central America. Many o f these were nationally televised addresses whereby the
president attempted to convince the American public to put pressure o f their members o f Congress to pass appropriation bills to fund
the government o f El Salvador o f the Contras forces in Nicaragua.
17 Alfred Ballizer, ed., A Timefo r Choosing: The Speeches o f Ronald Reagan. 1961-1982 (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1983)

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The sample of public speeches and press conferences that were used for George

Bush included all statements that were indexed in the Public Papers under the

classifications: foreign policy or Central America. In total, one-hundred-and-

eighteen (118) speeches and press conferences were analyzed for traces o f the presidents

foreign policy beliefs.18 As was the case with the Reagan documents, the basis for using

this method was to examine public statements that were reasonably broad in scope and

addressed a number o f issues that the president was likely to consider o f key importance

in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

In addition to examining these primary documents, I checked to see if there was a

match between what the two presidents stated in their public addresses and what they

stated in their memoirs, autobiographies and in their internal administration

correspondences. From the National Security Archive, I analyzed over 120 records for

the Reagan administration that were classified as having been authored by the president.

For President Bush, I analyzed over 30 documents that were classified as having been

authored by the president. These internal records for both presidents were taken from the

National Security Archives collections on El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Iran-Contra

Affair.

Apart from these primary sources, I reviewed a significant part o f the secondary

literature, especially scholarly studies and assessments by leading journalists who

examined the two presidents responses to the events occurring in El Salvador and

Nicaragua. Again, the purpose was to verify whether their interpretations differed from

that which I culled from the public and private communications.

18 The specific way that these documents, along with the President Reagans speeches, were coded will be discussed in Chapter 2.

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Limitations and Possible Solutions: Generalization, Validity, and Data

An analysis o f this nature, focusing primarily on the belief system o f two

American presidents and its attendant effects on U.S. foreign policy toward Central

America, is bound to run into a number o f problems. The first and perhaps most

worrisome is the extent to which the findings can be generalized. In other words, what

can a study examining the different responses o f Ronald Reagan and George Bush to the

revolutionary crises in Central America in the 1980s tell one about the overall pattern of

U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and beyond? The answer is: quite a bit.

By using what Lijphart calls a "deviant" case, one can measure the importance of

belief systems in contributing to shifts in different types o f U.S. foreign policy where one

normally would expect continuity.19 As noted above, Reagan and Bush came from the

same political party, shared many key policy advisors, and experienced a similar Cold

War environment for m ost o f their political careers, all o f which partially adumbrated a

continuation of policy. The fact o f the matter is, however, that the two presidents did not

continue the same line o f policy. President Reagan pursued an interventionist course in

Central America based on a highly ideological or black-white view o f the world and of

U.S. allies & adversaries in the region, where the use of, or at the very least, the threat to

use military force, was considered the most effective policy available. President Bush, by

19 Arend Lijphart, "Comparative Politics and the Comparative Method," American Political Science Review, Vol. 65 (September
1971)

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16
contrast, took a more nuanced and fine-tuned approach to foreign affairs and was

willing to consider the use o f a much broader set o f interventionist tools, especially the

pursuit of negotiations to settle regional disputes. Why? A possible explanation, among

others, is that the two presidents possessed different beliefs concerning how the United

States should respond to change. These beliefs, in turn, influenced the different

approaches taken by Reagan and Bush in responding to the revolutionary events

occurring in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

This dissertation can also be beneficial to the study o f U.S. foreign policy in two

additional ways. First, even if one assumes that the central hypothesis is confirmed with

reservations, the study can still help shed light on the dynamics behind change in U.S.

foreign policy by showing which factors were indeed the most crucial and why in causing

a specific transition in policy. This links the study quite nicely to the notion of paradigm

testing, or the practice o f normal science that Thomas Kuhn introduced to the scientific

world.20

Once again, however, a potential criticism can be made to this supposed

contribution. One may point out that simply suggesting that it takes a lot o f different

variables to explain a given empirical phenomena is not doing very much to contribute to

our general understanding o f the operation of international affairs and/or the conduct o f

U.S. foreign policy. I fervently disagree. In order for any hypothesis to attain the coveted

status of a theory, then it must be tested- time and time again- to see in what

circumstances it may or may not apply. Simply claiming that other potential explanations

are more parsimonious or rigorous, and are therefore more acceptable, misses the entire

20 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure ofScientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: The University o f Chicago Press, 1970) pp. 52-66.

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point of the advancement o f scientific knowledge. One needs to test different

hypotheses consistently against one another to uncover when and under what

circumstances they can either be confirmed or falsified. By the end o f this dissertation

(see especially the conclusion), I show where system-level and domestic-level

explanations are useful in explaining change in U.S. foreign policy toward Central

America in the 1980s and where they need to be supplemented with a belief-system

approach.

Furthermore, if the empirical evidence in this particular study confirms the central

hypothesis linking beliefs to behavior, this study will open up a new line o f research on

U.S. foreign policy. Other cases can be used to test the strength o f this relationship, just

as I am doing with Blum s belief system model (see chapter 2). To make the point

differently, the study adds an important independent variable that needs to be considered

when studying the causes o f change in U.S. foreign policy. Outstanding analyses o f U.S.

foreign policy toward Central America in the 1980s done by such scholars as William

LeoGrande, Thomas Carothers, and Cynthia Amson have already focused on the system-

level and domestic-level factors that contributed to change in U.S. foreign policy under

President Bush.21 What is needed now is a detailed analysis o f the role that different

presidential foreign policy beliefs have played in contributing to change in U.S. policy.

Utilizing a similar or modified model, other scholars can then begin to look at the

21 William LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America. 1977-1992 (Chapel Hill: University o f North
Carolina Press, 1998) nio m as Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Central America in the Reagan Years
(Berkeley, CA: University o f California Press, 1991) Cynthia Amson, Crossroads: Congress, the President, and Central America.
1976-1993 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993)

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18
influence o f presidential beliefs on U.S. policy toward different regions o f the world

and the influence it has had throughout different time periods o f American diplomacy.

Validity

On a more methodological note, one may argue that the influence o f presidential

beliefs on foreign policy behavior represents either a spurious relationship or may simply

be an unnecessary condition for explaining shifts in policy.22 In response to the first

criticism, one simply needs to note that a wide body o f theoretical literature (adopted

from the field o f social psychology) has developed that has shown that variations in the

conduct o f a group's behavior are partially a function o f an individual's or group's belief

system.23 Thus, the model proposed below is based upon many o f the accepted findings

in the field o f political decision-making, which contends that due to limitations on

information processing by human-beings and because o f the possibility o f inadequate

information, decision-makers often fall back on their already established beliefs to help

them reach decisions.24

22 Alexander George points to the need to combat these two criticisms in "The Causal Nexus between Cognitive Beliefs and
Decision-Making B ehavior The "Operational Code" B elief System, op. cit. pp. 104-113.

23 For good examples o f the importance o f belief systems, attitudes, and values in contributing to changes in human behavior see:
Milton Rokeach, ed.. The Open and Closed Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1960); Rokeach, ed. Understanding Human Values, (New
York: Free Press, 1979). Rokeach, 77ie Nature o f Human Values (New York: The Free Press, 1973). Rokeach, Beliefs, Attitudes, and
Values (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1975). Susan Fiske and Shelly Taylor, Social Cognition (New York: New York,
McGraw Hill,1991) 2nd edition.

24 Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976) Robert
Jervis, Richard N ed Lebow, Janice Gross Stein, Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985)

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With respect to the second criticism, viz., that other independent variables can

explain these same transformations in U.S. foreign policy in a more parsimonious

maimer, one needs to realize that the theoretical literature on U.S.-Central America

affairs contains a number o f critical limitations (See Chapter 1). System-level

explanations, which claim that change in a state's foreign policy behavior are a reflection

o f shifts in the distribution o f power or challenges to economic hegemony is limited to

the extent that it fails to predict the extent o f actions a state will take once a shift in the

correlation o f forces has occurred. Simply stated, different leaders can respond to shifts in

the distribution o f power or the correlation of economic forces in different ways. Nor, do

system-level explanations acknowledge that a leader's beliefs may in fact be responsible,

at least in part, for defining a state's interests.

Domestic-level models, by contrast, are superb at addressing the processes by

which foreign policy decisions are ultimately made, but tend to leave out the importance

o f the presidential worldview in determining whether the president will cooperate with

Congress in shaping the course o f U.S. foreign policy or which particular bureaucratic

faction has the president's ear. Lastly, writers in the political-psychological school,

although paying closer attention to the importance o f the individual in the decision

making process, have a propensity to focus their attention on the impact o f images of

others and images o f international politics in the foreign policy-making process. They

pay much less attention to national self-images and views concerning the flow o f history

and, most importantly, the nature o f change, which are all incorporated in the belief

system model that I use below (See chapter 2).

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To argue: Well weve got parsimony, as many writers in the above

theoretical camps do, and quite frequently, is not a very satisfying counter-argumer.t

when one is trying to understand why change occurs in a states foreign policy. I hold this

belief, despite the ever-present complaint that social science research is geared toward the

advancement o f the most rigorous explanation possible. Throughout this study, and

especially in the conclusion, it is shown where some o f the aforementioned explanations

fit and where they do not. Only by combining these approaches in a multi-level analysis

can one capture the true essence o f the shifting nature o f U.S. foreign policy toward El

Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Data Limitations

Another possible limitation o f this dissertation relates to its data. A study that

relies heavily on a content analysis o f mostly public documents can run into a number o f

validity problems. The gist of the dilemma is this: do public officials really mean what

they say when they say it? Ole Holsti observes that public statements by government

officials can and often do reveal the speaker's true beliefs, attitudes, and opinions, but
* 9 5
may also be meant as political devices to sway given audiences toward a particular end."

In other words, how does one know that they are measuring what they claim to be

measuring? In this case, how does one actually know they are measuring a presidents

beliefs? Using mainly public documents exacerbates this dilemma. How does one know

25 Holsti, Ole. Foreign Policy Decision Makers Viewed Psychologically," in James N. Rosenau. ed., In Search o f Global Patterns.
(New York: The Free Press, 1976) pp. 120-144.

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whether the two presidents public addresses truly reflect their beliefs? Public

statements can and have been used as political devices. This problem, although seemingly

large, can be handled if one can show that what the president announces in public
*y(\
corresponds with what is revealed in private. If the presidents public declarations

match what is found in his private memoirs and/or possibly in his internal administration

correspondences, then one can be reasonably certain that these statements represent the

presidents true beliefs.

The main problem o f relying primarily on public speeches and press conferences

revolve around two different models o f communication- the instrumental and

representational-which the analyst much take into consideration when examining public

documents. In the instrumental model, one must read between the lines to get at the true

meaning of the statement given the particular circumstances and context surrounding the

utterance. In the representational model the communicated statement is taken at face

value. Ithiel De Sola Pool teaches us, however, that every act o f communication contains

both instrumental and representational components. And, unfortunately, there is no easy

way to distinguish between representational and instrumental communications. The best

one can do is to focus on whom the president is addressing in his statements, under what

circumstances, and then try to infer the intended purpose o f the statement.

26 See, for example, the work o f G.M. Bonham and G.J. N'ozica, "A Cognitive Model o f Foreign Policy Decision Making,"
Simulations and Games, Vol. 7 (June 1976) pp. 123-152 and J.D. Gilbert, "John Foster Dulles's Perceptions o f the People's Republic
o f China: An Assessment o f Accuracy," Paper presented at the Annual Meeting o f Southwestern Political Science Association, San
Antonio, Texas 1975.
27 Ithiel De Sola Pool, Trends in Content Analysis. (Urbana, 111: University oflllinois Press, 1959).
28 This technique is addressed in Alexander George, Propaganda Analysis (Evanston, IL: Row and Peterson, 1959); Deborah Larson,
"Problems o f Content Analysis in Foreign Policy Research: Notes from the Study o f the Origins o f the Cold War Belief Systems,"

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Does this mean then that the analysis of these public documents is done mostly

in an impressionistic and ad hoc fashion? Perhaps. However, is this a crippling blow to

the value of the overall project? I would argue no. Many years ago, Hedley Bull, in

criticizing the behavioral approach to international relations and making a case in support

o f a classical approach to international relations theory, commented that systematic

procedures are no substitute for human wisdom and intuition.29 Keith Shimko, more

recently, made the point even more forcefully: When push comes to final shove, there is

almost always some persuasive reason for systematic bias in the evidence that casts doubt

on its validity... Ultimately, there is no substitute for informed judgment based on ones

knowledge o f the material, the individuals, and the circumstances surrounding the

statements.30 Simply because an analysis is not relying upon quantifiable indicators to

test a given hypothesis, does not mean that it lacks the values o f rigor, consistency, and

coherence.

One may also argue that a qualitative content analysis o f public speeches should

be coupled with interviews o f the foreign policy principals under consideration. Although

this method might help shed light on whether the public statements accurately reflected a

presidents beliefs, this method leads to other, perhaps even more serious, validity

problems. For instance, one can never know with certainty whether the interviewee is

recalling events in such as way as to put a positive spin on his/her role in the decision

International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32 (1988) p. 249. Larson, Anatomy o f Mistrust: U.S.-Soviet Relations During the Cold War
(Ithaca:NY: Cornell University Press, 1997) p. 38.
29 Hedley Bull, International Theory: The Case for a Classical Approach, World Politics, Vol. 18 (April 1966) p. 366.
30 Keith Shimko, Images and Arm s Control: Perceptions o f the Soviet Union in the Reagan Administration (Ann Arbor, MI:
Univerisity of Michigan Press, 1994) pp. 53-54.

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23
making process. Likewise, it is often difficult for interviewees to reconstruct either

their past motives or prior beliefs concerning the questions being investigated.31

Another potential problem with relying on the speeches o f U.S. presidents

concerns the authorship of these statements. If one is drawing inferences about the beliefs

o f these two presidents based primarily on their public communications, and if others

wrote these statements, then it is quite possible that the analyst will be measuring the

beliefs o f the speechwriter(s) rather than the beliefs o f the president. Often, this is a major

problem in studies that use public documents as the main source o f data. However, in this

case, it is not an insurmountable problem. The sixty speeches that were analyzed during

the Reagan presidency, and the others from the pre-presidential period, were those

considered some o f his most important public addresses. And, although it is true that

Reagan did not actually write most o f his speeches while president, as a number of

scholars have suggested, he was actively involved in the editing and rewriting o f his
*>*>

speeches. As Brian Dille notes: Reagan always edited the final draft. Mandelbaum

and Talbott agree, pointing out that the president cared deeply about speeches: he

worked at fine-tuning his speeches with an enthusiasm that he rarely devoted to other

duties.34 It seems reasonable then to conclude that Reagan would not have agreed to

give a speech that was not in line with his own beliefs. Moreover, it also seems

3 1 These points were raised by Ted Hopf in Peripheral Visions: Deterrence Theory and American Foreign Policy in the Third World,
1965-1990 (Ann Arbor, MI: University o f Michigan Press, 1994) p. 27.
32 For a very good analyses o f the presidential speechwriting process, consult: Carol Gelderman, All the Presidents' Words: The
Bully Pulpit and the Creation o f the Virtual Presidency (New York: Walker and Company, 1997)
33 Brian Dille, The Prepared and Sponteanous Remarks o f Presidents Reagan and Bush: A Validity Comparison for At-A Distance
Measurements, Political Psychology, Vol. 2 1, No. 3 (September 2000) p. 574.
34 Michael Mandelbaum and Strobe Talbott, Reagan and the Russians (New York: Vintage, 1984) p. 129.

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reasonable to assume that these speeches would, therefore, reflect Reagans beliefs,

and not those of his speechwriters.

For the Bush years, a m ajor portion o f the public documents that were examined

took the form of press conferences that the president gave throughout his four years in

office. One can consider these responses seLf-authored in a sense and thus free from the

impression management bias that might creep into a speech that had gone through the

bureaucratic sanitizing process. Margaret Hermann contends that the best way to avoid

the problems of ghost writing in measuring a leaders beliefs is to have most o f your

sample consist of spontaneous remarks given at interviews.35 The logic here is that in the

context o f a press conference and/or interview, a leader will not have the time to plan a

response, so there is then a greater likelihood that the comments they make will reflect

their true beliefs.

As for the speeches that were examined during the Bush years, the vast majority

were those that the president mentions in his memoirs as being amongst his most

important. Speeches o f this type should be those that the president would play a more

active role in crafting, or at the very least, editing, and, therefore, should also reflect his

beliefs.

In the end, there is no denying the fact that measuring beliefs accurately is a very

difficult task. Will one ever truly know a belief when they see one? Probably not. With

the exception of the president actually telling an examiner what his beliefs are, one can

never be absolutely certain that the inferences one is making from his public or private

35 Margaret G. Hermann, Personality and foreign policy decision making: A study of 53 heads o f government, D .A. Sylvan and S.
Chan, eds.. Foreign Policy Decision Making: Perception. Cognition, and Artificial Intelligence (New York: Praeger, 1984)

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25
statements are actual indicators o f a presidents true beliefs. The best one can hope to

accomplish, then, is to take reasonable steps to ensure the validity o f ones data and base

ones inferences on his/her accumulated wisdom and intuition.

The organization o f this dissertation is as follows: Chapter 1 provides a review o f

the international relations literature as it relates to explaining changes in a state's foreign

policy. It is argued that neither system nor domestic-level explanations can account fully

for the changes that take place in a state's foreign policy behavior. In addition, it is shown

why some traditional political psychological models need to be complemented with an

approach that focuses on more than simply the images o f the international arena and

adversaries.

Chapter 2 defines the dependent and independent variables that are used

throughout this study. The first section describes the continuous or ordinal nature o f the

dependent variable: U.S. intervention. Then, the theoretical background to this study's

independent variable: foreign policy belief system is discussed. It is demonstrated how

the model that is being used, builds upon the work of Nathan Leites and Alexander

George. Some o f the applications of George's work are examined as well as some o f the

criticisms that have been made concerning his analytical model. The final section

develops the belief system model that will be used in this dissertation.

Chapters 3 and 4 attempt to lay out Ronald Reagans and George Bush's foreign

policy belief systems. Both chapters discuss each president's six core and intermediate

beliefs that ultimately shaped their approach to foreign policy decision-making.

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26
Chapter 5 examines the actual policies that were adopted by Reagan and Bush

in responding to the revolutionary events taking place in El Salvador and Nicaragua. I use

George's congruence method to analyze how Reagans and Bush's foreign policy beliefs

contributed to their eventual choice o f policy.

The final chapter indicates where the various theoretical camps fell short and

where they did an adequate job o f explaining the changes in U.S. foreign policy toward

Central America in the 1980s. The conclusion points to the fact that a full understanding

o f the dynamics behind change in U.S. foreign policy requires an analysis of the

interaction of all three levels o f analysis.

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Chapter 1: Explanations for U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Central America

Historically, the ebb and flow o f U.S. foreign policy toward Central America has

been marked by periods o f intense activity followed by periods of relative neglect, only

again to be followed by periods of American activism. Often, these periods o f U.S.

activity are characterized by direct or indirect military, political, or economic

interventions on the part o f the United States into the internal affairs o f various states

within the region. What explanations can be offered for this shifting pattern o f behavior?

The purpose o f this chapter is to offer a critique o f the main theoretical approaches that

have been used to explain change in U.S foreign policy toward Central America. I will

demonstrate where each o f the approaches expectations fall short and illustrate why a

focus on presidential beliefs represents a necessary independent variable.

Explanations for U.S. interventionist behavior toward the developing world in

general and Central America in particular tend to fall within one of three broad analytical

camps. The first camp, which includes neo-realist and dependency scholars, favors a

structural approach to international relations.36 The core o f the structural interpretation is

36 Hans Morganthau's, Politics Among Nations (New York: Kopf, 1955) and Kenneth N. Waltz's, Theory o f International Politic
(Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979) are considered the founding works in realism and neo-realism, respectively. A selective
sample o f applications o f some o f the ideas contained within these texts as applied to U.S.-Latin American relations can be found in
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Dictatorships and Double Standards: Rationalism and Reason in Politics. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982)
pp. 23-90. Edward Luttwak, "The Nature o f the Crisis," and James Michel, "Defending Democracy, both o f which can be tound in
Cirincone, ed., Central America and the Western Alliance (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985). Morris Rotherberg, "The Soviets
and Central America," in Robert Leiken, ed.. Central America: The Anatomy o f the Conflict. (New York: Pergamon, 1984). Among
the most important works within the dependency school are: Theotonio dos Santos, "The Structure o f Dependence," American
Economic Review Vol. 60 (May 10970) pp. 231-236; Ronald Chilcote and Joel Edelstein, ed., Latin America: The Struggle With
Dependency and Beyond (New York: Shenkman, 1974); Raymond Duvall, "Dependence and Dependencia Theory, International
Organization. Vol. 32 (May 1978) pp. 51-78; and, Julio Cotier and Richard Fagen, eds. Latin America and the United States: The
Changing Political Realities (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974).

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28
that the operation o f the international political and/or economic system constrains the

behavior o f nation-states, albeit in different ways for neo-realists and dependentistas.

The second analytical camp locates the causes o f interventionist activity as

internal to a nation-state. Adherents to this approach favor focusing on domestic political

concerns, bureaucratic infighting, and the prevailing national political culture as key
-J*T

determinants in explaining shifting foreign policy patterns. The third analytical camp

considers neither system-level variables nor domestic-level variables as the crucial

factors causing changes in U.S. interventionist behavior. The focus is on the perceptions

and images that the U.S. foreign policy elite possess o f their Latin American

counterparts, and how these images influence subsequent decisions.38 Each theoretical

camp has its own particular strengths and at times can be quite persuasive; yet each o f

them, as will be demonstrated below, are limited by a number o f significant problems.

37 Specific works focusing on state-level explanations for changing foreign policy behavior include: I.M. Destler et. al. "Breakdown:
the Impact o f Domestic Politics on American Foreign Policy," in C.W. Kegley and W ittkopf, eds., The Domestic Sources o f American
Foreign Policy (New York: St. Martins Press, 1988); Thomas Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Latin
America in the Reagan Years (Berkeley, CA: University o f California, 1991); James M . Lindsey, Congress an d the Politics o f U.S.
Foreign Policy (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1994); Graham T. Allison and Morton H. Halperin, "Bureaucratic Politics:
A Paradigm and Some Policy Implications," in G. John Ikenberry, ed., American Foreign Policy: Theoretical Essays (New York:
Harper Collins, 1989) pp. 378-408; Darin H. Van Tassell, "Operational Code Evolution: How Central America Came to be "Our
Backyard" in U.S. Culture," in Valerie M. Hudson, ed., Culture and Foreign Policy (Boulder, CO; Westview, 1997) pp. 231-261.

38 Some o f the best work in this area can be found in, Martha Cottam, Foreign Policy Decision Making: The Influence o f Cognition
(Boulder, CO: Westview, 1986); Martha Cottam, Images and Intervention: U.S. Policies in Latin America (Pittsburgh, PA: University
o f Pittsburgh, 1994); Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History o f U.S. Policy Toward Latin America (Cambridge, Mass:
Harvard University Press, 1998); Martha Cottam and E. Thomas Rowe. "Intervention Decisions: The Interaction o f Situational and
Psychological Factors," Paper presented at the 1987 Annual Meeting o f the American Political Science Foundation, Chicago; Richard
Cottam, Foreign Policy Motivation (Pittsburgh, PA: University o f Pittsburgh Press, 1977).

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29
System-level Explanations

At the heart of system-level explanations for shifts in foreign policy is the

expressed need to look beyond individual nation-states to discover the sources of inter

state relations. Both neo-realists and dependency scholars agree that ones theoretical

focus should begin at the system-level in order to explain the actions taken by individual

units within the system. The crux o f the argument is that the actions o f states are

fundamentally constrained by the operation of the system itself. For the neo-realist, the

defining feature o f the international system is its anarchical structure; for the dependency

scholar, it is the capitalist ordering o f states within an international economy. The basic

similarities between these two theoretical approaches end here, however.

Kenneth Waltz, considered by most international relations scholars to be the

founder o f neo-realism, argues that the nature of international relations can best be

conceptualized as a continual balancing o f power between the most powerful states

within the international system.39 Because the structure o f the international arena is

anarchic, states are constantly forced to look after their own security. As the logic goes:

in any self-help system, units have to worry about their survival, and "this worry

conditions their behavior."40 Thus states tend to express greater concern with relative

strength than with absolute advantage, lest others overrun them in the future. Writes

Waltz: "In anarchy security is the highest end."41 Balancing against a stronger state(s)

39 Kenneth Waltz, A Theory o f International Politics, is considered the foundational text for structural realists.
40 Kenneth Waltz, "Anarchic Orders and Balances o f Power," in G. John Ikenberry, ed., American Foreign Policy: Theoretical Essays
(New York: Harper Collins, 1989) p. 87.
41 Ibid., p. 105.

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becomes a natural occurrence, whether or not this is the desired end for a particular

state. In addition, powerful states within the international system seek stability, and, thus,

their goal becomes maintaining a balance o f power in order to secure the status quo.

As applied to the context o f U.S.-Central American relations, neo-realists focus

on the competition between the United States and outside actors for influence in the

region. Peter Smith and William LeoGrande interpret the history o f U.S. activism in

Central America as an outgrowth o f such outside threats.42 Smith writes: "the

fundamental determinants o f U.S.-Latin American relations have been the role and

activity o f extra-hemispheric actors, not the United States or Latin America itself.43 He

views U.S. activism in Latin America from 1790s-1930s as an effort to keep European

powers out of the hemisphere, while the period from the late 1940s-1980s witnessed U.S.

efforts to check the Soviet Union. LeoGrande, by contrast, suggests that only when crisis

situations erupt in Central America, usually defined as events caused by and with the

support o f outside actors, will the United States become interested in dealing with the

region's problems.44

In the 1980s, the outside threat to Central America, at least from the vantage point

o f the United States, was the Soviet Union. By the early 1980s, the United States was

desperately trying to reestablish a global balance o f power in the aftermath o f its defeat in

Vietnam, as well as the negative international political consequences that followed from

42 Peter H. Smith, The Talons o f the Eagle: Dynamics ofU.S.-Latin American Relations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996)
William M. LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America. 1977-1992 (Chapel Hill, NC: University o f North
Carolina Press, 1998)
43 Ibid.
44 LeoGrande's argument in Our Own Backyard is analytically quite similar to the argument made by Robert A. Pastor in Whirlpool:
U.S. Foreign Policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992)

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Soviet adventurism in the Horn o f Africa and Afghanistan, the oil crises o f the 1970s,

and the overthrow o f the Shah in Iran. All these events, it was believed, presaged a

fundamental challenge to America's predominant power position.

When the Sandinista rebels overthrew the Somoza regime and took over the reins

o f government in Nicaragua in July 1979 and further piqued Washington by requesting

economic and military assistance from the Soviets, the Reagan administration decided

that it was time to take action to prevent a further erosion of American power. In

addition, Ronald Reagan believed that soon after the Sandinistas took power, they began

lending covert military support to neighboring guerrilla forces operating in El Salvador. It

was perceived that U.S. credibility was at stake, and echoes o f the domino theory once

again began to resurface.45 It was argued that allies faith in U.S. commitments in critical

areas such as Europe and Asia would decrease if the United States did not respond to

threatening events taking place in its own backyard.

From a neo-realist perspective, the subsequent forms o f U.S. intervention in

Nicaragua and El Salvador- ranging from condemnatory speeches to outright support for

the opposition- was a logical progression o f policy in an effort to balance Soviet gains in

the area. Simply stated, when it appeared that the Soviets were involved in Central

America, the United States took action.

With respect to changes in U.S. policy toward Central America after the Reagan

to Bush transition, neo-realists would expect that when tensions between the two

superpowers waned in the latter half o f the 1980s, as a result o f a number o f important

45 For an outstanding analysis o f the renewed use o f the domino theory in the context o f theCentral America crisis in the 1980s
consult Jerome Slater, "Dominoes in Central America: Will They Fall? Does It Matter? International Securtity, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Fall
1987) pp. 105-134.

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32
arms control agreements, U.S. interest and, ultimately, intervention in Central

America, would also naturally decline. Thus, when Bush took over the presidency in

1989 and Moscow began to withdraw from Eastern Europe in order to focus on its own

internal problems, the neo-realist would hold that the impetus for U.S. intervention in

Central America would be gone. In the absence o f an adversarial power challenging U.S.

hegemony in the region or threatening the overall global balance o f power, U.S. concerns

for Central American affairs should have rapidly diminished. President Bush and his

advisors should have placed Central American affairs on the back burner o f U.S. foreign

policy concerns and went on to deal with issues that they believed were more important

to U.S. national security. William LeoGrande states as much: The history of U.S.-Latin

American relations was ever thus: until a country erupted in crisis, someplace else was

always more important. As the wars that swept Central America in the 1980s subsided,

Washingtons attention drifted aw ay...46This expectation, although seemingly

persuasive at first glance, does have some substantial problems. (A critique of the neo

realist approach will be given after discussing dependency theory.)

Dependency scholars take a different cut at explaining the impact o f systemic

forces on nation-state behavior. Writers such as Theotonio dos Santos and Andre Gunder

Frank believe that it is not anarchy and power distributions that are the catalysts behind

inter-state relations: rather, it is the particular global division o f labor that conditions state

behavior in the international arena.47 These theorists argue that what is crucial in

determining a state's foreign policy behavior is its position within the global division o f

46 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, p. 584.


47 dos Santos, op. cit. and Andre G under Frank, "The Development o f Underdevelopment," in Peter F. Klaren and Thomas J. Bosser,
eds., Promise o f Development: Theories o f Change in Latin America. (Boulder,CO: Westview Press, 1986). pp. 111-123.

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33
labor. States located at the periphery o f the system are at a decided disadvantage to

those in the core, by virtue o f their limited technological capacity and material resource

base. It is the basic assumption o f the dependencia school that the core states use their

advantages in order to keep the periphery in a perpetual state o f dependency.

Dependentista accounts approach the question o f U.S. intervention in Central

America from a different angle than the neo-realists. At the heart o f the dependency

argument is the idea that the conduct o f U.S.-Latin American affairs is essentially an

outgrowth of the United States' desire to maintain its economic hegemony over the

Western Hemisphere in particular and the world system in general.48 Dependency

theorists contend that the United States has played a malign role historically in Latin

America by fostering a system o f economic dependence, which has led to and

perpetuated large-scale poverty and injustice in the region. Because o f the internal

contradictions within the capitalist system, the United States must maintain an unequal

economic relationship with its southern neighbors, which serve as a source o f raw

materials, markets, and low cost labor. Any challenge to its hegemonic position will be

met by all means necessary, including the use of military force. In short, the United States

is considered an imperialist power whose interests in the region are driven by economic

considerations.

From the vantage point o f dependency theorists, U.S. intervention in Central

America during the 1980s was a direct outgrowth of the desire on the part of policy-

48 The most useful sources for this line o f argument include: Theotonio dos Santos, "The Structure o f Dependence," American
Economic Review, Vol. 60 (May 1970) pp. 231-236; Ronald Chilcote and Joel Edelstein, eds., Latin America: The Struggle With
Dependency and Beyond (New York: Shenkman, 1974); Raymond Duvall, "Dependence and Dependencia Theory," International
Organization , Vol. 32 (M ay 1978) pp. 51-78; Julio C otier and Richard Fagen, eds., Latin America and the United States: The
Changing Political Realities (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974)

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34
makers in Washington to try to prevent economic trends from emerging that might

threaten U.S. economic interests over the long haul. Dependentistas do not argue that the

mere loss o f the Nicaraguan and El Salvadoran economies to the Eastern Socialist Bloc

would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy; rather, their loss might set the stage

for subsequent defections that would indeed prove to be detrimental to U.S. economic

interests. Thus, the Reagan administration needed either (1) to demonstrate to others the

consequences o f joining the communist economic bloc (e.g., through its covert war in

Nicaragua) or (2) to provide economic and military assistance to those on the verge of

falling to leftist forces (e.g. Washington's aid to El Salvador and surrounding states in

Central America).

Like the neo-realist argument, the expectation regarding a shift in interventionist

behavior from the Reagan to Bush administrations could be explained as a reaction to the

implosion o f the Soviet Union. As the 1980s drew to a close and as state-led economic

systems proved untenable, Washington no longer needed to fear the loss o f individual

economies to an alternative- for the alternative economic system ceased to exist. If

individual countries choose to opt out o f the worldwide capitalist system they would

willy-nilly be committing economic suicide. The changes in interventionist policies from

Reagan to Bush was, therefore, simply the latter president's desire to let market forces do

the work that covert military actions and costly economic and military assistance

programs could not.

Leaving aside the veracity of many o f the empirical claims being made by neo

realist and dependency scholars, the basic problem with both system-level accounts lies

in their deterministic conclusions. For the neo-realist, the United States (and all powerful

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35
states) must balance against any challenge to the status quo in an effort to maintain the

stability o f the international order. The system is portrayed as having a life o f its own.

Choices made by individual state leaders to alter their position within the international

arena are brushed aside as being irrelevant in comparison to the changes in system

structure. For Waltz, the rules o f the game are determined by the anarchic structure o f the

system, not by the individual units within it. Yet as history clearly demonstrates, the

statesmanship o f men such as Bismarck, Wilson, Chamberlain, Hitler, Stalin, and

Kissinger have fundamentally altered the position o f their states within the international

system, thus altering the balance o f power by human volition and not through system

dynamics. In addition, as Deborah Larson has demonstrated masterfully in her study o f

the origins o f the United States containment policy, different U.S. policy makers can

interpret the same external circumstances differently. Larson points out that post-World

War II U.S. policy makers, such as W. Averill Harriman, Harry Truman, James Byrnes,

and Dean Acheson interpreted information about Soviet actions in different manners

based on their preexisting beliefs about the USSR. Their preexisting beliefs, or lack

thereof, consequently influenced how they interpreted new information and ultimately

influenced their choice o f policy for dealing with the Soviets, despite the fact that all

these U.S. officials experienced the same external environment.49 Larsons basic point is

that studying a leaders beliefs is helpful in understanding how these leaders interpret,

analyze, and utilize information about the actions o f others in the international system.

For the dependentistas, the United States will respond to all perceived threats to

its economic hegemony in the W estern Hemisphere (as well as elsewhere). But how

49 Deborah Larson, Origins o f Containment: A Psychological Explanation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985)

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exactly will the United States act? Neither system-level explanation can tell us how

leaders will act when confronted either by a shift in the balance o f power or a challenge

to economic hegemony. Both do a good job at explaining the general tendencies o f state

interaction, but neither can yield specific predictions about state actions. Admittedly, the

end o f the Cold War was o f vital importance in leading to different foreign policy

behaviors by President Reagan and President Bush. Thus, both explanations are quite

correct in arguing that one could expect the United States to act in response to these

revolutionary changes. But, neither approach can yield specific predictions concerning

the potential type of action that a state leader will select. However, if an analyst has an

understanding of a leaders beliefs concerning how to respond to change, one can then

reasonably predict what types o f actions might be selected and which types of actions are

likely to be ignored.

The fundamental difficulty with both schools is that the role o f a leader(s) beliefs

is either ignored or considered irrelevant. Neo-realists like Kenneth Waltz and

dependentistas like Morris Morley have a tendency to place individual leadership

qualities, beliefs, and other level-one type variables in a residual category. Structural

scholars o f this type fail to note that how states respond to threats to power or economic

interests is often influenced by their leaders particular worldview.50 Or, even more

importantly, how states actually define what their interests are is often determined in part

by an individual leaders beliefs. Belief system theory is designed to examine this

50 Waltz, op. cit. Morris Morley, Washington. Somoza. and the Sandinistas: State and Regime in U.S. Policy Toward Nicaragua.
1969-1981 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994). and, Morley, ed., Crisis and Confrontation: Ronald Reagan's Foreign
Policy (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littefield, 1988)

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residual category and discover exactly what was a particular presidents basic ideology

or worldview and see how this impacted his subsequent foreign policy decisions.51

Domestic-level Explanations

An alternative approach to explaining shifts in U.S. interventionist behavior

toward Central America, specifically during the Reagan and Bush era, can be found in

studies focusing on factors internal to the United States. These studies tend to emphasize

three phenomena: first, the battle over control o f U.S. foreign policy by the President and

the United States Congress; second, the internal struggle within the executive branch by

different bureaucratic actors for control of the foreign policy agenda; and, third, the

impact o f different tendencies within the U.S. political culture that shape foreign policy

behavior.

One of the most popular domestic-level explanations for the shifting pattern o f

U.S. interventionist behavior in Central America is one that correlates the degrees of U.S.

intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s with the level o f agreement

between Congress and the presidency over the desired ends o f policy.52 In a sense, the

argument is tautological: when there was a high degree of congruence between Congress

and the President, support for Reagan's initiatives were forthcoming. In these

circumstances Congress agreed to fund the Contras and provide massive amounts of

5 1 Note that throughout this study the concepts belief system, worldview and ideology will all be used synonymously.
52 Robert A. Pastor, "The United States and Central America: Interlocking Dramas," in Peter B. Evan, Harold K. Jacobson, and
Robert D. Putnum eds., Double-Edged Diplomacy: International Bargaining and Domestic Politics, (Berkeley, CA: University o f
California Press, 1993) pp. 303-329

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military and economic assistance to the government o f El Salvador. Conversely, when

Reagan's choice o f strategy diverged from those originally agreed upon by Congress,

legislative support waned. Congress cut back on military assistance programs,

temporarily suspended all military funding to the Contras, and lent its support to Latin

American sponsored peace initiatives.

Cynthia Am son suggests that over the course o f two administrations, the major

differences between the president and Congress was not over core values and the desired

ends o f policy per se. Most U.S. leaders tended to agree that maintaining stability,

promoting democracy, limiting Soviet gains in Central America, and keeping the

revolutionary left from power were indeed very good ideas that should be promoted.

Rather, the disagreements between the two branches o f government centered on the

particular policies that would be used to secure these desired ends as well as on the

potential consequences for failing to meet these ends. President Reagan believed in the

need to confront the revolutionaries in El Salvador and the government in Nicaragua

through military means. Congress, on the other hand, believed emphasizing a military

victory to the crises would downgrade the social causes behind the regional turmoil. And,

although, at times, Congress did in fact agree to fund Reagans quasi-war effort, this

support was relatively ephemeral, especially as it related to Reagans covert war in

Nicaragua.53

The expectation concerning changes during the presidential transition was that

President-elect Bush, faced with a legislative branch adamantly opposed to expanding the

53 Cynthia Amson, Crossroads: Congress, the President.and Central America. 1976-1993 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State
University, 1993) See especially Chapter I.

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war effort in Nicaragua and El Salvador, would be all but forced into ending his

predecessor's interventionist policies. Unwilling to risk political capital with Congress,

President Bush would put Central American affairs on the back burner and turn his

attention elsewhere. Amson suggests that when Bush came into office, he had very few

options o f continuing the war in Nicaragua because o f congressional opposition. As for

El Salvador, she continues, the administrations options were limited when

congressional impatience with the war and repudiation o f prominent cases o f political

murder led to sharp curtailments o f military aid.54As a result of this legislative

opposition coupled with the dramatic international transformations that were occurring in

the late 1980s and due to the presidents desire to focus on larger foreign policy issues,

President Bush abandoned his predecessors quest for a military solution to the regional

crises and became actively involved in trying to pave the way for a negotiated solution.

The key problem with this interpretation is that it assumes that the president will

tend to passively give in to the demands o f Congress and will shift his policy ends

according to the whims of the legislative branch. Yet as the actions of President Reagan

clearly demonstrated, presidents do not readily give in to Congress, especially in the area

o f foreign affairs. LeoGrande was indeed correct when he suggested that Reagan believed

that "foreign policy was the president's job, and he would brook no interference...From

Reagans first weeks in office, he treated Congress as an adversary to be subdued."35 Even

in the face o f a Congress unwilling to appropriate new funding for the Contras and right-

wing governments in Central America, the president could and did use of variety o f legal

54 Ibid, p. 229.
55 William M. LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 586-588.

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and illegal means to get around Congressional obstinacy. This criticism is not meant to

suggest that President Bush would also use these same tactics with Congress, only that he

could. To assume that his hands were completely tied is highly problematic.

To argue, as LeoGrande, Amson and others have, that the shift in policy from

Reagan to Bush was a result o f the executives problems with Congress, the end o f the

Cold War, and Bushs desire to focus on larger problems in other parts o f the world,

especially in Eastern Europe, overlooks the importance that different presidential foreign

policy beliefs may have played in contributing to the change in U.S. policy. Thus, the

approach taken in this dissertation will add to the literature on U.S.-Central American

affairs by taking an approach that centers on the beliefs of the two presidents, rather than

simply on system or domestic-level explanatory variables. In short, the three levels of

explanation need to be combined to in order to offer a complete picture regarding why

U.S. policy changed in the aftermath of the presidential transition.

A different domestic-level explanation for changes in U.S. foreign policy in

Central America throughout the 1980s looks not at the battle between the president and

Congress, but rather at the battles that took place within the executive branch for control

o f the foreign policy agenda. Thomas Carothers' work on the foreign policy of the

Reagan years is an outstanding example of this approach.56 For Carothers, the central

battle over the direction o f U.S. foreign policy in the Reagan era was between two groups

o f advisors to the president. At one extreme were conservative ideologues, who in certain

respects held the views championed by neo-realists. These advisors perceived the crisis in

Central America as a mini-version of the larger international struggle with the Soviets. It

56 Carothers, op. cit.

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was these advisors who tended to push for coercive policies toward the leftist

movements in Central America. At the other end were moderates who cautioned against

military activity and lobbied for negotiated settlements that they believed would help

promote the development o f democracy in the Western Hemisphere. These advisors

interpreted the crisis as stemming from internal/regional political problems and not

necessarily as occurring because o f Soviet interference. It is Carothers contention that

the early years o f the Reagan administration were dominated by the ideologues whose

policy initiatives were present in the hard-line approach taken toward Nicaragua, El

Salvador, and Guatemala, whereas the latter Reagan years were characterized by a more

moderate position stressing the development of democracy in the region and a movement

away from the use o f military force or threat o f military force to solve differences, with

the possible exception o f Nicaragua.

Continuing with this line o f argument, Carothers concludes that when George

Bush entered the White House in 1989 key members of the bureaucracy and his most

important foreign policy advisors were predominantly moderates and his subsequent

policies reflected their ascendancy within his administration. Simply stated, President

Bush's foreign policies toward Central America were a reflection o f the ideas

predominant within the wing o f bureaucracy that at that given time held the President's

ear.

A few critical comments are in order with respect to this approach. To argue that

infighting within the bureaucracy itself shapes the final outcome o f foreign policy

decisions, although generally true, tends to overlook a number o f important points. The

strength o f the standard bureaucratic politics model (that is, the argument that where you

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stand depends on where you sit) is that it provides a detailed explanation o f the

political processes involved in trying to reach particular foreign policy decisions. In

other words, these arguments can provide answers to the how question. Yet, the

bureaucratic politics model has difficulty explaining the why question. W hy did Reagan

tend to side with the ideologues throughout his eight years in office when it came to

Nicaragua and shift in his support for the hard-line versus the moderate position over

U.S. policy toward El Salvador, for instance? Standard bureaucratic politics explanations

fail to note what Stephen Krasner argued over twenty-five years ago: namely, that when

it comes to key foreign policy decisions, the president is indeed king.57 Ultimately, it is

the president who chooses which group o f advisors to support; the positions taken by

these advisors can only be implemented if the president approves. Reagan appointed and

tended to listen to advisors who shared his beliefs. The same held true for George Bush.

Additionally, the bureaucratic model ignores the fact that the very battles that are

taking place within the executive branch for control o f the president's ear may not be

based necessarily on different institutional interests, but rather may develop as a result of

divergent diagnoses and prescriptions, which derive in part from different beliefs o f these

officials.58 In the end, Robert Art was indeed correct when he stated that it is "not to

bureaucratic politics but to presidents and mind-sets that one must look, "if we are to

understand why decisions are made the way they are." 59

57 Stepher D. Krasner, "Are Bureaucracies Important? (Or Allison Wonderland), in G. John Ikenberry, cd., American Foreign
Policy: Theoretical Essays (New York: Harper Collins, 1989) pp. 425-426.
58 This critique o f the bureaucratic model was made by Ole Holsti in "The Operational Code as an Approach to the Analysis o f Belief
Systems: Final Report to the National Science Foundation," Grant Number SOC75-15368 (Duke University, 1977)
59 Robert J. Art, "Bureaucratic Politics and American Foreign Policy: A Critique," in G. John Ikenberry, ed., American Foreign
Policy (New York: Harper, 1989) p.432.

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Darin Van Tassell offers a fascinating domestic-level explanation for U.S.

intervention in Central America that considers U.S. culture as the critical independent

variable. Culture, for Van Tassell, refers to "the body of customary beliefs, social forms,

and material traits constituting a distinct complex o f tradition of a social group."60 It is

Van Tasseil's argument that the underlying cause o f U.S. interventions in Central

America since the beginning o f the Republic has been a set o f beliefs inherent in

American culture that considers the United States as exceptional or superior to that of

Central America. When combined with the fact that U.S. foreign policy-makers have

defined these neighboring countries as part o f our sphere o f influence and when external

actors challenge our perceived interests in the region, this predominant cultural mentality

kicks in and compels the United States to intervene.

The cases that Van Tassel uses to test his hypothesis are from the 19th century,

which include the No-Transfer Policy o f 1811, the Monroe Doctrine, the annexation of

Mexico, and the Roosevelt Corollary. However, the same logic can be applied to the

1980s. The cultural hypothesis would suggest that both Ronald Reagan and George Bush

would interpret U.S. -Central American relations from the vantage point o f U.S.

exceptionalism and that if an extra-hemispheric power was trying to make in-roads into

the region, both presidents would logically respond in a similar manner in order to meet

the challenge. Thus, when it appeared that the Soviets were trying to establish a foothold

in the region via Nicaragua and through the rebellion in El Salvador in the late 1970s,

60 Darin H. Van Tasseil, "Operational Code Evolution: How Central America Came to Be "Our Backyard" in Valeriie Hudson, ed..
Culture and Foreign Policy (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997) p. 234.

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Ronald Reagan perforce would take action. Likewise, when the external threat receded,

U.S. activity in Central America under Bush would recede as well.

The difficulty with accepting this line of argument is that it implies that all

presidents would be equally affected by the predominant culture of U.S. exceptionalism.

It leaves very little room for variation amongst different presidents. Similar to the system-

level arguments above and those o f a divided government and bureaucratic politics

persuasion, the cultural explanation has a tendency to treat the individual as a mere

reflection o f his environment. Yes, international and domestic political environments are

vitally important in shaping foreign policy decisions. But differences can be found in how

presidents respond to these system-level and national-level constraints. In addition, what

needs to be examined is how these variables affect the predominant belief systems o f the

president and his closest foreign policy advisors and how, in turn, beliefs affect the

domestic and international environments. What is needed is an examination o f the

interaction o f these three different levels of explanation.

Individual-level Explanations

Dissatisfaction with the traditional explanations for U.S. interventionist behavior

has led a number o f scholars to turn to the field o f political psychology. Drawing on the

work o f Robert Jervis61, scholars such as Richard Cottam, Martha Cottam, and E.

61 Two o f Jervis's works are particularly relevant in this respect. The Logic o fIm a g es (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1970); and Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976)

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45
Thomas Rowe have begun to look at the impact o f images on U.S. foreign policy
fS)
towards Latin America.

Like Jervis, both Cottam and Rowe argue that U.S. policies abroad are in part the

result o f the particular images that decision-makers possess with respect to individual

countries or regions o f the world. In one o f her early studies, Cottam develops four ideal

images: the enemy, neutral, dependent, and ally, which she believes policy-makers use

when responding to actions taken by other states.63 The function o f these images, writes

Cottam, is to help decision- makers filter incoming information from the environment.

These images, in turn, allow policy makers to categorize states, which assists them in

organizing the political world. Thus, political leaders respond differently to actions taken

by other states based on which particular images they hold of these states. More recently,

Cottam has used this model to explain U.S. military interventions in Latin America

during the Cold War and post-Cold War period. Her general thesis is that U.S. military

intervention is likely to occur under two circumstances: (1) when the U.S. foreign policy

leadership possesses an enemy image o f a third power (e.g. the Soviet Union) trying to

make in-roads into Latin America coupled with a dependent image o f Latin American

states or (2) when the U.S. foreign policy leadership possesses a dependent image of a

Latin American state who they perceive as challenging basic U.S. interests in the region.

62 For examples see: Martha Cottam, Foreign Policy Decision Making: The Influence o f Cognition. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1986);
Martha Cottam, Images and Intervention: U.S. Policies in Latin America (Pittsburgh, PA: University o f Pittsburgh, 1994); Martha
Cottam and E. Thomas Rowe. "Intervention Decisions: The Interaction o f Situational and Psychological Factors," Paper presented at
the 1987 Annual Meeting o f the American Political Science Foundation, Chicago; Richard Cottam. Foreign Policy Motivation
(Pittsburgh, PA: University o f Pittsburgh Press, 1977),
63 Martha L. Cottam, Foreign Policy Decision Making.

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For Cottam, throughout the 1980s, Reagan possessed an enemy image of the

Soviet Union, who he believed was trying to increase its political influence throughout

Central America. Coupled with the enemy image o f the Soviets was a dependent image

o f Central American states who the U.S. felt would fall under Soviet domination if they

did not act to prevent this from happening. Thus, writes Cottam, the situation was ripe for

U.S. interventionist policies during the Reagan years to reverse communist gains in

Nicaragua and Grenada and shore up friendly right wing governments throughout the

region.

However, when the baton passed from President Reagan to President Bush and

when the Soviet threat began to fade, intervention was still a possibility because the

dependent image o f Latin American states remained. Bush, Cottam contends, still

perceived Central American states as typified by corrupt and self-interested political

elites whose material resource base was negligible and whose culture tended to be

inferior to that o f the United States. Hence, one can explain why the United States took

military action in a country like Panama where a corrupt leader was challenging the will

power o f the United States.

Lars Schoultz, in his historical overview o f U.S. policy toward Latin America,

would fervently agree with Cottam's interpretation o f the dependent image held by

Reagan and Bush toward Central America.64In fact, Schoultz contends that the entire

history o f U.S.-Latin American relations stems from U.S. leaders rather stereotypical

image o f Latin American states. Schoultz is willing to admit, however, that U.S. policy

has also been based on perceptions of U.S. national interests, including those related to

64 Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History o f U.S. Policy Toward Latin America.

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national security, domestic political considerations, and economic development. But,

these three interest-based explanations, he contends, do not tell the full story. Underlying

these three interests, he writes, "is a pervasive belief that Latin Americans constitute an

inferior branch o f the human species."65 Not mincing words, he goes on to state: "There,

in the minds of U.S. officials, we find the explanation o f U.S. policy in a process that

blends self-interest with what the Victorian British called their White Man's Burden and

the French their mission civilisatrice, a process by which a superior people help a weak

civilization overcome the pernicious effects of its sad defect."66

In a much broader image-based analysis, Richard K. Herrmann and Michael P.

Fischerkeller attempt to move beyond the enemy image & dependent image in

international affairs to include four additional images o f external actors.67 These

include: the ally, degenerate, imperialist, and colony. In their model, Herrmann and

Fischerkeller link these ideal-typical images to various strategies pursued by individual

states in their relationship with others. The authors conclude that interactions between

states who hold particular image(s) o f the other lead to a fairly well specified set o f

strategic outcomes. O f particular relevance to this study is their finding that intervention

is likely to occur when two separate actors possess a colony and imperialist image o f the

other, respectively.

65 Ibid., p. xv.
66 Ibid. p. xvi.
67 Richard K. Hermann and Michael P. Fischerkeller, "Beyond the Enemy Image and Spiral Model: Cognitive-Strategic Research
After the Cold War," International Organization, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Summer 1995) pp. 415-450.

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The major difficulty with these image-based studies is that they focus almost

exclusively on the impact o f images o f "others" in shaping foreign policy decisions.68

Images o f the enemy and o f allies comprise only two parts o f a given president's

worldview, however. What needs to be added is an examination of a political leader's

national self-image, his/her beliefs about the nature o f international politics, his/her

beliefs concerning the flow o f history, and his/her conception o f the nature o f change. In

other words, there is a need to combine the way leaders look at others w ith the way they

look at the functions of their own state- all within the confines o f the international

political system.

The central puzzle that mainstream image analyses have had difficulty answering

is why, given that U.S. images o f Latin America nations have remained mostly the same,

have policies toward the region fluctuated over tim e?69 Also, why have U.S. presidents

responded to some events and not others that have in the past been defined as threats to

U.S. interests? A possible answer, among others, is that different U.S. presidents have

possessed different beliefs about their country as state actors and beliefs about others,

which has, in turn, resulted in shifting foreign policy behavior. It is the purpose o f this

dissertation to augment studies that focus solely on changes in the international structure

o f power and on the internal domestic political arena with one that examines how

68 In her examination o f the relationship between images and interventionist behavior, Cottam does mention the importance of self-
image in U.S. Latin American relations, but her conceptualization is not well specified. For example, she considers self-image from
the perspective o f whether or not the collective group image is positive rather than negative and whether o r not the group perceives
itself as having the ability to control events.
69 An example o f this continuity thesis is Cottam's argument that throughout the twentieth century the U.S. foreign policy elite has
perceived most o f South and Central America as dependent states. By dependent image, Cottam means states that are perceived as
weak, childlike, inept, and led by a small and often corrupt elite. See Martha Cottam, Images and Intervention, p. 25

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49
changes in presidential level belief systems contributed to shifts in U.S. interventionist

behavior toward El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s.

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50
Chapter 2: Foreign Policy. U.S. Intervention, and Presidential B elief Systems

This chapter introduces the variables that will be used in this study. The first

section discusses the general and specific dependent variables that are the central focus

for this dissertation: namely, foreign policy behavior and shifts in U.S. intervention. The

second section deals with the independent variable: presidential foreign policy belief

systems. In the context o f introducing the independent variable, the theoretical

background to belief system analysis is examined followed by a discussion of the

operational code construct that was developed originally by Nathan Leites and later

systematized by Alexander George. A discussion is offered o f both some o f the

applications of George's theoretical construct and some o f the criticisms that have been

made concerning operational code analysis. The last section develops the analytical

model that will be used in the context o f discovering the foreign policy beliefs of

President Reagan and President Bush. The concluding section discusses the rules of

evidence that were used to construct the Reagan and Bush belief systems.

Dependent Variable: U.S. Intervention

In the broadest sense, the dependent variable for this study is "foreign policy

behavior." Although the exact meaning of this concept is a much debated topic in the

foreign policy literature, there is a consensus that foreign policy behavior refers to the

outward directed behavior o f states aimed at influencing other states within the

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51
international system.70 In this study, an examination o f the broader concept o f foreign

policy will not be attempted. Rather, an analysis o f a very specific type o f foreign policy

behavior: namely, forms or degrees of U.S. intervention will be made.

The concept "intervention" refers to the action(s) that a state takes to interject

itself into another states domestic conflict situation. As Joseph Nye suggests, there are a

variety of means available to leaders of powerful states that can be used to influence the

internal or external behavior o f other states. Intervention, it should be noted, does not

necessarily have to involve military activity or the external movement o f troops across

borders. Consequently, one can operationally define "intervention" to include both

military and non-military variants. Both types o f intervention share a common feature,

however: they have the effect o f influencing directly the amount o f choice available to

local actors who are involved in a domestic conflict situation.71 For purposes of this

dissertation, therefore, U.S. intervention will be conceptualized as a continuous

dependent variable.

Table 1 here

70 Charles Hermann defines foreign policy behavior in a clear and succinct fashion in his study o f policy classifications. For
Hermann, "Foreign policy behavior consists o f those discrete official actions o f the authoritative decision-makers o f the nation's
government, or their agents, which are intended by the decision-makers to influence the behavior o f international actors external to
their polity." Charles F. Hermann, "Policy Classifications: A Key to the Comparative Study o f Foreign Policy," in James N. Rosenau,
ed.. The Analysis o f International Behavior (New York: The Free Press, 1972) p. 72.

71 Joseph S. Nye Jr., Understanding International Conflict: An Introduction to Theory and History (New York: Harper Collins, 1993)
pp. 132-138.

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TABLE 1: DEGREES OF INTERVENTION72

Low Coercion
(High Local Choice)

Speeches

Broadcasts

Economic Aid

Military Advisors

Support Opposition

Blockade

Limited Military Action

Military Invasion

High Coercion
(Low Local Choice)

72 Joseph S. Nye Jr., Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History (New York: Harper Collins,
1993)

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Generally, one can classify interventions in two ways: first, are interventions

that are nonmilitary in nature; second, are interventions that involve indirect or direct

military activity.73 In terms o f the intervention scale presented in Table 1, activities such

as speeches, broadcasts, and the provision of economic aid can be classified as

nonmilitary variants o f intervention. Often speeches and broadcasts made by state leaders

are aimed at fomenting internal discord in another state or to lend support to a politically

weakened regime. Similarly, the provision o f economic assistance, or its denial, is usually

directed at helping to prop up an allied government that is threatened by internal upheaval

or to punish an adversarial state. All these activities, it should be noted, match up quite

well with our definition o f intervention: all are actions of one state, which are directed at

influencing the internal or external political behavior of other actors involved in a

domestic conflict. Military interventions, unlike non-military intervention, will involve

either indirect military action, such as the mobilization of troops, the provision o f arms

and/or the deployment o f military advisors, or the direct application o f force, as in the

establishment of a blockade or the direct dispatch o f military troops into a combat

situation.

In the context o f the current study, Ronald Reagan utilized nearly all o f the tools

o f intervention that are contained in Table 1, with the exception, o f course, of an outright

military invasion. And, even though a military invasion was not used in dealing with the

crises taking place in El Salvador and Nicaragua, one must remember that Reagan did

73 Marc David Turetsky, in his quantitative analysis o f the causes behind U.S. interventions abroad in the post-WWII period, suggests
that there are three types o f intervention: those that involve a choice not to intervention, those that involve nonmilitary intervention,
and those that are military in nature. Because, both Reagan and Bush did order some level o f intervention, I have categorized
intervention as being either nonmilitary o r military in scope. See Turetsky, "Domestic and International Determinants in U.S.
Intervention in Internal Conflicts Abroad, 1946-1994," Political Chronicle, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring 2000) pp. 50-51

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54
authorize an invasion o f Grenada in October 1983. Responding to the revolutionary

events in El Salvador, Reagan supported the government through the use o f speeches,

broadcasts, and the provision o f tremendous amounts of economic and military

assistance, including sending additional U.S. military advisors to train the Salvadoran

army and engage in joint military exercises. In Nicaragua, Reagan went even further. In

addition to the means used in El Salvador, the president authorized the creation and

training o f a paramilitary force by the Central Intelligence Agency, whose purpose was

first to interdict arms flowing from Nicaragua to the rebels in El Salvador and later to

overthrow the Nicaraguan government. Moreover, President Reagan cut off U.S.

economic assistance to the Sandinista government shortly after taking office, and by 1985

had imposed full-scale economic sanctions against the Nicaraguan government.

George Bush, by contrast, intervened in El Salvador and Nicaragua in a much

more limited fashion. Unlike Reagan, Bush believed in the utility o f diplomacy to settle

these disputes, especially multilateral negotiations that involved a variety of Central

American states. Admittedly, President Bush did rely initially on a good many o f the

tools o f intervention that his predecessor had used, including speeches, broadcasts, and

the provision of economic and military aid, and did in fact agree to an outright military

invasion of Panama, but the overall goal o f seeking a military solution to the crises in El

Salvador and Nicaragua (emphasis added,) was absent. In its place, was a concerted

effort by the United States to support the peace process by using the aforementioned tools

o f intervention as diplomatic carrots and sticks. The new goal was to win the peace, not

the war.

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Independent Variable: Foreign Policy B elief System

The key explanatory variable for this study is political belief system, specifically

foreign policy belief system. The concept belief system is taken from the work o f Philip

Converse who defines it as a "configuration o f ideas and attitudes in which the elements

are bound together by some form o f constraint or functional interdependence."74 The

critical component o f this definition is the functional interdependence of beliefs, which,

simply stated, refers to a hierarchical ordering o f beliefs according to the centrality of

certain beliefs to the existence of the belief system as a whole. Put somewhat differently,

belief systems are organized into different levels, whereby certain beliefs are considered

subordinate to others based on the fact that changes in a particular belief(s) on a given

level, which is considered foundational to the belief system, will lead directly to changes

throughout the entire system. On the other hand, changes in beliefs at a lower level will

not perforce cause changes in the overall system. It is assumed that foundational beliefs

are resistant to change, thus lending a great deal of stability to the overall belief system.75

A belief system, writes Milton Rokeach, can be organized into three regions: a

core region, an intermediate region, and a peripheral region.76 These three regions are

hierarchically connected and each level contains beliefs that are also horizontally

74Philip Converse, "The Nature o f Belief Systems in Mass Publics, " in David E. Apter, ed., Ideology and Discontent (New York:
Free Press, 1964); See also Paul Dawson, "The Formation and Structure o f Political Belief Systems," Political Behavior, Vol. 1 (1979)
Quote taken from Converse, p. 207.
75 Roger W. Cobb, "The Belief System Perspective: A n Assessment o f a Framework," Journal ofP olitics, Vol. 35 (February 1973)
pp. 121-153.
76 Milton Rokeach, The Open an d Closed Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1960) pp. 35-50; Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values: A Theory
o f Organization and Change (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1968)

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56
intertwined. The central region consists of beliefs known as primitive beliefs, which

are acquired early on in life and deal with an individual's conceptualization o f the

physical and social world.77 Rokeach suggests that these beliefs are pre-ideological and

in many respects are comparable to the unexamined axioms o f a mathematical system. 78

Intermediate beliefs, by contrast, are ideologically based and are beliefs a person holds

about the nature o f authority. These beliefs are adopted from religious and political

authorities that an individual depends on to help him/her form a picture o f the world in

which he/she operates. Peripheral beliefs are those that are derived from intermediate

beliefs and, as Rokeach suggests, serve to fill in the details o f an individual's world-map.

Katzenstein provides a fine set o f examples of peripheral beliefs: "a belief in abortion

may be derived from religion; or a belief about public policy might come from party

affiliation."79 It is the integration o f all three levels o f beliefs that comprises a belief

system.

Alexander George was responsible for the first rigorous application o f these ideas

in the area of foreign policy decision-making. In 1969, George helped further develop the

"operational code" (op-code) for the analysis of political leaders and foreign policy

decision-making.80 In his study, George attempted to systematize an earlier examination

o f Soviet behavior by Nathan Leites who argued that there existed within the Bolshevik

77 Examples o f primitive beliefs regarding physical reality would include beliefs about color, space, and time, while primitive beliefs
regarding social reality would include beliefs as to whether or not authority figures or people in general should be trusted. Likewise,
beliefs about the self would deal with an individual's orientation in physical space, his/her beliefs about autonomy and independence,
and self-worth.
78 Rokeach, The Open and Closed Mind, pp. 40-41
79 Lawrence C. Katzenstein made this observation, "Change, Myth, and the Reunification o f China, in Valerie M. Hudson, ed..
Culture and Foreign Policy (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997) p. 52.
80 Alexander L. George, "The Operational Code: A Neglected Approach to the Study o f Political Leaders and Decision-Making,"
International Studies Quarterly. Vol. 13 (1969) pp. 190-222.

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57
leadership cadre certain psychological and sociological tendencies that one could

discern from their speeches in order to understand both Soviet behavior in general and
Of

foreign policy strategy and tactics in particular. Leites referred to these psychological

tendencies as the Soviet leaderships operational code. George culled from Leites work

what he believed to be the philosophical/core beliefs of the Soviet Politburo as well as its

instrumental beliefs, which were derived from the philosophical/core beliefs.

In doing so, George created a set o f questions whose answers he believed guided

a leaders approach to foreign policy decision-making. The philosophical beliefs that

George mentioned included the basic assumptions from which everything else in the

belief system derived. They included the following questions:

1) What is the essential nature o f political life? Is the political universe

essentially one o f harmony or conflict? What is the fundamental character of

one's political opponents?

2) What are the prospects for the eventual realization o f one's fundamental

political values and aspirations? Can one be optimistic, or must one be

pessimistic on this score; and in what respects one and/or the other?

3) Is the political future predictable? In what sense and to what extent?

4) How much "control" or "mastery" can one have over historical developments?

What is one's role in "moving" and "shaping" history in the desired direction?

81 Nathan Leites, A Study o f Bolshevism (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1953) and The Operational Code o fth e Politburo (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1951)

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58
5) What is the role o f "chance" in human affairs and in historical

development?82

Like Rokeach, George believed that beliefs within this level are interrelated. Also like

Rokeach, George contends that there is a lower level o f beliefs (instrumental beliefs)

derived from a higher level of beliefs (philosophical beliefs). Instrumental beliefs, unlike

core beliefs, dealt with "ends-means relationships in the context o f political action" and

included answers to the following questions:

1) What is the best approach for selecting goals or objectives for political action?

2) How are the goals of action pursued most effectively?

3) How are the risks of political action calculated, controlled, and accepted?

4) What is the best "timing" o f action to advance one's interest?

5) What is the utility and role o f different means for advancing one's interests?

George's basic assumption in using a belief system model to study foreign policy

decision-making is that at any given time there exists a predominant belief system (also

called an ideology or worldview) shared by most-albeit not all-members o f the foreign

policy elite that acts as a perceptual screen, which in turn sets the terms o f the policy

debate and places limits on what policies are ultimately selected. The existence o f elite

disagreement is not ruled out, however. George argued that because o f the tendency of
82 Alexander L. George, "The Operational Code: A Neglected Approach to the Study o f Political Leaders and Decision-Making,"
pp. 190-222.

83 Ibid. 194.

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59
the chief executive and his closest advisors to share certain fundamental beliefs, ceteris

paribus, policy by-and-large tends to mirror the prevailing worldview. In addition, like

the good belief system theorist that he was, George argued that the general op-code of the

foreign policy elite could change. I f an alteration occurred within the level o f

philosophical beliefs, the functional interdependence o f beliefs throughout the system

would then require changes in the lower level o f beliefs as well.

George's formulation o f the operational code led to a number o f additional studies

that tested the relationship between beliefs and foreign policy behavior on a variety of

foreign policy leaders, including John Foster Dulles, Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger,

Frank Church, among others.84 These studies have all tended to confirm George's basic

hypothesis that beliefs can at least indirectly influence foreign policy decision-making.

This does not mean, however, that the operational code approach to decision-making has

not been criticized. In general, there are two fundamental problems with this theoretical

construct. The first relates to the questions George uses for gauging a leader's

philosophical beliefs. In his analysis, George never clearly specifies why he has included

the beliefs that he has at the philosophical level. As Gunnar Sjoblom observes, all five of

George's philosophical beliefs are problematic in one way or another.85 Philosophical

84 Ole Holsti, "The Operational Code" Approach to the Study o f Political Leaders: John Foster Dulles' Philosophical and Instrumental
Beliefs," Canadian Journal o f Political Science, Vol. 3 (1970) pp. 123-157; D.S. McLennan, The Operational Code Approach to the
study o f Political Leaders: Dean Achesons philosophical and instrumental beliefs, Canadian Journal o f Political Science, Vol. 4,
(1971) pp. 52-75. Ole Holsti, The "Operational Code as an Approach to the Analysis o f Belief Systems: Final Report to the National
Science Foundation. Grant No. SOC75-15368. (1977): Stephen G. Walker, "The Interface Between Beliefs and Behavior: Henry
Kissingers Operational Code and the Vietnam War.Journal o f Conflict Resolution, Vol. 21 (1977) pp. 129-167; Loch Anderson,
"Operational Codes and the Prediction o f Leadership Behavior: Senator Frank Church at Midcareer," in Margarer Hermann, ed., A
Psychological Examination o f Political Leaders (New York: Free Press, 1977) pp. 82-119.
85 Gunnar Sjob!om"The Operational Code Approach: Problems and Some Solutions," in Christer Jonnsson, ed.. Cognitive Dynamics
and International Politics (London: Frances Pinter, 1982) pp. 75-90.

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60
belief # 1 (PI) is troubling because it includes the possibility o f interpreting the nature

o f politics as harmonious; and, most scholars would tend to agree that an integral part o f

any definition of politics is that it involves some form o f conflict. P 1 is also limited in

that it includes only beliefs about an opponent. What about beliefs regarding a leader's

own nation, or beliefs about allies or neutrals?

The second philosophical belief (P2) is problematic because it fails to include any

indication o f a leader's goals, which is crucial to discerning the prospects for success or

the degree o f optimism/pessimism that a leader possesses. Finally, philosophical beliefs

3-5, concerning predictability, degree o f control, and the role o f chance, Sjoblom

believes, "are so clearly related that they can hardly be answered separately." 86 Thus, in

constructing an analytical model, one needs to clarify why he/she is selecting certain

types of beliefs and not others.

The second problem with George's op-code, which is crucially important for this

study, is that it assumes that the belief system, once established, will apply in equal

measure to all members o f the foreign policy elite. Political leaders in a given era, it is

argued, have their beliefs shaped by similar cultural, historical, and ideological forces.

Unfortunately, by assuming that the op-code provides a prism for the key decision

makers, the result, writes James Goldgeier, is that the model "predicts consistent behavior
37 .
from leader to leader and ignores the idiosyncrasies o f individuals." It is my intention

to demonstrate that within the context of American foreign policy during two Republican

86 Ibid., p. 62.
87 James M. Goldgeier, Leadership Style and Soviet Foreign Policy: Stain, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1994) p. 15.

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61
administrations in the 1980s, the beliefs, or op-code, o f Ronald Reagan and George

Bush were indeed quite different.

Ole Holsti and Stephen Walker are perhaps the two political scientists who have

done the most to refine the Leites/George operational code. Holsti, in his major work on

the op-code, contended that a foreign policy leader's belief system is centered on two sets

o f master beliefs: those concerning the fundamental nature of the political universe (e.g.

whether leaders perceive the political universe as harmonious or conflictual), and those

relating to the fundamental sources of conflict (e.g., whether leaders perceive conflict as

stemming from human nature, the attributes o f nations, or the international system).

Holsti believed that the intersection of these two sets of beliefs formed six distinct belief

systems, which foreign policy analysts could use to classify nearly all foreign policy

leaders. By assuming a degree o f cognitive consistency, Holsti also argued that these

beliefs could potentially impact foreign policy behavior by influencing how a leader

interpreted information emanating from the international arena. What Holsti added to the

Leites/George model, besides the six-fold typology, was a demonstration of the

importance of situational variables in the relationship between beliefs and behavior. He

posited that in situations where information was overly complex, scarce, or ambiguous,

decision-makers would rely on their beliefs to select from a possible range of foreign

policy responses. Thus, Holsti believed one could at least indirectly link a leader's beliefs

with foreign policy decisions. Additionally, Holsti, in this study, attempted to develop a
* 88
coding method for arriving at a leader's op-code beliefs.

88 Holsti, "The Operational Code as an Approach to the Analysis o f B elief Systems"

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62
Like the earlier criticisms o f the Georgian philosophical and instrumental

questions, Stephen W alker discovered that Holsti's typology, too, contained a number of
OQ

ambiguities and overlapping beliefs. Because of these problems, Walker revised

Holsti's original typology to contain four, rather than six belief systems, all o f which

included both philosophical and instrumental beliefs. Walker later teamed up with

Lawrence Falkowski to test whether this new typology could be used to establish a

relationship between crisis bargaining and the op-code beliefs o f U.S. Presidents and their

secretaries o f state.90

In their analysis o f Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson (and their

respective secretaries o f state) Walker and Falkowski discovered, however, that by

placing these leaders within the context o f either Holsti's or Walker's belief system

typology, they could not accurately predict the various bargaining moves that were

adopted by these administrations. Instead, the authors learned that these leaders possessed

different beliefs from different belief systems. In addition, they noted that the bargaining

positions taken by these U.S. officials reflected not only their foreign policy beliefs, but

were also related to their personal motivations for power, affiliation, and achievement

within the political sphere.91 Walker in his most recent research on the op-code has

89 Stephen G. Walker, "The Motivational Foundation o f Political Belief Systems, A Re-Analysis o f the Operational Code
Construct. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 27 (1983) pp. 179-202.
90 Stephen Walker and Lawrence Falkowski, "The Operational Codes of U.S. Presidents and Secretaries ofState," Political
Psychology, V o l. 5, (1984) pp. 33-51.
91 Ibid.

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63
attempted to develop systematic measures for linking together the cognitive and

motivational influences on a leaders foreign policy behavior.92

Douglas Blum, in his study o f continuity and change in the post-World War II

Soviet foreign policy belief system, has also made an important contribution in trying to

tackle some o f the problems associated with George's original operational code and its

subsequent adaptations.93 Blum's analytical framework, like George's, primarily consists

o f two-levels o f beliefs: a core level and an intermediate level.94 At the core level can be

found the basic assumptions and values o f an individual "from which everything else in

the belief system ultimately derives.95 The intermediate level, by contrast, contains

conceptual generalizations, which are heavily value laden and are derived from the core

beliefs. Blum cogently describes these beliefs: "The defining property of intermediate

beliefs is that they express wishful thinking: they either express a desire to remake the

world, a hope that certain outcomes will occur, or a wishful representation of the nature

o f things."96 Intermediate beliefs are those that can be derived collectively from an

individuals core beliefs. These two levels are in many respects comparable to the second

and third tiers o f Rokeach's pioneering study on belief systems mentioned earlier, and

will provide a useful heuristic for studying differences in the foundational and

derivational beliefs o f Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

92 Stephen Walker, Mark Schafer, and Michael Young, "Systematic Procedures for Operational Code Analysis: Measuring and
Modeling Jimmy Carters Operational Code," International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42 (1998) pp. 175-190.
93 Douglas Blum, "The Soviet Foreign Policy Belief System: Beliefs, Politics, and Foreign Policy Outcomes," International Studies
Quarterly. Vol. 37 (1993) pp. 373-394.
94 Blum, both his doctoral dissertation and in his International Studies Quarterly article, does mention a third level o f beliefs, which
he calls peripheral beliefs that consist o f detailed and tactical information about the outside world.
95 Ibid. p. 375.
96 Douglas Blum, "The Soviet foreign policy belief system: Sources of continuity and change in ideology and policy," Doctoral
Dissertation, (Columbia University, 1991) p. 87.

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64
Beliefs at the core level include those relating to:

1) National Image: A leader's ideal image o f the state

2) Images o f Allies: Beliefs concerning the characteristics o f "friendly" states

3) Image o f Adversaries: Beliefs concerning the characteristics o f "enemies"

4) The nature of international politics: Premise regarding harmony or conflict

within the international arena and views as to whether conflicts are permanent

o f resolvable.

5) The flow of history: Views pertaining to the control or mastery one has over

historical developments.

6) The nature of change: Conceptions o f how change occurs and whether the

future should be one emphasizing the status quo or change.

In essence, what Blum has done is add on to George's original conceptualization of

philosophical beliefs in order to solve the problems brought out by his critics. Thus, one

finds Blum adding an important set o f beliefs regarding national self-image and the

image o f allies along with beliefs concerning the nature o f change. He also divides

George's original P 1 into two categories: one concerning the nature o f international

politics and the other, the images o f adversaries. Additionally, Blum has effectively

combined P2-P5, which relate to the prospects for success, predictability, degree of

control, and the role of change, into a single construct dealing with beliefs pertaining to

the flow o f history.

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65
Yet why are these beliefs considered core beliefs? Why not choose another set

o f categories. Are these beliefs only relevant to a study o f Soviet foreign policy? The

answer, in part, is that the focus o f inquiry will determine which set o f beliefs an analyst

must use to link beliefs and behavior. And, regardless o f the type o f political leadership

one is examining, there will be some commonalities in how leaders respond to

international events. The major concern for this study is trying to understand why change

occurs in U.S. foreign policy. Therefore, because U.S. foreign policy, as is the case in

each states foreign policy, is intimately associated with the operation o f international

politics and because international politics is by definition interactive, the categories o f

beliefs that are chosen will mirror these concerns. Thus, the six core beliefs deal with

how state leaders view their own state (Cl), along with how they perceive others, both

allies (C2) and adversaries (C3) in the context o f interaction.97The very concept of

foreign policy implies interaction; therefore, it becomes necessary to examine a leader's

views o f the nature o f international politics (C4) and how much he/she believes they can

control these interactions (C5).98 In addition, it is assumed that international politics is

not static, but instead characterized by some degree o f change. Leaders will either seek to

97 Studies that have acknowledged the general importance o f examining self-image in relation to images o f others include: William A
Camson and Andre Modigliani, Untangling the Cold War: A Strategy f o r Testing Rival Theories (Boston: Little & Brown and Co.,
1971); Richard Ned Lebow, White Britain and Black Ireland: The Influence o f Stereotypes on Colonial Policy (Philadelphia, PA:
Institute for the Study o f Human Issues, 1976); Daniel Frei, Perceived Images: U.S. and Soviet Assumptions and Perceptions in
Disarmament (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheid, 1986); Richard N ed Lebow, Between Peace and War: The Nature o f International
Crises (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University, 1981) esp. Chapter 6. John G. Stoessinger, Nations in Darkness. China.
Russia, and America (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990) 5th edition. N . Kaplowitz, National Self-Images, Perceptions o f Enemies, and
Conflict Strategies, Political Psychology, Vol. 11 (1990) pp. 39-82.
98 As mentioned above. Ole Holsti in his detailed study "The Operational Code as an Approach to the Analysis o f Belief System,"
suggests that a leader's beliefs concerning the nature o f international politics and beliefs concerning the sources o f conflict represent
"m aster beliefs;" "that is, beliefs that are likely to constrain, if not dominate, other elements o f the actor's belief system." p. 156.

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66
promote change or to maintain the status quo. Thus, it will be valuable to understand

how leaders perceive change and how it should be handled (C6).

As mentioned above, the intermediate-level beliefs that will be examined are

derived collectively from the core beliefs. These are beliefs that help to make the abstract

core beliefs more concrete or specific. Writes Blum: "Intermediate beliefs function to

provide normative direction as well as additional analytical concepts."99 Alexander

George suggests that these are beliefs that have to do with questions o f correct strategy

and tactics. 100They are classified as intermediate simply because they stem in some

sense from the central, core beliefs.

Beliefs o f this type include:

1) The relevance o f self-image or role for the outside world.

2) The internal political structure and dynamic of adversaries and allies.

3) The requirements for self-preservation and beliefs about war and peace.

4) The relation o f current trends to larger historical patterns.

5) The nature of specific political mechanisms, or modes, o f change.101

In the end, one of the key benefits of using this analytical model is that it returns belief

system studies, at least in the context o f studying foreign policy behavior, back to the

99 Douglas Blum, "The Soviet Foreign Policy Belief System: Beliefs, Politics, and Foreign Policy Outcomes," p.376.
100 Alexander George, The Causal Nexus between Cognitive Beliefs and Decision-Making B ehavior The Operational Code
Belief System, Lawrence S. Falkowski, ed.. Psychological Models in International Politics,(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979) p.
100 .
101 Ibid. 3 7 6 .1 have omitted one o f Blum's original intermediate beliefs, which related to the malleability o fth e political environment
because it is virtually indistinguishable from the core belief regarding the flow o f history.

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original conceptualization o f Rokeach who argued that a belief system represents the

total universe of a person's beliefs about the physical world, the social world, and the

self.102

Blum argues that the dynamic by which belief systems can be used to explain

changes in nation-state's foreign policy behavior is the result o f three interacting factors:

1) the policy cycle; 2) the structure and stability o f belief systems, and; 3) emergence of

new leaders.103

The policy cycle refers to the process whereby decisions made by a foreign policy

leadership- that are deemed either successful or not- feedback into these leaders' original

belief system. Decisions or outcomes that are considered successful serve to reinforce

existing belief structures, while those that do not, often pose a challenge to existing

beliefs.104

Even though an individual leader(s) may interpret information arising from the

policy environment as contradicting his/her beliefs, the tendency is to try to force this

information into the pre-existing belief framework. As Jervis, Nisbett, and Ross have all

noted, belief systems have an incredibly stable structure.105 Changes that do take place,

occur either over a long period o f time or take place at levels outside the core. There are

102 Milton Rokeach, The Open and Closed Mind.


103 Douglas Blum, op. cit., pp. 376-377.

104 Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (1976), discusses the tendency o f individuals to process
incoming information in such a way as to make it fit into pre-existing beliefs. He refers to this process as cognitive consistency. He
warns that when individuals do not spontaneously perceive evidence as conforming to their views, they often explicitly interpret it as
compatible with their beliefs (pp. 117-128) Jervis interpretation is based on largely on the pioneering work o f Leon Festinger. See, A
Theory o f Cognitive Dissonance (Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson, 1957) For a criticism o f Festingers work and an alternative
explanation consult Daryl J. Bern, Beliefs. Attitudes, and Human Affairs (Belmont, CA: Brooks/Carle Publishing Co, 1970)
105 Robert Jervis, Ibid. Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross. Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings o f Social
Judgement.^Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1980).

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68
times, however, when continuous contradictory information emanating from the

foreign policy environment (both domestic and international) over an extended period o f

time leads to changes in the intermediate level o f beliefs. As these challenges continue to

mount, there is the possibility o f a transformation o f core beliefs. It is at this juncture,

when core beliefs are fundamentally challenged and then altered, that one often witnesses

drastic changes in foreign policy behavior.

The emergence o f new leaders is the third factor that contributes to changes in a

foreign policy leadership's belief system and, by extension, in its foreign policy behavior.

New leaders often come into office with a different set o f beliefs from their predecessors.

Valerie Bunce tested empirically the importance o f the transition o f chief executives in

her study of leadership change in the United States and Soviet Union in the post-war

period. She demonstrates persuasively that indeed, "Succession is not simply a

circulation of elites; it is a reorientation o f the policy environment."106 New

administrations that possess new belief systems influence which policy options are

considered and which players will hold the most importance political cards, both

domestically and in foreign affairs. It is important to note, however, that the emergence

o f new leaders alone does not automatically lead to changes in the prevailing belief

system. As Blum points out, changes in beliefs also stem from contradictory information

arising out of the policy cycle and incremental change in the structure of the belief

system.107

106 Valerie Bunce, Do New Leaders Matter? Executive Succession and Public Policy Under Capitalism and Socialism (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981) p. 17.

107 Oougas Blum, op. cit. p. 376.

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It is on this point that Blums model can be criticized. Blum, like George before

him, assumes that there will exist a predominant belief system that will be shared by most

foreign policy decision-makers because of their shared historical past. Admittedly, Blum

does support the view that leaders can emerge on the domestic scene who will challenge

the prevailing belief system and who can change the course o f foreign policy. But he

cautions that this will take place over a relatively long period of time and as a result of

negative feedback emanating from the domestic and international environment. It is my

contention that changed leadership alone may be a major factor in contributing to shifts in

a state's foreign policy.

The next two chapters will utilize the above model to construct the belief system

o f President Reagan and President Bush. These beliefs, in turn, will then be linked in

chapter 5 to an examination o f the decisions that these two leaders made in response to

the revolutionary activity that took place in El Salvador and Nicaragua throughout the

1980s.

Rules o f Evidence

Prior to discussing the Reagan and Bush belief systems, however, it is necessary

to explain the methods that were used to sift through the public and private documents.

This explanation ensures that the study possesses a degree of reliability, despite the

absence o f any test for inter-coder reliability. In laying out these decision rules, other

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researchers, using the same data, will be able to assess whether the conclusions that are

reached concerning the impact o f beliefs on changes in policy are indeed accurate.

As mentioned above, a refinement o f Doug Blums 2-level belief system model

served as the benchmark for analysis. In many respects, this dissertation represents a test

to see how well this new & improved operational code can explain changes in U.S.

foreign policy behavior (emphasis added), unlike Blums original concern with changes

in Soviet foreign policy. For each o f the belief system categories that were presented

above, a series of questions were asked to guide the analyst in selecting statements that

could be used to infer presidential beliefs. In other words, the documents were read to see

if they contained statements that could be classified as falling under core beliefs 1-6, or

under intermediate beliefs 1-5. I f they did, they were coded accordingly. If the document

did not contain any statements that could be classified under any o f the aforementioned

categories, they were not coded.

Coding documents in this way leads to an important methodological question:

Is this construction o f the two presidents beliefs systems impressionistic, ad hoc, and

subjective? Perhaps. Does the study then lack reliability? No. By providing the reader

with the specific questions that were used, analysts can, in subsequent studies, determine

the reliability of the conclusions by using the same set of questions on the same data

sources, or, conversely, use these questions to analyze their own selected data sets.

The questions that were used to code a presidents core beliefs included:

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C -l: National Self Image

What is the presidents ideal image o f the United States?

a.) Does the president characterize the United States as representing

certain values, such as democracy, freedom, individual rights?

b.) Does the president characterize the United States as possessing a

special moral role, duty, or destiny in world affairs?

C-2: Images o f Allies

How are U.S. allies in Central America described?

a.) Are U.S. allies in Central America cast in positive terms?

b.) Are U.S. allies described as dependent on the U.S. for their survival

against communist insurgencies?

C-3: Images of Adversaries

How are the United States international and regional adversaries described?

a.) Are U.S. adversaries, both international and regional, described as

threatening to the national security interests o f the United States?

b.) Are U.S. adversaries, both international and regional, described as

unitary actors?

c.) Are U.S. adversaries, both international and regional, described as

trustworthy?

d.) What do U.S. leaders state are the motivations behind an adversary

international behavior?

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C-4: The Fundamental Nature of International Politics

How is the international arena characterized?

a.) How do leaders suggest power is distributed in the international

system?

b.) Is interaction within the international arena characterized as zero-sum

or non zero-sum?

c.) Is the international arena characterized as stable and predictable or

unstable and unpredictable?

d.) Are conflicts described as permanent or resolvable?

C-5: Flow of History

Are historical developments described as resulting from individual actions or

stemming from some immutable laws of history?

C-6: The Nature o f Change

a.) Do changes take place internationally in a predictable and stable fashion?

b.) Or, is change described as occurring in an unpredictable and unexpected

fashion?

How should one deal with changes that are taking place internationally?

c.) Should the United States seek actively to guide change?

d.) Should the United States respond to changes in a cautious and incremental

fashion?

Intermediate beliefs, as noted above, are those that are derived collectively from

core beliefs. Like Georges instrumental beliefs, they provide a decision maker with

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possible prescriptions for appropriate responses to given situations. In effect,

intermediate beliefs represent the choice propensities o f an individual decision maker. Or,

to put it somewhat differently, intermediate beliefs tend to deal with questions o f correct

strategy and tactics. The questions that were used to analyze the public and private

statements o f President Reagan and President Bush in order to infer their intermediate

beliefs include:

1-1: What is the appropriate role for the United States in the world?

Is the United States characterized as exceptional, as a shining example for

the rest of the world? Or, simply as primus inter paresl

1-2: How are the internal political structures o f allies and adversaries

characterized? Open? Closed?

What are the foreign policy objectives/intentions of allies and adversaries?

What is the likelihood that allies and adversaries would resort to the use of

military force to achieve its objectives?

1-3: What are the necessary requirements for maintaining peace internationally

and regionally?

What are the most effective means for preserving peace and avoiding war?

1-4: Are current international trends a part o f some larger historical patterns?

Are democracies, free markets, and demands for freedom the trends of the

future?

1-5: What tools should the United States use to deal with the changes taking

place internationally?

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Taken together, these are the sets o f questions that were used as rules o f

evidence to construct the belief systems o f Ronald Reagan and George Bush from

the public and private record. Answers to these questions thus provided needed

insight concerning the two presidents core and intermediate beliefs.

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Chapter 3: The Reagan Foreign Policy Belief System

When Ronald Regan entered the White House in 1981, he was one of Americas

least experienced presidents in foreign affairs, but one who nonetheless possessed a set of

deeply held beliefs about the role that America should play in the world and the nature of

Americas allies and adversaries. Upon entering office, Reagan believed that the United

States operated in a very dangerous international environment, but one that could,

through forceful and decisive actions on the part o f the United States, change for the

better. And by better, Reagan meant simply a world free from the threat of Soviet

tyranny. This chapter will provide a glimpse into the Reagan foreign policy belief system

by applying the analytical model that was developed in the previous chapter. I will focus

on Reagans national self-image, his images o f allies and adversaries, his view

concerning the nature o f international politics, the flow of history, and the nature of

change, along with the presidents related intermediate beliefs.

National Self-Image

If one had to select a single event that catapulted Ronald Reagan into America's

national political conscience and revealed his fundamental beliefs concerning domestic

and foreign affairs, it would be what students o f the Reagan years now simply refer to as

"The Speech." On 27 October 1964, serving in his position as co-chairman of the

California Citizens for Goldwater, Reagan, in a nationally televised address, delivered "A

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Time for Choosing," a speech principally meant to drum up support for Barry

Goldwater's faltering presidential campaign, but whose impact was far greater.

In this speech, which Geoffrey Kemp calls "one o f the most powerful bits o f

oratory in American history," Reagan rails against the entire spectrum o f liberal domestic
1fW
and foreign aid initiatives. For Reagan, government spending over the past two

decades on programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, Social Security, youth aid

plans, and funding for the federal bureaucracy were mere examples where "Government

had laid its hands on health, housing, farming, industry, commerce, education, and, to an

ever-increasing degree interferes with the people's right to know."109 As Lou Cannon

writes, "The basic idea behind "The Speech" was that the federal government was too

big, too bothersome, and too anti-business."110

With respect to foreign policy, Reagan argued that the post World W ar II foreign

aid programs, which were meant to assist "developing" countries, often either resulted in

giving millions o f dollars to countries who did not need the money in the first place, or

ended up providing resources to countries who did not share our fundamental beliefs. The

net result of most o f these programs, Reagan asserted, was that they ended up "financing

socialism all over the world."111

"A Time for Choosing" did much more than simply criticize the wastefulness of

many o f Lyndon Johnson's post-New Deal initiatives, however. Far more importantly, the

108 Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober, Reagan: The Man and His Presidency, The Oral History o f an Era (New York:
Houghton Mifflin, 1998) p. 569.
109 Ronald Reagan, "A Time for Choosing," in Alfred Balitzer, ed., A Time fo r Choosing: The Speeches o f Ronald Reagan. 1961-
7982 (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1983) p. 43.
110 Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role o f a Lifetime (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991) p. 90
111 Balitzer op. cit. p. 307.

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speech provided Ronald Reagan with the opportunity to project his ideal image of

America to viewers watching the speech on their television screens at home. After

attacking Johnson's political and social programs, Reagan closes his speech with perhaps

one of the most memorable statements o f his political career, telling his audience: "You

and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We can preserve for our children this last best hope

o f man on earth or we can sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of

darkness."112

Just prior to making this statement, however, Reagan provides us with a glimpse

o f his ideal image o f the United States. Reagan draws an analogy between the efforts on

the part o f his party to fend off the ever-growing American government with the battles

that were fought between Moses followers and the Egyptians and the American

revolutionaries heroic stand against the British at Concord. As Paul Erikson suggests, for

Reagan, the United States as "the last best hope o f man on earth," takes on an almost

religious connotation. Reagan truly believed that the American people were as divinely

inspired as were the Biblical children o f Israel. Time and time again, one can find this

theme recurring in Reagan's depiction o f the United States.

In his successful bid for the presidency in 1980, one o f the major themes of the

Reagan campaign was to emphasize the idea that the people o f the United States were a

"divinely inspired" lot. Reflecting back on the development o f his strategy for the 1980

campaign, Reagan claims that Jimmy Carter's notion that the American people suffered

from a sense o f national malaise was foolhardy. Quite the opposite was the case. Reagan

112 Ibid 312.

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"saw no national malaise," he found nothing wrong with the American people."113

Instead, he believes that the only thing Americans needed to do was: "...Recapture our

dreams, our pride in ourselves and our country, and regain that unique sense of destiny

and optimism that had always made America different from any other country in the

world." 114

Once Reagan was ensconced in the office o f the presidency, assertions concerning

America's uniqueness certainly did not fade away. During the course o f a November

1982 nationwide address on arms reduction and nuclear deterrence, Reagan closes his

speech by telling his audience: "I've always believed that this land was set aside in an

uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent between the oceans to be

found by a people from every comer of the Earth who had a special love o f faith,

freedom, and peace.115 In a very similar vein, Reagan, in accepting the Republican party's

re-nomination as their chosen candidate for the 1984 presidential election, plays once

again on this divine theme:

Four years ago we raised a banner o f bold colors-no pale pastels. We proclaimed

a dream o f America as "a shining city on a h ill..." The glistening hope of that

113 Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990) p. 219.
114 Ibid.
115 "Address to the Nation on Strategic Arms Reduction and Nuclear Deterrence," 22 November 1982, Public Papers o f the
Presidents: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989 (Washington: Federal Register Division, National Archive and Records Service, General
Services Administration) p. 1510.

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lamp is still ours. Every promise, every opportunity is still golden in this

land...In this springtime o f hope, some light seems eternal; America's is.116

These expressions o f America's divine greatness continued throughout Reagan's

second term in office. In his 1987 remarks commemorating the crewmembers o f the

U.S.S. Stark who had been killed while escorting oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, the

president emphasized that the United States has been called upon by history to play a

very special role in the world. "In our great hour, we must answer.. .the call o f history.

It's a summons that, as a nation or people, we did not seek, but it is a call we cannot shirk

or refuse- a call to wage war against war, to stand for freedom until freedom can stand

alone, to live for liberty is the blessing and birthright of every man, woman, and child on

this Earth.117 Likewise, in his farewell address to the nation in January 1989, the

outgoing president did perhaps his best job at pointing out his ideal image o f the United

States, his "shining city upon a hill." The president's words speak for themselves:

I've spoken o f the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever

communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city

built on rocks stronger than the oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming

with people of all kinds living in harmony; a city with free ports that hummed

with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had

116 "Remarks Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, 23 August 1984,
Public Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 1181.
117 "Remarks at a Memorial Service for Crewmembers o f the U.S.S. Stark in Jacksonville, Florida," 22 May 1987, Public Papers o f
the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 555.

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80
doors and the doors would be open to anyone with the w ill and the heart to get

there.118

It goes without saying that Reagan's America is indeed a country blessed and guided by

God.

Apart from an image o f the United States as divinely inspired, Reagan also

perceived America to be an inherently peaceful country. On repeated occasions, the

president would hark back to the days just following World W ar II when the United

States possessed a monopoly o f nuclear weapons, and would tell his audiences that

instead of using America's unrivaled economic and military power for conquest or

domination, the United States, through the Marshall Plan in Europe and MacArthur's

guidance in Japan, helped to rebuild the economies of our former enemies. Reagan was

often flummoxed over the fact that other countries could possibly distrust the United

States. As the president states in his memoirs: "Americans were a moral people who

starting at the birth of our nation has always used our power only as a force of good in the

world."119

In his public addresses, the president echoed the same theme. At a gathering o f

the United Nations General Assembly in June 1982, Reagan announced: "America has no

territorial ambitions. We occupy no countries, and we have built no walls to lock our

people in. Our commitment to self-determination, freedom, and peace is the very soul o f

118 "Farewell Address to the Nation," 11 January 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 1722.
119 Reagan, An American Life. pp. 296, 588.

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America. That commitment today is as strong as it ever w as."120 Or, as Reagan told the

a U.S. audience in his nationally televised address on the upcoming Soviet-United States

summit meeting in Geneva:

Four times in my lifetime, our soldiers have been sent overseas to fight in foreign

lands.. .Not once were those young men sent abroad in the cause o f conquest. Not

once did they come home claiming a single square inch o f some other country as

a trophy o f w ar... We love freedom not only because it's practical and beneficial

but because it is morally right and just.121

To view the United States as a country bent on military expansion or intervention simply

did not register with Ronald Reagan. As Reagan himself stated, "America is the most
19^
peaceful, least warlike nation in modem history."

Coupled with a core belief o f a divinely inspired and peaceful country, a related

intermediate belief123 was that the United States, because o f its God-given attributes,

should actively set an example for all freedom loving countries to follow. Because the

120 "Remarks in New York City Before the United Nations General Assembly Special Session Devoted to Disarmament," 17 June
1982. Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 785. The sentiment that the United States is
bent on peace, not aggression is used in many o f the president's speeches throughout his two terms in office. Often times the wording
changes only slightly, but the meaning is nearly identical. See, for example, the 22 November 1982 "Address to the Nation on
Strategic Arms Reduction and Nuclear Deterrence" and the president's 1983 "State o f the Union."
121 "Address to the Nation on the Upcoming Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Geneva," 14 November 1985, Public Papers o f
the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 1389.
122 This statement was made in the president's remarks in accepting the 1984 presidential nomination at the Republican National
Convention in Dallas, Texas. This quotation can be found in Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan.
1981-1989, p. 1177.
123 For an explanation concerning how to identify intermediate versus core beliefs from presidential statements, consult chapter 2.

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United States was considered to be the "city upon the hill," Reagan believed it was a

duty and moral imperative of the United States to help lead the way toward the

establishment o f peace and democracy in the world. From Europe to Latin America to the

Middle East to Asia, Reagan believed that these countries often looked to the United

States to help find solutions to their problems.124 Even as a private citizen Reagan

stressed this theme. In a speech before the World Affairs Council in 1972, Reagan

asserts: "We did not seek the role o f leadership that has been thrust upon us. But whether

we like it or not, the events o f our time demand America's participation. 125 Hedrick

Smith suggests that President Reagan believed that the United States "did not seek

leadership o f the free world, but there is no one else who can provide it, and without our

leadership there will be no peace in the world."

As president, Reagan often emphasized this theme. In an address to the

International Longshoremans Association in 1983, Reagan, quoting former Republican

President Benjamin Harrison, was quite clear on what he perceived to be the United

States role abroad:

124 Reagan clearly expresses this sentiment in his memoirs in reference to the importance o f U.S. leadership in helping to bring peace
to the Middle East. See Reagan, An American Life. p. 418.
125 "The Obligations o f Liberty," Speech to the W orld Affairs Council, 12 October 1972, in Alfred Balitzer, ed., A Time For
Choosing: The Speeches o f Ronald Reagan 1961-1982, p. 102.
126 Quoted in Hedrick Smith's, "Reagan's World," in Hedrick Smith eLal. Reagan, the Man. the President. (N ew York: Macmillan
Publishing Co. Inc., 1980) p. 102.

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In America, a glorious fire has been lighted upon the alter o f liberty... Keep it

binning... and let the sparks that continually go up from it fall on other alters, and

light up in distant lands the fire o f freedom.127

By September, Reagan was announcing to a gathering o f United Nations delegates in

New York that the United States was "a champion o f freedom and self-determination for

all people,"128 Two years later, in a radio address to the nation on Tax reform and

Nicaragua, President Reagan made perhaps his most powerful statement to date: Those

who struggle for freedom look to America. If we fail them in this hour o f need, we fail

ourselves as the last, best hope o f liberty.129 By the time o f the 1985 State of the Union,

the president was proudly proclaiming to a joint session of Congress: "We have resumed

our historic role as a leader o f the free world."130 In March 1985, meeting with a group o f

Central American leaders, the president told his guests: And so it is that the United

States has a noble commitment to Central America. W ere committed by geography, by

treaty, and by moral obligation to stand with you, our American neighbors, in defense o f

liberty. 131

Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus comment on the propensity for Reagan to see

the United States in a leadership position, observing that the president perceived "no half

127 Saving Freedom in Central America, 18 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI01768.
128 "Address Before the 38th Session o f the United Nations General Assembly in New York, New York," 26 September 1983, Public
Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989. p. 1352.
129 Tax Reform/Nicaragua, 14 December 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document ft NI02637.
130 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union," 6 February 1985, Public Papers ofth e Presidents:
Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 134.
131 Meeting with Central American Leaders, 25 March 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document ft
NI02412.

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solutions, no limits to American power." President Reagan clearly rejected the

premise that America's power in the world was shrinking and argued "that a revitalized

America could still make the world bend to its desires."132

It was Ronald Reagan's firm belief that the United States was a country that was

indeed a cut above the rest, a nation blessed by God, destined to protect countries that had

established democracies and free markets from the vile encroachments o f Soviet-led

communism. These beliefs, as we shall see in chapter 5, had profound consequences for

the course of U.S. involvement in Central America throughout the 1980s.

Image o f Allies

Needless to say, President Reagan possessed a very flattering self-image o f the

United States. In many respects, the same can be said of Reagan's perceptions o f U.S.

allies in Central America. By the end o f the 1980s, the governments o f El Salvador,

Guatemala, Honduras were viewed as prototypes of newly emerging democracies in the

region, while the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance (or Contras) were perceived as

analogous to the original American and French revolutionaries. Yet a caveat is in order.

Although Reagan did champion the cause o f the newly emerging "democracies" in El

Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and certainly depicted the Contras in rather glowing

terms, he also believed that U.S. military and economic assistance was necessary in order

to prevent the first three countries from falling to communist-led insurrections and the

Contras from being overrun by the Marxist-Leninist government o f Nicaragua. Reagan,

132 Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus, Landslide: The Unmaking o f the President. 1984-1988 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988) p. 51.

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in describing the situation in El Salvador in 1983 to the National Association o f

Manufacturers, emphasized: "Only Salvadorans can fight this war, just as only

Salvadorans can decide El Salvador's fixture. W hat we can do is help to give them the

skills and supplies they need to do the job themselves."133

As for the events taking place in Nicaragua, the president stated in 1985: As

Americans who believe in freedom we cannot turn our backs on people who desire

nothing more than the freedom we take for granted. By providing this humanitarian

assistance, we are telling the people o f Nicaragua that we will not abandon them in their

struggle for freedom. 134

In many respects, as Martha Cottam suggests, Reagan held the typical

"dependent image" o f Central American states for U.S. presidents: they possessed a weak

and unorganized military, a small and self-interested political elite, limited economic

resource base, and an inferior and rather simplistic culture.135 Due in part to this image of

Central American countries, Reagans support for regionally sponsored diplomatic

initiatives would be limited at best.

In spite o f this rather stereotypical image, President Reagan repeatedly

emphasized to administration officials and to the American public that democracy was

beginning to take hold in Central America for the very first time. In a 1982 memorandum

133 "Remarks on Central America and El Salvador at the Annual Meeting o f the National Association o f Manufacturers," 10 March
1983, Public Papers o f the Presidents; Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 374.
134 Statement on the Establishment o f the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, 30 August 1985, National Security Archive,
Iran-Contras Collection, Document # ICO 1488.
135 Martha Cottam, Images a n d Intervention, pp. 117-130. See also Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History o f U.S.
Policy Toward Latin America (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998) for an in-depth analysis o f how a dependent image
on the part o f U.S. policy-makers has guided U.S. foreign relations with Latin America since the founding o f the United States.

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to Secretary of State George Schultz, the president wrote that the Government o f El

Salvador:

.. .is making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally

recognized human rights....is achieving substantial control over all elements o f its

own armed forces.. .is making continued progress in implementing essential

economic and political reforms...is committed to the holding free elections at an

early date... has made good faith efforts to investigate the murders o f six United

States citizens in El Salvador in December 1980 and January 1981 and bring to

trial those responsible.136

As a result of this presidential determination, Reagan agreed to provide continued

economic and military assistance for the government o f El Salvador.

Publicly, the president said much o f the same. In an address before a joint session

o f Congress in April 1983, Reagan told his audience: "democracy is beginning to take

root in El Salvador, which, until a short time ago, knew only dictatorship. The new

government is now delivering on its promises o f democracy, reforms, and free

elections."137 The following month, in a fact sheet released by the White House Office of

the Press Secretary, the president was willing to claim that democratic institutions in El

136 Determination to Authorize Continued Assistance for El Salvador, 28 January 1982, National Security Archive, El Salvador
Collection, Document # ES02497.
137 "Address Before a Joint Session o f Congress on Central America," 27 April 1983, Public Papers ofthe Presidents: Ronald
Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 601.

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Salvador were flourishing, and that the land reform program has benefited about

550,000 peasants, nearly a quarter o f the rural population.138

For the president, the Salvadoran government was one that was "making every

effort to guarantee democracy, free labor unions, freedom o f religion, and a free press,"
17 0
despite the fact that it was under constant attack from leftist revolutionaries. In July

1983, Reagan commented: El Salvador is moving in the right direction. Its elected

government is committed to further improvement. They need and deserve our help. 140

Reagan later reiterated these sentiments in a 1984 speech before the General Assembly of

the United Nations, referring to the government o f El Salvador as one "dedicated to

democracy, reform, economic progress, and regional peace."141

The following year, the trend continued with Reagan placing the Salvadoran

government o f Jose Napolean Duarte in the democratic camp. At a presidential news

conference, the president commented: El Salvador, after several elections, is a

government that is striving for democracy, that was chosen by the people. And the people

trying to overthrow it, the guerrillas in El Salvador, are trying to overthrow a government

that the majority o f the people elected. 142

Despite Reagan's optimism concerning the prospects for democracy in Central

America, there was one glaring exception for the president- the Sandinista government in

138 Address by the President on Central America, 9 M ay 1984, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document #
NI02091.
139 Ibid. p. 603.
140 Saving Freedom in Central America, 18 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NIO1768.
141"Address to the 39th Session o f the United Nations General Assembly in New York," 24 September 1984, Public Papers o f the
Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989. p. 1358.
142 Presidents Comments on the Propriety o f Covert Operations, 12 February 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua
Collection, Document # NI02365.

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88
Nicaragua. And to help bring democracy to Nicaragua, Reagan believed the United

States needed to lend its support to the Contra forces. The president believed that the

Contras were heroically waging a battle inside Nicaragua to overthrow the Sandinista

regime. By July 1983, the president was expressing the point that the Contras were

fighting to preserve the true meaning o f the 1979 revolution: the guerrilla bands were

fighting in Nicaragua to restore the true revolution and keep the promises made to the

OAS. 143 Time and time again, Reagan would refer to the contras as the region's

"freedom fighters struggling to bring democracy to their country and eliminate this

Communist menace at its source."144 At no point did the president better express this

sentiment than in a radio address he delivered to the nation in February 1985:

The true heroes o f the Nicaraguan struggle-non Communist, democracy-loving

revolutionaries-saw their revolution betrayed and took up arms against the

betrayer. These men and women are today the democratic resistance fighters some

call the contras. We should call them freedom fighters...Sandinista propaganda

denounces them as mercenaries and former National Guardsmen o f the Somoza

dictatorship; but this is a lie. The freedom fighters are led by those who oppose

Somoza, and their soldiers are peasants, farmers, shopkeepers, and students-the

people of Nicaragua. These brave men and woman deserve our help. They do not

ask for troops, but only for our technical and financial support and supplies. We

can not turn on them in their moment o f need; to do so would be to betray our

143 Saving Freedom in Central America, 18 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI01768.
144 "Address to the Nation on the Situation in Nicaragua," March 16, 1986, Public Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan, 1981-
1989, p. 352.

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89
centuries-old dedication to supporting those who struggle for freedom. This is

not only legal, its totally consistent with our history.145

Robert Bud McFarlane, Reagan's third national security advisor, summarizes

Reagans beliefs concerning the Contras: "The contras were one o f President Reagan's

personal causes. In his eyes, the anti-Sandinista rebels were modern-day minutemen,

heroic revolutionaries, patriots whose struggle on behalf o f liberty and democracy

deserved America's wholehearted and unflagging support."146

In Ronald Reagan's black-and-white view o f the region, clearly it was the

Sandinistas who were perceived as the bad guys and the Contras who were perceived as

the good guys. The Sandinistas represented repression and regional instability, while the

Contras, it was believed, wanted only to bring peace and democracy to Nicaragua. In

March 1985, the president, in a nation-wide radio broadcast, told American listeners that

the Contras had sent a peace proposal to the Nicaraguan government, which called for a

cease-fire and church-mediated negotiation geared toward establishing to groundwork for

a free and honest elections. The Sandinista response, announced Reagan: came back

quick, loud, and clear: Forget it. 147 By August 1985, the president publicly declared that

that the Contras have not demanded the overthrow of the Sandinista Government; they

want only the right o f free people to compete for power in free elections. 148

145 Central America, 16 February 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02369.
146 Robert C. McFarlane with Zofia Smardz, Special Trust. (New York: Cadell & Davies, 1994) p. 67.
147 Central America, 30 March 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02418.
148 Establishment o f Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, 30 August 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua
Collection, Document # NI02546.

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In June o f the following year, President Reagan continued to describe the

Contras as champions o f peace and democracy, arguing that they "seek a political

solution. They are willing to lay down their arms and negotiate to restore the original

goals of the revolution, a democracy in which the people o f Nicaragua choose their own

government."149 Reagan took the position that the United States should support the

Contras because their cause was nearly identical to our cause: to bring peace and "true

democracy" to Central America. The president said as much in preparation for the public

announcement celebrating the victory o f Contra aid legislation in the U.S. Congress:

As we approach the celebration o f our own Independence Day, we can be proud

that we as a people have embraced the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. Today,

their cause is our cause. With our help, the people o f Nicaragua will win their

struggle to bring democracy to their land, remove the threat to Mexico and our

southern borders and restore again the prospects for peaceand the chance for a

better future to our hemisphere. The cause is freedom, the cause is just, the

cause will triumph.1S0

149 "Address to the Nation on United States Assistance for the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance," 24 June 1986, Public Papers o f
the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 834.
150 Statements: Victory o f Contra Aid Legislation; Defeat ofC ontra Aid Legislation," 25 June 19S6, National Security Archive,
Iran-Contra Collection, Document # 1C03056.

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Image o f Adversaries

If President Reagan perceived his allies in Central America (i.e., the center-to

right-wing governments in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and the counter

revolutionary forces in Nicaragua) in a very favorable light, then just the opposite was the

case for U.S. adversaries in the region. In the context o f the 1980s, the adversaries for

the Ronald Reagan in Central America were: the Soviet Union, Cuba, and the Sandinista

regime in Nicaragua, all o f which were considered at times equivalent to evil incarnate by

the president.

Ronald Reagan's devil image o f the Soviet Union can be traced back to his early

days in Hollywood when he was the president o f the Screen Actors Guild and tried to

prevent what he claims to have been a Soviet-led conspiracy to take over the American

film industry. Images o f the Soviet Union secretly trying to undercut America's most

cherished institutions would color Reagan's perceptions o f the Soviets for virtually the

remainder o f his life. In his autobiography, Reagan, reflecting on the role o f the

communists in the Hollywood labor strikes o f 1947-49 writes: "they were the cause o f the

labor strife, they used minor jurisdictional disputes as excuses for their schemes. Their

aim was to gain economic control o f the motion picture industry in order to finance their

activities and subvert the screen for their propaganda."151 Likewise, in March 1961, while

on the speaking circuit for General Electric, Reagan harps on the same theme to a

gathering o f the Phoenix Chamber o f Commerce: "the Communist Party has ordered once

151 Ronald Reagan with Richard G. Hubler, Where's the Rest o f Me: The Autobiography o f Ronald Reagan. (New York: Karz-Segil
Publishers, 1981) p. 159.

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again the infiltration of the picture business as well as the theatre and television. They

are crawling out from under the rocks, and memories being as short as they are, there are

plenty o f well-meaning but misguided people willing to give them a h an d ..."152

As a private citizen in the 1970s, Reagan continued to perceive the Soviet Union

as one o f the main, if not the main, causes behind most o f the international conflicts then

taking place throughout the world. In an address given to the Foreign Policy Association

in 1977, Reagan stated: "the Soviet Union, whenever possible, has moved outward,

turning non-westem peoples against the West and against the United States in particular,

and taking advantage o f those conflicts it did not have a hand in starting... This Soviet

policy o f seeking to alienate non-westem peoples from the West and to mobilize them

against the West whenever possible, to many observers seems to have been a thoroughly

consistent one since the end o f World War II, and is certainly consistent with Lenin's goal

o f ultimate worldwide communist victory."153

This negative image o f the Soviets did not change for Reagan during his first

fours years in office. In fact, as the Cold War heated up during the early 1980s, the

negative image o f the Soviets intensified as well. On 8 March 1983 in Orlando, Florida,

Ronald Reagan delivered one o f the most controversial speeches of his presidency.

Speaking before the annual gathering o f the National Association of Evangelicals,

Reagan, reflecting on the current Soviet leadership announced to his audience: "as good

Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only

morality they recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution,"

152 Quoted in Anne Edwards, Early Reagan; The Rise to Power. (New York: William R. Morrow & Company, 1987) p. 475.
153 Ronald Reagan, "United States Foreign Policy and World Realities," in Alfred Balitzer, op. ciL pp. 208-209.

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and that the world should be aware "that while they preach the supremacy o f the state,

declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination o f all

peoples on the Earth, they are the focus o f evil in the modem world."154 Not since the

days o f John Foster Dulles and the Eisenhower presidency, had a leading American

statesman referred to the Soviets in such provocative terms.

After Mikhail Gorbachev was selected as General Secretary o f the Communist

Party o f the Soviet Union in March 1985 and shortly thereafter began to restructure

Soviet society and allow for greater political openness, and after progress had been made

in U.S.-Soviet arms reductions agreements, President Reagan's negative perceptions o f

the Soviet Union slowly began to change. Following a series of summit meetings with

Gorbachev in Geneva, Reykjavik, Washington, and Moscow, which ultimately helped

paved the way for progress being made in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty

(START), and which in 1987 resulted in the signing of the first successful arms

reductions treaty in history- the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty- Reagan

began to temper his views concerning the nature o f the Soviet regime. In comments made

in a television interview, Reagan had the following to say about the Soviet leadership:

"We now have a leader who is apparently willing to say that he is prepared to live with

other philosophies in other countries." 155 Additionally, when asked by reporters in 1988

whether he still considered the Soviet Union an "evil empire, Reagan commented that the

"evil empire" belonged to "another time, another era" and that Gorbachev was " a serious

154 "Remarks at the Annual Convention o f the National Association o f Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida," 8 March 1983, Public
Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989. pp. 362-363.
155 The New York Times, May 29, 1988.

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man committed to serious change."156 Mikhail Gorbachev accomplished what no other

Soviet leader had been able to do for over 30 years- he helped to change Ronald Reagan's

image of the Soviet Union.

Although images o f the Soviet Union underwent a relatively drastic

transformation during the eight years o f the Reagan presidency, the image o f Cuba, at

least as it pertained to the revolutionary activity then taking place in Central America,

remained relatively constant. Simply put, Cuba was perceived as a proxy o f the Soviet

Union, a state that sought to foment revolution in the region to the disadvantage o f the

United States. In his autobiography, Reagan, reflecting on the turmoil engulfing Central

America just prior to taking office writes: "there was more evidence that Fidel Castro, the

proxy of Moscow, was shipping more arms and Communist "advisors" into Central

America and that Nicaragua was becoming a base camp for Communizing all o f Central

America."157 Moreover, in a speech that Reagan delivered in 1977 to the Foreign Policy

Association, he commented on what he saw as the Soviet-Cuban connection in the Third

World: "the Soviets.. .have hit upon a winning formula: use Cuban troops as proxy
1 SR
mercenaries to stir up things."

Reagan's first Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, examining the role o f the

Cuban-Soviet nexus in Central America in the early 1980s, and what the United States

should do about it, was even more blunt:

156 Quoted in John G. Stoessinger. Nations in Darkness: China. Russia, and America (New York: McGraw Hill, 1990 5th edition) p.
249.
157 Ronald Reagan, An American Life. p. 299.
158 Ronald Reagan, "United States Foreign Policy and W orld Realities, in Alfied Balitzer, ed., op. cit. p. 213.

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There could not be the slightest doubt that Cuba was at once the source of

supply and the catechist o f the Salvadoran insurgency. Cuba, in turn, could not act

on the scale o f the rebellion in El Salvador without the approval and the material

support of the USSR. I believed that our policy should carry the consequences of

this relationship directly to Moscow and Havana, and through the application o f a

full range of economic, political, and security measures, convince them to put an

end to Havana's bloody activities in the hemisphere and elsewhere in the world.159

Similarly, in a confidential cable sent to the United States Embassy in El Salvador in

1981, Haig wrote: The Soviet Union and its allies quite deliberately chose to impose by

force o f arms a regime to their own taste which would greatly increase the suffering of

the Salvadoran people. 160

As the 1980s wore on, President Reagan continued to link support for the rebels

in El Salvador and the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua with Cuba and the Soviet Union.

In an address to the nation on U.S. policy in Central America in 1984, Reagan announced

to the American public: "The Sandinistas, who rule Nicaragua, are Communists whose

relationship and ties to Fidel Castro o f Cuba go back a quarter of a century," and that it is

the partnership between the Soviet Union, Cuba, and the Sandinistas that is responsible

159 Alexander Haig, Caveat: Realism. Reagan, and Foreign Policy. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1984) p. 122.
160 "Letter to Bishop Rivera y Damas, 22 May 1981, National Security Archive, El Salvador Collection, Document# ES01747.

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for "supporting aggression and terrorism against El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica,

and Guatemala."161

Even in his final year in office and despite the United States' improved

relationship with the Soviet Union, the president still maintained that problems in Central

America stemmed largely from the Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan connection. In a publicly

televised address, the president told a U.S audience: "Cubans are now in Nicaragua

constructing military facilities, flying combat missions, and helping run the secret

police", while the Soviet Union and Soviet-bloc countries have to keep the Nicaraguan

economy afloat by pumping into the country 4 billion dollars in military and economic

aid."162

If the negative image o f Cuba did not change over the course o f the two Reagan

administrations, the same can also be said for the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

Throughout his eight years in office, President Reagan had only harsh words to say about

the ruling regime in Managua. In his major foreign policy addresses concerning Central

America, Reagan would often retell the story about how after Anastasio Somoza was

overthrown by a popular revolution in 1979, the Sandinistas began a systematic campaign

to oust from the ruling circles any individuals who were not adherents to Marxism-

Leninism. By 1981, Reagan was trumpeting :

161 "Address to the Nation on United States Policy in Central America," 9 May 1984, The Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the
United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, pp. 660-662.
162 "Address to the Nation on Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance," 2 February 1988, Public Papers o f the Presidents:
Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 164.

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The government o f Nicaragua has imposed a new dictatorship. It has refused to

hold the elections it promised. It has seized control o f most media and subjects all

media to heavy censorship. It denied the bishops and priests o f the Roman

Catholic Church the right to say Mass on radio during Holy Week. It insulted and

mocked the Pope. It has driven the Miskito Indians from their homelands, burning

their villages, destroying their crops, and forcing them into involuntary internment

camps far from home. It has moved against the private sector and free labor

unions. It condoned mob action against Nicaragua's independent human rights

commission and drove the director o f that commission into exile. 163

In 1984, the president added to the list of repressive measures being used by the

Sandinista regime, arguing that after the overthrow o f Somoza, trade unions and civic

groups were outlawed and the promise o f holding genuine elections in the country was a

sham. Not mincing words, Reagan referred to Sandinista rule as "a Communist reign of

terror."164 By early 1985, the president was proclaiming that the Sandinista government

represented:

A Marxist-Leninist clique that broke the hearts o f the freedom-loving people of

their country by imposing a brutal dictatorship soon after taking control in

1979.. .The Sandinistas are not lovers of freedom, but power; not builders o f a

163 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on Central America," 27 April 1983. Public Papers o fth e Presidents: Ronald
Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 603.
164 "Address to the Nation on United States Policy in Central America," 9 May 1984, Public Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald
Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 661.

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peaceful nation, but creators o f a fortress Nicaragua that intends to export

communism beyond its borders.165

Five years in office did little to temper this negative image. Speaking from the

Oval Office in 1986, Reagan told American viewers: "The Sandinistas have revoked the

civil liberties o f the Nicaraguan people, depriving them o f any legal right to speak, to

publish, to assemble, or to worship freely. Independent newspapers have been shut

down. There is no longer any independent labor movement in Nicaraguan nor any right to

strike...and like Communist governments everywhere, the Sandinistas have launched

assaults against ethnic and religious groups... and have even involved themselves in the

international drug trade."166

Likewise, in 1988, after some progress had been made toward establishing

democracies in Central America, Reagan still referred to the Sandinistas as "a threat that

could reverse the democratic tide and plunge the region into a cycle o f chaos and

subversion."167In a nationally televised address to the nation in February, the president

commented:

Even today, with the spotlight o f world opinion focused on the peace process, the

Sandinistas openly boast that they are arming and training Salvadoran guerrillas.

We know that the Sandinistas, who talk o f a revolution without borders reaching

Mexico, have already infiltrated guerrillas into neighboring countries. W hat will

165 "Central America, 16 February 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02369.
166 "Address to the Nation on the Situation in Nicaragua, " 16 March 1986, Ibid., pp. 354-355.
167 "Address to the Nation o f Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance," 2 February 1988, Public Papers o f the Presidents:
Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 163.

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99
be our response as the ranks o f guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala, even

Honduras and unarmed Costa Rica, begin to swell and those fragile democracies

are ripped apart from the strain?168

Thus, despite some improvement in the relationship between Washington and

Moscow, and an accompanying reassessment and change in Reagan's image of the

Soviets, the president's negative image o f the governments o f Cuba and Nicaragua

remained largely in tact.

An accompanying intermediate belief held by President Reagan was his negative

perception of the internal political structure and dynamics of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and

Nicaragua. There is no mistaking the fact that Reagan believed that each o f these three

governments was internally repressive and that they represented everything that the

United States government did not. From the presidents vantage point, instead o f political

and economic systems based on empowering individuals, where the government took a

"hands-off' approach that allowed for market forces to drive the economy and free

elections and a basic respect for civil rights and liberties as the predominant themes in the

domestic political realm, you had three governments that pursued command economies

coupled with a high degree o f internal repression and the denial o f democratic rights and

freedoms.

Reagan believed that along with internal repression, communist regimes would

engage in aggressive external behavior by supporting revolutionary activity in the

developing world. In his memoirs, Reagan gives the reader a glimpse o f how he

168 Ibid. p. 164.

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perceived the revolutionary nature o f Communist governments around the world,

suggesting: "every communist leader since Lenin was committed to the overthrow o f

democracy and the free enterprise system."169

By the mid-1970s, Reagan held that the Soviet Union, with the help o f Castro's

Cuba, was actively pursuing a foreign policy that encouraged and supported wars of

national liberation in the developing world. Reagan, in thinking about the connection

between the Soviet Union, Cuba, and other communist regimes, tended to lump these

countries together, adhering to the belief that internally these regimes were quite

repressive, while externally they shared a common goal: the overthrow o f the capitalist

world order through country-by-country revolutionary activities.

What this meant within the context o f the revolutionary activity occurring in

Central America, was that Reagan perceived the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua as

advocating and supporting leftist revolutionary movements in the region, even if this

might not have been the case in reality. And although at times Reagan may have received

information that ran counter to this belief, Richard Darman suggests that the president

tended to remember only the evidence that reinforced his ideological predilections. 170

Speaking at the 1982 commencement ceremonies at his alma mater, Eureka

College, the president pointed out: "Central America has become a dangerous point o f

tension in East-West relations," and that "the Soviet Union cannot escape responsibility

for the violence and suffering in the region caused by accelerated transfer o f advanced

169 Ronald Reagan, An American Life. p. 14.


170 Richard Darman, Who's In Control? Polar Politics and the Sesible Center (fle w York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) pp. 39-40.

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military equipment to Cuba."171 Similarly, Reagan, in his memoirs, reminisces about

the first few weeks o f his administration and the trouble brewing in Central America,

stating: "Although El Salvador was the immediate target, the evidence showed that the

Soviets and Fidel Castro were targeting all of Central America for a communist takeover.

El Salvador and Nicaragua were only a down payment. Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa

Rica were next, and then would come Mexico."172 At a meeting with Central American

leaders in 1985, Reagan was quite clear in expressing his belief regarding Soviet

involvement in the Central America:

The Soviet Union has its own plan for Central America, a region which Soviet

Foreign Minister Gromyko described as boiling like a cauldron... The Soviet

plan is designed to crush democracy in Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador,

Guatemala, and Panama. Its a plan to turn Central America into a Soviet

beachhead of aggression that could spread terror and instability north and south,

disrupt our vital sea lanes, cripple our ability to carry out our commitments to our

European allies, and send in a human tidal wave across all our borders.173

As for the goal o f the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, Reagan was pretty clear

concerning their intentions as well. Speaking to joint session o f Congress in April 1983,

the president claimed that the revolutionary movement that was taking place in El

171 "Address at Commencement Exercises at Eureka College in Illinois," 9 May 1982 The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the
United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 583.
172 Ronald Reagan, An American Life, p. 239.
173 Meeting with Central American Leaders, 25 March 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document
SMI02412.

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Salvador was one where the guerrilla attacks are directed from headquarters in

Managua, the capital o f Nicaragua...The goal o f the professional guerilla movements in

Central America is as simple as it is sinister- to destabilize the entire region from the

Panama Canal to Mexico. 174 In one o f his first major National Security Decision

Directives on Central America (NSDD-100), the president claimed that the Marxist-

Leninist regime in Nicaragua was committed to the export o f violence and

totalitarianism and posed a significant risk to the stability o f Central America. 175 In

1984, he told the American public: "we...m ust understand and come to grips with the fact

that the Sandinistas are not content to brutalize their own land. They seek to export their

terror to every other country in the region."176 Two years later, the president told

American listeners:

The Sandinista revolutionary reach extends well beyond their immediate

neighbors. In South America and the Caribbean, the Nicaraguans have provided

support in the form o f military training, safe haven, communications, false

documents, safe transit, and sometimes, weapons to radicals from the following

countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and the

Dominican Republic. Even that is not all, for there is an old Communist slogan

174 Central America: Defending O ur Vital Interests, 27 April 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document#
NI01683.
175 National Security Decision Directive on Enhanced U.S. Military Activity and Assistance in the Central American Region
(NSDD-100), 28 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NIO1781.
176 "Address to the Nation on United States Policy in Central America," 9 May 1984, The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the
United States: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989. p. 651.

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that the Sandinistas have made clear they honor: The road to victory goes

through Mexico 177

Later that year, Reagan in a report to Congress regarding his decision to continue the

application o f economic sanctions against Nicaragua argued that throughout 1986: the

Sandinistas continued to support guerrilla groups in neighboring Central American

countries and to expand their already huge arsenal o f Soviet weapons...The Sandinistas

also continued their policy of internal repression, leading to large outflows o f refugees,
I 7R
thousands o f whom seek shelter in the United States.

Some of Reagan's closest foreign policy advisors shared these views. In a

confidential cable sent from the Department o f State to the U.S. Embassy in Canada,

Reagans first Secretary o f State, Alexander Haig, wrote: by April 1981 irrefutable

evidence had become available that the government of Nicaragua assisted in the

transshipment o f weapons from Cuba to insurgents in El Salvador.179 George Shultz,

Haigs replacement at the State Department, in a secret memorandum to the president,

suggested that the United States needed not only to preserve the government o f El

Salvador, but also to protect other Central American countries from the Nicaraguan

virus. 180 In his memoirs, Schultz reflected on the internal and external character o f the

177 "Address to the Nation on the Situation in Nicaragua, 16 May 1986, Public Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-
1989, p. 353.
178 Letter to the Speaker o f the House o f Representatives and the President o f the Senate: Continuation o f Nicaraguan Emergency;
Report on Economic Sanctions against Nicaragua, 10 November 1986, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document #
NI02923.
179 U.S. Aid to Nicaragua, 7 January 1982, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI01422.
180 Managing O ur Central American Strategy, 25 May 1983, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra Collection, D ocum ent#
IC00106.

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Sandinista government, commenting that after the overthrow o f the Somoza regime in

1979, the old dictatorship had taken on a new form: "that o f a command economy, a self-

appointed elitist vanguard, and guerrilla warfare. Nicaragua had become its base, all of

Central America its target."181

In the White House, Constantine Menges, Reagan's national security advisor for

Latin America, comments on the Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan connection as well: "the

Soviet bloc and Cuba provide thousands of military and secret police operatives,

hundreds o f millions o f dollars in weapons, and full support in the aggression by armed

subversion against their neighbors, which the Sandinistas initiated in 1979 and have

continued ever since."182 Reagans second National Security Advisor, William Clark,

also held this belief. In an interview with U.S. News and World Report, Clark stated that

one objective o f the administration was to convince Congress and the American people

that what was occurring in Nicaragua was that they have a Marxist government,

supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba, which is creating a military threat to the region,
18 7
destabilizing the area through subversion.

In February 1988, the president, in his last major address to the nation concerning

the events taking place in Central America, reiterated his belief that behind nearly all the

discord in Central America was Nicaragua, claiming that Nicaragua "is being

transformed into a beachhead for aggression against the United States. It is the first step

181 George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary o f State (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1993). p. 287.
182 Constantine Menges, Inside the National Security Council: The True Story o f the Making and Unmaking o f Reagan's Foreign
Policy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988) p. 96.
183 Reagans Foreign Policy: His No. 1 Aide Speaks Out, U.S. News and World Report, Vol. 94, No. 18,9 May 1983. p. 35.

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in a strategy to dominate the entire region of Central America and threaten Mexico

and the Panama Canal."184

Overall, as Edwin Meese argues, President Reagan and some o f his closest

advisors perceptions concerning Nicaragua's role in fomenting revolution in the region

were colored not only by the belief that the Sandinistas were closely allied with the

Soviets and Cuba, but also by the belief that Nicaragua would serve as a base for
i oer

exporting revolution in the hemisphere.

The Fundamental Nature o f International Politics

Given that the Reagan worldview was one that contained a highly favorable set o f

beliefs concerning the United States and its allies, and a negative sets o f beliefs

concerning U.S. adversaries, it is no surprise then that the image the president possessed

o f the nature o f international politics was one that placed the competition between the

United States and the Soviet Union at the center o f the international universe. The

international arena was perceived as a place that was filled with danger emanating largely

from an expansionist Soviet Union. And, it was believed that the United States needed to

accept this fact and base its foreign policy on what Reagan called a firm sense of realism.

Charles Kegley and Eugene Wittkopf in their analysis o f the Reagan

administration's worldview comment on these beliefs, stressing the point that the

184 "Address to the Nation on Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance," 2 February 1988, The Public Papers o f the Presidents
o f the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989. p. 163.
185 Edwin Meese III, With Reagan: The Inside Story (Washington, D.C.: 1992) p. 223.

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president and his advisors proceeded from the basic assumption that communism

comprised the principal danger in the world, and that the United States needed to use its

power to combat the spread o f the red menace. Margaret Hermann, in her personality

study o f Reagan, tends to agree with Kegley and Wittkopf. Hermann notes that one o f

Reagans fundamental political orientations centers on the perception that international

relations is essentially conflict prone, with the United States locked into a power struggle

with the U.S.S.R, and that many o f the Soviet Union's interests were in direct competition
1R7
with U.S. interests around the world.

Reagan, in his public addresses, makes a number of important references to the

highly competitive and often conflict-ridden nature of international politics. He also

comments on what he believed the United States needed to do to operate safely in this

environment. Discussing the chaotic situation in Poland in late 1981, Reagan

commented: "the world is full o f peril, as well as promise. Too many o f its people, even

now, live in the shadow o f want and tyranny."188 And in January 1984, the president

pointed out that the United States, operating in the international community with an

expansionist adversary, must be guided by a firm sense of realism. Realism, for Reagan,

meant: "that we must start with a clear-eyed understanding o f the world we live in; we

186 Charles W. Kegley and Eugene R. Wittkopf, "The Reagan Administration's World View," Orbis (Spring 1982)
187 Margaret G. Hermann, "Assessing Personality at a Distance: A Profile o f Ronald Reagan," Mershon Center Quarterly Report.
Vol. 7,No. 6, (Spring 1983) p. 6.
188 "Address to the Nation About Christmas and the Situation in Poland," 23 December 1981 The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f
the United Stales: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989. p. 1186.

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107
must recognize that we are in a long-term competition with a government that does

not share our notions o f individual liberties at home and peaceful change abroad.. . 1,189

Christopher Layne perhaps brings home the point most clearly concerning

Reagan's perception o f world politics, arguing that Reagans image o f the nature o f

international politics was analogous to a Manichaean struggle, with democratic countries,

led by the United States facing off against Communist countries, led by the Soviet

Union.190 And in this bi-polar, zero-sum, game between what Reagan believed was

analogous to the struggle between the forces o f good versus the forces o f evil, the United

States needed to focus on the perceived threats to its security. For Reagan, Central

America was so vitally important simply because he saw this as an area where the Soviets

were directly threatening U.S. security and ideals, and this threat was taking place in

what the president likened to our own backyard. As the president stated in February

1986: Since the beginning o f my 1st administration there has been no foreign policy

issue more directly affecting United States national interests than the conflict in Central

America, for this conflict challenges not only our strategic position but the very

principles upon which this nation is founded. 191

Although Ronald Reagan did in fact believe that the nature o f international

politics was one o f potential conflict and danger, he also believed that international peace

could be maintained. One of Reagan's most important intermediate beliefs was that peace

189 "Address to the Nation and Other Countries on United States-Soviet Relations," 16 January 1984, Public Papers o f the
Presidents: Ronald Reagan, / 981-1989, pp. 42-43.
190 Christopher Layne, "Requiem for the Reagan Doctrine," in David Boaz, ed.. Assessing the Reagan Years. (Washington. D.C.:
Cato Institute, 1988) pp. 104-5.
191 Assistance for Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance, 25 February 1986, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection,
Document # NI02677.

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could be secured only if the United States was willing to build up and improve its

military forces to the point where the U.S. could sustain parity, or even attain a position

o f military strength in comparison to the Soviet Union. In other words, Reagan believed

that the potential for maintaining international peace was directly co-related with how

strong the United States was militarily in the world.

As early as 1972, while still a private citizen, Reagan told the World Affairs

Council: "It is America's industrial and economic strength, translated into military

potential, that represents the single greatest guarantee o f peace for the w orld."192 At his

first inaugural, the president returns to this theme, warning potential adversaries that the

United States: "will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we

do so we have the best chance o f never having to use that strength."193 By 1984, the

president, in an interview with the New York Times, mentioned: there is less tension

today and less threat and danger with the rebuilding we have done that makes us more

secure than was earlier when our defenses were so lax that there was a window o f

vulnerability. 194

The presidents key advisors that he relied on most for advice in foreign affairs

tended to agree with his assessments concerning the requirements for maintaining

international peace. Secretary o f Defense, Casper Weinberger, for example, fashioned a

defense build-up from 1981-1988 that was based on the very premise of returning the

United States to a predominant military position in the world. Military spending for the

first five years o f the Reagan presidency would amount to $1.5 trillion, an increase of

192 Ronald Reagan, "The Obligations o f Liberty, 12 October 1972. Alfred Balitzer, ed., op. cit. p. 102.
193 "Inaugural Address," 20 January 1981, The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 3.
194 Alew York Times, An Interview With President Reagan on Campaign Questions, 28 March 1984.

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over $400 billion from the Carter projections for this same time period.195 The United

States military build-up during this five-year span served to increase the nations nuclear

arsenal as well as to retool Americas naval fleet, which would thereafter be centered on

13-15 aircraft-carrier battle groups and included nearly 600 naval vessels.196 In his

memoirs, Weinberger poignantly comments o f the relationship between military strength

and the prospects for peace:

We must understand how critically important it is, if we want to keep our

democracy, our peace, and our freedom, that we be willing to make sacrifices-

sacrifices often difficult, expensive, and unpopular. Wise and resolute investment

in our military strength is not only quite consistent with all the blessings of

democracy; it is the only course that will let us keep our democracy, our peace

and our freedom.197

Beyond rebuilding America's military strength, Reagan also believed that peace

could be secured through progress being made in three additional areas. The first was

eliminating the threat and use o f force in solving international disputes. In a number of

public speeches, the president suggested that the United States and Soviet Union needed

195 Walter LaFeber, The American Age: U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad: 1750 to the present (New York: Norton, 1994)
pp. 707-708.
196 Ibid.
197 Casper Weinberger, Fighting For Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon. (New York: Warner Books, 1990) p. 431.

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to consider seriously ending their involvement in a variety o f regional conflicts

because o f the potential for a direct U.S.-USSR confrontation arising out o f these

crises.198

The second avenue for maintaining peace was making progress in arms

reductions. The notion o f arms reductions in general, and with the Soviet Union in

particular-especially as they related to nuclear armaments-became a key facet o f the

Reagan foreign policy agenda. After his successful re-election, Reagan in his first formal

meeting, which happened to be with his arms control negotiating team, stated that: "I

have no more important goal than reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear

weapons."199 Moreover, in a 1985 address to a special session o f the European

Parliament, the president suggested: "We cannot and should not seek to build our peace

and freedom perpetually upon the basis o f expanding nuclear arsenals." Rather, the

president noted, that in order to reduce tensions and solve problems in U.S.-Soviet

relations and ultimately preserve international peace, the United States and the Soviets

needed to be "prepared to conclude fair, equitable, verifiable agreements for arms

reductions...along with insisting upon compliance with past agreements."200

In addition to preserving international peace through limitations on U.S. and

Soviet involvement in regional disputes and through progress being made in arms

reduction agreements, the president was also a firm believer in the necessity of

198 See for example, "Address at Commencement Exercises at Eureka College," 9 May 1982, "Address to the Nation and Other
Countries on United States-Soviet Relations," 16 January 1984, " "Address to the 39th Session o f the United Nations General
Assembly in New York, New York," 24 September 1984, The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan.
1981-1989.
199 Quoted in Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus, Landslide: The Unmaking o f the President, 1984-1988, p. 48.
200 "Address to a Special Session o f the European Parliament," 8 May 1985, The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States:
Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, pp. 585-586.

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Ill
establishing a better relationship with the USSR through the use o f increased

dialogue. One o f things that Ronald Reagan most liked to tell others about the possibility

o f success in arms control negotiations, including his Soviet counterparts, was that the

United States and Soviet Union did not distrust each other because they were armed, but

rather were armed because they distrusted each other. Therefore, despite the fact that the

president still considered the Soviet Union "an evil empire" well into the Gorbachev

years, the president did believe that the best way to improve U.S.-Soviet relations and to

increase the chances for maintaining international peace was to hold a continuous series

o f discussions with the Soviet leadership, premised, of course, on the notion that the U.S

was in a position o f military strength. As Reagan reveals in his memoirs, [I] "didn't

disagree with Weinberger that the Russians were an evil force in the world and

untrustworthy, but I didn't think that meant we should not talk to them."201

The rationale behind increased negotiations with the Soviets was, as the president

told the United Nations, that "history demonstrates beyond controversy that just as the

arms competition has its root in political suspicions and anxieties, so it can be channeled

in more stabilizing directions and eventually be eliminated i f those political suspicions

and anxieties are addressed as well."202 In the end, the goal was to lessen some of these

suspicions and anxieties through a process o f dialogue, which was ultimately meant to

allow both parties to get to know one another a little bit better and thus decrease the

chances that they would one day come into direct conflict.

201 Ronald Reagan, An American Life. p. 606.


202 "Address to the 39th Session o f the United Nations General Assembly," 24 September 1984. The Public Papers ofthe Presidents
o f the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989.

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Interestingly enough, however, the desire on the part o f President Reagan for

dialogue with the Soviets did not extend to dialogue with the Sandinistas. Thus, Reagan

was willing to put aside some o f his apprehensions concerning the Soviets, for example,

his belief that they were untrustworthy, in an effort to advance the prospects for peace

between the superpowers and to avoid the possibility o f a nuclear conflict. The

Sandinistas, by contrast, did not receive the same consideration by the president. At a

National Security Planning Group (NSPG) meeting in 1984, Reagan summarized his

position concerning negotiating bi-laterally with the Nicaraguan government: If we are

just talking about negotiations with Nicaragua, that is so far-fetched to imagine that a

communist government like that would make any reasonable deal with us, but if it is to

get Congress to support the anti-Sandinistas, then that can be helpful.

Reagans plan for peace in Central America was laid out in National Security

Decision Directive-100. The directive stated that because o f the increasing threat posed

by the Sandinista government to the stability o f the region, the United States needed

pursue four avenues to support democratic states in the region, and those on the path to

democracy. The means to accomplish this end was to provide security assistance to

friendly governments in the region, to provide security assistance to the Contras to offset

Soviet and Cuban involvement in Nicaragua, to engage in a public relations campaign to

win support for democratic forces in the region, and to expand military exercises in the

region in an effort to deter Nicaraguan expansionism.204 Reagans objective, it appears,

203 National Security Planning Group Meeting, 25 June 1984, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra Collection, Document #
IC00463.
204 Enhanced U.S. Military Activity and Assistance for the Central American Region, National Security Decision Directive, 28 July
1983, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra Collection, Document # IC 00165.

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113
was to promote democratic development through the provision o f economic and

military assistance coupled with strong-arm diplomacy.

In sum, President Reagan's core beliefs concerning the fundamental nature o f

international politics were ones that placed the U.S.-Soviet rivalry at the epicenter o f the

international system. The world was perceived as bi-polar and the relationship between

the United States and Soviet Union was clearly viewed in zero-sum terms. These core

beliefs were coupled with a set o f intermediate beliefs that acknowledged that even

though the U.S.-Soviet relationship was inherently conflictual, international peace could

be maintained if the United States could reestablish approximate parity with the Soviet

Union and negotiate with them on the basis o f equal or even greater military strength.

The Flow o f History

Another set of important political beliefs possessed by the president were those

relating to the control or mastery one had over historical developments. For Reagan,

some larger historical forces did not control an individuals fate, or, for that matter, did

these forces control the destiny o f their nations; rather, the president believed that

individual ideas and actions clearly were the pivotal factors determining historical

progress. Coupled with this belief was what Lou Cannon called an unquenchable

optimism. Cannon writes that the president "truly believed that life's problems would turn

out well, as they nearly always did for him."205 This view o f history and his optimistic

205 Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role o f a Lifetime, p. 179.

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114
outlook on life would convince Reagan that the correct ideas and decisions by his

administration and our allies could positively change the course o f world affairs.

Reagan would emphasize this theme to various audiences during his tenure in the

White House. At his first Inaugural Address, he told Americans: "We're not as some

would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will

fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do

nothing."206 To members o f the British Parliament in 1982, Reagan added: "the ultimate

determinant in the struggle that's now going on in the world will not be bombs and

rockets, but a test o f wills and ideas, a trial o f spiritual resolve...Let us be shy no longer.

Let us go to our strength. Let us offer hope. Let us tell the world that a new age is not

only possible but probable."207

Four years in public office did little to change this perspective. In his 1985 State

o f the Union, Reagan told a joint session o f Congress: "There are not constraints on the

human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those

we ourselves erect. " A year later, Reagan once again announced to Congress: "history is

no captive of some inevitable force. History is made by men and women o f vision and

courage."208 Yet perhaps his most poignant statement reflecting his beliefs concerning the

flow o f history occurred in 1987, when Reagan announced to the General Assembly of

the United Nations: "All over the world today, the yearnings o f the human heart are

redirecting the course o f international affairs, putting the lie to the myth o f materialism

206 "Inaugural Address, 20 January 1981, The Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989. p. 2.
207 "Address to Members o f the British Parliament," Public Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 747.
"Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union," 6 February 1985, and "Address Before a Joint Session o f
the Congress on the State o f the Union, 4 February 1986, The Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan.
1981-1989, p. 130 & p. 126.

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115
and historical determinism. We have only to open our eyes to see the simple

aspirations o f ordinary people writ large on the record o f our times."209

Nowhere in this statement, or in the others mentioned above, can one find Reagan

speaking o f the immutable laws o f history. Instead, what one finds is a firm belief that

there in nothing inevitable at all about the laws o f history. Human actions, for Ronald

Reagan, make the difference.

Combined with a belief in the power of free will over historical materialism,

Reagan also possessed an intermediate belief concerning the relationship o f current

trends to larger historical patterns. The president held the belief that it was not political

democracies and market-based economies that were on the losing side o f history, but

rather Marxist-Leninist governments and state-led economies that were doomed to

failure. In 1982, the president emphasized to the British Parliament that the march of

freedom and democracy has advanced to such an extent that it "will leave Marxism-

Leninism on the ash-heap o f history as it has left other tyrannies, which stifle the freedom

and muzzle the self-expression o f the people."210 A year later, Reagan told American

troops stationed in South Korea: "Communism is not the wave o f the future and it never
t
was- freedom is. And it's good to see people beginning to wake up to the fact." The

trend would continue the following year. To the National Association o f Evangelicals,

209 Address to the 42nd Session o f the United Nations General Assembly," 21 September 1987. The Public Papers o f the Presidents
o f the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 1058.
210 "Address to Members o f the British Parliament," Public Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 747.
211 "Remarks to American Troops at Camp Liberty Bell, Republic o f Korea," 13 November 1983, Public Papers o f the Presidents:
Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 1594.

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President Reagan emphasized: "communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human

history whose last pages are even now being written."

Why did Reagan believe that Marxist-Leninist regimes were on their last legs?

Because Ronald Reagan believed inherently that governments that placed the state's

interests above the individual's were bound to be stagnant and unproductive. Reagan, in

his memoirs suggests as much: "Only when people are free to worship, create, and build,

only when they are given a personal stake in deciding their destiny and benefiting from

their own risks, only then do societies become dynamic, prosperous, progressive, and

free."213 By removing government interference from individual lives, Reagan believed

that you release the energies o f the human spirit. And, one o f the m ost important

aspirations o f the human spirit is the longing for freedom.

President Reagan would proclaim these ideas to an American audience at his

second inaugural:

Human freedom is on the march, and nowhere more so than in our own

hemisphere. Freedom is one o f the deepest and noblest aspirations o f the human

spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for the right of self-determination for those

inalienable rights that make for human dignity and progress.214

212 "Remarks at the Annual Convention o f the National Association o f Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, 8 March 1983, Public
Papers o f the Presidents: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 364,
213 Ronald Reagan, An American Life. p. 476.
214 "Inaugural Address," 21 January 1985, The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, pp.
57-58.

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The following month, Reagan would proclaim: One o f the most inspiring

developments o f recent years is the move against communism and toward freedom that is

sweeping the world. In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we see dissidents; in

Poland, the Solidarity movement. We see freedom fighters in Afghanistan, Ethiopia,

Cambodia, and Angola.215 In the context o f Central America, Reagan remained equally

optimistic. To a gathering o f private sector supporters of his Central American policy, the

president noted: The fixture of Central America is not with communism; the future o f

Central America is with democracy and all those fighting for freedom. 216

It was because o f beliefs such as these, that Reagan would be able to speak from

the heart when he told German citizens gathering at the Brandenburg Gate in West

Berlin: "that there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion:

Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces ancient hatreds among the nations with

comity and peace. Freedom is the victor."217 For Reagan, it was only logical that

Marxism-Leninism would fall further and further behind the Westernized democracies in

the race for the future.

215 Central America, 16 February 1985, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02369.
216 Aid to the Contras, 21 March 1986, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02727.
217 "Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in W est Berlin," 12 June 1987, Public Papers o f the Presidents:
Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 635.

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Nature o f Change

Ronald Reagan believed that democracies and free-markets would ultimately

prevail over Marxist-Leninist political and economic systems. However, this did not

mean that the president believed that victory was necessarily assured. Decisive actions,

on the part o f the United States, were required to emerge victorious. In the context of

directing U.S. foreign policy, the Reagan presidency would be one that pursued an

activist course rather than simply seeking to secure the status quo.

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he immediately rejected the

cautious foreign policy o f the Carter years and replaced it with one that promoted the

extension of the United States' global/missionary role. Quoting Thomas Paine, President

Reagan in 1984 stated: We have it in our power to begin the world over again. 2l8In

some ways, Reagan's foreign policy would represent a return to the "rollback" strategy

announced during the Eisenhower presidency. Kegley and W ittkopf suggest that U.S.

foreign policy under Reagan would be one that accepted the notion that "U.S.
219
management o f global affairs is to be pursued actively and accepted willingly."

Otherwise put, confrontation, rather than cooperation would be the choice o f strategy for

the U.S. as it related to its adversaries, especially the Soviet Union and their allies in

Central America. Robert Schulzinger sums up the new approach quite well:

218 Quoted in Thomas G . Paterson, J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan, American Foreign Policy: A H isto ry /1900 to the present
(Lexington,MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1991) 3rd edition, p. 647.
219 Charles W. Kegley and Eugene R. Wittkopf, "The Reagan Administration's W orld View," p. 226.

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Ronald Reagan and his principal foreign policy advisors came to power in

1981 with a clear idea o f reversing the course o f the last fifteen years o f United

States foreign policy. They looked back to the decades immediately after the

Second World War when the United States was the unquestioned leader of an

anti-Soviet alignment. The new administration expected to confront the Soviets

assertively. It looked forward to battling Third World Communists from

Nicaragua to Afghanistan. It pledged to elevate the fight against terrorism over

the Carter administrations concentration on human rights. It promised to erase

the dishonorable stain o f Irans seizure o f the United States embassy and its

captivity of fifty-three American hostages for 444 days.220

Edwin Meese, one of Reagan's closest advisors, comments on Reagan's strategy

for confronting the Soviets. Meese suggests that Reagan firmly rejected the traditional

method o f dealing with Moscow in the 1960s and 1970s, namely through accommodation

and an attempt to improve bi-lateral relations through "building bridges" via arms control

agreements, economic credits, technology transfers, and so on. In contrast, Reagan

believed that accommodating the Soviets would only ease the economic and technical

pressure on their domestic system. The logic was as follows: if the Soviets confronted a

United States that was militarily and technologically on the wane, then the political

leadership in Moscow could delay facing up to the problems they were experiencing

domestically and continue to pursue their expansionist foreign policy. Therefore, instead

o f accommodating the Soviets, Reagan felt it was necessary to revamp America's military

220 Robert D. Schultzinger, U.S. Diplomacy Since 1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) 4th edition, p. 333.

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strength and to push forward with our technological developments in addition to

reestablishing a firm willingness to protect Western security interests. The rationale

behind the strategy was simple: force the Soviets to "either stand down from their

continuing confrontation with the West, or face increasingly devastating pressures on the

home front." 221

Regarding the changes taking place in Central America, Reagan likewise

advocated an activist approach. Reflecting on the potential for a successful application of

his policy for promoting democracy and freedom in Central America, the president

stated:

We must not allow totalitarian communism to win by default. But we cannot

succeed unless the Congress approves the necessary resources...the United States

must work so that the fledgling democracies of this hemisphere will have a better

future and so that our own future can be more secure.

At a briefing o f foreign policy specialists at the Center for Strategic and

International Studies, the president asserted: Today democracy in Latin America

constitutes a life-giving tide. It can still flood its powerful, cleansing way into

Nicaraguathe Communist wall against it is high, but not yet too highif only the

House takes action.. .What it comes down to in the end is the matter o f witness of

choosing whether to believe those whom we know to be providing us with accurate

221 Edwin Meese III, With Reagan; The Inside Story, p. 163-167.
222 Saving Democracy in Central America, 18 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI01768.

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121
reports about Nicaragua or to listen instead to the small whispering voices within our

own minds that say there is no trouble there, not because that is the truth, but because we

do not care to be inconvenienced by the need to risk action.223

The question that remained, and one that relates to an intermediate belief held by

Reagan, was how to confront the Soviets and their allies in order to push forward with

change in the international arena. In other words, what would be the specific

mechanisms, or modes, o f change that the president would use? The answer, in short, was

that an all-out effort was needed to bring the "evil empire" to its knees, one incorporating

military, economic, and political tools.

President Reagan's National Security Decision Directive 32, signed in May 1982,

provides a good summary o f the tactics that would be used. Reagans general foreign

policy strategy would be based on five pillars: military modernization; expanded military

spending, economic pressure on the USSR and its allies, political persuasion and

propaganda at home and abroad, and covert operations intended to split satellite

governments away from Moscow.224

Militarily, the confrontation with Moscow would take two forms: first, the U.S.

would rebuild its military forces to the point where it could negotiate with the Soviets

from a position o f strength. Second, the United States would increase its military

assistance, both covertly and overtly, to anti-Communist resistance forces fighting around

the world. President Reagan was clear regarding his intentions in his 1986 State o f the

Union:

223 Dropby CSIS Briefing, 10 July 1986, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra Collection, Document # IC02983.
224 Christopher Simpson, ed., National Security Directives o f the Reagan and Bush Administrations: The Declassified History o f U.S.
Political and Military Policy, 1981-1991. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995) p. 62.

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To those imprisoned in regimes held captive, to those beaten for daring to fight

for freedom and democracy- for their right to worship, to speak, to live, and to

prosper in the family o f free nations- we say to you tonight: You are not alone,

freedom fighters, America will support with moral and material assistance your

right not just to fight and die for freedom but to fight and win freedom- to win
225
freedom in Afghanistan, in Angola, in Cambodia, and in Nicaragua.

Reagan's military assistance program was linked with a number o f the economic

and political tools. The United States would once again be willing to provide vast

amounts o f economic aid to governments around the world, so long as they shared the

United States' main objective o f reining in the Soviet Union. Following the advice of his

first ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.S. assistance to foreign

countries would no longer be based on how well these countries protected human rights-

as it had been under Carter- but rather how closely these countries helped pursue U.S.

foreign policy objectives. Constantine Menges, Reagan's National Security Council

advisor for Latin American affairs, summarized the Reagan policy for providing

assistance abroad, as one that encouraged democracy without coercing traditional allies

o f the United States.226 The results o f this approach in Central America were very high

levels o f economic and military assistance to the governments o f El Salvador, Honduras,

and Guatemala, along with the termination o f U.S. assistance to Nicaragua and,

225 "Address Before a Joint Session o f Congress on the State o f the Union," 4 February 1986, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the
United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989, p. 129.
226 Constantine Menges, Inside the National Security Council, p. 382.

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ultimately, the adoption o f full-scale economic sanctions against the Sandinista

government.

On the home front, President Reagan believed in the necessity o f initiating a

public relations campaign to educate the general American public and particularly the

United States Congress on the correctness o f his policy toward Central America. In

January 1983, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive-77 (NSDD-

77), establishing an official executive branch organization for public diplomacy in

support o f national security objectives. The goal ofNSDD-77 was straightforward: to

strengthen the organization, planning, and coordination of the various aspects o f public

diplomacy relative to national security. Later that same year, the president signed

NSDD-100, ordering his secretary o f state and secretary of defense to prepare a

coordinated legislative, diplomatic, and public strategies that supported Reagans

foreign policy goals in Central America. The implementation o f this initiative, directed

the president, should be timed to take into account public affairs/legislative factors.228

Coupled with a belief in the contingent nature of U.S. assistance to allies and the

adoption o f a full-scale public diplomacy effort, was an additional intermediate belief that

reflected Reagan's general aversion to negotiations and established treaties, especially

with the Soviets, but even more so with the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The simple

fact o f the matter was that Ronald Reagan did not believe that Marxist-Leninist

governments could be trusted to abide by the provisions of an established agreement. If

227 National Security Decision Directive (NSDD-77), Management o f Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security, 14 January
1983, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra Collection, Document # IC00068.
228 National Security Decision Directive on Enhanced U.S. Military Activity and Assistance in the Central American Region (NSDD-
100), 28 July 1983,National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document# NI01781.

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one held the belief that communist rulers would do nearly anything to promote their

goals/objectives, then it made little sense to negotiate with them, primarily because any

established agreement would have been signed to serve only a temporary purpose. Once

the established agreement no longer met their needs, Reagan believed, the communist

leaders would disavow their original promises and pursue a new objective. One o f

Reagan's favorite sayings concerning negotiations, and a mantra he lived by, was that

trust was important in any set o f negotiations, but verification was even more important.

During his second term, Ronald Reagan did indeed begin to "trust" the Soviets,

insofar as the agreements that were ultimately reached (e.g. INF Treaty, START

negotiations), he believed, were fully verifiable. But his opposition to negotiating with

the Sandinistas remained relatively constant. Although the president would often

emphasize that the United States sought a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Central

America, he nevertheless insisted that any agreement was contingent on bringing what he

called "true democracy" to the region. As late as February 1988, the president held on to

the belief that the Sandinistas could not be trusted. In a nationally televised speech,

Reagan addressed the topic o f the Sandinistas trustworthiness, specifically as it related to

a recently signed Central American peace accord: "It's important to remember that we

already have a negotiated settlement with the Sandinistas: the settlement of 1979 that

helped bring them to power, in which they promised in writing, democracy, human

rights, and a non-aligned foreign policy. O f course, they haven't kept a single one o f

those promises, and we now know that they never intended to."229

229 "Address to the Nation on Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance, 2 February 1988, The Public Papers o f the Presidents
o f the United States: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989, p. 165.

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One important consequence o f Reagan possessing this belief, writes Robert

Pastor, was that any suggestions by members of the Reagan foreign policy team

advocating the use o f bi-lateral negotiations with the Sandinistas would be perceived as a

sign of weakness or naivete by the administration.230 In a sense, then, a diplomatic

solution to the Nicaraguan civil war was a remote possibility at best with Ronald Reagan

as president. The end result was that President Reagan continued to press for Contra aid

until he left office in 1989, despite the damage this caused not only in Nicaragua, but also

in the broader context o f U.S.-Latin American relations.

Over the eight-year period o f the Reagan presidency, over 40,000 Nicaraguans

had lost their lives in that nations bloodiest civil war. Perhaps as important as these

figures, writes Walter LaFeber, was the fact that U.S. officials fixation on Nicaragua

gave them little time to deal with other dangers in the area.231 By 1989, Honduras had

been turned into a staging area for U.S. troops and their Contra allies. The result: growing

anti-American sentiment in the country. Additionally, beginning as early as 1983, a

severe debt crisis would surface throughout Latin America, affecting both the debtor

countries o f Central and South America and U.S. and international lenders alike. These

problems... and more would have to be handled by Ronald Reagans successor.

230 Robert A. Pastor, "The Centrality o f Central America," in Larry Berman, e<. Looking Back on the Reagan Presidency.
(Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990) p. 40.
231 Walter LaFeber, The American Age, p. 723.

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:je s|e sfe afe 3(e 5(e afc s(s s(e s|e

One o f the best ways to capture the essence o f Ronald Reagan's foreign policy

belief system is to think about it in terms o f what Betty White calls the president's "black

and white" thinking, or what others have referred to simply as his "us versus them"

mentality. Clearly, on the "white" side were the United States and its allies, and in the

context o f Central America this meant the right-wing governments of El Salvador,

Honduras, and Guatemala, along with the Contras o f Nicaragua who the president saw as

patriots valiantly waging a battle against the evil forces o f Marxism-Leninism, led

ultimately by the Soviet Union, but served in Central America by the proxy forces of

Cuba and the Sandinistas. This battle took place not in the context o f a harmonious

international environment, but rather in one marked by competition and the distinct

possibility o f conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union and their left-wing

allies. Despite this conflict-ridden environment, however, Ronald Reagan truly believed

that the forces o f history were on the side o f the United States. However, he also believed

that in order to achieve the victory of "us over them," the United States needed to take

vigorous actions to promote favorable change in the direction of democracies and free

markets and away from more state-led traditions.

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Chapter 4: The Bush Foreign Policy Belief System

The transition from Ronald Reagan to George Bush brought to the American

presidency a very different type o f leader who possessed both similar and yet at times

quite different foreign policy beliefs. Like his predecessor, George Bush viewed the

United States as a very special and blessed country, a country that was meant to lead.

Also like Reagan, Bush cast a very suspicious eye on the United States main

international adversary, the Soviet Union, and a more regionally based adversary, the

Sandinista government o f Nicaragua. Moreover, Bush, again like Reagan, believed that

the flow of history would be determined by human actions and that freedom would

ultimately prevail over tyranny. Where the two men differed fundamentally, however,

was in their beliefs regarding how change should be handled and the proper tools that the

United States should use to respond to international and regional change. In the context

o f the U.S. response to the crises within El Salvador and Nicaragua, the most important

difference between Reagans and Bushs policies was Reagans aversion toward

negotiations and Bushs openness toward them. This chapter will serve to provide flesh to

the Bush foreign policy belief system by examining his core and intermediate beliefs

concerning his national self-image, his images o f allies and adversaries, his views

regarding international politics, the flow o f history, and the nature o f change.

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National Self-Image

Ronald Reagan perceived the United States as "the shining city on the hill," a

peaceful country marked by God to be an inspiration for all others. By contrast, George

Herbert Walker Bush's America was that of a land that was meant to help others. Instilled

in him since his early childhood in Connecticut, and later in his private schooling at

Greenwich Day School, Andover Academy, and finally Yale University was what the

French call noblesse oblige, a deep moral sense o f obligation to serve others because of

the benefits o f high birth and powerful social position. Eastern establishment shibboleths

such as "It's more blessed to give than to receive" and "Public service is the purpose for

entering politics" were part and parcel o f the person and personality o f George Bush.

Fitzhugh Green, an early Bush biographer and friend o f the Bush family, admits that

these were indeed the ideas followed by the future president, although at times denied for

political reasons. They had, in a sense, become a part o f his social persona.232

Bushs elder brother, Prescott, comments on how the entire Bush family was

influenced by the model set by their father, Prescott Bush Sr., who was a firm believer in

the notion that public service was a noble calling: Dad always impressed on his children

and instilled in us the concept that we had certain obligations because o f the privileges

we enjoyed.233 George Bushs call to service was never more evident than in his

decision to join the U.S. Navy in 1941, immediately following his graduation from

Andover, despite strong opposition from both his father and his teachers. Bush was

232 Fitzhugh Green, George Bush: An Intimate Portrait (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1989) p. 78. Nicholas King, George Bush: A
Biography (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1980) also addresses George Bush's belief in noblesse oblige, p. 18.
233 Nicholas King, George Bush. p. 18.

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determined to go to war in order to help his country; he was determined to serve.

Herbert Parmet notes that this decision reflected a pattern o f Bushs early life:

volunteering to serve, in defiance o f all the elders who had any possible influence...234

After the war, Bushs ardent desire to serve once again appeared. In a letter to a close

personal friend in January 1949, Bush revealed his desire to enter the public arena: I

have in the back of my mind a desire to be in politics, or at least the desire to do

something o f service to this country.235

A sense of obligation, honor, kindliness, and generosity would, however, become

much more than simply a lodestar o f principles upon which George Bush would approach

his own public service career; these same ideas would become intimately linked with

Bush's self-image of his country. The United States, Bush believed, because o f its

advantaged position at the apex o f the international political pyramid should help others.

Otherwise put, the United States represented, above all, a generous nation in support of

certain ideals. However, as will be pointed out below, this generosity was not unlimited.

The United States, under the stewardship of George Bush, would be very cautious in

selecting those areas/issues in which we decided to bestow our generosity upon.

Nonetheless, in his Inaugural address, Bush claims that the United States "has

meaning beyond what we see, and that our strength is a force of good." Less than a

month later, in his first major address to a joint session of Congress, the president

reiterates these themes: "We're a people whose energy and drive have fueled our rise to

234 Herbert S. Parmet, George Bush: The Life o f a Lone Star Yankee (New York: Scribner, 1997) p. 46.
235 George Bush, A ll the Best: My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York: Scribner, 1999) p. 67.
236 Inaugural Address," 20 January 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o fth e United States: George Bush. 1989-1993
(Washington: Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration)

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130
greatness. And we're a forward looking nation-generous, yes, but ambitious, not for

ourselves, but for the world." Two years later, in another address to Congress, this time

declaring the end of the most dramatic foreign policy event o f the Bush administration:

the conflict in the Persian Gulf, Bush once again returns to the idea o f America's

goodness and generosity: "Americans are a caring people. We are a good people, a

generous people. Let us always be caring and good and generous in all we do."238 Yet for

all they were worth, the ideas o f the United States' goodness and generosity, for Bush,

were simply one part o f a much broader set o f ideals that we, as a country, represented.

Two ideals, in particular, form an integral part of George Bush's self-image o f the

United States: freedom and democracy, both o f which were in a sense linked together.

These were ideals that Bush shared with Ronald Reagan. According to President Bush,

the United States represents more than simply a nation o f individuals sharing a common

heritage. The United States stands for certain principles, certain ideas, among these are

freedoms for individuals and nations as embodied in the concepts o f self-determination

and democracy.239 In his autobiography, written just prior to becoming the 41st president

o f the United States, Bush sees America "as a beacon of hope throughout the world, and

o f freedom, justice, and opportunity for all its citizens."240 He expands upon this theme

after taking office. In both his 1990 and 1991 State of the Union addresses, Bush is quite

237 "Address on Administration Goals Before a Joint Session o f Congress, " 9 February 1989, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the
United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
238 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the Cessation o f the Persian G u lf Conflict," 6 March 1991, Public Papers of
the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
239 George Bush mentions these principles as the guiding benchmarks for his administration in a set o f remarks he made at the
Associated Press Luncheon in Chicago, Illinois on 24 April 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o fth e United States: George Bush,
1989-1993.
240 George Bush with Victor Gold, Looking Forward: An Autobiography (New York: Bantam Books, 1998) p. 202.

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lucid regarding exactly what he means when he suggests that the United States

represents an ideal. In January 1990, Bush passionately argues that:

America, not just the nation but an idea, alive in the minds o f people everywhere.

As this new world takes shape at the center o f the widening circle o f freedom

today, tomorrow, and into the next century. Our nation is the enduring dream of

every immigrant who ever set foot on these shores, and the millions still

struggling to be free. This nation, this idea called Ajnerica, was and always will

be a new worldour new world.241

The following year, in explaining to Congress and the American people why the United

States was involved militarily in the Persian Gulf, the president had the following to say:

Halfway around the world, we are engaged in a great struggle in the skies and on

the sea and sands. We know why we're there: We are Americans, part o f

something larger than ourselves. For two centuries, we've done the hard work of

freedom. And tonight, we lead the world in facing down the threat to decency and

humanity. 242

241 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union,1' 31 January 1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f
the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
242 Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union, 12 January 1991, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f
the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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The United States, in other words, represented a type o f universalism,

"something larger than ourselves;" a universalism that could serve other nations by virtue

o f our example; an example o f a stable political and economic system based on

democracy, free enterprise economics, and the rule o f law.

Reflecting back on the changes that had taken place internationally under his

watch, President Bush told a gathering of dignitaries and students at Texas A&M

University: "the end of the Cold War, you see, has placed in our hands a unique

opportunity to see the principles for which America has stood for over two centuries,

democracy, free enterprise and the rule of law, spread more widely than ever before in

human history."243

This self-image o f United States is linked closely with an intermediate-level belief

that Bush possessed concerning the role that the United States should play for the rest o f

the world and ties in quite nicely with Bush's vision o f America as a land that was meant

to assist others. In his Inaugural address, Bush trumpets: "America is never wholly

herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose

today. It is to make kinder the face o f the Nation and gentler the face o f the world."244

Ronald Reagan would nod in approval concerning Bush's image o f the role that the

United States should play in areas o f concern to this country: America should and must

lead.

243 Remarks at Texas A&M Univeristy in College Station, 15 December 1992, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush, 1989-1993. The idea that George Bush supported the notion o f America as a universal idea is also mentioned in
Hebert S. Parmet, George Bush: The Life o f a Lone Star Yankee, pp. 380-381.
244 Inaugural Address," 20 January 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, J989-1993.

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133
Among the beliefs most clearly articulated by George Bush was this notion

that the United States was looked upon by others to lead. To lead not only the Western

alliance in a rapidly changing international environment, but also to lead the developing

world to the proverbial promise-land o f democratic institutions, free markets, and

societies governed by the rule of law. For Bush, world leadership was simply part of

America's internal nature. Marlin Fitzwater, Bush's press secretary, succinctly makes this

point: "President Bush always saw America in the lead, deciding its own interests, then

persuading others to jo in or follow."245 Political scientist Richard Melanson, refers to

Bush's perception o f the proper role for the United States within the international

community as a "velvet hegemony," "an imperialism with a human face." The core idea

in this set of beliefs was that the United States would act as the provider o f order for the

international community.246

As early as February 1989, Bush was proclaiming to Congress: "Never before has

our leadership been so crucial, because while America has its eyes on the future, the

world has its eyes on America."247 In an interview with foreign journalists later that same

year, when queried if he feared losing the U.S. leadership in NATO, Bush quipped: "No,

not a bit. If you'll excuse some chauvinistic pride...that is one worry I do not have. And

we will be involved, whether it's in the Pacific or whether it's in Europe. It's just our

245 Marlin Fitzwater, Call the Briefing: Reagan and Bush, Sam and Helen: A Decade with Presidents and the Press (Holbrook, Mass:
Adams, 1995). P. 245.
246 Richard Melanson, "George Bush's Search for a Post-Cold War Strategy," in Kenneth W. Thompson, ed.. The Bush Presidency:
Ten Intimate Perspectives, Part II. (Lantham, MD: University Press o f America, 1998) p. 159.
247 "Address on Administration Goals Before a Joint Session o f Congress," 9 February 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents ofthe
United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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134
nature.248" Bush was even more forthright in his foreign policy memoirs, writing: "I

always have believed that the United States bears a disproportionate responsibility for

peace in Europe and an obligation to lead NATO." 249

U.S. leadership o f NATO was a belief shared by both the president and his closest

foreign policy advisors. One o f Bush's closest foreign policy advisors, Brent Scowcroft,

reflects on the dangers evident in past episodes o f U.S. isolation from Europe this

century, noting poignantly: "the lesson we drew from this bloody history was that the

United States had to continue to play a significant role in European security, whatever

developed with respect to the Soviet Union. The vehicle for that role m ust be NATO.250

Colin Powell, Chairman o f the Joint Chiefs o f Staff during the Bush

administration, on the other hand, had the following to say about the need for U.S.

leadership in Europe after the tumultuous period o f 1989-1992: "however different the

world, the United States remains its leader. We are still the foundation on which Western

security rests, and we are increasingly looked to as the foundation upon which the newly

freed nations of Eastern Europe want their security to rest. America is trusted and
j
respected as no other nation on earth.

In the developing world, the role for the United States, as perceived by Bush,

centered not so much on maintaining security per se, but rather in advancing the cause of

democracy and free markets. And, yet, the cause was considered as worthy as securing

the peace in Europe. The president believed firmly in the necessity of taking a very active

248 "Interview with Foreign Journalists," 21 November 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush.
1989-1993.
249 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Vintage, 1998) p. 60.
250 Ibid. pp. 230-231.
251 Colin L. Powell with Joseph E. Persico, An American Journey (New York: Ballantine, 1995) p. 588.

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135
role in pushing forward this agenda. Within his first State o f the Union, Bush told his

audience that the rapid changes taking place at the international level required that the

United States "ensure democracy's advance, to take the lead in forging peace and

freedom's best hope: a great and growing commonwealth o f free nations."252

As these goals related to Central America, Bush believed that the United States

must help in advancing the cause of democratization. While Vice-President, Bush

stressed the need for the United States to assist the Contras in their struggle against the

Sandinistas:

Freedom can flourish in Nicaragua, just as it is flourishing throughout the rest o f

the continent, but it needs our help. We must act now, before it is too late...Let us

extend a helping hand to the Nicaraguan people, just as others helped our

forefathers in their time o f need. Lets give freedom a chance in Nicaragua.253

While president, Bush noted at a news conference in March 1990: "We must take

the lead in helping our neighbors, and we cannot look to others to make sacrifices if we

ourselves cannot work in partnership in our own hemisphere. And I also add there are

those who argue that Panama and Nicaragua are not as vital as Eastern Europe. They're

wrong. This is our hemisphere.. .The world is changing drastically, and we must meet the

252 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union," 31 January 1990, Public Papers ofthe Presidents o f
the United States: George Bush, 1989-1992.
253 Excerpts from Remarks by Vice-President George Bush, 28 February 1985, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection,
Document # IC00893.

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136
challenges in every region with equal commitment and equal dedication." 254 A day

later, the president reemphasized the necessity o f U.S. leadership in promoting

democracy in Central America, telling reporters: "Panama and Nicaragua stand at a

historic moment: on the threshold of democracy. In both nations the people have spoken

in favor o f freedom, but the difficult work o f democracy remains.. .But it cannot happen

if we in the United States fail to add our strength and support to the forces of

democracy."255

In the aftermath o f the seismic changes that took place internationally during his

presidency, Bush continued to believe in the necessity o f U.S. leadership. Leadership, in

particular, that was directed at maintaining a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic world

order. In one of his final foreign policy addresses, President Bush, in speaking to a

graduating class of cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point,

articulates what he perceived as the proper role for the United States in the post-cold war

world: "in the wake o f the cold war, in a world where we are the only remaining

superpower, it is the role o f the United States to marshal its moral and material resources

to promote a democratic peace. It is our responsibility, it is our opportunity to lead. There

is no one else."256

Bush was willing to admit, however, that U.S. leadership was not unlimited. The

U.S. would lead in those areas that it defined as vital to its national interests. It would

254 "The President's News Conference," 22 March 1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-
1993.
255 "The President's News Conference," 23 March 1990, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o fth e United States: George Bush. 1989-
1993.
256 "Remarks at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York," 5 January 1993, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f
the United Stales: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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lend its support to those areas that he deemed most important to the U.S. national

interest. In his personal diary, Bush reflects on his decision not to intervene actively in

the brewing Yugoslavian crisis: "The concept that we have to work out every problem,

everywhere in the world, is crazy.. .1 don't want to look isolationist; I don't want to turn

my back on the desires of many ethnic Americans that come from that part o f the world;

but I don't think that we can be looked to for solving every problem every place in the

w orld..."257

Overall, then, George Bush's self-image o f the United States was one that coupled

a belief that America stood for "goodness" and "generosity" with a sense o f responsibility

to serve the international community by promoting American ideas o f freedom and

democracy. As was the case with Ronald Reagan, these ideas, which Bush firmly

believed were part and parcel o f the American creed, would become universally accepted

only through vigorous U.S. leadership.

Image o f Allies

One o f the great ironies of George Bush's image o f allies and adversaries was that

in a relatively short period of time, former allies would became new enemies o f the

United States and former enemies would become allies. By the time President Bush left

office in 1993, two stalwart U.S. allies during the Cold War, Manuel Noriega o f Panama

and Saddam Hussein of Iraq, would experience directly the military wrath o f the United

States, while former arch-enemies o f America, including the governments o f the Soviet

257 George Bush, All the Best: M y Life in Letters and O ther Writing? (New York: Scribner, 1999) pp. 527-528.

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138
Union and Nicaragua, would work with the United States in an effort to secure

international peace and spread the benefits o f democracy.

Despite these rather dramatic transformations in U.S. relations with some o f its

former allies, Bush's image o f Americas allies in Central America remained quite similar

to that o f President Reagan. In particular, the U.S. relationship with the government o f El

Salvador would remain very strong. Early on in his administration, Bush argued that the

1984-1989 Christian Democratic government o f Jose Napoleon Duarte was in many

respects a model for new democracies in the region. Bush's position toward the Duarte

government was clearly expressed in a set o f written responses to a Chinese news agency

in February 1989. When questioned if the U.S. intended to take an active role in helping

to promote peace by working with the governments in the region, Bush answered: "The

United States continues to seek a just solution to conflicts in Central America, based on

democracy, respect for human rights, and security. In El Salvador, the popularly elected

government of President Duarte has worked, with our support, to institutionalize

democracy, despite an organized military assault by Communist forces. There has been

considerable success in curbing human rights abuses from the far right and within the

military. We will continue to support the Government of El Salvador in its efforts."258

After the March 1989 Salvadoran presidential elections, President Bush remained

willing to support the newly elected ARENA candidate, Alfredo Cristiani. At a White

House luncheon, Bush told the journalists in attendance that he truly believed that the

elections were certifiably free and that Cristiani would indeed make every effort to

258 "Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Xinhua News Agency o f China," 16 February 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.

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continue strengthening the democratic institutions in El Salvador.259 Bush noted,

however, that Cristiani faced big problems with those Marxist-backed guerrillas coming

at him. And that his administration was going to support that, just as w ere going to

support the Central American Presidents as they now, hopefully, push Ortega (President

o f Nicaragua) to do what Ortega should have done long before now.

By May, Bush was even more forthright in conveying his image o f the

government o f El Salvador at a speech he gave to the Council of the Americas, calling

the March elections, another ringing affirmation o f that nation's commitment to

democracy. The president went on to say:

We expect ARENA (National Republican Alliance) to exercise its political power

responsibly. And I have conveyed to President-elect Cristiani our commitment to

human rights in El Salvador. I honestly feel that he shares my concern, and he

deserves our support.

Five months later, in October 1989, Bush referred to the recent elections as free and

certifiably fair, noting that they were an important major step towards the peace that

259 "Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a White House Luncheon for Joumalists,"31 March 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
260 Ibid.
261 "Remarks to the Council o f the Americas," 2 May 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-
1993.

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the people o f El Salvador want.262 Prior to an official meeting with Cristiani in

February 1990, Bush gave to the press a glowing endorsement of the new Salvadoran

president:

Id like to say that I know this man. I know o f his commitment to democracy. I

will support him now. I will support him in the future. And the success o f

democracy in El Salvador is a very important thing to us, to this country. And Ive

been very impressed with the courage he has shown in going after those who have

broken the law in his country. And thats been a shining example to all o f us.263

In July o f 1991, Bush, in a set o f remarks after a meeting with Cristiani stated:

Mr. President, time and again you and the people o f El Salvador have proved your

doubters wrong. Political rights have flourished despite hardship and despite war.

And your people enjoy freedom of speech like never before. Exiles who once

feared for their lives have returned, come back home to campaign for office and

build parties. You have begun to lay libertys cornerstone, the rule o f law. And

youve strengthened the judicial system. Youve expanded civilian authority over

262 T h e Presidents News Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, 28 October 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
263 Remarks Prior to Meeting with President Alfredo Cristiani Buckard o f El Salvador, 1 February 1990, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.

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141
the police and military and youve committed yourself to dramatic reductions

in armed forces. And youve strengthened protections for human rights.264

Thomas Carothers summarizes the president's position toward the new government of El

Salvador, stating that Bush believed that Cristiani and the ARENA political party "had

transformed itself into a genuinely democratic party and that Cristiani was a sincere

moderate who has real authority as party leader."265

As for the counter-revolutionaries o f Nicaragua, Bush also possessed a favorable

image of this American ally, albeit not in the glowing terms o f President Reagan. In a

speech delivered to the Austin Council o f Foreign Affairs while still vice-president, Bush

defended the Contras as the true guardians o f the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution:

Amazingly, we still hear the libel repeated that the Nicaraguan freedom fighters

are made up largely o f ex-followers o f Somoza. In fact, ex-members o f Somozas

national guard account for only at tiny handful o f the 15,000 armed resistance

fighters. The entire political leadership o f the freedom fightersAlfonso Robelo,

Aldolfo Colero o f the FDN and Eden Pastora were prominent political

opponents o f Som oza.. .These true patriots only took up arms again when it

264 Remarks Following Discussions with President Alfredo Cristiani Buckard o f El Salvador and an Exchange with Reporters, 12
July 1991, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, / 989-1993.
265 Thomas Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years (Berkeley, CA:
University ofCalifomia Press, 1991) p. 37.

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142
became clear to them that the hard-line Communists had seized power and

were, as Eden Pastora says, selling their country to the Soviet bloc.-

In a letter to the bishop o f his church in 1986, the vice-president claimed that the Contras

were not warmongers in any sense o f the word. Rather, their goal was to bring democracy

to Nicaragua:

.. .The Freedom Fighters have always made it clear that they will lay down their

arms when genuine democracy is permitted again in Nicaragua, as the Sandinistas

promised nearly six years ago. The United States Government has supported the

struggle o f the Freedom Fighters as we support efforts to establish democracy

elsewhere...Someday I would like to discuss this with you. I am totally convinced

that the moral ground is on our side.. .1 hate to differ with you on this key

question but my view is not simply official it is profoundly personal, stemming

largely from what my Episcopal faith has taught me.

Because Bush admired the Contras in many of the same ways that Reagan did, he

was unwilling to abandon the Contras when he became president. In February 1989,

when asked if he would be willing to no longer provide aid to the Contras if the Soviets

would work with the United States to defuse the crises in Central America, the president

266 Excerpts from Remarks by Vice-President George Bush, 28 February 1985, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection,
Document # IC00893.
267 George Bush, A ll the Best, p. 348.

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143
responded: I wouldnt make a deal on that with the Soviets, nor would that come

up.268 Later that month, Bush was even more direct, telling reporters that the United

States will not leave the resistance standing alone, leave them twisting out there without

fulfillment o f the commitment to democracy on the part o f the Sandinistas.269 The

following month, he again told reporters: We cannot, and I will not, leave the Contras

out there with no humanitarian aid at a ll...270

Yet, President Bush did realize that trying to provide military or even economic

assistance to the Contras at the same levels as was given during the Reagan years was

politically impossible. There is no mistaking the fact that Bushs policy options for

dealing with the Sandinista government were limited by domestic political forces. At a

White House luncheon in late March 1989, Bush admitted: there was no way, not a

snowballs chance in hell, of getting a dime for lethal aidmilitary aid from Congress.

And I think anybody thats familiar with Congress would acknowledge that.271

The Contras, for President Bush, were viewed in many respects as a tool to be

used to advance the cause of democracy in Nicaragua by putting pressure on the

Sandinistas. Bush expresses this viewpoint quite lucidly at a news conference in August

1989. After being asked if the United States would support the demobilization o f the

Contra forces prior to the scheduled Nicaraguan presidential elections in February 1990,

268 The Presidents News Conference, 6 February 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-
1993.
269 Remarks if Afghanistan and a Question-and-Answer Session with Reporters," 16 February 1989, Ibid.
270 T he Presidents News Conference, 7 March 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United Stales: George Bush, 1989-
1993.
271 Remarks and a Question -an d - Answer Session at a White House Luncheon for Journalists, 31 March 1989, Public Papers o f
the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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Bush replied: I don't want to see the mandatory demobilization o f those Contras

before the elections. I've felt and I am absolutely correct that the pressure from the

Contras has been the thing that's led Ortega (President o f Nicaragua) to start moving a

little bit on free, fair elections."272 Thus, President Bush believed that Contras could be

used as a deterrent threat to convince the Sandinista to move further in the direction o f

democratization as defined by the United States.

Even though Bush did admit that getting additional military assistance from

Capitol Hill for the Contras was going to be extremely difficult, the president refused to

rule out the possibility in the future. In late October 1989, after Nicaraguan President

Daniel Ortega announced at the Pan-American Conference that he was considering

unilaterally ending the cease-fire with the Contras, Bush was asked if lethal aid to the

Contras would once again be considered. The president was quick to respond that he

would reevaluate the situation in a minute o f a cease-fire is broken.

Thus, Bush's image o f allies in Central America remained similar to those held by

President Reagan- strong verbal and financial support for the democratically elected

government of El Salvador and continued backing o f the counter-revolutionaries in

Nicaragua. The key areas o f distinction between the two presidents, however, lie in the

fact that Reagan was willing to continue to support the Contras at almost any cost,

whereas Bush most certainly was not.

272 "The President's News Conference," 23 August 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-
1993.
273 The Presidents News Conference," 31 October 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-
1993.

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Image o f Adversaries

The transition from Reagan to Bush did not automatically result in a carrying over

o f the same set o f images concerning the United States' main international adversary, the

Soviet Union; or, for that matter, its main regional adversary in Central America, the

Sandinistas. One attribute o f George Bushs personality was that he is a very cautious

man, and the beliefs he held regarding the Soviet Union and the Sandinistas would also

be marked by a heavy degree of caution.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, U.S.-Soviet relations in the closing days of

the Reagan presidency were clearly improving, as evidenced in the series o f top-level

summits between the two heads o f state, including a final meeting at Governors Island,

New York just weeks before Ronald Reagan left office. When George Bush entered the

White House, the flowery rhetoric o f a new era o f detente was replaced with a much

more cautious/skeptical view of the Soviets. Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame, in their

analysis of the Bush presidency, in fact, claim that Bush feared that Reagan might have

been "going soft" on the Soviets during his final years in office. By m id-1988, they write,

Bush was warning the World Affairs Council in Northern California: "the Cold War is

not over" and that the United States should be prepared for an extended period o f

competition with the Soviets.274 At the president's Inaugural, one can clearly see this new

approach when the president states: "we will continue the new closeness with the Soviet

274 Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame, Marching in Place: The Status Quo Presidency o f George Bush (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1992) pp. 178-179.

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Union, consistent with both our security and with progress (emphasis added).275

This skepticism was even more pronounced in the president's first address to a joint

session o f Congress the following month: "the fundamental facts remain that the Soviets

retain a very powerful military machine in the service o f objectives which are still too

often in conflict with ours." Yet, perhaps the clearest indicator o f Bush's new

assessment o f the Soviets came in May 1989 when he proclaimed:

The Soviet Union has promised a more cooperative relationship before, only to

reverse course and return to militarism. Soviet foreign policy has been almost

seasonal: warm before cold, thaw before freeze. We seek a friendship that knows

no season o f suspicion, no chill o f distrust... the national security o f America and

our allies is not predicated on hope. It must be based on deeds, and we look for
777
enduring, ingrained economic and political change.

The reason behind this cautionary image of the Soviets was the fear by Bush and

his closest foreign policy advisors that the Soviets, under Gorbachev, might be engaged

in another propaganda war with the United States. In other words, Bush wanted to ensure

that Soviet actions regarding its promises of perestrokia and glasnost were more than just

promises. Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security advisor, originally questioned the

motivations behind the Soviet reform program. In his memoirs he writes:

275 Inaugural Address," 20 January 1989, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993 "
276 "Address on Administration Goals Before a Joint Session o f Congress, 9 February 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents ofthe
United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
277 "Remarks at the Texas A&M University Commencement in College Station," 12 May 1989, Inaugural Address, 20 January
1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o fth e United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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He believed that Gorbachev's goal was to restore dynamism to a socialist

political and economic system and revitalize the Soviet Union domestically and

internationally to compete with the West. To me, especially before 1990, this

made Gorbachev potentially more dangerous than his predecessors. 278

Thus, the early goal of President Bush, as far as the Soviet Union was concerned, was to

ensure that Gorbachev's acts spoke louder than his words. One policy consequence o f

this skepticism, writes David Mervin, was that Bush ordered a "painstaking five month

long review" in order to reassess the United States approach toward the USSR, which

ultimately delayed the U.S. in taking the lead in improving East-West relations and laid

Bush open to criticism by both the far right o f his own political party and the democratic
/-'i
opposition in Congress. 279

This prudent approach towards the Soviets did not mean, however, that as the

Bush presidency wore on, that his image o f the USSR did not change; in fact, it did,

albeit slowly. Only after it became evident that Gorbachev was indeed serious in pushing

forward his reform agenda, both with words and deeds, at home and in Eastern Europe,

and after he had effectively ended Soviet support for regional clients engaged in

revolutionary activity in the developing world, the president's extreme caution gave way

to a caution o f a much lesser degree. By July 1991, Bush could confidently tell an

audience o f Soviet citizens: "In every respect o f our relationsmilitary, political,

278 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, p. 13.


279 David Mervin, George Bush and the Guardianship Presidency (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998) p. 170.

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economicwe see positive signs o f a new partnership. But for all the progress we've

made, let's face it, obstacles do remain. Our ability to overcome them will be a test o f the
9on
strength o f this new relationship I'm talking about"

Although Bush's image of the Soviet Union may have been subtly transformed

from 1989-1991, his image o f the Sandinista government during his first fourteen months

in the office remained relatively constant. As was the case for Ronald Reagan, Bush

believed that the Sandinistas controlled Nicaragua society with an iron fist and that they

could not be trusted, even though they had agreed in 1987 to abide by the Central

American peace accords, which, among other things, stipulated that the Nicaraguan

government hold fair and free presidential elections in early 1990.

In February 1989, responding to a reporter's request to comment on the

Sandinistas recent agreement with other Central American leaders to move ahead with

plans for the following year's national presidential elections, Bush noted, "To the degree

that rhetoric goes forward and is enacted, that's good. But there's 90 days now in which to

finalize agreements. And what's troubling to me is that claims like this have been made at

one time, only to see those claims repudiated.. .promises made. Promises broken. And so,
n o 1

I think we have to be wary o f supporting any positive commitments to democracy."

Likewise, in a written response to foreign journalists, the president referred to the

Sandinistas as a regime that "seeks to consolidate their totalitarian control and regional

280 "Remarks at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations," 30 July 1991, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
281 "Remarks on Afghanistan and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters," 16 February 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.

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hegemony."282 In other words, for George Bush, the Sandinistas were not only

anathema to all the United States stood for as a country by virtue o f their totalitarian

ideology, but were untrustworthy to boot. The policy consequence of this set o f beliefs

was that it would inhibit greatly the potential for mutually beneficial interactions between

the United States and the Sandinista government in the future. It would not, however,

preclude the possibility o f having the United States support regionally generated peace

initiatives, which would be the key to bringing a peaceful democratic transition in

Nicaragua.

Associated with these core-level beliefs concerning U.S. adversaries in the

context of U.S.-Central American relations are a number o f intermediate-level beliefs

regarding the internal political structure and external dynamics o f these same adversaries.

Despite the efforts o f Gorbachev to reform the internal political structure o f the Soviet

Union, Bush and his advisors still questioned how much political change had actually

taken place. The prevailing view, at least early on within the administration, was that the

Soviet Union still had a very long way to go before it could be considered in any

sense"democratic." In fact, Bush and Scowcroft both agreed that Gorbachev was using

elections merely to consolidate his hold on the Soviet government apparatus and to put

pressure on recalcitrant members of the Communist Party who were opposing his agenda

o f reforms.283 They believed it to be chimerical that power in any sense rested with the

Soviet people.

282 Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Xinhua News Agency o f China," 16 February 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
283 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, p. 140-141.

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Beliefs concerning the internal political structure o f the Sandinistas were even

less flattering. As was the case for Ronald Reagan, the Sandinista government

represented for George Bush a repressive government unwilling to give its citizens their

God-given rights of political expression and self-determination. In February 1989, Bush

told a foreign news agency that in Nicaragua: "the press and church remain harassed",

"political opponents are jailed" and the government insists on maintaining "the largest

army in Central America."284 By October 1989, Bush had resorted to referring to the

Sandinista government as a "military clique," led by a "little man who is out o f whack

with the rest o f the hemisphere."285 At one point, in response to a journalist's question as

to what he thought of Daniel Ortega's (the President o f Nicaragua) decision to wear Army

fatigues to a meeting o f U.S. and Latin American countries to discuss the peace process

in Central America, Bush replied that Ortega looked like an "unwanted animal at a

garden party."286 Clearly, the image President Bush possessed of the internal political

structure and leaders o f Nicaragua was not very favorable.

A larger concern on the part o f President Bush was how the Soviet Union and

Nicaragua's internal political structure contributed to certain types of external behavior.

The logic behind the hypothesis held by Bush, and Reagan before him, was quite simple:

the less democratic a state was internally, the greater the chances that it could engage in

aggressive external behavior. One o f the leading reasons for Bushs continued suspicion

284 "Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Xinhua News Agency o f China," 16 February 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United Slates: George Bush. 1989-1993.
285 Interview with Latin American Journalists, 25 October 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George
Bush. 1989-1993.
286 "The President's News Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica," 28 October 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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o f the Soviets was their unwillingness to end support for third world revolutionary

governments and insurgent movements, especially in Central America. In the context o f

this particular region, the belief held by Bush was that the Soviets, often times by proxy

through Cuba, were actively supporting the Nicaraguan government, which in turn was

fomenting revolutionary activity in the region, especially in neighboring El Salvador.

Both George Bush and Brent Scowcroft claim that it was this issue- the Soviets

continued support for revolutionary activity in Central America- that remained the

biggest thom in U.S.-Soviet relations throughout the early Bush administration.287

While president, Bush commented on the Soviet-Cuban-Sandinista connection in

March 1989 and the problem this posed for the status of U.S.-Soviet relations: "The

Soviet Union has an obligation and an opportunity to demonstrate its "new thinking." In

other regional conflicts, it's adopted a welcome new approach, but in Central America,

what we've seen to date is "old thinking."288 By May 1989, the president was calling on

the Soviets:

To end Soviet-bloc support for the Nicaraguan assault on regional democracy.

The United States ended military aid to the Nicaraguan resistance 2 year ago.

And, yet, since that time, the Soviets continue to funnel about a billion worth o f

military assistance a year to the Sandinista regime, about the same rate as before

we stopped our military aid to the contras...The Soviet Union must understand

2S7 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft. A World Transformed, p. 134.


288 "The President's News Conference," 24 March 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-
1993.

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that we hold it accountable for the consequences o f this intervention and for

the progress towards peace in the region and democracy in Nicaragua.

In a similar vein, Bush perceived that the Sandinista government was exporting

revolution. As early as 1985, in a speech delivered to the Austin Council on Foreign

Affairs, then vice-president Bush claimed that the government of Nicaragua was run by a

small cadre o f Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries bent on "the creation o f little Cubas

throughout the region."290 Quoting directly from a series o f statements made by high-

level Sandinista officials, Bush attempted to illustrate the danger posed by the Sandinista

regime to regional stability:

Tomas Borge, Nicaraguan Minister of the Interior, has stated from the beginning,

This revolution goes beyond our borders. Our revolution was always

internationalist...O r Nicaraguas Miguel D Escoto, who described how the

Sandinistas view Central America: You {the U.S.} may look at us as five

countries, six with Panama, but we regard ourselves as six different states o f a

single nation, in the process o f reunification. ...Nicaraguas ambassador to Costa

Rica spelled it out more clearly. He said that the Costa Ricans, should they call on

289 "Remarks to the Council o f Americas, 2 May 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-
1993.
290 Excerpts from Remarks by Vice-President George Bush, 28 February 1985, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection,
Document # IC00893.

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153
the OAS to help them in the event o f an invasion, would not have time to

convoke an OAS meeting, because by that time they would have been

occupied.291

In a statement made the following month, Bush again linked together the dangers

associated with a regime characterized by the U.S. as internally repressive and externally

ambitious: As long as the Sandinistas impose totalitarian rule and ally themselves with

the c o m m unist/terrorist nations, as long as the Nicaraguan military buildup far exceeds

that countrys defensive needs, there will be instability.292 Finally, in a letter to the

bishop of his diocese in 1986, Bush claims that the Sandinistas: have refused to "stop

exporting subversion to their neighbors; they have refused to "reduce their bloated

military apparatus;" they have refused to "sever their military ties to Cuba and the Soviet

bloc;" they have refused "to honor their promises to the Organization o f American states

to establish a democratic, pluralistic political system;" and they have refused to "begin a
293
genuine dialogue covering the entire political system in Nicaragua."

As president, Bushs beliefs remained relatively unaltered. In announcing the

Bipartisan Accord on Central America, an executive/legislative agreement to continue

providing the Contras with humanitarian assistance up until the scheduled presidential

elections in Nicaragua, President Bush summarized the position he would take toward the

government of Nicaragua: "the burden of proof is on the Sandinista government to do

something it has steadfastly refused to do from 1979-1989: to keep its promises to the

291 Ibid.
292 Statement: Comayagua, Honduras, 16 March 1985, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection, Document # IC00949.
293 George Bush, All the Best: M y Life in Letters and Other Writings. (New York: Scribner, 1999) p. 348.

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Nicaraguan people to perm it real democracy, keep its promises not to support

subversion in Central America, and keep its obligation to thus hemisphere not to permit

the establishment o f Soviet-bloc bases in Central America."294 For the next 11 months,

President Bush would remain skeptical of Sandinista intentions until it became evident

that they would indeed accept their electoral defeat in the February 1990 presidential

elections.

The Fundamental Nature o f International Politics

The overall image that George Bush possessed o f the nature of international

politics was that this was an arena characterized by uncertainty, unpredictability, and,

oftentimes, instability. Like most men of his generation, the guiding framework o f

international politics in the post-World War II era was the East-West competition

between the Soviet Union and United States, respectively. Upon taking over the

presidency in 1989, this bipolar competition was still the predominant theme in

international politics and did indeed shape many o f Bush's beliefs concerning

international politics, as it had all of the earlier post-war presidents. Yet within a span of

three short years, the Cold War would effectively be over and democratization and free

market economics would break through the former iron curtain. These tremendous

294 "Statement on the Bipartisan Accord on Central America," 24 March 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o fth e United States:
George Bush, 1989-1993.

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155
changes would make a president who already possessed a cautious personality even

more careful in responding to the vast transformations that were taking place

internationally.

Two themes in particular emerge from Bush's public and private statements

concerning the nature of international politics: the danger o f a world system in flux

coupled with a profound hope for the establishment o f a new world order. James A.

Baker EH, Bush's Secretary of State, captures the beliefs he shared with the president

regarding the international arena, calling it "a world laden with hope and opportunity, as

well as peril and uncertainty, for American diplomacy." 296 Very early on in his

administration, Bush, in responding to a foreign news agency's question concerning his

general assessment on the current world situation said: "the one constant in today's world

is change.. .our world still is a tumultuous and dangerous place."297 By M ay 1989, the

president told the graduating class o f Boston University that in the world today: "nations

are undergoing changes so radical that the international system you know in the future

will be as different from today's world as is from the time o f Woodrow W ilson."298 Bush

could not have realized how true this statement would turn out to be. At the end o f 1989,

Eastern Europe had been transformed from an integral part of the Soviet empire to a

295 Both George Bush and Brent Scowcroft in the introduction to their memoirs acknowledge these points.- A World Transformed, pp.
xi-xiv.
295 James A. Baker III with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics o f Diplomacy: Revolution. War. and Peace. 1989-1992 (New York:
G.P. Putnams Sons, 1995) p. 2.
297 "Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Xinhua News Agency o f China," 16 February 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
298 "Remarks at the Boston University Commencement Ceremony in Massachusetts," 21 May 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents
o f the United States: George Bush 1989-1993.

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156
series o f newly emerging democracies and the Soviet Union itself had begun to turn

inward to deal with its own problems.

With the collapse o f the old order based primarily on East-West competition came

the challenges of the new world order. At a speech on 2 August 1990, President Bush

admits that despite the vast changes in the strategic landscape over the past year-and-a-

half, a whole new set o f challenges emerged: "Even in a world where democracy and

freedom have made great gains, threats remain. Terrorism, hostage-taking, renegade

regimes and unpredictable rulers, new sources o f instability-all require a strong and

engaged America. 299 And, at his 1990 State o f the Union, Bush admits: "we must

recognize an unfortunate fact: In many regions o f the world tonight, the reality is conflict,

not peace."300

Moreover, skepticism regarding Soviet intentions remained. In fact, despite the

tremendous changes taking place throughout Europe in 1989 and 1990, which did require

Soviet acquiescence, Brent Scowcroft was very reluctant to claim that the Cold War was

over. Writes Scrowcroft: "There was much left to resolve with the Soviets before I would

be comfortable saying they were no longer adversaries, but a giant forward step had been

taken.301 Continued Soviet involvement in Central America worried both Scowcroft and

Bush. Both the president and his national security advisor noted that the biggest thorn in

299 "Remarks at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado," 2 August 1990, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United States:
George Bush. 1989-1993.
300 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union," 3 1 January 1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f
the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
301 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, p. 181.

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US-Soviet relations remained Central America, where the Soviets still supported their

client Nicaragua and, through it and Cuba, the guerrillas in El Salvador.302

It would be in response to these new and old challenges that Bush believed a new

world order could be forged. What would this new world order entail? For Bush, the new

world order would be an era "freer from the threat o f terror, stronger in the pursuit o f

justice, and more secure in the quest for peace." It would be an international environment

where "the rule o f law supplants the rule o f the jungle. A world in which nations

recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong

respect the rights o f the weak."303 The president put it somewhat differently in his 1991

State of the Union: "a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in

common cause to achieve the universal aspirations o f mankindpeace and security,

freedom, and the rule o f law."304 Yet, how could these goals be achieved? The answer

could be found in a set o f important intermediate beliefs held by President Bush

regarding the requirements for peace.

George Bush, like Ronald Reagan, firmly believed that the most effective way to

maintain international peace was to have military strength at home and a relatively active

United States engaged abroad. Bush says as much in early 1989, stating: "balance has

been restored in the international system by a Western policy o f strength and realism. "j05

In other words, peace would come through internal military and economic strength and

302 Ibid. 134.


303 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the Persian G u lf Crisis and the Federal Budget Deficit," 11 September 1990,
Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United Stales: George Bush. 1989-1993.
304 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union," 29 January 1991, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f
the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
305 Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Xinhua News Agency o f China," 16 February 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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158
an activist United States. The president drove home this point in his final State o f the

Union: "strength in the pursuit o f peace is no vice; isolationism in the pursuit o f security

is no virtue."306 The United States, Bush believed, should reject any notion o f an

isolationist foreign policy. Unlike Ronald Reagan, however, George Bush, in the conduct

o f his foreign policy would eschew ideology in favor o f a "cold, hard decision making

guided by the perceived national interest."307 As Bert Rockman put it, George Bush

would approach foreign policy-making, especially coalition building, from the standpoint

o f shared threats rather than shared values a la Reagan.308 Bushs foreign policy would be

guided by focusing on threats to U.S. interests and collaborating with other states to meet

desired ends rather than emphasizing the internal political ideology o f potential allies or

adversaries.

One o f the earliest manifestations o f this Realpolitik approach was the need to

integrate the Soviets into the international system, rather than to contain them. On 12

May 1989, in perhaps one the most important foreign policy speeches o f the Bush

administration, the president laid out the new U.S. approach toward the Soviets:

We are approaching the conclusion o f an historic postwar struggle between two

visions: one o f tyranny and conflict and one o f democracy and freedom. The

review o f U.S -Soviet relations that my administration has just completed outlines

306 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on the State o f the Union," 28 January 1992, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f
the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
307 Daniel P. Franklin and Robert Shepard, "Is Prudence a Policy? George Bush and the World," in Ryan J. Barilleaux and Mary E.
Stuckey, eds.. Leadership and the Bush Presidency: Prudence or Drift in an Era o f Change? (Westport, CN: Praeger Publishers,
1992) p. 172
308 Bert A. Rockman, "The Leadership Style o f George Bush, " in Colin Campbell and Bert A. Rockman, eds., The Bush Presidency:
First Appraisals (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1991) p. 16.

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159
a new path toward resolving this struggle...In sum, the United States now has

as its goal much more than simply containing Soviet expansionism. We seek the

integration o f the Soviet Union into the community o f nations... As we seek

peace, we must also remain strong. The purpose o f our military might is not to

pressure a weak Soviet economy or to seek military superiority. It is to deter war.

It is to defend ourselves and our allies and to do something more: to convince the

Soviet Union that there can be no reward in pursuing expansionism, to convince

the Soviet Union that reward lies in the pursuit o f peace.309

The message of the speech is clear: the United States and its Western allies must work

more closely with the Soviets in the years ahead to ensure international peace and

stability.

One way to integrate the Soviets even more closely with the West, and to promote

the cause o f peace at the same time, was to continue to make progress in arms limitations.

But, there was an even more important message implied in the speech: the United States

must remain an active member o f the international community in order for this goal to be

met.

What this required in practice was that the United States, despite a receding threat

from the Soviet Union, would need to maintain its alliance commitments to ensure

international stability and peace. In his remarks to the graduating class at Boston

University in May 1989, Bush announces his administration's new policy toward Europe:

309 "Remarks at the Texas A&M University Commencement Ceremony in College Station," 12 May 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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160

While an ideological earthquake is shaking asunder the very Communist

foundation, the West is being tested by complacency. We must never forget that

twice in this century American blood has been shed over the conflicts that began

in Europe. And we share the fervent desire o f Europeans to relegate war forever

to the province o f distant memory. But that is why the Atlantic Alliance is so

central to our foreign policy. And that's why America remains committed to the

alliance and the strategy which has preserved freedom in Europe. We must never

forget that to keep the peace in Europe is to keep the peace for America.310

A logical extension o f the continued U.S. commitment to its previous alliance partners in

Europe would be that America would also begin to shore up its other alliances around the

world, particularly in Central America. Although no official "alliance" existed, outside o f

the U.S. commitment to the Organization o f American States (OAS), Bush over time

came to see the necessity o f working with our traditional allies in the region to come to a

peaceful settlement to the continuing crisis.

Aside from a need to incorporate the Soviets into the international community and

the need to maintain alliance commitments, Bush possessed an additional intermediate

belief concerning the prerequisites for peace that suggested that unwarranted aggression

o f one nation-state against another nation-state would not be tolerated. It goes without

saying that the most dramatic foreign policy event o f the Bush administration was the

310 "Remarks at the Boston University Commencement Ceremony in Massachusetts, 21 May 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents
o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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161
crisis that developed in the Persian G ulf in the summer o f 1990. After Iraqi President

Saddam Hussein ordered his Revolutionary Guard to occupy Kuwait, George Bush

immediately took action by convincing leaders throughout the international community,

including, most importantly, Saudi Arabia that an international response was necessary.

The United States would take the first active step in response to these events by

requesting from the Saudi government permission to send U.S. forces into the kingdom,

(which the president ultimately did receive) in an effort to deter Saddam from sending his

troops southward. The rationale for Bush's early actions was based on a set o f beliefs that

he announced to the nation on 8 August 1990 when he stated: "if history teaches us

anything, it is that we m ust resist aggression or it will destroy our freedoms.

Appeasement does not work."311 And appease Saddam, George Bush certainly did not.

By March 1991, the crisis ended and the Iraqi Army was forced out o f Kuwait.

The United States had sent nearly 550,000 troops into battle with the resulting death toll
3p
o f over 150 Americans and at a cost o f over 7 billion for this country alone.

Taken together, then, George Bush's beliefs concerning the nature o f international

politics was typified by the idea that the vast changes taking place at the international

level from 1988-1992 made the international arena one o f great uncertainty, but also great

possibility. In order for some semblance o f stability and peace to emerge from these

transformations, Bush believed that the United States needed to actively integrate its

311 "Address to the Nation Announcing the Deployment o f United States Armed Forces to Saudi Arabia," Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
312 These figures were taken from W alter LaFeber*s, The American Age: U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad: 1750 to the
Present (New York: Norton, 1994) 2nd edition, p. 765.

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162
former rival, the Soviet Union, into the community o f Western nations, while

maintaining its former alliance commitments and checking cases o f international

aggression.

The Flow o f History

The general dichotomy that is often drawn when assessing a leader's beliefs

concerning historical developments is whether or not they believe that individual free will

supercedes notions of historical determinism. George Bush, like Ronald Reagan,

fervently believed that individual citizens in general and political leaders in particular

have and should continue to shape historical events. With respect to the changes that

were taking place around the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the overarching

belief on the part of President Bush was that the United States should assist in managing

the change from totalitarian political and economic systems to political and economic

systems characterized by democracy and free markets. But, the key idea would be to

assist the countries in transition, and, not to have the United States dominating the

process.313

Reflecting back on some o f the changes that had taken place around the world

under his stewardship, Bush, at the 1992 Republican National Convention, told the

cheering throng of party supporters that the United States won the Cold War, not because

o f some inevitable historical forces, but because o f tough choices made by American

313 There were o f course exceptions to this tendency, namely U.S. military intervention in Panama in 1989 and the use of force in the
G ulf crisis in 1990-1991. The Panama anomaly will be discussed at the end o f chapter 5.

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163
leaders. In his address, Bush triumphantly declared: "The demise o f communism

wasn't a sure thing. It took strong leadership o f Presidents from both parties, including

Republicans like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Without their vision and the support

o f the American people, the Soviet Union would be a strong superpower today, and we'd

be facing a nuclear threat tonight."314

Secretary o f State James Baker echoes the president's views in his memoirs,

claiming that the Bush administration was in large part responsible for harnessing,

shaping, and managing those "seismic geopolitical changes in the strategic interests of

our country."315 Yet, as Brent Scowcroft cautions, U.S. policies were not necessarily the

leading cause behind these changes, but rather were ones that provided solid

encouragement to countries in transition and allowed the United States to react in

effective ways to changing circumstances.316

The true cause behind the vast changes taking place around the world at this time,

Bush and Scowcroft would argue-as Reagan did before them- was the yearning o f

individual citizens for freedom. And, when given a choice, they believed people would

choose freedom over tyranny. The president emphasizes this point in February, 1989: "It

is my strongly held conviction that when people are given the chance they will inevitably

choose a free press, freedom o f worship, and certifiably free elections."317 Perhaps the

best example o f this belief came later in a speech the president delivered to the citizens of

314 "Remarks Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Republican National Convention in Houston," 20 August 1992, Public
Papers o f the Presidents o f the United Stales: George Bush. 1989-1993.
3 15 James A. Baker III with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics o f Diplomacy: Revolution. War, and Peace. 1989-1992. p . xiv.
316 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, pp. 180-181.
317 "Address on Administration Goals Before a Joint Session o f Congress," 9 February 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the
United States: George Bush. 1989-1993

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164
Mainz, Germany. Bush likened the spirit o f freedom to a flower, which during the

Cold War was frozen and could not grow. When the Cold W ar began to thaw, however,

the flower blossomed and the passion for freedom spread throughout the world like

pollen in the wind.318 Simply put, Bush believed that as more and more people became

aware o f the benefits o f freedom, they would demand that their free will be unhampered

by the state.319

It is quite obvious that George Bush believed that man had a significant degree o f

control over historical developments. But he also held a number o f intermediate-level

beliefs that related current trends to larger historical patterns. First and foremost among

these was the belief that once the tide o f democracy has begun to flow, it is virtually

unstoppable. This theme is evident in the president's Inaugural Address:

I come before you and assume the presidency at a moment rich with

prom ise...For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems

reborn. For in man's heart, if not in fact, the day o f the dictator is over. The

totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient

lifeless tree. A new breeze is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands

ready to push on.

318 "Remarks to the Citizens o f Mainz, Federal Republic o f Germany, 31 May 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush, 1989-1993
319 This idea can be found in President Bushs "Remarks and a Question and Answer Session with Members o f the American Society
o f Newspaper Editors," 6 April 1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
320 "Inaugural Address," 20 January 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993

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165
In the context o f democratization in Central America, Bush, in October 1989,

reiterates this theme, perhaps in an even more forthright manner: "The world has watched

in wonder as brave men and women have taken to the streets to proclaim their rights, to

proclaim a faith in democracy. Some governments respond with reform, some with

repression, but there is no longer any doubt which side history is on. The day o f the

despot, the day o f the dictatorover, finished."321

Bush did acknowledge, however, that there was a holdout in the region: Cuba. But

even with respect to this country, Bush remained optimistic. At a ceremony

commemorating Cuban Independence Day, he noted: "the thirst for democracy is

unquenchable. Ajid totalitarian systems everywhere are feeling new pressures from the

people...And so dont tell me that Cubans don't want freedom and democracy; they do.

And I challenge Fidel Castro to let the will of the people prevail."322

Concomitant with the trend toward worldwide democracy was the demise o f

Soviet-led communism. In a personal letter to Prince Saruddin Khan, Bush comments

that the Soviet system is clearly on the wane and that "it's democracy that's on the

march."323 Likewise, in October 1989, Bush told a group o f Latin American journalists:

"Marx's star is fading, not just in this hemisphere but look at Eastern Europe, look around

the whole w orld...and human rights are rising up, and pluralism is coming on."324 Yet

321 "The President's News Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, 28 October 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
322 "Remarks on the Observance o f Cuban Independence Day, 22 May 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o fth e United States:
George Bush, 1989-1993
323 George Bush, A ll the Best, George Bush: M y Life in Letters and other Writings, p. 416
324 "Interview with Latin American Journalists," 25 October 1989, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United Stales: George
Bush. 1989-1993.

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Bush saved his most memorable comments regarding the fail o f communism for a

speech he would deliver at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London,

Connecticut:

We live in a time when we are witnessing the end o f an idea: the final chapter of

the C ommunist experiment. Communism is now recognized, even by many within

the Communist world itself, as a failed system, one that promised economic

prosperity but failed to deliver the goods, a system that built a wall between the

people and their personal aspirations. But the eclipse o f Communism is only one

half of the story o f our time. The other is the ascendancy o f the democratic idea.

Never before, has an idea o f freedom so captured the imaginations of men and

women the world over, and never before has the hope o f freedom beckoned so

m any... Everywhere those voices are speaking the language o f democracy and

freedom. And we hear them, and the world hears them. And America will do all it

can do to encourage them.

In addition to the onward march of democracy and the collapse of Marxism, Bush

also believed that a trend toward interdependence between nation-states was emerging.

This belief would become manifest throughout his time in office as seen in his

willingness to work with others nation-states in handling a whole host of military,

325 "Remarks at the United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement Ceremony in New London, Connecticut, 24 May 1989,
Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993

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167
political, economic, and diplomatic challenges. Bush comments on the necessity of

interdependence in a meeting o f the Small Business Legislative Council: "More than

ever, the world is interconnected, interdependent, changing rapidly...More than any point

in our human history, societies and economies rely upon one another."327

Thus, one can discern from Bush's public and private statements-as was the case

with Ronald Reagan-that he believed that individuals could indeed play a key role in

guiding historical forces. And, it was the quest for freedom and, ultimately, the actions

taken on the part o f formerly repressed individuals that best explain the vast changes that

took place in the international arena in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The trends that

would emerge during this time frame would be those o f burgeoning democratization,

weakened communism, and increased interdependence.

The Nature o f Change

A persuasive argument can be made that the most significant difference between

the respective worldviews o f Ronald Reagan and George Bush were their set o f beliefs

concerning the nature o f change and the means to be used to either lead or respond to

change. Ronald Reagan was the swashbuckling Republican, the anti-government radical,

who came to Washington in a quest to stir things up at home and to lead the United States

326 George Bush's handling o f the Persian G ulf crisis, the Two-Plus-Four solution to German reunification, the utilization ofG -7
summits to help manage European economic integration, and a willing to work with Central American governments to resolve its
regional crisis are all good examples o f the president's propensity to work collectively with others to solve military, political,
economic, and diplomatic problems.
327 "Remarks to Members o f the Small Business Legislative Council, " I March 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush, 1989-1993

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back to its rightful place atop the international pyramid. Reagan sought to create

change, not respond to it. By way o f contrast, writes political scientist Nelson Polsby,

President Bush was an American Tory. Tories, in the British political tradition, are

politicians who are deeply conservative and cautious by nature, who "care about society

and government that is handed to them" and, whose principal desire is "to keep the boat

afloat." 328 A Tory's instinct is to maintain order, to defend the status quo, and, above all

else, to avoid making mistakes. Bush possessed a personality that could be characterized

as cautious and held a set o f beliefs regarding how to deal with change that could be

classified as being quite cautious as well. In taking over for Ronald Reagan, George Bush

was determined to keep the legacy o f his predecessor alive, but he was unwilling to set

off on an entirely new course o f action on his own.

When it comes to responding to dramatic change, writes David Mervin, the Tory

tends to be averse to radical solutions, while at the same time fearing the potential

instability and unpredictability o f the change itself.329 George Bush was the embodiment

of the American Tory. He believed that change occurred in a very unpredictable fashion.

To a gathering o f news reporters in October 1989, Bush noted that the transformations

then taking place in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and elsewhere around the globe

were indeed quite dynamic and that he wanted to handle them "properly." Properly, for

Bush, meant cautiously.

The president was willing to admit the following February that he was certainly

not "smart enough to predict for fact-certain" the changes that had taken place over the

328 Quoted in Duffy and Goodgame, Marching in Place: The Status Quo Presidency o f George Busk, p.64
329 David Mervin, George Bush and the Guardianship Presidency, pp. 158-159.

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past year.330 James Baker felt similarly, pointing out that the United States was

entering into a period o f "revolutionary change" and that no one could possibly foresee

how dramatic these changes would be.331

In large part because o f these uncertainties, the president and his advisors began

to declare that the enemy no longer was the Soviet Union, but rather "the enemy was

unpredictability;" the enemy was instability." Duffy and Goodgame suggest that

Bushs biggest fear was a breakdown in the stability that had kept the peace during four

decades of the Cold War. In a very nice juxtaposition o f the differences between the way

Bush responded to changes then taking place in Eastern Europe and the way Ronald

Reagan would have, the authors write: Bushs soberness was particularly striking in

contrast with what everyone, not least his aides, knew would have been the response of

his predecessor. Ronald Reagan would have tapped into the national and global mood o f

uplift....But George Bush, the foreign policy pro, concentrated prudently on what could

go wrong.333

On perhaps the most symbolic day on post-war era, 9 November 1989, when

border restrictions were relaxed between east and west Berlin, Bushs conservatism again

came to the surface. In response to a reporters question about how the United States was

planning to respond to these momentous events, the president stated:

330 "Joint News Conference Following Discussions With Chancellor Helmut Kohl o f the Federal Republic o f Germany, 25 February
1990, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United Slates: George Bush. 1989-1993.
331 James A. Baker III with Thomas De Frank, The Politics o f Diplomacy, p. 30
332 "Joint News Conference Following Discussions With Chancellor Helmut Kohl o f the Federal Republic o f Germany, 25 February
1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
333 Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame, M arching in Place, p. 187.

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We are handling it in a way where we are not trying to give anybody a hard

time. W ere saluting those who can move forward with democracy. We are

encouraging the concept o f a Europe whole and free. And so, we ju st welcome it.

But I dont like to go into a lot o f hypotheses about too much change or too rapid

change or what Ill do, what our whole team here would do, if something went

wrong.334

In a follow up question, when asked why he did not seem elated at these incredible turn

o f events, Bush responded: I am not an emotional kind o f guy. The president did,

however, acknowledge:

Im very pleased. And Ive been very pleased with a lot o f other developments.

And, as Ive told you, I think the United States part o f this, which is not related to

this development today particularly, is being handled in a proper fashion. And

well have some thatll suggest more flamboyant courses o f actions for this

country, and were, I think, handling this properly with allies, staying in close

touch with this dynamic change try to help as development takes place, try to

enhance reform, both political and economic. And so, the fact that Im not

bubbling overmaybe its getting toward evening, because I feel pretty good

about it.335

334 "Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session with Reporters on the Relaxation o f East German Border Controls, 9 November
1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United Slates: George Bush, /989-1993.
335 Ibid.

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171
Dramatic change was most certainly in the air. Yet the question that remained

was how the president would deal with these changes. Unlike Reagan, President Bush

would not lead the way in promoting change, but instead, he would respond

conservatively to the changes that were then taking place, as he most clearly did when the

Berlin wall was finally tom down.

George Bush possessed a fairly diverse set of beliefs regarding what was required

to manage, or respond to change. O f course, the predominant international transformation

then taking place was the shift to democracy and free market economies in Eastern

Europe and the Soviet Union. Bush would approach these changes incrementally and

with utter caution. His motto for responding to these changes was announced in February

1990 at a luncheon hosted by the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco: "I think we can

avoid doing dumb things."336 This response to a reporter's query on how he planned to

help Gorbachev deal with the transformations occurring in Eastern Europe and at home,

although seemingly a facetious comment at first glance, fits quite well within the

framework of "Tory" beliefs, whose adherents champion the motto: "do no harm."

By the end o f the month, Bush was telling reporters that the United States and

Soviet Union should not remove their forces from Europe, repeating an earlier statement

that the enemy is instability and unpredictability as this rapid change continues to unfold

inside the Soviet Union and inside Eastern Europe.337 In March, at yet another news

336 "Remarks and a Question and A nswer Session at a Luncheon Hosted by the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California, 7
February 1990. Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
337 Joint News Conference Following Discussions with Chancellor Helmut Kohl o f the Federal Republic o f Germany, 25 February
1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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172
conference, the president stated: You know, I get askedthe question is, who is the
M O

enemy? And I answer: uncertainty, unpredictability.

In practice, Bush believed that he could assist Gorbachev at home by verbally

supporting the General Secretarys reforms o f perestroika and glasnost, while promising

economic and technological assistance in the future if political and economic reforms

continued apace in the Soviet Union. His administrations plan for dealing with changes

in the Soviet empire, writes Bush, was to keep up pressure for positive incremental

change, while at the same time refraining from inflammatory rhetoric o f the W ests Cold

W ar victory that might set back the cause o f freedom throughout the Soviet Union rather

than move it forward.339 It is hard to imagine Ronald Reagan making these statements if

the Soviet Union has collapsed under his watch.

As for responding to change in Eastern Europe, Bush was more specific as to

what was necessary to maintain stability. For this region, he would use increased

economic ties with the United States to recognize the reforms already under way, but also

to encourage greater reforms in the future. Brent Scowcroft suggests that George Bush

believed that the most effective way to respond to the changes occurring in the Soviet

sphere o f influence was to focus on Eastern Europe, which reflected the presidents view

that the most likely course of events in the Soviet bloc would be a gradual loosening of

bonds with Moscow and an increasing tolerance for deviation from Leninist-Stalinist

dogmatism.340

338 The Presidents News Conference Following Discussions with Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu o f Japan in Palm Springs,
California, 3 March 1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
339 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, pp. 180, 207.
340 Ibid. p. 48.

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In his remarks to the citizens o f Hamtramck, Michigan on 17 April 1989, the

president announced his new policy toward Eastern Europe. The president said he would

be willing to grant Eastern European countries access to our "General System o f

Preferences," which would allow selective tariff relief to beneficiary countries.

Additionally, Bush would request that the U.S. Congress authorize the Overseas Private

Investment Corporation to operate in this region, thereby encouraging U.S. firms to

cooperate with private investors in Eastern Europe.341 The logic behind these ideas was

that the greater the economic ties between the United States and Eastern Europe, the

more likely America would be able to control the pace o f reform, thereby helping to

prevent instability in the region and the potential o f a Soviet backlash.

Responding to the changes taking place in Central America would require yet

another set o f tools. In this region, Bush would pursue his goal o f advancing hemispheric

democratization by combining U.S. support for regional diplomatic initiatives, offering

economic/humanitarian assistance to the counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua and allied

governments in the region, and continuing the former administration's economic pressure

on the Sandinista government. It was with respect to how he would handle the changes

taking place in El Salvador and Nicaragua that George Bush would differ most

dramatically from Ronald Reagan, especially their different perspectives on the viability

o f negotiations in bringing an end to these crises.

This overall response package chosen by President Bush was indicative o f his

rather conservative beliefs concerning how to respond to change. It also dovetailed nicely

341 "Remarks to the Citizens in Hamtramck, Michigan," 17 April 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o fth e United States: George
Bush, 1989-1993. Although the speech at Hamtramck dealt primarily with U.S.-Poiish relations, the same economic linkages would be
used with other Eastern European countries as they moved down the road o f reform.

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with his national-self image o f the United States. Unlike Reagan, Bush would

ultimately be willing to have other regional actors take the lead in finding a solution to

the regional crisis, namely, through the Contadora peace process. However, the United

States would still remain an active participant, albeit not as active as during the Reagan

years. In essence, the United States would lend a helping hand to peace by staying on the

sidelines o f the Contadora negotiations, while putting pressure on various actors who

were trying to scuttle a potential peace accord. Once the regional actors had brokered

an agreement, the United States would then respond. Thus, one finds Bush believing in

the necessity of helping others establish peace, which fits well within his national self-

image, but not having the United States as involved militarily or economically as had

been the case during the Reagan presidency, which fits nicely within his set of beliefs

regarding how to respond to change.

When Ronald Reagan left office, so toe did the calls for an active military

solution to the crisis in Central America, especially in Nicaragua. This was the most

fundamental difference in the foreign policy approach taken by the two presidents.

George Bush realized that the probability o f having Congress continue to support the

Contras with military assistance was very low. And, even if the president could squeeze

some military aid out o f the Congress for the Contras, the political capital that he would

need to expend, he believed, would be far too great. As mentioned previously, Bush

acknowledged: there was no way, not a snowballs chance in hell, o f getting a dime for

342 Consult chapter 5 for a detailed discussion o f the Bush response to the Contadora peace process.

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lethal aid-m ilitary aidfrom Congress, in order to assist the Contra program. 343 So,

instead o f pursuing U.S. interests militarily, Bush would promote peace and democracy

for the entire region by supporting the peace accord signed by all the Central American

Presidents in 1987, which not surprisingly was also supported by a majority in the U.S.

Congress. In short, Bush, unlike Reagan, was willing to work with both the United States

Congress and Central American leaders to find a solution to the crises in El Salvador and

Nicaragua.

Prior to the formal announcement o f the Bipartisan Accord on Central America,

Bush told a gathering o f news reporters that the United States shares with the people of

Central America the goals of democracy, security, and peace, and that in order to meet

the challenge o f realizing these goals, we must work together with Latin American

democratic leaders, as well as our European friends.344 At the official announcement of

the bipartisan agreement, Bush noted: "The United States supports the peace and

democratization process and the goals o f the Central American Presidents embodied in

the Esquipulus Accord."345 Esquipulas II, as it became known, called for, among other

things, that all insurgent forces reintegrate voluntarily and peacefully into their

homelands under safe and democratic conditions.

Unlike President Reagan, Bush and his advisors did in fact believe that a regional

peace agreement, generated by Central American leaders, might be a key to solving the

343 Remarks and a Question-and-Answer at a White House Luncheon for Journalists, 31 March 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
344 The Presidents News Conference, 24 March 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-
1993.
345 "Bipartisan Accord on Central America," 24 March 1989, Public Papers o fth e Presidents o f the United States: George Bush,
1989-1993.

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regional crisis, especially in Nicaragua and El Salvador. This idea o f allowing others

to decide their own political fate with minimal interference from the United States fits

quite nicely with Bushs cautious approach to change and distinguishes his foreign

approach from Ronald Reagans.

The need to respond to change with caution represented not only a key foreign

policy belief, but was also an important feature o f President Bushs personality. In

response to a foreign news agencys question asking whether the United States would

actively make use of its influence in Central America to help promote a peaceful

resolution to the crises, the president responded: In Central America, the United States

government continues to support the Esquipulas II agreement in all o f its provisions,

which include provision for democratic freedom o f press; labor rights; freedom for

opposition groups to organize, hold meeting, demonstrations, etc. We believe that all

commitments including those of democracy, must be complied with if there is to be

lasting peace in the region.346

Secretary of State Baker agreed with the president. In testimony before Congress,

Baker stated that a new approach in Central America, especially toward the crisis in El

Salvador was needed: We believe this is the year to end the war through a negotiated

settlement which guarantees safe political space for all Salvadorans.347 Terry Lynn Karl

suggests that dropping the prior administrations demands for defeating the FMLN

militarily represented a decisive reversal of U.S. policy.348

Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Xinhua New Agency o f China, 16 February 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f
the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
347 Quoted in Terry Lynn Karl, El Salvadors Negotiated Revolution, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 2, p. 150.
348 Ibid.

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At a meeting with Alfredo Cristiani in July 1991, it was Bush who told the

Salvadoran President: Mr. President, difficult steps lie ahead. But the world understands

your commitment to peace, and democracy. The United States and the international

community fully support your efforts for peace, and , will support sound peace accords in

yo ur brave land (emphasis added).349

In a fundamental departure from the Reagan foreign policy toward Nicaragua,

President Bush, in National Security Directive-8, stressed that the first point o f strategy

for dealing with the Sandinista government and the Contra resistance was to seek an

active diplomatic solution to the conflict (emphasis added). Bush, in signing NSD-8,

argued that the first priority o f the United States is to engage in active diplomacy on a

sustained basis for a democratic opening in Nicaragua. We should move toward direct

involvement in negotiations among the five Central American countries. Bilateral

relations with Nicaragua are not excluded, but should be held in reserve.. .and undertaken

only at my direction and in consultation with the Central American democracies and the

internal opposition.350 Clearly, Bushs willingness to pursue a diplomatic end to the

crisis was a remarkable change from the Reagan emphasis on making the Sandinista

government cry uncle and his predecessors much greater willingness to utilize

paramilitary options to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

President Bush, being a cautious American Tory, however, wanted to hedge his

bets. So, rather than relying on the peace accords alone, he would also ask Congress to

349 Remarks Following Discussions with Alfredo Cristiani Buckard o f El Salvador and an Exchange with Reporters, 12 July 1991,
Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.
350 National Security Directive 8, U.S. Policy Toward Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan Resistance, 1 May 1989. Copy provided by
the George Bush Presidential Library.

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continue supporting the Contras through a provision o f humanitarian assistance,

which dovetailed in many respects with the presidents national self-image o f the U.S. to

help others. By signing the Bipartisan Accord on Central America, Congressional leaders,

from both houses and from both sides o f the aisle, promised to provide humanitarian

assistance to the Contras up until the presidential elections in Nicaragua, which were

scheduled to take place on 26 February 1990. The reasoning behind this request was that

it would act as support for the Contras and a disincentive to the Sandinistas so that they

would abide by the terms o f the regional peace accord. B y keeping the Contras funded,

the Sandinista government could rest assured that if they did not follow through with

their promises to allow the counter revolutionaries to peacefully reintegrate into

Nicaraguan society and to hold fair and free elections the following year, then increased

levels o f military aid to the Contras would begin once again.

In addition to providing for continued humanitarian assistance to the Contras,

President Bush would also put economic pressure on the Sandinistas by continuing the

former administration's decision to use economic sanctions against Nicaragua. In his

mandatory notifications to Congress for a continuation o f Ronald Reagans 1985

executive order, the president justifies his decision on the grounds that the government of

Nicaragua still poses "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and

foreign policy o f the United States."351 As stated above, the president did not fully trust

the Sandinista government to stand by its international promises, so funding the Contras

and continuing economic sanctions would act as leverage on the Nicaraguan government.

351 "Notice o f the Continuation o f the National Emergency With Respect to Nicaragua," 21 April 1989, Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush. 1989-1993.

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Quite interestingly, but not surprisingly, after the Sandinistas lost the presidential

elections in February 1990, President Bush ordered an end to the economic sanctions,

reintroduced aid packages to the Nicaraguan government in Congress, and reestablished

the country's sugar quota with the United States.352

In sum, George Bush's set o f beliefs concerning the nature o f change were ones

that perceived change as occurring in an unexpected and unpredictable fashion, and that

responding to it should be done in a cautious and prudent manner, so as to minimize the

potential for greater instability. As applied to the enormous transformations that took

place around the world from 1989-1992, Bush believed the tools that would be needed to

respond prudently to these changes would be to support verbally the global reform efforts

toward democracies and free markets, while continuing to utilize diplomatic and

economic carrots and sticks to push the reform process along. And in the context o f the

crises in El Salvador and Nicaragua, negotiations would be key to finally bringing these

conflicts to an end. This willingness to use diplomatic tools in Central America rather

than paramilitary options will provide the key area o f difference when the policies of

Ronald Reagan and George Bush are compared in Chapter 5.

Overall, what can one glean about the Bush foreign policy belief system from the

public and private statements o f the president? One particular idea that emerges is that

352 "White House Fact Sheet on Economic Assistance for Nicaragua, 13 March 1990, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United
States: George Bush, 1989-1993.

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George Bush believed that the United States represented something quite special for

the international system o f nation-states. As was the case with Ronald Reagan, the United

States, above all, represented an ideal, the ideal o f freedom. And it was the duty o f the

United States to spread this ideal to others in the international community so that they,

too, could enjoy the blessings o f liberty, political democracy, and free market economies.

This generosity, this service mentality, this sense o f noblesse oblige would be applied to

long-time allies of the United States and former adversaries who were experiencing a

period of transformation. Yet, George Bush also realized that the international

community was oftentimes characterized by a great deal o f uncertainty and instability.

Change can occur in unexpected ways, as it did from 1988-1992. Therefore, Bush

believed that the United States should respond to events not boldly, as Reagan might

have, but conservatively, with a firm sense o f realism in mind. Bush, very much unlike

Reagan, believed that negotiated solutions in El Salvador and Nicaragua could in fact

secure U.S. interests in Central America. Overall, Bush felt that some immutable forces

did not determine history; rather, history is shaped by the decisions o f leaders and

citizens. And, he saw it as his duty as President o f the United States to respond carefully

to the ever-changing contours o f international affairs. His goal was clear: to guide our

country and, in part, selected regions of the world, safely through this tumultuous period

in global history.

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**********

The impact o f this set o f beliefs, along with those o f President Reagan, will be

examined in the next chapter to see how they shaped the development o f change in U.S.

foreign policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s and early 1990s.

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Chapter 5: U.S. Foreign Policy toward Central America in the 1980s

In this chapter I will attempt to establish the connection between presidential

foreign policy beliefs and subsequent foreign policy behavior. Specifically, I will assess

whether the different foreign policy beliefs held by Ronald Reagan and George Bush

contributed to different degrees o f U.S. intervention in the internal political affairs o f El

Salvador and Nicaragua throughout the 1980s (and early 1990s). In an effort to make the

leap from beliefs to behavior, I will use the congruence method to illustrate how beliefs

influenced the subsequent policy choices that were made by the two presidents.

Ronald Reagan's Approach to Central America: A B rief Overview

Ronald Reagan perceived the revolutionary events taking place in Central

America in the early 1980s as nothing more or less than a Soviet-led effort to assist leftist

guerrillas in unseating a number o f U.S. allies in the region. The Soviet goal was to

establish a powerful strategic foothold in Americas backyard. It was believed that

Moscow was attempting to use the Marxist-Leninist governments of Cuba and Nicaragua

to help it accomplish its ultimate objective of a fully communist Central America. In

short, for Reagan, the struggles taking place in Central America in the late 1970s and

early 1980s represented in microcosm the larger international struggle between the Soviet

Union and the United States.

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The approach that Reagan would take toward Central America was in many

respects a direct response to the perceived failures of President Carters overall strategy

toward the Soviets. The president, along with many members o f his foreign policy team,

believed that Carter's efforts to make U.S. military and economic assistance to allies in

Central America contingent on their human rights record was a misguided policy.353

Harold Molineu suggests: "upon the administration's inception in 1981, the Reagan

policymakers were determined to reshape and correct a foreign policy gone awry, a

policy insufficiently attuned to the overall strategic struggle with the USSR."354

The crisis in E l Salvador

As in any new incoming presidential administration, the international events that a

president must respond to are usually not o f his own choosing and certainly not o f his

own making. This was indeed the case for Ronald Reagan when he entered office in

January 1981 and was faced with a very precarious situation in El Salvador.

353 Committee o f Sante Fe, "A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties, reprinted in Bruce D. Larkin, ed.. Vital Interests: The
Soviet issue in U.S. Central American Policy," (Boulder,CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1988) pp. 11-48. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick,
Dictatorships and Double Standards: Rationalism and Reason in Politics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982) pp. 23-90. Jeffrey B.
Gayner, "The Department o f State," in Charles L. Heatherly, ed.. Mandate fo r Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative
Administration (Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, 1980) pp. 503-598. Richard Nixon, The Real War (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1980)
354 Harold Molineu, U.S. Policy Toward Latin America: From Regionalism to Globalism (Boulder, CO; Westview, 1990) 2nd
edition, p. 191.

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For nearly the entire decade o f the 1970s, El Salvador had experienced

various levels of political turmoil. Around the time o f the fraudulent 1972 presidential

elections, popular armed elements began to emerge, followed shortly thereafter by the

formation o f popular opposition groups.355From 1975-1979, thousands o f people from a

vast array o f social sectors waged a campaign o f civil disobedience and mass protest

campaigns against the government's unwillingness to establish political and economic

reforms. In response, the military cracked down on its opponents. General Carlos

Romero, El Salvadors top political/military leader, initiated a period o f repression that

resulted in enormous international and domestic criticism.356

As a result of this criticism and with U.S. support, a group o f reform-minded

military officials ousted General Romero and set up a civilian-military revolutionary

junta on 15 October 1979, promising to initiate significant economic and political

reforms. These promised reforms came slowly, if at all.357 Over a period o f 14 months,

three juntas had fallen and a forth was established on 4 December 1980 with Jose

Napoleon Duarte as President.

During the interregnum between the first and forth civilian-military juntas, with

land and social reform at a standstill and internal repression reaching frightening levels,

355 Cynthia McClintock, Revolutionary Movements in Latin America: El Salvador's FMLN and Peru's Shining Path, (Washington,
DC: United States Institute o f Peace Press, 1998) deals quite nicely with the emergence o f the armed resistance in El Salvador. See
especially, pp. 48-63.
356 Marvin E. Gettleman, et.a!., El Salvador: Central America in the New Cold War (New York: The Grove Press, 1986) pp. 54-55.
357 In all fairness, on 6 March 1980 a 2nd civilian-military junta did announce a land reform program under the direction o f the U.S.
Department o f State and the American Institute for Labor Development. The land reforms included three phases: the first was
confiscation o f all properties over 500 hectares; the second, involved seizure o f all land between 150-500 hectares; the third, was a
land-to-tiller program, allowing share-croppers to become owners o f the land they worked on. The first phase was enacted, while the
second was not and the third faced significant opposition to its implementation. See Cynthia Amson, El Salvador: A Revolution
Confronts the United States, pp. 50-51.

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the popular organizations and the armed resistance began to unify in opposition to the

government. On 18 April 1980 the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), a broad

coalition of disenchanted political parties, trade unions, church people, professional,

students, and small-businesses was created representing the opposition to the government

from the popular sector.358 The objective of the FDR, writes McClintock: "was to unite

left and center-left groups, both political parties and social organizations."359 In October

1980, the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) was established,

bringing together the five groups of the armed left. The following month, the FDR joined

forces with the FMLN, thus creating an official political-military opposition to the

Salvadoran government, the FDR-FMLN.

Jimmy Carters response to both the government and non-government sponsored

terrorism and the unification o f the militant left was to charter a center course between

both camps and to begin to push for the establishment of a less repressive government

that could stave off a large scale left-wing insurrection. Carter planned to use U.S.

economic and military assistance as leverage to push and prod the government in the

direction of reform. As a result, in April 1980, the United States approved $5.7 million in

military aid for El Salvador. By September, $20 million in economic assistance was on its

way to San Salvador.360

Following the brutal rape and murder o f four U.S. churchwomen on 3 December

1980, however, Carter decided to suspend U.S. economic and military aid to the

Salvadoran government. The suspension was short-lived, however. On December 16th

358 Cynthia Amson, El Salvador, pp. 54-57.


359 McClintock, op. cit. p. 52.
360 Gettleson, op. cit. p. 57.

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and 18th, the president once again opened the monetary pipeline by lending the

Salvadoran government an additional $66.5 million in emergency lethal aid, bringing the

total U.S. assistance for 1980 to $150 million.361

Luckily for the government, the money was being sent just in time. In late

December, the FMLN began a series o f attacks on government installations in the

northern province o f Chalatenango. On 11 January 1980, ten days before the inauguration

o f Ronald Reagan, the FMLN launched its general offensive throughout El Salvador. The

goals o f the rebels included: setting o ff a general insurrection throughout the country;

hoping the Army would split, with its moderate elements joining the FMLN; and, to

present the incoming Reagan administration with a fa il accompli o f another successful

revolutionary movement in Central America. The rebels failed to accomplish any o f these

objectives in their offensive, but would continue to fight. In response, Carter, just prior to

leaving office, supplied the Salvadoran government with an additional set o f grants worth
"if.*)
$10 million and sent six U.S. military advisors to help train the Salvadoran army.

The Reagan Response

When Ronald Reagan became president he was determined to shore up U.S. allies

in Central America who were facing left-wing insurrections and to draw the line against

Soviet encroachments in the Western Hemisphere. Just prior to taking office, the

president-elect told the Wall Street Journal: "the Soviet Union underlies all the unrest

361 Ibid.
362 Ibid. pp. 57-58.

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that is going o n ...If they weren't engaged in this game o f dominoes, there wouldn't be

any hot spots in the world."363 This statement by the president was a clear reflection o f

his set o f beliefs concerning the Soviet Union, the United States major international

adversary. As applied to the crisis in El Salvador, what this mindset entailed, writes

Thomas Carothers, was that "El Salvador was not a civil war in a small, remote country,

but a geo-strategic crisis o f m ajor proportions. It was the hottest flash point o f the

perceived Soviet-Cuban campaign to spread communism throughout Central

America."364 Reagan's first Secretary o f State, A1 Haig, sums up the administration's

viewpoint:

El Salvador was not merely a local problem. It was also a regional problem that

threatened the stability o f all Central America, including the Panama Canal and

Mexico and Guatemala with their vast oil reserves. And it was a global issue

because it represented the interjection o f the war of national liberation into the

Western Hemisphere.365

It was quite apparent to most observers that President Reagan was not going to take a

wait-and-see approach to the crisis. But the exact measures that he would use to respond

to the events taking place in El Salvador had not yet been determined.

363 Quoted in William M. LeoGrande, O ur Own Backyard: The United States in Central America. 1977-1992 (Chapel Hill, NC: The
University o f North Carolina Press, 1998) p. 53.
364 Thomas Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years (Berkeley, CA:
University o f California Press, 1991) p. 15.
365 Alexander Haig, Caveat: Realism. Reagan, and Foreign Policy (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1984) p. 118.

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During the first month o f his presidency, the president would have to decide

on a course o f action for U.S. policy toward El Salvador. The decisions that he would

make would lay the groundwork for nearly all of the subsequent foreign policy decisions

concerning El Salvador during his eight years in office.

The Congruence Method and R eagans policy choices fo r E l Salvador

Following the requirements o f congruence method,366one must posit all plausible

courses o f action that could have been used in reaching a foreign policy decision(s) and

then show how a decision-makers beliefs would logically lead to certain choices of

actions rather than others.367 In his most frequently cited work, Analogies at War, Yuen

Foong Khong uses the congruence method to show how U.S. foreign policy decision

makers relied in part on the historical analogies of Korea and Dien Bien Phu to make
><ro

decisions concerning whether and how to intervene militarily in Vietnam. Khong, in

his analysis, discovered that the analogies that were used by U.S. policy makers tended to

bound and limit the choice options these decision makers considered viable, and thus

influenced their selection of the course o f action that the United States would take in

Vietnam during the early years o f the Johnson administration. Below, the same logic will

be applied in linking the beliefs held by President Reagan and President Bush and the

366 See introduction for discussion o f the congruence method.


367 Throughout this chapter, for each of the policy approaches adopted by Reagan and Bush in responding to events in El Salvador
and Nicaragua, I will posit four possible options that the president could have chosen, ranging from those requiring little or no action
to those involving the outright use o f military force. T he options that I have selected are linked to the dependent variable scale that
was discussed in Chapter 2.
368 Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions o f 1965 (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1992)

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options they would consider using in response to the events taking place in El

Salvador and Nicaragua.

Diagram 1 provides a summary of the main options that President Reagan could

choose from to deal with the crisis in El Salvador.

(Diagram 1 here)

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DIAGRAM 1: REAGANS POLICY CHOICES FOR EL SALVADOR, 1981-
1989

(NOT CHOSEN)
Consistent with-> Option 4
Military invasion

(CHOSEN)
Also consistent with-} Option 3
Low intensity
conflict
(U.S. advisors,
military exercises,
economic & military
aid, PR campaign)

Ronald Reagans
Foreign Policy Belief System

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with-} Option 2
ContingentMilitary
and Economic Aid;
Promotion o f the use
o f peace negotiations

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with-}- Option 1
Do nothing

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From the starting point o f a presidential foreign policy belief system that

emphasized an active global role for America in promoting and guiding positive change,

coupled with a belief in a dangerous international environment whereby the United States

needed to counter the expansionist forces o f the Soviet Union and its proxies (See

Chapter 3), four possible options were available to the president to handle the

revolutionary activity taking place in El Salvador.

The first was to refrain from any interventionist activity whatsoever. I f chosen,

this option would require that the president take a wait-and-see approach to the crisis and

then deal with whichever faction ultimately emerged victorious. The second was to

continue the Carter policy o f using economic and military assistance as a carrot and/or

stick in order to put pressure on the Salvadoran government to implement governmental

and economic reforms.369 The third was to use low-intensity conflict. W ith this option,

the United States would develop a strategy o f limited use o f force against the leftist

insurgents via the Salvadoran Government/Army.

It should be noted that the low intensity conflict option involved a broad range o f

possible courses o f action, including economic and military assistance, the sending of

U.S. military advisors, the use o f regional military exercises, and a widespread public

relations campaign to win over public opinion370 As Michael Klare and Peter Kombluh

suggest, low intensity conflict involves not only military assistance, but also

369 For an outstanding analysis o f Carters policy toward Central America consult William M. LeoGrande, O ur Own Backyard,
Chapters 2 & 3.
370 For a detailed description o f "low intensity conflict" see Michael T. Klare, "The New Strategic Doctrine," The Nation, December
28, 1985. As this tactic applied to El Salvador see Terry Lynn Karl, "El Salvador's Negotiated Revolution," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 71,
No. 2 (Spring 1992) pp. 147-164.

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nontraditional forms o f coercion- economic, diplomatic, psychological, and

paramilitary.371

The presidents fourth option would be to send in the Marines to defeat the rebel

forces in an effort to secure a government in power that would be closely allied with

Washington. It is my argument that Ronald Reagan's foreign policy beliefs would lead

him to select either option 3 (low intensity conflict) or option 4 (direct use of force),

while not considering option 1 (do-nothing) at all, and giving only partial consideration to

option 2 (Carters contingent aid policy).

As will be demonstrated below, option 3, low intensity conflict, emerged as the

policy o f choice for President Reagan. This policy option, as applied to the crisis in El

Salvador, consisted of various military and non-military actions below the threshold o f

full-scale war, including: little-to no-strings economic and military aid; the transfer of

arms; the provision of military advisors; economic and psychological operations aimed at

minimizing the peasant support for the rebel opposition; and, a public relations campaign

geared toward winning greater domestic and international support for the presidents

foreign policy agenda.372

Beginning in late January 1981, all four options that are listed in Diagram 1 were

discussed in a series of National Security Council (NSC) meetings.373 A t a January 23rd

session, which was devoted entirely to El Salvador, option 1, the do-nothing approach,

was eliminated. The question on policy-makers minds was not whether the United States

371 Michael T. Klare and Peter Kombluh, The New Interventionism: Low-Intensity Warfare in the 1980s and Beyond, in Klare and
Kombluh, eds., Low-fntensity Warfare: Counterinsurgency, Proinsurgency, and Antiterrorism in the Eighties (New York: Pantheon
Books, 1988) p. 8.
372 Michael T. Klare, The New U.S. Strategic Doctrine, The Nation (December 28, 1985/January 4, 1986).
373 Alexander Haig, Caveat, p. 128-130.

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should respond, but rather in what way it should respond, and how quickly. Questions

were also raised as to whether additional U.S. military advisors should be sent to assist

the Salvadoran army and what specific roles these advisors should play.374 And even

though none o f these queries were answered definitively at the January meeting, it was

decided that U.S. economic and military assistance, the amount o f which would be

determined at a later date, would be given to the Salvadoran government, and that U.S.

military advisors stationed in El Salvador would remain.

This decision, it should be noted, was the first in a series o f decisions that mark

the initial stages of the adoption o f the low intensity conflict strategy for responding to

the events in El Salvador. And although it appears that the decision simply to grant

economic and military assistance was in reality the selection of option 2, the assistance

that would be given was not contingent on improvements being made in the Salvadoran

governments human rights record, thus differentiating it from a replay o f the earlier

Carter policy (option 2).

At the January 23rd meeting, the president's advisors divided into two camps. One

camp, which included Vice-President Bush, Secretary o f Defense Casper Weinberger,

Director o f Central Intelligence William Casey, and National Security Advisor Richard

Allen, advised the president that El Salvador should be treated as a local problem and that

military and economic assistance should be given in an incremental fashion to the

Salvadoran government. This aid, these advisors believed, should be combined with

covert measures to interdict the flow o f arms into El Salvador from neighboring

Nicaragua. The second camp represented the position of Secretary o f State Alexander

374 Ibid., p. 128.

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Haig, who agreed with the first camp that assistance should be given to the

Salvadoran government, but that the United States should also put a heavy dose o f

military, political, and economic pressure on Cuba. Haig was quite clear in his belief that

Cuba, backed by the Soviets, was the source of nearly all the mischief in Central

America.375 Both camps, did, however, agree that some action was indeed necessary.

In February, the State Department announced that the United States was no longer

demanding that the military and economic assistance given to the Salvadoran government

be contingent on its human rights record, nor was the United States insisting that the

Salvadoran government proceed with its investigations o f the murders o f U.S. citizens.

Both o f these decisions were the clear signals that option 2 was no longer being seriously

considered by the administration.

Prior to even taking office, Reagan provided the public with a glimpse o f how he

perceived the issue o f concern for human rights should affect U.S. foreign policy. In a

personal interview with TIME magazines Laurence Barrett, Reagan stated that the

United States was not planning on basing its decisions to provide economic and military

assistance on a countrys human rights record.377 In response to a question that asked how

strongly the U.S. should push nations like those in Central America on human rights, the

president-elect stated:

We should not carry our campaign for human rights to some small country we can

pressure to the point where the government that, lets say, partially violates

375 Ibid. p. 129.


376 William L. LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, p. 85.
377 An Interview with Ronald Reagan, TIME, 5 January 1981.

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human rights in our eyes is succeeded by a government that denies all human

rights.. .What I believe is that we do our utmost to bring about [improvement in

human rights] in those countries that are aligned with us, but not at the expense of

helping an overthrow by a [faction] that is totalitarian.378

In late February, the NSC formally approved its initial policy toward El Salvador.

The president would supply $25 million in emergency military aid. Moreover, twenty-six

additional military advisors would be sent to El Salvador, bringing the total number of

U.S. advisors in the country to fifty-four.379

The NSC decision, not surprisingly, followed in the wake of the State

Department's release o f the "White Paper" on 23 February 1981. The paper titled:

"Communist Interference in El Salvador," argued that the U.S. government had definitive

proof showing that the Salvadoran rebels had received military assistance from

Nicaragua, Cuba, the Soviet Union and a host o f Eastem-Bloc countries. More

importantly, the report provided the needed rationale for the presidents decision to begin

pumping in huge amounts o f military and economic assistance to the Salvadoran

government.380

The policy consequence o f the initial NSC decision, along with the State

Departments announcement, was another signal that option 2, a continuation o f Carter's

policy o f using U.S. aid to promote economic and political reforms, was also not going to

378 Ibid.
379 William LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 85-89.
380 Report by the Department ofState, February 23, 1981. Document 670. American Foreign Policy: Current Documents 1981.
Department o fS tate Publications 9384.

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be accepted, at least not for the time being. Instead, President Reagan saw the need to

adopt a policy of low intensity conflict. The goal was to help the Salvadorans win the war

on the battlefield rather than to push for negotiations between the rebels and the

Salvadoran government. Reagan expressed his preference for a military solution in

January 1981:

Concerning El Salvador, I think that there is one thing you have to say about the

situation there: it is almost a kind o f civil war. When that is happening, and if

reforms are needed- and admittedly reforms are needed- you do not try to fight a

civil war and institute reforms at the same time. Get rid o f the war. Then go
JQ 1

forw ard with the reforms (Emphasis added).

The way Ronald Reagan planned to get rid o f the war was to provide the government

o f El Salvador with enough military and economic assistance and training by U.S.

advisors to defeat the Marxist-Leninist rebels on the field of battle.

Februarys NSC decision was followed shortly thereafter by a 9 March 1981

"Presidential Finding" to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which in turn would

report to the intelligence committees in Congress. In his finding, Reagan authorized the

CIA to spend nearly $20 million to fund anti-Sandinista forces operating in Nicaragua382

381 An interview with Ronald Reagan, Time, January 5, 1981.


382 This presidential finding is considered the first step in the creation o f the Contra forces in Nicaragua.

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in addition to establishing a paramilitary arms interdiction campaign to put an end to

the flow o f military weapons that was moving from Nicaragua to the Salvadoran

rebels.383

Reagan's March finding would eventually culminate in the signing o f National

Security Decision Directive-17 (NSDD-17) on 4 January 1982, which established official

U.S. national security policy toward Cuba and Central America. The provisions of

NSDD- 17 included: $350 million in U.S. assistance for the region, a counterinsurgency

and counterintelligence training program, and a public relations campaign aimed at U.S.

audiences to win greater support for the president's Central American policies.384

Occurring alongside these NSC decisions was a concerted effort on the part of the

president to obtain supplemental Congressional funding to support the Salvadoran

government for the upcoming fiscal year. In March 1981, Reagan requested that

Congress appropriate nearly $120 million in military and economic assistance. Congress,

although quite skeptical of the motivation behind Reagan's policies, agreed the following

month to authorize the request, but required that the president, every six months, certify

that the Salvadoran government was making progress both in its human rights record and

in pursuing a negotiated end to the fighting. Reagan accepted the certification


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requirements and signed the bill into law.

383 Christopher Simpson, The National Security Directives o f the Reagan and Bush Administrations: The Declassified History o f U.S
Political and Military Policy, 1981-1991 (Boulder,CO: Westview Press, 1995) p. 18.
384 Ibid. pp. 53-54. In addition to NSDD 17, President Reagan on 28 May 1982 signed NSDD 37 and 37a that called for an increased
public relations blitz to gain greater support for the administration's policy toward Cuba and Central America. Also, NSDD 39 was
signed on 25 October 1982 in order to win greater support for the interdiction campaign that was seeking to stem the flow of arms
from Nicaragua and HI Salvador. See pp. 128, p. 208.
385 LeoGrande, O ur Own Backyard, pp. 131-134.

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Reagan, it should be noted, was willing to accept these Congressional

demands in large part because the certification requirements were such that the

administration needed only to show that progress was being made toward these ends, not

that they were being actually put into effect. In a sense, then, Congress was putting some

restrictions on what the president could do, but they were not yet tying his hands

completely. In fact, in his first certification to Congress in January 1982, Reagan was

willing to claim that progress had indeed been made in complying with internationally

recognized human rights, that the Salvadoran government was achieving substantial

control over all elements of its own armed forces, that there was continued progress in

implementing essential economic and political reforms, that the Salvadoran government

was committed to holding o f free elections at an early date, and that the government

had made good faith efforts to investigate the murders o f the six United States citizens

in El Salvador.386

Also taking place in the second half o f 1981 was an effort by moderates within

the administration, led by Assistant Secretary o f State for Inter-American affairs, Thomas

Enders, to recapture some of the power they lost initially to the hard-liners concerning

U.S. policy toward El Salvador. Enders believed that the most effective course o f action

in El Salvador was not unlimited support for the government/military, but to use U.S. aid

as leverage in order to push forward political reform, a policy nearly identical to Jimmy

Carter's (option 2).387 Enders argued that by pressuring the government to hold elections,

the rebels might lose some o f their moderate supporters who would then enter the

386 Determination to Authorize Continued Assistance for El Salvador, 28 January 1982, National Security Archives, El Salvador
Collection, Document # ES02497.
387 For the similarities between Enders approach and the Carters consult Thomas Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy, pp. 19-20.

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political arena. The result would be not only a legitimately elected government, but

also a weakening o f the insurgents to the point where they would no longer pose a threat

to the government.

Additionally, by nesting Reagan's anticommunist crusade under the banner of

democracy and free elections, Enders believed that much of the congressional criticism

and outright opposition that the president faced would melt away. The logic was that no

member o f Congress could possibly oppose advancing the cause o f democracy in the

developing world. Reagan Chief-of-Staff, James Baker, who did not want the Central

American imbroglio to distract Ronald Reagan from his domestic policy agenda,

supported Enders in his efforts to regain some control over Central American policy.

By July, Enders had won a temporary victory. At a World Affairs Council

meeting, Enders, in the first major public announcement on Central America by the

Reagan administration, stated that the United States was seeking a political solution, not a

military one to the crisis. And, it would be elections, not a negotiated settlement that
*J Q Q

would be used to bring peace to El Salvador. Ronald Reagan would support the

election option for El Salvador in public, while continuing to provide large amounts of

economic and military assistance to the Salvadoran government.

It should be noted that Reagan realized that in order to receive Congressional

approval for increased levels o f economic and military assistance for the government of

El Salvador, he could not possibly oppose supporting elections for the country, even

though seeking a political solution may have run counter to his beliefs. What Reagan

388 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 126-127.


389 Ibid. 127. See also Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy, pp. 19-20.

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would not tolerate, however, was a negotiated solution that included any type of

power sharing between the government and the rebels. Nonetheless, it should also be

mentioned, that because o f the initial policy, the United States would play a key role in

promoting the 1982 Constituent Assembly elections in El Salvador and in helping to keep

right-wing political party candidate Roberto D'Aubuisson from obtaining the position of

provisional president.390

Unfortunately for Enders, the FMLN did not trust the electoral process, and his

earlier victory in shaping U.S. foreign policy for the region was ephemeral. In late 1981

and throughout 1982, the rebels went on the attack. Government outposts were sacked

and the rebels tried continuously to cripple the Salvadoran economy. By the end o f the

year, the armed resistance had destroyed over 32 bridges throughout the country.391 The

success of the FMLN in 1982 and the inability o f the Salvadoran army to control the

resistance prompted a policy review by the Reagan administration in early 1983.

Added to the situation on the ground was the fact that the Enders policy ran

counter in many ways to what Reagan and his more hard-line advisors believed was

necessary to win in Central America. The Salvadoran government was under heavy

pressure from the rebels, and as mentioned above, Reagan felt that the best course of

action was to get rid o f the war. Then proceed with reforms.392 Therefore, well in

advance of the 1983 policy review, President Reagan decided to come to the aid o f the

Salvadoran government. In February 1982, the president, using the power given to him in

390 U.S. opposition to ARENA candidate D'Aubuisson was based on the fear that if the right-wing took full control in El Salvador
and continued with its death squad activities, it was be virtually impossible to get Congress to provide for additional funding to
support the Salvadoran government.
391 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, p. 139.
392 An interview with Ronald Reagan, Time, January 5, 1981.

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the Foreign Assistance Act o f 1962, decided to provide the Salvadoran government

with $55 million in emergency military assistance. In his presidential determination,

Reagan authorized the furnishing of up to $55,000,000 in defense articles from the

stocks o f the Department o f Defense, defense services of the Department o f Defense, and

military education and training, to El Salvador under the provisions o f chapters 2 and 5 o f

part II o f the Act.393 It should be noted that this provision o f emergency military

assistance was delivered without any approval from the U.S. Congress.

Quite interestingly, the declining state o f affairs in El Salvador was mirrored by

the declining influence o f the moderate faction within the Reagan administration.394 By

the Spring o f 1983, Thomas Enders had been fired, and interventionist option 2, the

replay o f Carter's reform initiatives, had been put aside once again. One reason for

scrapping option 2, o f course, was that President Reagans core beliefs did not match

Ender's preferences for a diplomatic solution. Writes one Reagan administration official:

"We talked about diplomacy, but it began as a cover story for what we were really trying

to do."395 Reagan saw the need for a military victory and ardently supported low intensity

conflict, albeit not vociferously in his public addresses because o f the need for

Congressional approval for the amounts o f economic and military assistance that he

planned on providing to the Salvadoran government.

In an effort to try to gain public and Congressional support for his national

security policies, especially as they related to Central America, the president in January

393 Determination to Authorize the Furnishing oflmm ediate Military Assistance to El Salvador, 2 February 1892, National Security
Archives, El Salvador Collection, Document # ES02535.
394 Although Ronald Reagan did support Enders idea o f elections for El Salvador, when Enders floated the idea o f possible
negotiations between the government and rebels, the hard-liners pushed for his removal, which occurred in late May 1983.
395 Quoted in LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, p. 555.

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1983 signed National Security Decision Directive-77 (NSDD-77). The purpose of the

directive was to establish a Special Planning Group whose membership included the

Secretaries of State and Defense, the Director o f the United States Information Agency

and the Director of the Agency for International Development, whose goal it was to

strengthen the organization, planning, direction and coordination o f the various aspects o f

public diplomacy of the United States government to generate support for our national

security objectives.396

Because of the declining state of affairs in Central America in early 1983, the

president sent his Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick on a fact-finding

mission to the region in February. Kirkpatrick reported back to the president and told him

that the situation on the ground in El Salvador looked even bleaker than was originally

anticipated. As a result, President Reagan redoubled his efforts to provide the Salvadoran

government with enough military and economic assistance to prevent a rebel victory.397

On 24 February 1983, Reagan signed NSDD-82, which included $60 million in

emergency military aid for the Salvadoran army. The directive also mandated that

additional U.S. military advisors be sent to El Salvador. Finally, Reagan agreed to help

with the establishment o f a countrywide counter-insurgency effort, including civic action

and psychological operations.398 As was the case with NSDD-77 and the earlier

presidential findings, NSDD-82 was another clear indicator that the low intensity conflict

option was the policy o f choice for the president.

396 Management o f Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security, 14 January 1983, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra
Collection, Document # IC00068.
397 Kirkpatrick's trip to Central American is reported in LeoGrande, O ur Own Backyard, p. 185-186.
398 Christopher Simpson, National Security Directives, p. 276-277

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In his speech on El Salvador to the National Association o f Manufacturers

in March, Reagan revealed his new foreign policy for Central America. The president

announced: Im proposing that $60 million o f the moneys already appropriated for our

worldwide military assistance programs be immediately reallocated to El Salvador, and

that the focus o f this assistance will remain the same to train Salvadorans so that they

can defend themselves.399 The president also noted: only Salvadorans can fight this

war, just as only Salvadorans can decide El Salvadors future. What we can do is help to

give them the skills and supplies they need to do the job themselves. Carefully couching

his address under the mantle o f promoting democracy and human rights for the region in

order to win support in the national legislature, Reagan went on to say: I will ask

Congress for $65 million in new moneys and the reprogramming o f $103 million from

already appropriated worldwide funds, for a total o f $168 million in increased economic

assistance.400

As for the prospects of a negotiated settlement to the crisis, Reagan remained

skeptical. This was to be expected considering his core beliefs regarding how the United

States should respond to change. The president emphasized that his administration

already supported negotiations, but only negotiations that were designed to strengthen

democracy, to halt subversion, to stop the flow o f arms, to respect borders, and to remove

all the foreign military advisors the Soviets, the Cubans, the East Germans, the PLOs,

399 Remarks on Central America and El Salvador at the Annual Meeting o f the National Association o f M anufacturers, 10 March
1983, The Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989 (Washington: Federal Register Division,
National Archives and Record Services Administration)
400 Ibid.

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as well as our own from the region. What Ronald Reagan did oppose once again,

however, were:

Negotiations that could be used as a cynical device for dividing up power behind

the peoples back. We cannot support negotiations which, instead o f expanding

democracy, try to destroy it; negotiations which would simply distribute power

among armed groups without the consent o f the people o f El Salvador.401

In the House and Senate, meanwhile, the president was facing strident opposition

from liberal Democrats regarding his requests for increased levels o f economic and

military assistance. As in 1981 and 1982, Congressional opposition stemmed in large

part from the brutal violation o f human rights by the Salvadoran Government and Army

on the Salvadoran population. Realizing that congressional opinion was not in his favor,

on 27 April 1983, Reagan, in a rare presidential maneuver, addressed both chambers of

Congress in an effort to win support for his aid package. The president stated in very

forthright terms that the crisis in El Salvador threatened U.S. national security. He framed

his argument overall in terms o f U.S. credibility, telling his audience:

If we cannot defend ourselves there, we cannot expect to prevail elsewhere. Our

credibility would collapse, our alliances would crumble, and the safety o f our

homeland would be put in jeopardy. We have a vital interest, a moral duty, and a

solemn responsibility. This is not a partisan issue. It is a question o f our meeting

401 Ibid.

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our moral responsibility to ourselves, our friends, and our posterity. It is a

duty that falls on all of us- the President, the Congress, and the people. We must

perform it together. Who among us would wish to bear responsibility for failing to

meet our shared obligation? 402

How would the United States protect its credibility, while at same time supporting

an allied government? Reagan announced that the United States planned to pursue four

goals. The first would be to promote regional democratization: This means using our

assistance, our powers o f persuasion, and our legitimate leverage to bolster humane

democratic systems where they already exist and to help countries on their way to that

goal complete the process as quickly as human institutions can be changed. The second

goal would be to support economic development through traditional aid and increased

economic ties. The third goal will be to support the security o f the regions threatened

nations. Reagan was quite lucid in describing the need for military assistance:

No amount o f reform will bring peace so long as guerrillas believe they will win

by force. No amount of economic help will suffice if guerrilla units can destroy

roads and bridges and power stations and crops, again and again, with impunity.

But with better training and material help, our neighbors can hold off the

guerrillas and give democratic reform time to take root.403

402 "Address Before a Joint Session o f the Congress on Central America, 27 April 1983, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the
United States: Ronald Reagan. 1981-1989.
403 Ibid. p. 606.

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The fourth goal was to support dialogue and negotiations between both countries in

the region and within them. But, this dialogue/negotiations would have to contain certain

provisions:

The United States will support any agreement among Central American countries

for the withdrawal, under fully verifiable and reciprocal conditions, o f all foreign

military and security advisors...W e will support any verifiable, reciprocal

agreement among Central American countries on the renunciation o f support for

insurgencies on neighbors territory. And, finally, we desire to help Central

America end its costly arms race and will support any verifiable, reciprocal

agreements on the nonimportation o f offensive weapons.404

It is clear that the terms that the president laid out in order to have the United States

accept a negotiated end to the crisis were such that this option was virtually a non-option

as soon as it was announced. Verification was the key. The United States would demand

that verification criteria would be extensive, and this is something that Washington

realized that neither the Sandinistas nor Cuba nor their Soviet backers would support.

Shortly after the presidents speech, Congress agreed to approve Reagan's request,

allowing the president to offer an additional $65 million to the Salvadoran government,

and thus giving the president even less reason to pursue a diplomatic end to the civil war.

Even though Congress had agreed to fund the presidents foreign policy program

for El Salvador, the situation on the ground did not improve, thus causing a great deal of

404 Ibid.

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consternation for the president. In a top-secret memorandum written by Reagan in

July 1983 to his Secretaries ofS tate and Defense, the Director o f the Central Intelligence,

and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs o f Staff, the president acknowledged that the

security situation in Central America was deteriorating, in large part because o f what he

believed to be inadequate funding. Moreover, Reagan saw a persistent lack o f public

understanding of our interests, objectives, the threat, and our policies for dealing with

Central American problems. As a result o f these problems, the president concluded that

it is necessary both to increase the U.S. military presence in the area and to intensify the

public relations campaign. The reason for adopting these measures, writes Reagan, was to

improve as quickly as possible our ability to deter the consolidation o f a Marxist-

Leninist state in Central America which could serve as a base for Soviet power projection

and/or destabilization o f other states in the region.405

The official policy outcome that resulted from this presidential memo was the

creation o f National Security Decision Directive100 (NSDD-100). This directive

provided for enhanced U.S. military activity and assistance for Central America,

specifically for El Salvador and the Contras in Nicaragua. As it pertained to El Salvador,

the president, in NSDD-100, noted:

The democratic states o f Central America must be assisted to the maximum

degree possible in defending themselves against externally supported subversion

or hostile neighbors. U.S. military activities in the region must be significantly

405 Central America, 12 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, D ocum ent# NIO1758.

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increased to demonstrate our willingness to defend our Allies and to deter

further Cuban and Soviet Bloc intervention.406

Here again, one can see a reflection o f the presidents beliefs concerning the nature o f the

adversary in the region and the means to respond to a challenge to U.S. interests.

In order to shore up U.S. allies in the region, a number of measures were

approved. The first was to expand U.S. military activities and exercises in the Caribbean

Basin and along the Pacific Coast o f Central America. The second was for the Secretaries

o f State and Defense to coordinate a public diplomacy effort to boost the overall level of

support for the presidents policy toward the region. The third was for the Department of

Defense to move ahead with the already scheduled Big Pine II naval exercises and to

reassess the needs o f the Salvadoran armed forces. As the president notes: The Secretary

o f Defense will review the military training requirements o f El Salvador with a view to

determining if the number of military trainers is adequate. If more are deemed necessary,

the Department o f Defense will develop a credible and defensible rationale and

legislative strategy designed to increase the number to the appropriate level.407

Taken together, these decisions illustrate that the President was not looking for a

negotiated settlement o f the crisis, at least not in 1983. Both NSDD-82 and NSDD-100

signaled that Reagan was hoping to pursue a course o f low intensity conflict for dealing

with the insurgency in El Salvador.

406 National Security Decision Directive on Enhanced U.S. Military Activity and Assistance in the Central American Region (NSDD-
100), 28 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NIO1781.
407 Ibid.

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Events taking place in El Salvador over the next year helped the president sell

his program to a reluctant U.S. Congress. On 25 March 1984, El Salvador held its first

genuine democratic presidential elections in its nation's history, elections that were

vigorously supported by Ronald Reagan. The president realized that Liberal opponents in

Congress would watch the 1984 elections very closely. If the elections were considered

fair and free, Reagan realized that the probability o f getting increased funding from

Capitol Hill for his foreign policy agenda in Central America would also increase.

In the Salvadoran elections, Reagan initially supported National Conciliation

Party (PCN) candidate Francisco Guerrero who was seen as a moderate politically

between the left and far right.408 However, after the ballots were counted Guerrero had

placed a distant third behind Christian Democratic Party (CDN) candidate, Jose Napoleon

Duarte, and Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) candidate, Roberto D' Aubuisson.

In the run-off between Duarte and D'Aubuisson, Washington bet its chips on

Duarte, or more accurately, gave the Christian Democrat a lot o f its own chips. As

Thomas Carothers points out: "the administration provided Duarte both covert and overt

assistance. The Central Intelligence Agency reportedly gave a significant amount o f

funds, possibly between SI million and $3 million." Overtly, the U.S. embassy lobbied

intensely for Duarte in El Salvador, "making sure all major political sectors understood

that the United States government favored a Duarte victory and that a victory by the right

would jeopardize the extensive economic and military aid relationship between the two

408 LeoGrande reports that in the first round o f the presidential elections the CIA provided Guerrero with nearly a half a million
dollars to boost his campaign. Our Own Backyard, pp. 247-248.

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countries."409 Not surprisingly, in the May run-off election, Duarte won with nearly

54% o f the popular vote.410

For the remainder o f the his presidency, Reagans policy toward El Salvador

would be centered on propping up Duarte from challenges he faced from extremists on

both the right and left. How would this be done? Very simply, by inundating the

Salvadoran government with U.S. economic and military largesse. A few examples are

sufficient to support this point. Just prior to his run-off victory, Reagan used his

emergency powers to send $32 million in military aid to the Salvadoran government.411

After the election, the foreign assistance pipeline really began to flow. Fresh o ff his

electoral victory, Duarte came to Washington and swept Congress off its feet. Both the

House and Senate approved Reagan's supplemental requests for 1984, which when added

to the original appropriation, amounted to a grand total o f nearly $200 million for 1984

alone.412This allocation o f economic and military assistance, it should be noted, came

with very few, if any, formal strings attached. The aid was just one part o f the Reagan

strategy of low intensity conflict, however.

In addition to helping convince the U.S. Congress to continue to aid the

Salvadoran government, the president, in a secret memorandum written in June 1984,

decided to move forward with the implementation o f National Security Decision

Directive-124 (NSDD-124). As it applied to El Salvador, the president requested that the

Secretary o f Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs o f Staff proceed with creating

409 Thomas Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy, p. 30


410 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, p. 249.
411 Gcttleman et.al.,, El Salvador, p, 60
412 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, p. 257.

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contingency plans to increase once again U.S. military activities, exercises, and

intelligence gathering in Central America. The purpose o f these actions, writes Reagan,

was to demonstrate U.S. resolve and enhance the confidence o f friendly countries in the

region. The president went on to say that these actions would also serve to provide

intelligence and an active U.S. military involvement in the region which would

deter/disrupt the expected communist guerrilla offensive in El Salvador.413

The Reagan budgetary request for El Salvador in 1985, in the amount o f $128

million, passed both houses o f Congress in December 1984 as part o f a continuing

resolution. Perhaps most surprising o f all, however, was the decision by Congress not to

place certification requirements on the aid. In both his 1986 & 1987 foreign aid requests,

Reagan was practically given a blank check by Congress. The only stipulation on the

appropriated funds was that if the Duarte government were overthrown, Congress would

cut o ff the assistance. What this meant in practice was that Reagan was free to provide

military and economic assistance to the Duarte government up to the full level o f his

original requests 414 Reagan took advantage of Congress' generosity, providing the

Salvadoran government with $444 million in 1986 and $570 million in 1987.415

By 1984 and throughout the 2nd Reagan administration, support for Jose Napoleon

Duarte had become the keystone to U.S. policy in El Salvador. In fact, from 1984-1988,

the United States, writes Terry Lynn Karl, was providing the Duarte administration with

up to $1.2 million a day to fend o ff a rebel victory. 416 And, as long as Duarte continued

413 "Central America: NSPG Meeting o f June 25, 1984, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection, Document # IC00462.
414 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 275-276
415 Figures quoted in McClintock, Revolutionary Movements, p. 204.
416 Terry Lynn Karl, op. cit. p. 148.

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to prosecute the war against the FMLN and did not foolishly agree to a power-sharing

formula with the insurgents via negotiations, Washington would continue to support

him.417

President Reagan would leave office a few months prior to President Duarte's

departure from the political scene in El Salvador. Dealing with the next Salvadoran

administration would be left to a new president who would enter the White House in

January 1989.

Reagan Confronts the Sandinistas in Nicaragua

In July 1979, the Somoza dynasty, which had ruled in Nicaragua since the 1930s,

came to a sudden and abrupt end. A leftist revolutionary movement, led by the Sandinista

National Liberation Front (FSLN), swept into power. From 1979-1981, President Carter

fluctuated in his support and/or disapproval of the FSLN. Economic aid was offered, only

to be rescinded later on; diplomatic negotiations were attempted, only to be eventually

417 After his 1984 electoral victory, Duarte did begin negotiations with the FDR-FMLN. However, the Christian Democrat was only
willing to end the fighting if the FDR-FMLN agreed to enter the political arena. The FMLN, on the other hand, continued to press for
a power-sharing formula in order for them to lay down their arms and for an end to U.S. assistance and a removal o f U.S. advisors
from the country. Both sides refused to budge and the talks were ended in 1985. F o ra good description o f both sides positions consult
LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 262-264.

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tossed aside. Carter's approach seemed to be in a state o f confusionshould we or should

we not support the new regime?418

The confused policy of President Carter centered on four issues. The first concerned

what conditions should be attached to economic assistance offered to Nicaragua, or whether

U.S. economic assistance should be cut off altogether. The second centered on how Carter

should respond to the increased Cuban military presence in Nicaragua. The third focused on

how the president should respond to the expropriation o f private property that had taken

place, along with increasing evidence o f centralization o f the economy. The fourth issue

dealt with Carters concern regarding the increased size o f the Nicaraguan military as well

as its support for the neighboring rebellion in El Salvador. All four issues were dealt with

differently at various times, thus leading to a great deal of policy confusion over U.S-

Nicaraguan affairs during the Carter presidency 419

When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in January 1981, the president and

his foreign policy advisors focused their attention almost immediately on events taking place

in El Salvador. Yet, concerns about how to handle Nicaragua soon became equally, if not

more important. The president and his closest advisors immediately set for themselves the

task o f reconstructing U.S. policy toward Nicaragua which, Luis Maira states, was designed

to "bury the earlier Central American policy of the Democrats."420

418 The Carter response to the Sandinista takeover in Nicaragua is discussed in Anthony Lake, Somoza Falling (Boston, Mass:
Houghton Mifflin, 1989) and Robert Pastor, Condemned to Repetition: The United States and Nicaragua (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1987)
419 Stephen M. Gorman, "Nicaragua," Gurtov and Moghroori, eds.. Roots o f Failure: The United States Policy in the Third World.
(Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1984)
420 Luis Maira, "Reagan and Central America: Strategy Through a Fractured Lens," Martin Diskin, ed., Trouble In Our Backyard:
Central America and the United Slates in the Eighties (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983) p. 52.

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Similar to Reagans beliefs concerning the FMLN in El Salvador, the revolution

in Nicaragua was seen as one part of the Soviet-Cuban led conspiracy to take over Latin

America. The logic went as follows: first, communism would come to Nicaragua, followed

shortly thereafter by El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Next, the

communist plague would spread to the south, and then to the north; all o f South America

would fall, Mexico would turn "red", and the United States would be left to fight alone in a

hemisphere filled with communist countries. Internationally, U.S. commitments and its

credibility would be questioned. An exaggerated argument? Perhaps. Did Reagan and some

o f his leading advisors really describe the situation in the region in this fashion? At times

these officials did, both in their public statements and in private correspondences. For

example, as president, Reagan warned the American people that if the United States chose

to ignore the malignancy in Managua, it would likely spread and become a mortal threat

to the entire New World.421 To a joint session of Congress in April 1983, the president

suggested that should the United States stand idly by while the government of El Salvador

was overthrown, the international implications would be that our credibility would

collapse, our alliances crumble, and the safety of our homeland would be put at

jeopardy.422 Likewise, Secretary of State George Schultz in a secret memorandum to

Ronald Reagan in 1983, told the president: We have to safeguard not only El Salvador but

also the other Central American countries against the Nicaraguan vims.423

421 Quoted in Jerome Slater, Dominos in Central America: Will They Fall? Does It Matter? International Security, Vol. 12, No. 2
(Fall 1987) p. 106.
422 Central America: Defending O ur Vital Interests, 27 April 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document #
NI01683.
423 Managing Our Central American Strategy, 25 May 1983, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection, Document #
IC00106.

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If Reagan and his key advisors did in part believe in this domino logic, did they

have empirical evidence to verify their claims? At certain times, they believed they did. For

instance, in the context o f a National Security Council Planning Group Meeting on Central

America in June 1984, Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, briefed the

president on the Cuban military build-up in Nicaragua and the potential consequences this

had on regional stability. Casey noted that the CIA believed that there were: Cuban

preparations for another military offensive in El Salvador, while at the same time the

Cubans are building up their own forces in Nicaragua. He went on to tell the president that

the CIA estimated: There are actually 7-8 thousand Cuban troops in Nicaragua... Cuba

and Nicaragua are moving quickly to complete the construction of the new 3100 meter

airport in Puenta Huetea. Two other runways at two other airports are nearing the point

where they could take jet fighter planes and also Soviet cargo planes. Further, we see that 45

Nicaraguan pilots trained in the Soviet bloc have returned to Nicaragua.424

With this mentality in mind, President Reagan laid down a framework for his policy

toward Nicaragua. As was the case in responding to the events taking place in El Salvador,

Reagan could have adopted four distinct policy options. Diagram 2 summarizes these

options.

(Diagram 2 here)

424 National Security Planning Group Meeting, 25 June 1984, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection, Document #
IC00463.

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216
DIAGRAM 2: REAGANS POLICY CHOICES FOR NICARAGUA, 1981-1989

(NOT CHOSEN)
Consistent with-> Option 4 Military
invasion

(CHOSEN)
Also consistent with-> Option 3 Low intensity
conflict
(Covert
operations)

Ronald Reagans
Foreign Policy Belief System

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with-> Option 2 Contingent
economic
assistance
to Sandinistas;
Promotion of
the use of
peace
negotiations;

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with-> Option 1 Do nothing

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217
Option 1 represents the do-nothing approach. With this option, Reagan would reason

that it was too late to force a change in the Nicaraguan government. He would focus his

attention instead on responding to events taking place in neighboring El Salvador. Option 2

would allow the president to establish a new relationship with the Sandinistas by extending

them economic assistance. The goal would be to direct their revolution in ways that did not

threaten U.S. economic or security interests. The Sandinistas had successfully defeated the

Somoza regime and it was now time to accept this fact and to deal with them accordingly.

Option 3, by contrast, was to follow a strategy of low intensity conflict whereby the United

States would support anti-Sandinista forces economically and militarily in an effort to

overthrow the sitting Nicaraguan government, or at the very least, to prevent the Sandinista

government from supporting revolutionary movements elsewhere in the region. Reagans

conception of a low intensity conflict would also include waging a massive public

information campaign that was designed to point up the brutality and illegitimacy of the

Sandinista government. Option 4 was to send in U.S. military forces to remove the

Sandinistas from power.

The policy that Reagan would decide on in early 1981, like his policy toward El

Salvador, was to wage a low intensity conflict against the Sandinista government. In most

respects, Reagan's policy would be very different from Carter's earlier efforts to engage the

new Nicaraguan government.

Reagan's policy was based on three key tenets. First, the U.S. would seek to contain

Soviet influence in the hemisphere, especially that o f its perceived surrogates: Cuba and

Nicaragua. Second, the United States would try to rollback communist gains. The means to

accomplish this end would be to organize and support covert forces in Nicaragua. Third, all

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218
means necessary, with the possible exception o f the outright use o f U.S. military troops,

would be used to accomplish the first two goals.425 The objective was to send the Soviets a

dual message: we were drawing a line in Central America and we were going to support

either the military governments in the region or newly elected democratic leaders in order to

secure it. If necessary, Washington was even willing to create its own regional forces to

accomplish these tasks 426 In short, the achievement o f these goals would become manifest

in the administration's decision to replace political bargaining with military escalation, and

substitute covert war for state diplomacy.427

With these goals in mind, Reagan and some o f his key foreign policy advisors began

a barrage o f verbal attacks on the supposed Soviet-Cuban nexus in Nicaragua and in Central

America overall. In many respects, this verbal assault would mark the beginning of the U.S.

attack on Nicaraguan sovereignty, the ultimate culmination o f which would be a covert war

designed to overthrow the Sandinista regime.

The first blow was struck in February 1981. In the aforementioned State

Department report, the U.S. government claimed that it had "definitive evidence o f the

clandestine military support given by the Soviet Union, Cuba, and their Communist allies to

Marxist-Leninist guerrillas now fighting to overthrow the established Government of El

425 Morris J. Blachman and Kenneth Sharpe, "El Salvador The Policy that Failed," in Richard Newfarmer, ed., From Gunboats to
Diplomacy: Mew U.S. Policies fo r Latin America (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 1984) offer an excellent
overview o f Reagan's approach to Central America.
426 Robert A. Pastor, Whirlpool: U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Latin America and the Caribbean (Princeton, N J: The Princeton
University Press, 1992) p. 68.
427 W alter LaFeber, "Introduction: The Reagan Policy in Historical Perspective," Coleman and Herring, eds., Understanding the
Central American Crisis (Wilmington, DL: SR Books, 1991) p. 1.

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219
Salvador."428 State's argument went as follows: the Soviet Union and its surrogate,

Cuba, were sending military supplies through the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua to support

the rebel uprising in El Salvador. The report suggested that if the United States did not

prevent this transfer of military aid, the government o f El Salvador would be overthrown.

The United States would then be faced with a second Marxist-Leninist regime in Central

America, which would soon spread like cancer to the surrounding countries.

It was at this point that President Reagan immediately cancelled the aid package that

was given to the Nicaraguan government in the final days of the Carter administration. The

result of this cancellation for the Sandinista government was a loss o f over $25 million in

economic assistance. Four year later, Reagan would officially impose a halt on all U.S. trade

with Nicaragua, as well as to put pressure on international lending agencies and foreign

governments to halt their lending and trading with the Sandinista government429 At this

early juncture it was also decided that more drastic measures were needed than simply a

cancellation of economic assistance.

These measures included the initiation o f a covert war against the Nicaraguan

government. The ultimate goal of U.S. sponsored covert activity, o f course, was to unseat

the Sandinistas from power. As mentioned previously, in early March 1981, President

Reagan submitted his "Presidential Finding on Central America." Reagan, in his "finding"

was asking Congress to appropriate $19.5 million dollars for the CIA to expand President

Carter's earlier efforts to assist moderate opponents o f the Sandinista regime. These initial

requests passed with very little congressional opposition.

428 Report by the Department o f State, February 23, 1981. Document 670. American Foreign Policy: Current Documents 1981.
Department o f State Publications 9384.
429 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, p. 107; and Molineu, U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, pp. 213-216.

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With Congressional approval in hand, the CIA began making contingency plans

for clandestine operations in Nicaragua. By 23 November 1981 these plans were

incorporated into National Security Council Directive-17 (NSDD-17). NSDD-17 granted

the CIA authority to recruit a 500 man para-military squad to attack the Cuban support

structure in Nicaragua. Reagan officially signed the finding on 1 December 1981, agreeing

to support and conduct paramilitary operations against Nicaragua.430 After training ex-

Somoza National Guardsmen and other dissident Nicaraguans in Texas, California, and

Honduras, the covert war was about to begin. 431 NSDD-17 was, in a sense, the first real

indicator that the low intensity conflict option was being selected by President Reagan as

official U.S. policy toward Nicaragua.

On 14 March 1982 the Contras struck their first blow. Directed and trained by the

CIA, a group o f ex-National Guardsmen, the former praetorian guard of Anastasia Somoza,

blew up two bridges in the Nueva Segovia province, thus marking the official start of

Nicaragua's new civil war. For the next year and a half, the Contras would strike at least a

hundred times. Over the course o f the year, the original Contra force of 500 had grown to

over 4,000. Moreover, by late 1983, the resistance had nearly 10,000 troops in the field.432

The Contras were divided into two groups. The first, the Nicaraguan Democratic

Force (FDN), was based in Honduras and was led by former National Guardsman Enrique

Bermudez. The second, the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE), operated out of

Costa Rica and was led by Eden Pastora and Alfonso Robelo, two former members of the

430 Signed Presidential Finding on Central America, 1 December 1981, National Security Archives, Iran-Contra Collection,
D ocument# IC00041.
431 Christopher Simpson, National Security Directives, pp. 18, 53-54. See also Peter Kombluh, "The Covert War," in Thomas
Walker, ed., Reagan Versus the Sandinistas: The Undeclared War on Nicaragua ( Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987) pp. 21-24.
432 Walker, "Reagan versus the Sandinistas, p. 26.

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original Sandinista coalition that came to power in Nicaragua after the overthrow of

Somoza 43j Both groups of anti-Sandinistas, it should be stressed, were heavily dependent

on the CIA for training and support. E. Bradford Bums goes so far as to suggest: "The CIA

exercised total and absolute control over the Contras. 434

Ironically, it was Congress that exercised no control over the CIA. Early on, CIA

efforts to bring the two Contra groups together proved to be futile. Pastora refused to

cooperate with the ex-Guardsmen, who he helped to overthrow in the 1979 revolution.

Counter-revolutionaries, one might say, indeed make strange bedfellows. The basic problem

with trying to unify the Contras was that each faction represented distinct and separate

interests. The only commonality between them was their dislike of the Sandinistas and their

desire to acquire control of the Nicaraguan government.

Over time, the FDN proved to be an unorganized and untalented fighting force.

Attempts to establish "liberated zones" in northern Nicaragua failed. In December 1982, and

again in March, August, and October 1983, the FDN was driven back by the Nicaraguan

Popular Army (EPS). Despite setbacks in the field of battle, it should be mentioned that the

FDN was particularly good at one thing: terrorizing the Nicaraguan population. One FDN

leader is quoted as saying: "There is no line at all, not even a fine line, between a civilian

farm owned by the government and a Sandinista military outpost."435

By 1983, it became clear that the CIA was in part responsible for these violations in

basic human rights. In a manual written for FDN leaders, the use of terrorism and the

433 Ibid. pp. 26-27.


434 Bradford E. Bums, At War in Nicaragua: The Reagan Doctrine and the Politics o f Nostalgia. (New York: Harper & Row
Publishers, 1987) p. 65.
435 Harry E. Vanden and Thomas Walker, "The Reimposition o f U.S. Hegemony over Nicaragua," Coleman and Herring, eds.,
Understanding the Central American Crisis p. 165

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222
assassination of government officials were tactics that were advocated by the CIA to be

used in certain circumstances. Because o f the increasing U.S. involvement in the war,

however, domestic support in Congress and in the American public, which was already

quite limited at best, decreased even further.

After the formal approval o f NSDD-17 and the onset o f the war in Nicaragua,

President Reagan needed desperately to maintain Congressional support to keep the Contra

war alive. In January 1983, the president signed off on three top-secret policy proposals

involving Nicaragua. The first was to have the president and Secretary of State meet with

key Congressional leaders to discuss the possibility of creating presidential commissions,

which would of course include members o f Congress, to study the necessity o f increased

economic and military assistance for the Contras. The goal was to have Congress approve

funding for the resistance and to remove restrictions on the aid in return for the creation of

these presidential commissions that were designed to study U.S. policy in Central

America.436

The second policy proposal issued by Reagan, also in January 1983, and which fit

quite nicely with his beliefs concerning regional adversaries (see chapter 3), was to have the

Secretaries of State and Defense, along with the Director of the CIA: develop a program of

appropriate military actions, exercises, and contingency measures designed to curtail and

eventually halt Cuban/Soviet Bloc assistance and presence in Nicaragua.437 Reagan

436 Central America: The Presidential Commission, January 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document #
01759.
437 Central America: U.S. Military Presence, [Excised] and Contingency Response, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra
Collection, Document # IC00135.

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223
directed his advisors to have the program implemented before the completion o f the

policy reviews being completed by the bipartisan presidential commissions.

The third proposal was a direct response to Congress 1982 decision to place

restrictions on the funds that were appropriated for the Contras. In his proposal, the

president called upon his Secretary o f State to develop a public diplomacy campaign to win

support in U. S. pubic opinion for his Central American policies. The objective o f the plan

was to educate the American people regarding the situation in Central America and the

danger posed by the Marxist-Leninist government of Nicaragua in their export of

revolution to democratically oriented states, as well as the danger of Soviet, Soviet Bloc,

and Cuban interference in the region.438 The president also noted that the administration

would, on a twice-a-month basis, inform the major media outlets of the presidents plan for

the region in order to most effectively get his point across to the American people. A third

part of the proposal was to have key administration officials, including himself, lobby

members o f Congress to remove the restrictions on the funds being appropriated for the

Contras in the upcoming budgeting cycle 439

In July 1983, the latter two o f these policy proposals became official U.S. policy

with the presidents signing of National Security Decision Directive-100 (NSDD-100).

NSDD-100 called for, among other things, adequate U.S. support for the democratic

resistance forces within Nicaragua in an effort to ensure that Nicaragua ceases to be a

Soviet/Cuban base and that they government adheres to the principles that it agreed to in

438 Central America: Public Aflairs/Legislative Action Plan, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document#
NI0176I.
439 Ibid.

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22 4
July 1979.440 Additionally, Reagan, in issuing NSDD-100, directed that expansive U.S.

military activities and exercises commence in the Caribbean Basin and along the Pacific

coast of Central America.

The provisions o f NSDD-100, including increased support for the Contras and

expanded U.S. military activities and exercises were yet another component o f the Reagan

low intensity conflict. As a result o f this directive, U.S. military bases were established in

Honduras and were meant primarily to provide training grounds for Contras and for the

Salvadoran army. In addition, naval military exercises took place quite regularly off the

coasts o f Nicaragua and Honduras. The exercises, at times involving up to 30,000 U.S.

personnel, were designed, writes Harold Molineu, as a form of psychological warfare

against the Sandinistas.441

In the autumn of 1983, Reagan once again upped the ante by signing yet another

presidential finding on CIA covert operations in Nicaragua. This time around, Reagan

expanded the role to be played by the CIA on two fronts. First, the president agreed to have

the CIA cooperate with other governments to: provide support, equipment, and training

assistance to Nicaraguan paramilitary resistance groups as a means to induce the Sandinistas

and Cubans and their allies to cease their support for insurgencies in the region. Second, the

president directed the CIA to continue the program until such time as it could be verified

that:

440 National Security Decision Directive on Enhanced U.S. Military Activity and Assistance in the Central American Region (NSDD-
100), 28 July 1983, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Docum ent# N I01781.
441 Molineu, U.S. Policy Toward Latin America p.210.

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225
(a) The Soviets, Cubans, and Sandinistas have ceased providing through

Nicaragua arms, training, command and control facilities and other logistical

support to military or paramilitary operations in or against any other country in

Central America, and;

(b) The Government o f Nicaragua is demonstrating a commitment to provide

amnesty and nondiscriminatory participation in the Nicaraguan political process

by all Nicaraguans.442

In addition to supporting the covert war against the Sandinistas, Reagan decided to

increase economic pressure even further on the Nicaraguan government, another formidable

tool used by the president to carry out his policy of low intensity conflict. In a presidential

proclamation in September 1983, Reagan decided to reduce U.S. imports of sugar from

Nicaragua to six thousand tons and reallocated the remainder o f the original sugar quota to

El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, all of which, not surprisingly, were U.S. allies in the
443
region.

Despite the continued level of U.S. activism, the president by 1984 had failed to

meet his stated objectives in Nicaragua. Moreover, the growing price tag of the war, along

with the president's desire to escalate the conflict, all played key roles in increasing the level

o f public and Congressional dissatisfaction with his policy.444 In response, Reagan tried to

442 Presidential Finding on CIA Covert Operations in Nicaragua, 19 September 1983, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra
Collection, Document # IC00203.
443 Modification o f Country Allocations o f Quotas on Certain Sugars, Sirups, and Molasses, 27 September 1983, National Security
Archive, Nicaragua Collection, D ocument# NIO1834.
444 For a detailed analysis o f the battles between the president and Congress over funding for the Contras consult James M. Scott,
Deciding to intervene: The Reagan Doctrine and American Foreign Policy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996) Chapter 6.

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2 26
win over Congress and public opinion by appointing a bi-partisan commission, led by

former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to reexamine the American role in Nicaragua

and the roots of the crisis. The commission's finding, released in January 1984, served only

to reaffirm the existing U.S. policy.445

After the release o f the findings, the president began to take active steps to try to get

Congress to pass the commissions recommendations. In two memorandums to his leading

national security advisors, the president stated that a concerted effort must be made by

administration officials to obtain from Congress the necessary funds to continue with U.S.

support for the Contras, a program Reagan suggested was a matter o f highest priority.446

With that said, the president directed both Secretary of State Schulz and CIA Director

William Casey to play the lead role in convincing members o f Congress to support the

presidents request for additional funding for the Contras. In his memo, the president

suggested: increased resources o f $14 million for this endeavor are essential to continue

these activities and prevent a major foreign policy reversal. I am determined that this

program should continue.447

Despite the presidents best efforts, criticism of the Contra war continued, especially

when it was discovered that the CIA was now involved directly in the fighting. On 8

September 1983, with Reagans approval, the CIA ordered naval assaults on Nicaraguan

See also William LeoGrande, et al. "Grappling With Central America: From Carter to Reagan," in Morris Blachman, ed.. Confronting
Revolution (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986) pp.317-319.
445 The Report o f the President's National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company,
1984)
446 A dditictrl Funding for Nicaraguan Democratic Opposition Forces, January 1984, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra
Collection, Document # 1C00322.
447 Central American Legislative StrategyAdditional Funding for Nicaraguan Democratic Opposition Forces, 21 February 1984,
National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI01986.

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227
port facilities. The idea to attack these facilities originated with Duane Clarridge, the

CIAs Latin American division chief, who presented the plan to CIA Director William

Casey. Casey, in turn, writes Bob Woodward: knew how to handle the White House. He

presented the plan to the President and to national-security advisor Clark as the next logical

step under the finding that had been sold to the Congress. 448

In their attack, the CIA utilized contract operatives from El Salvador, called UCLA's

(unilateral controlled Latino assets) for the job o f conducting the bombing raids on

Nicaraguan harbors. Caseys motivation behind the decision was to make the Sandinistas

"sweat." "Let's make the bastards sweat," the CIA chief told Clarridge after he received the

presidents approval to go-ahead with the mission. On October 11, the UCLAs conducted a

series o f predawn raids on the Port o f Corinto, blowing up five oil storage depots.449

By December 1983, Reagan had authorized the CIA to once again go on attack and

to expand the Contra forces. As a result, the CIA-directed Contra forces engaged in at least

twenty-two attacks against various ports, power plants, bridges, and other Nicaraguan

facilities. These events culminated in the mining of Nicaraguan harbors on 6 January 1984,

which came on direct orders from the president after a National Security Council Planning

Group Meeting 450 The domestic and international response to the mining was one of

outrage. Congress shortly thereafter refused to grant additional lethal aid to the Contras.

Within Latin American, the response was equally critical. In September 1983,

leaders from four Latin American countries met to discuss ways to bring an end to the crises

engulfing Central America. The result o f this meeting was the creation of the Contadora

448 Bob Woodward, VEIL:The Secret fVars o f the CIA, 1981-1987 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987) p. 281.
449 Ibid.
450 James M. Scott, Deciding to Intervene, pp. 167-168.

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228
Treaty, which called upon all the disputants in the region to agree to the following terms:

1) the removal of foreign military advisors; 2) a reduction in troop levels; 3) an end to

subversion; 4) respect for human rights; and 5) a movement toward democracy. By January

1984, the Sandinista government agreed to the principles laid out in the treaty. And, by

September 1984, all five Central American states were on board.451

Ronald Reagan, by contrast, was extremely skeptical of any regionally negotiated

agreement, especially one that involved the Sandinistas, but even more so, one that involved

the United States and the Nicraraguan government in a bilateral accord. Regarding the

prospects for negotiations with the Sandinistas, the president told the New York Times in

November 1983: I havent believed anything theyve been saying since they got in

charge.452 And, although Reagan did at times suggest in his public addresses that the

United States was willing to support the Contadora peace process, his underlying motive

was to use the possibility o f negotiations as a sop for Congress. This sentiment was

clearly expressed at a 1984 National Security Planning Group Meeting: If we are talking

about negotiations with Nicaragua, that is so farfetched to imagine that a Communist

government like that would make any reasonable deal with us, but if it is to get Congress

to support the anti-Sandinistas, then that can be helpful.453 Just prior to making this

statement, in an effort to smooth over some differences in opinion between his advisors

on the usefulness o f supporting the Contadora peace process, the president noted: With

4 5 1 For a insightful discussion o f the Contadora process cosuit Morris J. Blachman, William LeoGrande, and Kenneth Sharpe, eds..
Confronting Revolutions (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986) pp. 271-292.
452 New York Times, 4 November 1983.
453 National Security Planning Group Meeting, 25 June 1984, National Security Archive, Tran-Contra Collection, Document #
IC00463.

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229
respect to your differences on negotiating, our participation is important from the

standpoint to get support from Congress.454

Cynthia Amson captures the Reagan foreign policy team s view concerning the

prospects for negotiating any type o f settlement to the crisis:

What appeared to unite these policymakers was not only the conviction that little

had been accomplished in Central America, but also an assumption that

communist powers only negotiated to gain tactical advantage, while they amassed

the power to pursue their objectives by force. Negotiations, therefore, disarmed

democratic states while allowing communist ones to buy time 455

Thus, negotiations, for Reagan, were valuable only insofar as they were able gain

additional support in Congress for his foreign policy agenda.

As mentioned above, Congress, by 1984, had effectively cut off funding for the

Contras. As a result, Reagan and his foreign policy advisors now had to devise alternative

means for supplying the resistance. From 1986-1988, this support would take two forms.

First, Reagan made a series o f agreements with a number of foreign governments, namely,

Brunei, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Guatemala, to see if they would fund the Nicaraguan

insurgents while the president tried to convince Congress to once again appropriate funds

for the war effort. Second, Reagan allegedly agreed to a plan designed by a small group of

his national security advisors to use profits from the sale of arms to Iran as additional funds

454 Ibid.
455 Cynthia Amson, Crossroads: Congress, the President, and Central America, 1976-1993 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1993) p. 118.

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to supply and train the Contras. In the end, in accepting these two plans either directly or

tacitly, Reagan decided it was better to disavow U.S. laws than to leave the Contras without

financial and military support. These two means o f financing the war effort, it should be

noted, would be successful in acquiring $80 million for Contra forces. The war would

continue with this funding, but it was winding down.456

The clandestine aid program for the Contras did, however, allow Reagan to buy time

in order to convince members of Congress of the worthiness of his cause. In June 1985,

Congress finally agreed to a $27 million non-lethal aid package. Congress initially placed

restrictions on the use of the funds, however. The main stipulation was that the CIA was to

narrow its activities in Nicaragua to intelligence gathering operations.

The president applauded the decision, calling it an important element in our overall

effort to assist neighboring countries to defend themselves against Nicaraguan attack and

subversion. Reagan did warn, though, that the provision unduly and unnecessarily

restricts efficient management and administration o f the program.457 One year later,

Congress approved an additional $100 million aid package that lifted the earlier restrictions

on CIA activities. "For the first time, U.S. legislators unequivocally endorsed the

administration's strategy of low intensity warfare against the Sandinista government," writes

Peter Kombluh.458

Moreover, in a presidential determination made in December, Reagan declared that

efforts to find a peaceful settlement to the crisis in Nicaragua via the Contadora peace

456 Peter Kombluh, "The Covert War," p. 32.


457 Statement on Signing the Supplemental Appropriation Acts, 1985, 16 August 1985, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra
Collection, Document # IC01430.
458 Kombluh, The Covert War, p. 35.

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231
process had been ineffective and that there is no reasonable prospect o f achieving such

agreement.. .without additional assistance to the Nicaraguan democratic assistance.459

Reagan therefore called upon his Secretary o f State to work with Congress to obtain even

further assistance for the Contras. Taken together, then, Congress provision of additional

assistance as well as the aforementioned presidential determination meant that the war in

Nicaragua was again about to heat up.

This would be the United States' "last hurrah" for the Contras, however. Despite the

increased aid, the Contras still could not mount a legitimate challenge to the Nicaraguan

government, failing to capture a single province, city, or town in 1986. The Nicaraguan

Popular Army repelled counter revolutionary forces at every juncture. Moreover, the

corruption within Contra ranks served only to weaken their cause.

Occurring alongside the war on the ground was the continued use of the economic

tools of intervention by President Reagan. On 1 May 1985, Ronald Reagan in an executive

order officially declared a national emergency with respect to Nicaragua, proclaiming: I,

Ronald Reagan, President o f the United States of America, find that the policies and actions

o f the Government o f Nicaragua constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the

national security and foreign policy of the United States and hereby declare a national

emergency to deal with that threat.460 The Reagan response to the perceived national

emergency was to impose full economic sanctions against Nicaragua, which resulted in,

among other things, the banning o f nearly all exports to and imports from Nicaragua, with

459 Presidential Determination No. 87-6: Further Assistance to the Nicaraguan Democratic Assistance, 27 December 1986, National
Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02964.
460 Ronald Reagan Declares National Emergency and Imposes Economic Sanctions on Nicaragua, I May 1985, National Security
Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02464.

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232
the exception o f goods and services being sent to the Contras, and effectively ended air

and sea travel to and from Nicaragua and the United States. President Reagan would

continue to apply the economic sanctions against Nicaragua during his remaining years in

office, as would his successor. The economic sanctions were discontinued only when the

Sandinistas had been voted out o f office in February 1990.

The not-so-secret war against the Nicaraguan government would continue for the

next three years, but the Contra movement was disintegrating from within. By 1987, many

o f its key leaders were dropping out. Arturo Cruz had left the movement, as did Joaquin

Chamorro. General Bermudez took a no-compromise position, which even upset

Washington.461 The war effort appeared to be going backwards as funding from Washington

became uncertain. The end was quickly approaching.

When the "great communicator" left office, the Contra war was essentially over as

well. Making peace would be left to his successor. President Reagan came to office on a

mission to roll back the Sandinistas revolution; he left office feeling the same way. Five

years after taking office, the fire still burned in the belly:

Nicaragua is a country held captive by a cruel clique o f deeply committed

Communists at war with God and man from their very first days.. ..Of all the nations

o f Central America, only Nicaragua suspends all civil rights; only Nicaragua

suppresses political parties and refuses any dialog with its opponents; only

Nicaragua murders political dissenters and indoctrinates children with class hatred;

only Nicaragua persecutes the Catholic Church, humiliates its Cardinal and the

4 6 1 Harold Molineu, U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, p. 209.

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Pope, and tortures believers of other religions, from Mormons to Evangelicals to

Miskito Indians. Above all, only Nicaragua has become a wedge o f aggression that

intimidates and undermines its neighbors.462

Or, as Reagan announced in his last major address on U.S. policy toward Nicaragua and the

need to offer continued support to the Contras:

Even today, with the spotlight of world opinion focused on the peace process, the

Sandinistas openly boast that they are arming and training Salvadoran guerrillas. We

know the Sandinistas, who talk of revolution without borders reaching to Mexico.

Imagine what theyll do if the pressure is lifted. What will be our response as the

ranks o f the guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala, even Honduras and unarmed

Costa Rica, begin to swell and those fragile democracies are ripped apart by the

strain?.. .Our goal in Nicaragua is simple: peace and democracy. Our policy has

consistently supported the efforts of those who seek democracy throughout Central

America and who recognize that the freedom fighters are essential to that process.

So, my fellow Americans, there can be no mistake about this vote: It is up or down

for Central America. It is win or lose for peace and freedom. It is yes or no to

Americas national security.463

462 Aid to the Contras, 8 March 1986, National Security Archive, Nicaragua Collection, Document # NI02696.
463 Address to the Nation on Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance, 2 February 1988, The Public Papers o f the Presidents
o f the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989.

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These statements clearly reflect Reagans deeply held beliefs concerning the nature o f

the Sandinista regime and that of its internal foes, the Contras. Ronald Reagan would leave

office in January 1989. What he left behind for the people of Nicaragua were painful

memories of war and increasing poverty. These memories would greatly affect the internal

political structure o f Nicaragua in the years ahead and represented yet another example o f

unwanted U.S. intervention.

Why wasn't a military option selected in El Salvador or Nicaragua?

A valid question can be raised concerning why Ronald Reagan did not opt for an

active military solution to the crises in El Salvador and Nicaragua (Option 4). In other

words, given the fact that he viewed the events taking place within the region as

externally directed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and given the fact that he wanted to

reassert U.S. supremacy in the region, why Reagan did not send in U.S. Marines either to

attack the problem at its source, viz., Cuba & Nicaragua, or to use U.S. forces to defeat

the FMLN and secure an allied government in power? The answer, which is some

respects lends credence to those who argue that domestic political considerations are a

vital determinant o f U.S. foreign policy, is that the president realized the political dangers

involved in taking such a course of action.464 Even though Reagan may have been quite

464 For a good example o f this argument consult Robert Pastor, "The United States and Central America: Interlocking Dramas, in
Peter Evans and Robert Putnam, eds., Double-Edged Diplomacy: International Bargaining a n d Domestic Politics (Berkeley, CA:

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sympathetic to a military response, he still kept firmly in mind that public opinion

would probably be strongly against such a course o f action and Congress would not ante

up the funds necessary to support such a decision.

Alexander Haig suggests that in the early meetings held to discuss the crises in

Central America, he championed the cause o f putting pressure on Cuba because he

believed that Castro was behind most o f the mischief in the region. He also notes that the

president appeared to agree with this line of argument. However, he suggests that within

the National Security Council and especially within the White House, the president "was

buffeted by the winds of opinion and tugged by the advice o f those who doubted the

wisdom o f a decisive policy" based mainly on strategic considerations.465 Favorable

public opinion was something that Reagan and his key domestic policy advisors took

very seriously and they knew that the American public saw the potential U.S.

involvement in a ground war in the jungles o f Central America as another Vietnam.466

In Congress, the president also knew that support for a direct military invasion

would be limited at best. Even though the president continued to couch the crisis in terms

o f an East-West showdown and interpreted the rebellion in El Salvador and the

government o f Nicaragua as threats to U.S. national security, the president would

consistently emphasize that he was not going to send American soldiers into combat. The

University o f California Press, 1993) See also, Cynthia J. Amson, Crossroads: Congress, the President, and Central America. 1976-
1993.
465 A1 Haig, Caveat, p. 127. Haig sees the domestic policy troika o f Edwin Meese, James Baker, and Michael D eaveras members o f
the Reagan team who were perhaps the most influential and the most cautious when it came to making policy decisions that would
adversely affect public opinion.
466 For an outstanding analysis of how Reagan and his advisors, along with the general public, viewed the events in El Salvador as
another potential Vietnam and, accordingly, drew very different policy conclusions, consult George Herring, "Vietnam, El Salvador,
and the Uses o f History," in Kenneth Coleman and George Herring, eds.. The Central American Crisis and the Failure o f U.S. Policy
(Wilmington, DL: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1985) pp. 263-282.

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president realized that he would need Congressional support for his policy of low

intensity conflict, which would require incredible amounts o f military and economic

assistance that he saw as necessary to prevent a leftist takeover in El Salvador and to

support the counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua. Thus, the president was willing to

sacrifice a full-scale military option in both countries on the basis o f political expediency.

Another interesting question, as applied to El Salvador, concerns Reagan's

willingness to support Christian Democratic candidate Jose Napoleon Duarte over

ARENA party candidate Roberto D'Aubuisson in the 1984 presidential elections. If the

primary goal of the administration was to defeat the insurgents militarily, then it would

stand to reason that Washington should have supported D'Aubuisson, who was intimately

linked with the upper echelons o f the Salvadoran army and, if elected, would have

vigorously pursued the extermination of all leftist forces in El Salvador. However, this

ignores the fact that in order for the United States to contribute to the defeat of the

communists in El Salvador, Congressional and public support would be needed. And, it

was quite clear that Congress and the American people did not have the stomach to

financially support a Salvadoran president who was historically responsible for some o f

the most gruesome death squad activity in El Salvador's history, including the murder o f

U.S. citizens.

These choices o f a less militant option in both El Salvador and Nicaragua along

with the decision to support Duarte in 1984 illustrates the pragmatic side to Reagans

foreign policy. The president realized that foreign policy decision-making required the

interaction between the executive and legislative branches of government, especially as it

related to the appropriation o f funds. It should be noted that internal domestic pressures

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did indeed influence the direction o f his policy, but it would not determine the policy.

Therefore, one can find partial support for the hypothesis that links domestic political

pressure with changes in foreign policy

Perhaps Reagan would have preferred to use the direct application o f U.S. force to

defeat the FMLN and the Sandinistas and to have supported D Aubuisson in 1984, and

that domestic political forces precluded these options. But, if domestic forces were the

determining factors shaping administration policies, then one would also expect that

Reagan would have only pursued interventionist option 2 (the provision o f aid contingent

upon improvements in human rights and an active effort for a negotiated settlement) in

the former case and would have supported Duarte from the beginning. Instead, Reagans

beliefs regarding the proper role to be played by the United States coupled with his

images o f allies and adversaries and the nature of the international arena, influenced his

choice o f a low intensity conflict rather than simply granting provisional economic and

military assistance. Additionally, in the 1984 elections, Reagan began to support Duarte

only after their preferred candidate had placed third in the first round o f voting.

In the final analysis, when Ronald Reagan became president, he needed to decide

on a course of action that would guide U.S. policy in Central America, at least in the

short term, and, as it turned out, ultimately for the entire period o f his presidency.

Because of public and congressional opposition, however, a possibly preferred course of

action, a direct U.S. military response, was precluded. Instead, Reagan chose to adopt a

policy o f low intensity conflict- a massive and coordinated economic and military

assistance program coupled with the introduction o f U.S. military advisors to help retrain

the Salvadoran army in the art o f counterinsurgency warfare and to raise, train, and

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support the Contra forces in Nicaragua. In addition, an intensive public relations

campaign to win over domestic and international opposition began. Ronald Reagan had

what he believed to be an effective counter to Soviet encroachment into the Western

Hemisphere.

Bush Takes Command

When Ronald Reagan left office in January 1989 and retired to the Rancho del

Cielo in California, the problems that engulfed nearly all o f Central America did not end

with his departure from Washington. In many respects these problems would intensify. El

Salvador was once again about to experience large-scale revolutionary turmoil and

President Bush would need to devise o f a course of action in response to these events.

The FLMN, at the close of 1989, would launch a major offensive against the Salvadoran

government. In Nicaragua, the Contras were fighting a rearguard battle to maintain

themselves as a viable challenger to the Sandinista regime. It would be up to the new

president to fashion a U.S. policy for the region.

George Bush approached U.S.-Central American affairs from a vantage point that

was quite distinct from Ronald Reagan's. Although, as vice-president, Bush was involved

in most o f the key foreign policy decisions regarding U.S. policy toward Central America

during the Reagan years, he remained somewhat in the middle ideologically between the

hard-liners who were consistently advocating a military solution to the crises and the

more moderate factions who were advancing the cause o f a diplomatic settlement. Ronald

Reagan, by contrast, tended to side on most issues with the hard-liners in his cabinet

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during policy debates, but at times needed to project a more moderate image in public

so as to gain Congressional support for his policies. Bush, on the other hand, was above

all a pragmatic man (see Chapter 4). And, regarding the instability enveloping Central

America, he would, likewise, seek a pragmatic solution.

Upon taking over the presidency, Bush appointed individuals to key foreign

policy posts who shared his prudent worldview. For Secretary o f State, he chose James

A. Baker, a close personal friend and former chief-of-staff under Reagan. Baker, as

mentioned above, consistently supported a more middle-of-the-road approach toward

Central America during the Reagan presidency. One o f his main priorities as Reagans

first Chief of Staff was to ensure that the presidents domestic revolution did not get

sidetracked. Baker, along with Ed Meese and Michael Deaver, the policy troika, simply

did not want to distract the president's attention and potentially threaten his domestic

policy reforms by having him focus his attention on the turmoil brewing in Central

America.

For Chairman o f the Joint Chiefs o f Staff, Bush gave the nod to Colin Powell, a

highly cautious military bureaucrat who strongly believed that U.S. forces should not be

committed abroad unless there was a clear and obtainable objective as well as widespread

public support for the use o f force. Powell, like Baker, was a holdover from the Reagan

years, serving as the president's sixth and final national security advisor. As for Bush's

own national security advisor, he chose General Brent Scowcroft, who had previously

served in the same capacity for President Gerald Ford. All these men, including the

president, comments Howard Wiarda, came from the center o f the Republican Party. And

all o f them, unlike Reagan and his closest advisors, held moderate, pragmatic views

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concerning how the United States should respond to events taking place in El

Salvador and Nicaragua.

George Bush perceived the United States as he perceived himself, a fortunate

nation that had been bestowed with certain benefits. It was therefore incumbent upon the

United States to help others. How would the president assist others in Central America?

Simply by working with these war-torn nations to bring peace to their homelands. But,

George Bush, one must remember, was also a very cautious leader; he was the

embodiment o f the American Tory (see Chapter 4). Therefore, the way he would assist

these countries would be by taking a slow, incremental approach in helping them solve

their problems. Unlike Reagan, Bush would respond to changes taking place around him,

he would not lead them. This would be an approach that would emphasize maintaining

stability above all else.

The Bush Agenda fo r El Salvador

The set of issues that George Bush would need to tackle regarding the events

taking place in El Salvador were very similar to those that were faced by President

Reagan throughout the 1980s. Three issues in particular were especially salient. The first

was whether the United States should actively support the Salvadoran government

verbally, economically, and militarily. The second was what stance the president should

take toward the FMLN. The third was how much support should be given to potential

negotiations between the Salvadoran government and the rebels.

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The options that Bush could have chosen from are given in diagram 3. As

required by the congruence model, I have once again selected four possible options that

could have been chosen by President Bush. To reiterate, the logic behind the congruence

model is to arrive at all the possible courses o f actions and then deduce which o f these

most logically would follow from the foreign policy beliefs held by the decision-maker.

(Diagram 3 here)

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DIAGRAM 3: BUSHS POLICY CHOICES FOR EL SALVADOR, 1989-1992

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with-> Option 4
Military
invasion

(ORIGINALLY CHOSEN)
Also consistent with-> Option 3
Low intensity
conflict

George Bushs
Foreign Policy B elief System

(LATER CHOSEN)
Consistent with-^ Option 2
Contingent
Military and
Economic
Aid; Support
Democracy
Promotion of
the use of
peace
negotiations;
Work with
allies

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with-> Option 1
Do nothing

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The first option was to have the United States back away from the crises in El Salvador.

In other words, the U.S. would stand pat and allow the Salvadoran government and the

FMLN to deal with their internal crisis by themselves. The United States would decrease

assistance drastically, if not end it altogether, and bring all U.S. military advisors home.

In short, Bush would be practicing a modern-day isolationism. The second option was to

promote negotiations between the government and the guerrillas. The United States

would use economic and military assistance to prod both parties to seriously pursue a

diplomatic end to the civil war. The third option was a replay o f the Reagan policy:

supply the Salvadoran government with vast quantities of military and economic

assistance so that the Salvadoran army could either emerge victorious in the armed

struggle or, at the very least, prevent the rebels from winning. This option, as under

Reagan, would include not only aid, but also the stationing o f U.S. military advisors in El

Salvador, along with regional military exercises. The final option was to up the ante:

direct use of U.S. military forces to finally defeat the FMLN on the battlefield and to

secure a regional ally in power.

As was the case for Reagan, the first and fourth options were not politically

feasible for President Bush to even consider seriously. Abandoning the Salvadoran

government would mean that eight years of U.S. support, at the cost o f over $3 billion

and the loss of over a dozen American lives, would all have been for naught. Likewise,

increasing the level of force to the point of actually introducing U.S. troops on the ground

did not fly in the Reagan administration, and most certainly would not be accepted by a

Democratic majority in both chambers o f Congress. In short, Congressional opposition

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and opposition in the halis of public opinion would preclude the choice o f this option.

Thus, Bush was left with options 2 & 3: a continuation o f Reagan's low intensity conflict

or a new course that would use diplomacy/negotiations/ and U.S. financial assistance to

bring peace to El Salvador. George Bush started o ff using option 3, but later shifted gears

and adopted option 2. The result o f the shift in policy was that it helped to end El

Salvador's and Nicaraguas bloody and costly civil conflict.

One o f the first orders o f business for George Bush regarding El Salvador was

how he was going to respond to the end o f Christian Democratic rule. After the February

1989 presidential elections were held and the votes were tallied, ARENA candidate

Alfredo Cristiani had won the election with nearly 54% o f popular support as compared

to 37.7% for the PDCs candidate, Fidel Chavez Mena. Despite some early apprehension

regarding the prospects of having a right-wing party take over power in El Salvador,

Bush began to support the newly elected president in public, claiming: "ARENA had

transformed itself into a genuinely democratic party and that Cristiani was a sincere

moderate who had real control as party leader."467

After the elections were over, Bush told a gathering o f reporters that despite some

of the criticism concerning the Salvadoran elections: You dont hear it from me because

I want to give Cristiani a chance. Those elections were certifiably free Democrats and

Republicans on our commission going down there and saying that. So, we will treat the

Salvadoran winner on his word: that he wants to continue the democracy.

467 Carothers, In the Name o f Democracy, p. 37.


468 Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a W hite House Luncheon for Journalists, 3 1 March 1989, The Public Papers o f
the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1992.

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This newfangled support by Washington for ARENA was also evident in the

willingness o f Congress to continue to fund the Salvadoran government at the behest o f

the president. After some early skepticism, Congress, in early 1989, passed the

president's request for nearly $90 million, with very few restrictions attached. 469 These

decisions by the president- to support the new Salvadoran government verbally and

financially and to continue to station U.S. military advisors in the country- amounted to a

continuation o f Reagan's low intensity conflict strategy, but with a twist. Whereas

Reagan granted aid to assist the Salvadoran army to defeat the rebels militarily, which

admittedly was a part of the Bush rationale, the new president firmly believed and desired

a movement toward democracy in El Salvador.

This does not mean that President Reagan did not support democratization at ail

for El Salvador- he certainly did. His administration vigorously pushed for elections in

1982 and in 1984. However, as was illustrated above, Reagans call for a democratic

solution were considered in many quarters as simply a to way gain the support of

Congress. They were meant in large part to gain additional resources for the Salvadoran

government and army who were trying to win the war on the ground.

1989 was a critical year for internal Salvadoran politics. ARENA had replaced the

Christian Democrats, the political wing of the armed left finally entered the political fray

by competing in the presidential elections under the Democratic Convergence Party, and

the rebels were relatively quiescent. Cristiani thus decided that this type o f political

climate augured well for possible negotiations with the rebels. Responding to hints by the

469 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 566-567. The only certification requirements attached were that the president verify that the
Salvador government was making progress in its human rights record and that it was pursuing a negotiated end to the crisis.

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FMLN in January that they would like to resume negotiations, Cristiani agreed to

open talks in September. However, as in the previous meetings in 1984, 1986, and 1987,

the government demanded that the FMLN agree to enter the political arena, put down

their arms, and compete for control o f the government via elections, rather than

negotiating a power-sharing formula. The result, as in each o f the previous negotiating

sessions, was a refusal by both sides to budge from their original positions.

Because o f the deadlock over needed reforms, the FMLN ended the talks and less

than two months later launched their largest military offensive to date. The offensive was

considered by some criteria to be a failure in that it did not cause a countrywide uprising

that the FMLN had been counting on and it did not assist the FMLN in actually taking

over governmental authority. However, the November offensive was a success in that it

did demonstrate to the Salvadoran government, as well as to the international community,

that the struggle was far from over.470

The response on the part o f the Cristiani government to the rebel offensive was to

unleash a reign o f terror reminiscent o f earlier periods in the civil war. Death squads

resurfaced, linked once again to the army and security forces. A massive crack down on

leftists began. One particularly gruesome incident, which rankled in the U.S. Congress,

who at the time the incident occurred were debating whether to extend financial

assistance to the Salvadoran government, was the bmtal execution-style murders o f six

Jesuit priests and two others at the Central American University at the hands o f a U.S.-

trained Salvadoran army battalion. In response, Congress began an investigation o f the

murders to see who was ultimately responsible, and to determine if U.S. aid should be

470 Karl, "El Salvadors Negotiated Revolution," pp. 148-150.

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cancelled in the future. The Congressional investigation later revealed that the

Salvadoran high command had been responsible for giving the order for the executions.

Yet, despite their reluctance to continue to support a highly repressive government, both

the House and Senate in November did not cancel the planned delivery o f military

assistance for El Salvador for 1990, which would amount to $85 million.471

President Bush, at first, not wanting to abandon an ally facing internal pressure,

responded to the pleas of the Cristiani government by ordering an emergency delivery of

weapons. Once the immediate crisis had settled down, however, President Bush began to

reconsider his options for dealing with the crisis. Facing pressure from Congress that

future aid requests might not be granted if improvements were not made in the

government's human rights record, realizing that a military victory over the rebels might

in fact be impossible with the current levels o f assistance, and realizing that the

institutionalization of democracy in El Salvador was not likely if the civil war continued,

the president for the first time developed a sincere two-track policy that blended a low

intensity conflict option (Option 3) with promoting a negotiated settlement to the crisis

(Option 2).

This new policy fit quite well within the context of Bushs foreign policy beliefs.

The presidents national self-image o f the United States was one that perceived the U.S.

as a country that should assist others. And what better way to assist others than to give a

helping hand in trying to work out a regional solution to the crisis. Moreover, Bush

tended to respond to change in a cautious manner. Allowing regional actors to take the

lead in an effort to bring peace to Central America appeared to offer a pragmatic solution

471 LeoGrande, Our Ov/n Backyard, pp. 570-571

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to the crisis. Bush reasoned that once the Central American states had worked out a

verifiable agreement that did not threaten U.S. national interests, he could then lend them

a helping hand by making sure the agreement was successfully implemented. Thus, Bush

would have the United States involved in the peace process, but not leading the way.

In January, Assistant Secretary o f State for Inter-American Affairs, Bernard

Aronson told Congress: El Salvador needs peace, and the only path to peace is at the

negotiating table.. .Let both sides commit to come to the bargaining table.. .and stay and

negotiate in good faith until the war is over.472 Secretary o f State Baker later announced

the official change to Congress in early February 1990: "We believe this is the year to

end the war through a negotiated settlement which guarantees safe political space for all

Salvadorans." This decision to stop pushing for a FMLN military defeat, comments Terry

Lynn Karl, "marked a decisive reversal o f U.S. policy."473

An additional factor that helped to convince Bush that a new policy toward

Central America was needed was the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. On

11 November 1989 the fall o f the Berlin Wall marked the beginning o f the end to the

Cold War. It was becoming quite apparent to President Bush that the Soviets would be

focusing most o f their attention (emphasis added) on handling the transformations that

were taking place in the Eastern Bloc and at home. Thus, the international dimension to

the crises that had played such an important role in shaping how Ronald Reagan handled

these events slowly began to fade away.

472 U.S. House o f Representatives, Congress and Foreign Policy 1989, pp. 72-73.
473 Karl, op. cit. p. 149.

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Slowly, however, is the key word. In the immediate aftermath o f the changes

in Eastern Europe, Bush would remain highly suspicious o f the Soviets. In reflecting

upon his planning for the December 1989 meeting with Gorbachev at Malta, Bush

comments:

I knew I had to push Gorbachev at Malta to stop meddling in Central America.

Incidents at the end o f November (emphasis added), such as the crashing in El

Salvador o f a Nicaraguan plane filled with Soviet ground-to-air missile and other

weapons and munitions, did not help matters. A further sour note was the Soviet

shipment o f MIG-29 fighters to Cuba. This was an interceptor aircraft which

could be configured to deliver nuclear weapons.474

At the Malta conference, Bush writes that he raised the topic o f Central America

with Gorbachev, calling it the most contentious issue between our two countries. And,

in response to a comment made by Gorbachev that the Sandinistas had nothing to do with

Marxism, Bush replied:

I am convinced they are exporting revolution. They are sending weapons. I dont

care what they have told you, they are supporting the FMLN [the leftist insurgent

forces in El Salvador]. I am convinced there is a new shipment o f helicopters

going from the Soviet Union to Nicaragua.475

474 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York:Vintage, 1998) p. 155
475 Ibid. pp. 163, 166.

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Meanwhile, on the ground in El Salvador in the wake o f the FM LNs "Tet

Offensive," President Cristiani realized that some flexibility on the part o f his

government was necessary to bring the guerrillas to back to the negotiating table. Talks

between the two sides began in earnest in April 1990. However, a big problem remained.

Right-wing elements within the Salvadoran army were fundamentally opposed to dealing

with the rebels. Consequently, Cristiani and others who were supporting a negotiated

peace plan needed to find a way to put pressure on the right wing to go along with the

peace talks.

A solution was found in having the Bush administration work closely with the

Cristiani government to convince recalcitrant members o f the Salvadoran armed forces

that U.S. military assistance in the future would be contingent upon their agreement not

to scuttle the negotiations (option 2). This strategy was supported by the U.S. Congress,

who in June 1990 decided to cut the foreign aid appropriation for El Salvador from $85

million to $42.5 million, marking the first time since the civil war began in 1980 that

Congress significantly cut the amount o f military assistance headed for San Salvador.476

From this time forward, the Salvadoran military could not be absolutely certain that

Washington would back them, even in a pinch.

Within the Bush administration itself, pressure was being brought to bear against

the Salvadoran army. In June 1991, Bernard Aronson and Chairman o f the Joint Chiefs o f

476 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 573-574. Congress justified its decision to cut U.S. military aid in h alf by arguing that the
Salvadoran military refused to bring to justice those responsible for the murder o f the Jesuit priests. Congress also threatened to cut the
rest o f the funds if they continued to escape justice. Bush, in a brief turnabout restored military aid to the army in early 1991 when the
FMLN downed a helicopter that contained 3 U.S. servicemen. See, Karl, op. cit.

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Staff, Colin Powell, visited with both Cristiani and Salvadoran military chief General

Rene Emilio Ponce, reminding them "that the U.S. Congress could refuse military aid for

next year's budget if they appear too intransigent" in their negotiating positions.477

In the meantime, the peace talks between the Cristiani government and the rebels

continued and slowly began to bear fruit. The April & M ay 1990 meetings in Geneva

and Caracas resulted in a mutual agreement to deal first with broad political issues and

later an agreement on a final cease-fire. After a series o f meetings were held between

June 1990 and April 1991, the main areas o f disagreement still dividing the two sides

concerned military and constitutional reforms. Initially, the government agreed to reduce

the size of the military and to transfer some security functions within the bureaucracy, but

the government adamantly refused to purge the military o f all officers who were

suspected of human rights violations. As for the Constitution, the FMLN demanded that

changes be made in the electoral and judicial systems. In spite o f these early

disagreements, smaller agreements were worked out in July 1990 and October 1990,

which allowed the United Nations to play a greater role in investigating human rights

violations and to act as a mediator in the dialogue that was taking place.478

The impasse over constitutional and military reform was finally broken in three

key meetings held in April, September, and December 1991. The April meeting tackled

the problem o f Constitutional reform. Agreements were reached that changed the

jurisdiction of the military courts and altered the way Supreme Court justices were

selected. In addition, an electoral tribunal was created that gave political parties a more

477 Quoted in Martha Cottam, Images and Intervention, p. 135.


478 Karl, op. cit., pp. 155-156.

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prominent role over voter registration and in organizing elections. Third, a national

police force under civilian control was created and the mission of the armed forces was

redefined. Finally, a "Truth Commission," consisting o f three foreign jurists would be

responsible for investigating human rights abuses.

The September meeting, which took place in New York, settled the remaining

questions over military reforms. Government negotiators agreed to reduce the size o f the

military by half as well as to accept the creation o f an ad hoc commission to investigate

and punish those responsible for human rights violations. As a quid-pro-quo, the FMLN

agreed to participate in a new civilian police force rather than being incorporated into the

Salvadoran army. A third meeting was set for December, again in New York City, to

finalize the peace accords. Facing the potential cancellation of economic and military

assistance from the U.S. Congress, President Cristiani and Defense Minister Ponce

attended the meeting in person and jointly with FMLM negotiators announced that the

two sides had reached a final agreement. 479

On 16 January 1992 President Alfredo Cristiani and the five key commanders o f

the FMLN put pen to paper and officially ended El Salvador's twelve-year civil war. With

the help o f the President Bush, the U.S. Congress, and others from the international

community, negotiations and compromise accomplished what the use o f military force

could not. Peace had finally come to El Salvador, but at an enormous cost: in over the

twelve years o f fighting 75,000 Salvadoran citizens had unfortunately lost their lives.

479 Ibid. pp. 157-160.

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The Continuing Saga o f Nicaragua

George Bush entered office in a period o f tremendous international change. And,

change for traditional conservatives like George Bush, is not always looked upon

favorably. By 1989, U.S.-Soviet relations had improved markedly since the beginning of

the decade. During the Reagan years, a nuclear arms control agreement had been reached

which eliminated intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF Treaty) from the two

superpowers arsenals, an arms reduction treaty was being negotiated (START I), and the

two once bitter rivals had m et at a series o f summit conferences in an effort to try to iron

out a number of their m ajor differences. The frigid climate o f the Cold War was

beginning to thaw. Yet a great deal of skepticism about the Soviets remained. Both Bush

and his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft were deeply concerned over the

Soviet decision to continue to pour aid into a number o f developing countries. As they

note in their memoirs: "their [the Soviet] behavior in the Third World seemed to be mired

in the Cold War."480 This was especially true regarding Nicaragua where, since 1987, the

Soviets had been sending nearly $800 million per year to the Sandinista regime.481

Skepticism concerning the Soviets was matched with skepticism regarding the

Sandinistas, who Bush continually perceived as being untrustworthy (see Chapter 4).

And, yet, George Bush also possessed a deeply held self-image o f the United States that

480 George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Vintage Books, 1998) pp. 134-135
4 8 1 Don Oberdorfer, The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era (New York: Poseidon Press, 1991) pp. 340-341.

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was linked to helping others solve their problems. Thus, Bush's foreign policy

decisions with respect to Nicaragua would combine caution with service.

As was the case in responding to events in El Salvador, and sticking to the

requirements o f the congruence model, the four possible policy options that Bush could

choose from in responding to events taking place in Nicaragua are given in diagram 4.

(Diagram 4 here)

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DIAGRAM 4: BUSHS POLICY CHOICES FOR NICARAGUA, 1989-1992

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with-> Option 4
Military
invasion

(INITIALLY CHOSEN)
Consistent with-> Option 3
Low intensity
conflict

George Bushs
Foreign Policy Belief System

(LATER CHOSEN)
Consistent with-> Option 2
Support
Democracy
Limited
assistance for
Contras;
Promotion o f
the use of
peace
negotiations;
work with
allies

(NOT CHOSEN)
Not consistent with Option 1
Do nothing

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The first option was to replace U.S. activism in Nicaragua with isolationism. In other

words, President Bush would end all support for the Contras and allow the two warring

parties to resolve their differences without U.S. interference. The second option was to

promote negotiations between the disputants and to push for a democratic solution to the

crisis. The United States would combine verbal support for elections with a continuation

o f financial support to the Contras in order to ensure that the Nicaraguan government

followed through with its promises for presidential elections. The third option was to

continue Reagan's policy o f low intensity conflict by providing the counter-revolutionary

forces with large-scale military aid and training in order to wrestle control from the

current ruling party. The final option was to send in the Marines to overthrow the

Sandinistas.

As was the case with Bush's response in El Salvador, options 1 and 4 were neither

reflective o f the presidents core beliefs, nor were they feasible politically. Bush believed

that the U.S. should lead, but not necessarily dominate (See Chapter 4). Getting out or

sending in the troops was perceived as either a much too passive approach or much too

militant response. Moreover, Congress, throughout the Reagan years, had cut o ff military

assistance to the Contras beginning as early as 1982. The national legislature was simply

not in the mood in 1989 either to commit U.S. forces to Nicaragua, or to appropriate

hundreds o f millions o f dollars to support what they believed to be a losing cause.

In many respects, Congressional obstinacy would soon negate the choice of

option 3. Admittedly, Bush could use emergency powers as Reagan did on numerous

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occasions to provide the Contras with funding, but the amount certainly would not be

enough to lead to a military victory.

Thus, Bush was left with option 2, which interestingly enough fit both his beliefs

and jelled nicely with the sentiments prevailing in the U.S. Congress and in the American

public at the time. This policy option, unlike Reagans choice o f low intensity conflict,

included the important criteria o f supporting negotiations between the Sandinistas and the

United States to promote democratic elections in Nicaragua. Once again, this option

would combine Bushs sense o f service on the part o f the United States with a cautious

approach for bringing about democracy in Nicaragua. Bush, by March 1989, was willing

to break away from Reagans Central American policy, admitting that U.S. policy toward

Nicaragua would henceforth commit the United States to a concerted diplomatic effort
A Q J
to bring peace to Central America.

As noted above, bi-lateral negotiations with the Sandinistas, even to promote

democracy, was something that Ronald Reagan would not countenance. Reagans

position regarding the possibility o f negotiations with the Nicaraguan government was

summed up by Undersecretary o f Defense, Fred Ikle, who stated: We can no more

negotiate an acceptable solution with these people...than the social democrats in

revolutionary Russia could have talked to Lenin into giving up Totalitarian

Bolshevism.483 Put plainly, Ronald Reagan did not trust the Sandinistas and therefore

refused to engage in any serious bi-lateral negotiations with the Nicaraguan government.

482 Los Angeles Times, New U.S. Policy on Contras Told, 25 March 1989.
483 Fred Ikle, U.S. Policy for Central America-can we succeed? News Release, 12 September 1983, (Washington: Office o f the
Assistant Secretary o f Defense for Public Affairs, 1983)

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With respect to U.S. support for the Nicaraguan resistance, Bushs objective

would be to continue to have Congress support the Contras in some form, but unlike his

predecessor, the president would also promote the Central America peace initiatives that

began midway through the Reagan administration. The goal was to bring peace and

democracy to Nicaragua.

The process began very early on in the administration when President Bush asked

Secretary o f State James Baker to meet with congressional leaders to hammer out a

bipartisan accord for Central America. The prevailing view within the administration,

writes Baker, was that trying to remove the Sandinistas from power via the Contras was a

lost cause. "Even with military aid (which Congress would never approve anyway), the

Contras were no match for the Sandinista Army. In this view the best that might be

managed was a policy o f containment that kept the Sandinistas from exporting their

Marxism to neighboring democracies."484 By March 1989, Baker, reflecting on the

Reagan administrations truculent approach toward Nicaragua, suggested: We all have

to admit that the policy basically failed.485 Clearly, Baker and Bush had learned from the

mistakes o f their predecessors. However, the learning that was accomplished also fit well

within the foreign policy beliefs held by the president. All told, Bush would take a much

less militant course o f action in Nicaragua due to the changed international environment,

potential legislative opposition, learning from past mistakes, and because o f different

foreign policy beliefs on how to respond to change.

484 James A. Baker III with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics o f Diplomacy: Revolution. War and Peace, 1989-1992 (New York:
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995) p. 48.
485 Los Angeles Times, New U.S. Policy on Contras Told," 25 March 1989.

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Even though Bush would not select President Reagans quasi-military policy

toward Nicaragua, selling out the Contras was not acceptable either. So, on March 2,

Baker began to meet with Congressional leaders to work out an agreement that would

ensure that the Contras received non-lethal assistance so that they could sustain themselves,

while announcing that the administration was abandoning a military solution to the crisis

and would actively support regional peace initiatives. After twenty days o f intense

negotiations, and, in many ways, eight years of bitter disagreement on the correct course of

action for U.S. policy toward Central America, a mutually acceptable agreement was finally

struck between the White House and Capitol Hill. The Contras would receive nearly $4.5

million per month from March until the presidential elections were held in Nicaragua, which

were scheduled to take place on 26 February 1990. This financial assistance would be used

to help the Contras reintegrate or relocate within Nicaragua. A provision was also added that

stated that in the event the Contras violated the cease-fire, the assistance would end. In

return, President Bush would back the Central American peace process. The "Bipartisan

Accord on Central America" was announced to the American public on 24 March 1989,

with the president proclaiming proudly:

The executive and the Congress are united today in support o f democracy, peace,

and security in Central America. The United States supports the peace and

democratization process and the goals of the Central American Presidents embodied

in the Esquipulas Accord. The United States is committed to working in good faith

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with the democratic leaders o f Central America and Latin America to translate

the bright promises of Equipulas II into concrete realities on the ground.486

The bipartisan accord presented a fundamental transformation in U.S. foreign policy

toward Nicaragua. Bush was now signaling a quiet retreat from the direct use o f military

force as an instrument for political change in Nicaragua...the U.S. government tacitly

acknowledged that the struggle to promote regime change had shifted from the military to

political-electoral terrain," writes Kenneth Roberts 487 After the agreement was made, Bush
< no

noted that the United States no longer had any right to order the politics o f Nicaragua.

Some might argue that this shift in U.S. policy was a result of policy learning, rather

than the result of different foreign policy beliefs held by two U.S. presidents. The argument

is that Bushs beliefs in part changed as a result of the transformations that took place in the

domestic and external environments and he therefore learned that his predecessors policies

would not be acceptable in this new international and domestic environment. It was

therefore the changes in these environments and subsequent policy learning that led to an

alteration in beliefs; consequently, it is the environment, and not beliefs, that is the real

cause o f the change. Is this a valid argument? Undoubtedly. There is no denying the fact that

domestic and international factors played a tremendously important role in the change in

U.S. policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua. However, did these constraints lead to a

change in Bushs beliefs, or, for that matter, his key foreign policy advisors, regarding the
486 "Bipartisan Accord on Central America," 24 March 1989, Public Papers o f the Presidents o f the United States: George Bush
1989-1993 " (Washington: Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration)
487 Kenneth Roberts, "Bullying and Bargaining: the United States, Nicaragua, and Conflict Resolution in Central America" International
Security, Vol. 15 (Fall 1990) pp. 67-102.

488 Quoted in Cynthia Amson, Crossroads, p. 233

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correct course o f action for the U.S. to take in responding to events taking place in

Central America? I would suggest that it was one factor among several.

Bushs beliefs regarding how to respond to international change remained relatively

constant. Throughout the Reagan and Bush documents, one is hard pressed to find Bush

championing a militant solution to the crisis that was taking place in Nicaragua. Admittedly,

Bush was a loyal vice-president and one that always publicly supported President Reagans

truculent policies. However, loyalty to Reagan does not mean that Bush would

automatically continue his predecessors full-fledged low-intensity conflict against the

Nicaraguan government once he, himself, was president. Bush was, above all, a

conservative and pragmatic politician. Working with Congress to forge a new bipartisan

consensus on U.S. policy toward the region, and one that fit within his set o f beliefs,

appeared to be the prudent thing to do. Continuing to assist the Contras with humanitarian

aid fit well within Bushs service-like national self-image, just as allowing the Central

American states to push forward with promoting elections in Nicaragua fit well within his

beliefs on how to respond to change in a cautious manner.

Likewise, it should be noted that one o f Bushs key foreign policy advisors, James

Baker, consistently expressed the need to pursue a non-military solution in Nicaragua. As

Reagans chief-of-staff, it was Baker, along with Michael Deaver and Edwin Meese, who

tried to sway Reagan away from focusing too much attention on foreign affairs, especially

the unpopular civil wars in Central America. And, as Bushs Secretary of State, it would be

Baker who would continue to support Bushs foreign policy proclivities by advocating the

use o f diplomacy to secure U.S. interests in Nicaragua by promoting the case for a

regionally led democratization effort.

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In May, the president established official U.S. policy toward Nicaragua and the

Nicaraguan resistance by signing National Security Directive 8 (NSD- 8). Couched in terms

o f preventing Soviet and Cuban domination of Nicaragua and to reduce the threat that the

Sandinista regime posed to overall regional stability, President Bush suggested that the

United States had five goals that it would pursue with respect to Nicaragua. The first was to

prevent Soviet strategic use o f Nicaragua, to include withdrawal o f Soviet and Cuban

military presence and sharp reduction of Soviet bloc assistance. The second was to reduce

the threat posed by Nicaragua to its neighbors and other countries in Latin America by

ending Nicaraguan subversion. The third was to reduce the size and capability o f the

Nicaraguan military to levels commensurate with Central American stability.489 The final

two goals were to promote democracy in Nicaragua and to assist in regional-wide economic

development in order to prevent long-term instability throughout Central America 490

Besides laying out the objectives of U.S. policy toward Nicaragua, NSD-8 also

indicated how the president planned to obtain them. The first priority of the United States,

wrote Bush, would be to engage in active diplomacy on a sustained basis for a democratic

opening in Nicaragua. Quite interestingly, and unlike any position adopted by President

Reagan, Bush suggested that bilateral negotiations with Nicaragua should not be excluded.

Second, the president expressed the need to put pressure on the Soviet Union to end their

military relationship with Nicaragua and to let Moscow know that the status o f U.S.-Soviet

relations would be contingent upon improvements being made in this area. Third, Bush

stressed the need to take a carrot-and-stick approach with the Sandinista government, which

489 National Security Directive 8, I May L989, Copy provided by the George Bush Library, College, Station, Texas.
490 Ibid.

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would include the use of trade, economic development, and bilateral discussions in an

effort to prod the Nicaraguan government toward meeting their commitments concerning

democratization. Fourth, the president emphasized that U.S. support for the Contras and for

internal political opponents should continue up until democratic elections are held, hoping

that this would act as a disincentive for the Sandinistas to not renege on their promises for

future elections. Finally, Bush argued that the United States, and not regional or

international actors, would be responsible for determining whether the Sandinistas were

fulfilling the aforementioned promises.491

By late 1989, it became clear that the United States was looking for a face saving

way out o f the Central American quagmire. The means to accomplish this end would come

through a series of peace initiatives begun and carried out by a number o f Latin America

states, and ultimately implemented with the blessing o f the Bush administration.

During the Reagan years, a variety of countries from Latin America and the

Caribbean Basin became increasingly worried about the fighting taking place in Central

America. They believed that the high level of tension generated between the United States

and Nicaragua might escalate into a full-scale regional war which might engulf them within

its midst. Keeping these fears in mind, the foreign ministers o f Venezuela, Colombia,

Mexico, and Panama met and ironed out a set of principles that later became known as the

Contadora Peace Plan. As noted above, by September 1984, all five Central American

nations signed the agreement and were willing to adhere to the following conditions: 1) an

end to all support of any insurgency within the region; 2) a reduction o f foreign military

advisors leading to a complete elimination of foreign military bases in Central America; 3) a

491 Ibid.

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reconciliation between the conflicting political groups within each country. President

Reagan, it should be noted, publicly supported the plan, but worked behind the scenes to get

El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica to withdraw from the agreements, an effort that

eventually succeeded. The Contradora Process, at least during the early part of the Reagan

presidency, had became a dead letter.492

After his 1986 electoral victory, Costa Rican president Oscar Arias decided to revive

the peace process. By 1987, the Arias peace plan, also known as the Esquipulas Plan, was

completed. The plan called for a cease-fire to all the insurgencies then taking place

throughout the region, democratization and free elections, and amnesty for political

opponents. Ail five Central American states endorsed the plan, with Nicaragua being one o f

the initial signatories. The Reagan administration tried to avoid endorsing the plan, but was

forced to praise it in public once President Arias won a Nobel Peace Prize for his valiant

efforts to bring an end to the various civil wars within the region.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega took advantage o f the Axias plan and began to

make a number of conciliatory steps to end the fighting in his country. First, he agreed to

have international observers monitor the presidential elections scheduled for November

1990. Then, he decided to release 1,800 former National Guardsmen held in Nicaraguan

prisons, followed closely thereafter by a suspension o f the military draft until after the 1990

elections. In February 1989, as part of the Tesoro Beach agreement, the Sandinistas agreed

to alter their Constitution and to reschedule the presidential elections for February 1990. By

492 Hany E. Vanden and Thomas Walker, "The Reimposition o f U.S. Hegemony over Nicaragua," Coleman and Herring, eds..
Understanding the Central American Crisis (Boulder, CO: Wcstview Press, 1991)

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265
August, Ortega had agreed to major electoral reforms with the political opposition,

which would allow for "fair and free" presidential elections.

A bump in the road to peace, however, occurred in October 1989 when Ortega

announced at the Pan-American summit that his government was unilaterally ending the

cease-fire that had been in place for the previous nineteen months. President Bush was able

to use this decision by the Nicaraguan government to persuade Congress to continue to

provide the Contras with humanitarian aid up until the 1990 elections.493 Despite this rock

on the road to peace, the stage was now set for the electoral showdown in Managua.

At first, the Bush administration believed that Ortega's acceptance o f "free" elections

was merely "a sham."494 Later, administration officials came to believe that an

internationally supervised election might possibly be a win-win situation after all. If Ortega

did not allow for fair and free elections and rigged them in favor of the Sandinistas, it would

demonstrate to Congress and to the international community at large the repressive nature of

Nicaraguan government. Bush, if he desired, could then ask Congress for additional lethal

aid for the Contras. In addition, if Ortega went ahead with the elections, the political

opposition might actually win and democracy could take root in Nicaragua.

Yet Bush still hedged on giving his full support for the scheduled elections. The

president questioned whether the Sandinistas would peacefully accept defeat In September,

Bush signed National Security Directive 25 (NSD-25), thus establishing official

administration policy toward the February 1990 Nicaraguan presidential elections. In the

directive, the president ordered that three actions be taken. First, Bush prohibited the

493 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, pp. 555-558.


494 Stephen E. Ambrose, Rise to Clobaiism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993) p. 357.

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provision o f covert assistance to political or other oppositional groups in Nicaragua.

Second, the president directed that the Department of State undertake a vigorous overt

program to support a free and fair election process. And, that every effort be made,

consistent with U.S. law, to assist the democratic opposition to compete effectively with

the Sandinista regime.495 Third, Bush stated that if the Sandinistas blocked overt U.S.

assistance, then the Secretary of State and the DCI (Director o f Central Intelligence) should

seek rapid consideration o f other options.496

The means that Bush would use to support the democratic opposition would be to

offer them over eight million dollars o f overt assistance via the National Endowment for

Democracy. Specifically, the money went to help support the National Opposition Union,

led by Violeta Chamorro.497 When the elections came, Washington received its long awaited

prize: the Sandinistas had lost power.

On 25 February 1990, the Nicaraguan electorate cast their ballots in one of the most

heavily observed elections in Central American history. To nearly everyone's surprise, the

National Opposition Coalition (UNO) candidate Violeta Chamorro received over fifty-four

percent of the popular vote to less than forty-one percent for the Sandinista candidate Daniel

Ortega. Needless to say, President Bush was thrilled about the outcome.

Prior to the elections, Bush and Gorbachev had worked out an agreement that

offered to end Soviet military aid to the Sandinistas in return for Washingtons agreement to

495 National Security Directive 25,22 September 1989, Copy received by request from the George Bush Library, College Station,
Texas.
496 Ibid.
497 Harry Varden and Thomas Walker, op. ciL, p. 173.

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abide by the election results, regardless o f the outcome.498 When Chamorro won the

presidential elections, President Bush was able to have its cake and eat it too: Soviet military

assistance had ended and the Sandinistas were voted out of power 499

The voter turnout for the elections was an impressive 86 percent. The UNO had

claimed its right to the Nicaraguan presidency. Contrary to what Washington expected,

Daniel Ortega accepted defeat gracefully. He congratulated Chamorro on her victory and

wished her, the very best in the future. His goodwill was evident when he told the newly

elected president: "You know that I respect and love you, and congratulate you on your

victory."500 In the end, Stephen E. Ambrose is in part correct when he states that "the credit

for democracy in Nicaragua goes...most o f all to Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas."501 By

peacefully accepting defeat, Ortega and the Sandinistas set a precedent for the peaceful

transition to democracy in Nicaragua.

Overall, though, it should be emphasized that the Nicaraguan citizens were the ones

who turned the tide. Since 1981, the Nicaraguan people had probably suffered as much as, if

not more, than any other people during this time period. These were years o f "war,

destruction, and economic destabilization," writes E. Bradford Bums.502 With the election

o f Violeta Chamorro, nine years o f U.S. intervention came to an end. Just as in the Cold

War, the United States had "won." But the costs had been enormous. The covert war led to

498 Jan Adams, A Foreign Policy in Transition: M oscow's Retreatfrom Central America and the Caribbean. 1985-1992 (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 1992) pp. 123-127.
499 Don Oberdorfer, The Turn, p. 341.
500 Harry Anderson, "A No Vote for Ortega" Newsweek: 12 March 1990, p. 34.

501 Stephen E. Ambrose, op. cit., p. 358.

502 Varden and Walker, op. cit. p. 173.

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over 40,000 Nicaraguan deaths; over one hundred twenty thousand Nicaraguans were

displaced; health care facilities and schools were destroyed, leaving the country in social

turmoil. The economy was also set back nearly four billion dollars.503 It goes without

saying that the Nicaraguan people suffered the greatest damage o f all. The pain still lingers

on today and will continue to be felt for a long time to come.

In departing Nicaragua, George Bush continued an American tradition. Robert

Pastor compares this tradition to a "whirlpool."504The essence o f his argument is that U.S.

activity in Latin America and the Caribbean can be represented by a cycle of fixation and

inattention. In times o f crisis, the United States is sucked to the center o f the whirlpool and

Latin America suddenly becomes a vital national interest. Whereas in times of peace and

stability, the United States lingers off to the periphery, leaving Latin America to deal with its

own problems. Unfortunately for Central American states, especially Nicaragua and El

Salvador, the end of armed civil conflict did not mean that Washington would now help to

rebuild the countries that it helped to destroy throughout the 1980s. Rather, U.S.-Central

American relations have once again returned to a period o f benign neglect.

Jfc SfC 3|C J f : SfC

What comparisons can be made concerning the influence o f presidential foreign

policy beliefs on U.S. foreign policy toward El Salvador and Nicaragua during the Reagan

and Bush presidencies? The rationale behind U.S. foreign policy for both men was very

503 E. Bradford Bums, At War in Nicaragua., p. 62,

504 Robert A. Pastor, Whirlpool: US. Foreign Policy Towards Latin America and the Caribbean, p. 20-41.

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similar: to prevent the expansion o f Communism in the region. The means that were

used to accomplish this end, however, were quite different.

The Reagan approach to the crises in El Salvador and Nicaragua was based on a few

very simple premises that were ail linked to his active approach for directing/leading

change. First among these was the belief that the Soviet Union and its proxies were the

driving force behind all the regional turmoil. The second was that the United States

presented the "last, best, hope of mankind" to fend of communist tyranny. The third premise

was that within a world order characterized as zero-sum, the United States needed to and

could be effective in drawing the line against Soviet encroachments in the Western

Hemisphere. The resulting policy, then, was one that emphasized large-scale economic and

military assistance for allies in the region to defeat either rebel insurgents or an already

entrenched Marxist-Leninist regime and an aversion to negotiations. The tools that were

used to accomplish this task would be much more than simply increased aid, however.

Astronomical amounts o f financial assistance would be coupled with U.S. military training,

large-scale military maneuvers, the provision of logistical support for covert operations, and

a public relations campaign, all nicely packaged under the concept o f low intensity conflict.

Standing in the background was also the ever-present threat that the United States might

resort to the direct use o f its military forces, as occurred in Grenada in October 1983.

George Bush, by contrast, started from a different set o f premises that reflected his

core foreign policy beliefs and resulted in a much more cautious approach to responding to

change. Admittedly, the Soviet Union was still perceived to be a contributing cause to the

crises in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The United States' role in the region, however, was not

to prevent left-wing governments from coming to power to any cost. President Bush did not

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attempt to solve these two countries problems for them; instead, he would help them

deal with their problems on their own, so long as their solutions did not threaten vital U.S.

interests. Bush, above all, would manage the problems by assisting regional actors in

pursuing negotiated settlements to their respective crises. This was the major difference

between the foreign policies o f the Reagan and Bush presidencies toward El Salvador and

Nicraragua. Without a doubt, George Bush believed that the United States needed to act, but

he perceived that an effective way to end the crisis was working with, not against other

Central American actors. George Bushs cautious approach to dealing with change led him

in this direction. Thus, the resulting policy was one that moved away from the use of low

intensity conflict to a policy o f actively supporting a diplomatic solution to the crisis and the

use o f economic and military assistance to push the peace process along.

The effectiveness of the two different policies in meeting the goal o f minimizing

instability could not have been more different. After eight years of Reagans low intensity

conflict, the FMLN was still a formidable threat to the Salvadoran government, while the

Sandinistas were still entrenched in power. During the Bush presidency, the two civil wars

had ended. The Salvadoran rebels finally agreed to lay down their arms and enter the

political arena in January 1992. And, in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, in February 1990,

accepted peacefully the results o f a democratic election that handed over the reins of

government authority to the opposition. Indeed, the differences in the outcomes are a

sobering lesson that should be learned by all future U.S. policy makers.

Occurring alongside these shifts in U.S. policy were the incredible changes that were

taking place internationally, especially in Eastern Europe and within the Soviet Union.

Moscow and other Eastern Bloc countries, albeit slowly, were finally ending their

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involvement in Central American affairs and turning inward to solve some o f their own

problems. The Salvadoran rebels and the Nicaraguan government were losing their most

powerful international supporters. Negotiations and elections appeared to be a viable way

out o f the crisis. In the final analysis, then, it was the different approaches taken by the two

superpowers along with the willingness o f regional actors to work together that helped bring

to an end one of the most tragic periods in Central American history.

What about Panama?

Prior to moving on to the concluding chapter, an important question needs to be

answered. If a key difference between Ronald Reagans and George Bushs foreign policy

toward El Salvador and Nicaragua, and in Central America overall, was that Bush was more

inclined to use diplomatic means to find solutions to the prevailing crises, namely, through

his support for negotiations, and that he tended to make foreign policy decisions slowly and

incrementally, then what explains President Bushs decision to authorize the invasion of

Panama with 25,000 U.S. military forces in December 1989? Bushs decision to invade

Panama, it should be noted, represented the single largest commitment o f U.S. military

forces abroad since the Vietnam conflict. Clearly, this decision does not fit very well within

the argument presented above that George Bush tended to seek diplomatic solutions to the

crises in Central America. Does this decision therefore cast doubt on the validity o f the

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central hypothesis of this dissertation: that different foreign policy beliefs held by

Reagan and Bush contributed to changes in U.S. foreign policy toward Central America in

the 1980s? The answer, in short, is that it does casts some doubt on the strength o f the

hypothesis, but does not entirely falsify it.

The causes behind the decision to invade Panama were varied. Stephen Ropp

suggests that the final choice of a large-scale military intervention and the timing o f the

actual invasion occurred because of a confluence of factors.505 Internationally, changes

taking place in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union paralleled the Panamanian crisis.

The end of the Cold War, Ropp suggests, actually made the use of force more attractive to

policy makers in Washington because it made the possibility o f a confrontation with the

Soviets much less likely. Domestically, it is argued that a new foreign policy consensus had

emerged regarding the utility of the limited use of force in well-defined situations. On the

individual level, the argument is that Bush and his key foreign policy advisors had

personally experienced successes with the use of force in Grenada and Libya, which they in

turn used as analogies in deciding what could be done to resolve the crisis in Panama.

Additionally, Ropp contends that by 1989 a set of war-fighting commanders had come to

power who refined military contingency plans that were originally developed during the

Reagan years and made them more attractive as a potential option for the new president.506

505 Steven C. Ropp, "The Bush Administration and the Invasion o f Panama: Explaining the Choice and Timing o f the Military
Option," John D. Martz, ed., United States Policy in Latin America: A Decade o f Crisis and Challenge (Lincoln, NB: University of
Nebraska, 1995) pp. 80-109.
506 Ropp argues that in Washington the war-fighting commanders included Chairman o f the Joint Chiefs o f Staff Colin Powell and
Secretary o f Defense Dick Cheney. On the ground in Panama, Lt. General Max Thurman became Commander-in-Chief o f the U.S.
Southern Command in September 1989, replacing a much more cautious military official. General Frederick F. Woemer, Jr. This
argument concerning the importance o f the individuals who provided President Bush with information on a possible military solution
to the crisis is also dicussed in Bob Woodwards, The Commanders (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991) pp. 80-196.

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Ropp explains the timing o f the decision, December 1989, as a result o f two

domestic level constraints. The first was that the U.S. presidential elections in November

1988 forced the Reagan administration to put the military option aside for the time being.

The second was that Reagans Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral William Crowe, was

not in favor o f using military force to unseat General Noriega. Crowe wanted to ensure that

the damage done to the U.S. military in the aftermath of the Vietnam debacle, specifically as

it related to the militarys reputation, not be repeated. He believed that if military force was

used, and it failed, the U.S. military would be blamed for the failure, not the politicians who

had ordered the use o f force. Ropp points out that in the history o f U.S. foreign policy,

presidents will tend not to recommend the use of force when the nations top military

professionals oppose it. Thus the decision to go ahead and invade Panama would be delayed

until a new Chairman o f the Joint Chiefs was appointed, someone who would be more

favorably disposed toward using military force to secure political ends.507

This multi-level explanation for the decision to use force, and the timing o f the

action in Panama, is quite persuasive. It does a fine job in pointing out the various factors

that were at play in influencing Presidents Bush final decision to order U.S. troops into

action. What this and other analyses o f the Panamanian invasion often times fail to note,

however, is that Bushs final decision to commit U.S. forces was in fact made in an

incremental fashion, which was indicative of his set of beliefs regarding how the U.S.

should respond to change. President Bush did not set the United States on an entirely new

course of action in Panama; rather, his final decision was such that his first policy option

507 Ibid, pp. 92-94.

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failed and he ended up carrying out a set o f military plans that were created during the

Reagan years.

By December 1989, when the decision to use U.S. forces was made, President Bush

believed that the United States had exhausted every possible non-military option to obtain

its desired goal: the removal of General Manuel Noriega from power and the

reestablishment of democracy in Panama. As early as July 1987, the Reagan administration

decided to suspend U.S. aid programs to Panama, resulting in the loss of over $26 million in

economic and military assistance. Reagan officials also began suggesting that Noriega

should step down from power.508

Diplomacy was also used in late 1987. A plan was developed whereby Noriega

would leave office and in return he would not face indictment charges for drug trafficking in

the United States. Noriega turned down the offer.509

In early 1988, President Reagan imposed economic sanctions on Panama, including

cutting the quota for sugar imports into the United States. In addition, Reagan suspended

U.S. payments for the use of the Panama Canal and began placing restrictions on U.S. banks

that were conducting business with the Panamanian government. By February 1988, a

federal district count in Miami, Florida had indicted Noriega on twelve counts of drug

trafficking.510

After the indictments, negotiations were attempted once again. From April through

May 1988, representatives from the State Department worked out an agreement with

508 Harold Molineu, U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, pp. 245-246.
509 Martha Cottan, Images and Intervention, p. 148-150. See also Michael L. Conniff, Panama and the United States: The Forced
Alliance (Athens,GA: The University o f Georgia Press, 1992) p. 158.
510 Harold Molineu, U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, pp. 245-246.

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Noriega. The terms o f the new agreement were almost identical to the earlier attempt at

a negotiated settlement in 1987: Noriega would resign and U.S. would drop the federal

indictments. When the State Department set a deadline for signing the agreement, Noriega

balked. President Reagan ordered an end to the negotiations immediately after Noreigas

refusal to accept the terms o f the agreement. This decision marked the last major act of the

Reagan administrations policy toward Panama.511

George Bush began his presidency hoping that the elections scheduled for May 1989

in Panama would solve the Noriega problem once and for all. In an effort to help the

opposition prevail in the presidential elections, Bush signed a secret finding that ordered the

CIA to channel $10 million to the political opposition. The funding would be used mainly

for communications and psychological warfare, both of which would be directed by the

CIA.512 The elections were held on schedule (May 7th) and it appeared that the political

opposition, led by oppositional candidate Guillermo Endara, would emerge victorious. It

fact, Michael Conniff writes that based on pre-election surveys and Church conducted exit

polls, the opposition claimed a 75 percent victory.513 However, before the official

counting of the ballots was completed, Noriega dispatched paramilitary forces to take

control of various polling places so that the ballots could not be counted. When the political

opposition and their followers protested publicly three days after the election, Noriega

ordered his supporters to violently crack down on the protesters. Noriega then officially

nullified the election results.

511 Cottam, Images and Intervention. P152-153.


512 Kevin Buckley, Panama: The Whole Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991) p. 169.
513 Michael ConnifT, op. cit. p. 160.

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Needless to say, President Bush was not pleased with the Panamanian leaders

audacious behavior. To a gathering o f the White House Press Corps on 13 May 1989, Bush,

in response to a question about whether he was advocating a Panamanian Defense Force

(PDF) coup or even a popular revolution against Noriega stated: I would love to see them

get him out. Wed like to see him out o f there.. .The will of the people should not be

thwarted by this man and a handful o f Doberman thugs.. .514

Five months after the president made this statement, a group o f junior officers in the

PDF tried to unseat Noriega. Bush and his leading foreign policy advisors, however,

believed that the coup was not well-organized and offered only minimal support. Without

full U.S. backing, the coup attempt failed. And when it was revealed in the press that Bush

had done very little to facilitate the coup, he was criticized heavily by both Democrats and

Republicans in Congress.515 In addition, after the coup was put down, Noriega began to

taunt President Bush publicly for his ineffective efforts to remove him from power. This

ridicule, when added to the aforementioned congressional criticism, caused the Bush

wimp factor once again to resurface. In response, Bush began to send more U.S. military

personnel and equipment into Panama. It appeared the president was gearing up for more

forceful actions.

On 15 December 1989, Noriega had the National Assembly declare that Panama

was in a state of war with the United States as long as U.S. military forces continued to try

to intimidate the Panamanian government. Noriega also had the national legislature declare

him maximum leader for national liberation. One day after these provocative decrees were

514 Interview with members o f the White House Press Corps on the Situation in Panama, 13 May 1989, The Public Papers o f the
Presidents o f the United States: George Bush, 1989-1993.
515 The Congressional criticism that Bush faced is covered in Woodwards, The Commanders, pp. 127-128.

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issued, PDF forces fired upon four U.S. servicemen after they failed to stop at a

roadblock in Panama City. One o f these men, Lieutenant Robert Paz, died at a local hospital.

That same day, PDF forces detained a U.S. naval officer and his wife who had witnessed the

shooting. Both were subsequently harassed and beaten. It appeared that the situation on the

ground in Panama was bordering on chaos.

It was within this context that George Bush gave the go-ahead for a military invasion

o f Panama on 17 December 1989, utilizing a plan that had been developed during the

Reagan administration and later refined by Bushs key military advisors. U.S. forces would

go into action on 20 December 1989. 25,000 military personnel would be used to protect

U.S. citizens, defeat the PDF, restore the democratically elected government o f Guillermo

Endara, and to capture General Manuel Noriega.

The decision that Bush made to commit U.S. troops, therefore, was one that

followed a number of failed non-military attempts to obtain the United States objective in

Panama. President Bush did not actively seek a military solution to the crisis. Rather, he

proceeded slowly in responding to events, as he did in El Salvador and Nicaragua,

sometimes at great political cost to himself. At first, Bush considered elections as a viable

means to secure U.S. objectives. The president believed that perhaps individual choices in a

free electoral contest could secure a desired end as effectively as the use o f military force.

His initial policy toward Panama was thus strikingly similar in many ways to his policy

toward Nicaragua: the provision o f U.S. assistance to the political opposition. The goal was

to help the political opposition win in the upcoming presidential elections. In Nicaragua, as

noted above, Bush would provide over $8 million to the political opposition through the

National Endowment for Democracy. In Panama, the presidents secret finding authorized

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the CIA to provide the political opposition to Noriega with S10 million. Both programs

in part help turn the tide in favor o f the political opposition in the elections. Unfortunately,

in the case of Panama, General Noriega nullified the election results. In contrast, following

the 1990 Nicaraguan elections, the Sandinistas abided by the results and peacefully gave up

power to the National Opposition Union. It was in the aftermath o f the election debacle in

Panama, that Bush began to seriously consider more militant courses of action.

Once it became evident that elections would not do the trick in Panama, Bush had to

reassess U.S. policy. The president could reflect back on his predecessors policies and see

that Reagan had tried to use various economic tools as well as negotiations to convince

Noriega to leave office. These efforts were ineffective. Moreover, Bush had tried to use

elections to wrestle control away from Noriega. This, too, had failed. The only recourses

left, then, were to support an internal coup or to use U.S. military forces directly to

overthrow Noriega. And, when the October coup attempt did not pan out, it appeared that a

U.S. military invasion was only option remaining.

Perhaps in the aftermath of the October coup attempt, Bush could have extended an

olive branch to Noriega by offering to negotiate a settlement to the crisis along the same

lines as were worked out under Reagan. However, once Noriega began to taunt the U.S.

president in public, the political fallout that would follow from such an action was much too

great to consider seriously. Democrats and Republicans were already criticizing President

Bush for not providing the coup plotters with enough support. Therefore, when it appeared

that U.S. lives were now in danger and that his advisors believed they had a plan that would

work, Bush ordered the invasion.

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In the final analysis, President Bushs decision to order the invasion o f Panama

does represent somewhat o f an anomaly to a central point being developed in this

dissertation: that George Bush was more likely than Ronald Reagan to believe that

negotiations should be used to promote U.S. objectives in Central America. To authorize the

use o f 25,000 U.S. troops to invade another nation-state is certainly not a diplomatic

solution to a crisis. However, it must also be acknowledged that President Bush chose this

option when it appeared that all other reasonable courses of action had failed. What was

absent in Panama that was present in El Salvador and Nicaragua was a government actor(s)

who was willing to compromise and cooperate with the United States to bring a peaceful

end to the conflict. If Noriega had abided by the election results, as the Sandinistas had in

Nicaragua, or if Noriega was willing to negotiate a solution to the crisis as the FMLN was

willing to do in El Salvador, then the decision to invade Panama would more than likely not

have been made and countless lives would have been saved.

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Conclusion

Presidential foreign policy beliefs are important because they can potentially

influence the decision-making process in a number of critical ways. First, the beliefs held

by presidents can influence his assessment o f incoming information. Presidents often

possess preconceived notions that can contribute to their exclusion o f information that

rims counter to their already held preconceptions. Second, beliefs can shape a president's

definition o f the situation that he is facing and helps him to identify its most salient

features. The major point being that presidents can define reality in radically different

ways and these varied interpretations can lead to different behavioral outcomes. Finally,

the beliefs held by a president can influence his identification and evaluation of options,

and the promotion of options among his advisors.

In this dissertation, I have tried to uncover the foreign policy belief system of

Presidents Reagan and Bush through a qualitative content analysis o f the their public

speeches, personal memoirs and internal administration correspondences, along with an

analysis o f the autobiographies o f their leading foreign policy advisors. The purpose of

examining a presidents belief system is to deduce from these beliefs certain foreign

policy proclivities, and then see if these beliefs match-up with subsequent changes in

U.S. foreign policy behavior. The value o f using this analytic tool can be determined by

comparing how this approach helps us to understand change in U.S. foreign policy as

compared to other potential analytical models.

This concluding chapter will point to some o f the advantages and disadvantages

o f relying solely on system-level and domestic-level arguments for explaining change in

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U.S. foreign policy. I will show why including beliefs is a necessary condition for

gaining a fuller understanding o f the shifting nature o f U.S. foreign policy.

The System-Level Explanation

The main system-level interpretation o f change in U.S. foreign policy begins with

the premise that U.S. activism in various regions of the world is geared toward meeting

actual or perceived threats to American interests by powerful extra-regional state actors.

Simply stated, neo-realists argue that the structure of the international system constrains

state behavior in very specific ways. Because o f the anarchical nature o f the international

system, states need to emphasize security, and when a powerful outside actor tries to

make in-roads into a region that another state considers its "sphere o f influence," the

natural response, so the argument goes, is for the challenged state to balance against the

potentially threatening adversary. Thus, U.S. foreign policy in Central America

throughout the 1980s is explained by neo-realists as a direct outgrowth o f the need for the

United States to balance against the perceived Soviet threat to the region.

Clearly, this argument possesses a great deal of validity. As mentioned in

Chapters 3 and 4, both Presidents Reagan and Bush shared a common set of beliefs about

the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union as the core issue in their

respective foreign policies. The neo-realist interpretation is indeed quite accurate in

predicting that given a perceived threat to Central America by the Soviets, the United

States would act. However, the exact nature o f the U.S. response is something that neo

realists cannot confidently predict. And although neo-realist scholars would be quick to

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point out that they make no actual claims in being able to specify a particular type o f

response, a belief system model can be used to make reasonable predictions concerning

this very question.

In the two cases analyzed above, both Reagan and Bush possessed very positive

self-images o f the United States that stressed the need for an active foreign policy. Yet

the two presidents held a vastly different set of beliefs regarding how the United States

should respond to changes taking place around the world and, in particular, the changes

taking place in Central America. When Ronald Reagan entered the White House, he

believed that the United States should attempt to roll back Soviet gains, especially in

Central America. Logically, this belief foreshadowed a very active foreign policy for the

United States in Central America. In practice, a policy of low intensity conflict was

adopted, which favored the inflow o f U.S. advisors into the region and the influx of

massive amounts o f U.S. military and economic assistance to support allied governments

and counter-revolutionary forces who were fighting against a rising Marxist-Leninist tide

in Central America.

President Bush, on the other hand, firmly believed in the necessity o f responding

cautiously to a changing world order. If the Reagan motto for Central America was: "act

quickly and decisively," then the Bush motto was: "do no harm." Assuming these beliefs,

one can be reasonable confident in predicting that the Bush administration would take a

much less active approach in responding to the events taking place in El Salvador and

Nicaragau. In terms o f policy output, President Bush eventually abandoned the use of low

intensity conflict in favor o f provisional economic and military assistance and an active

promotion o f the cause o f democratization for the region.

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What's quite interesting about this shift in policy is that it significantly

decreased the role that the United States would play in guiding the changes that would

eventually occur in the region, a shift that fits quite nicely within the framework of

a'Tory-like" U.S. president, but conflicts with his national self-image concerning the

need for an active United States in foreign affairs. By contrast, a decreased role for the

United States under Reagan would appear to be out o f sync with his set o f beliefs

regarding how to handle change, as well as out o f sync with his almost religious

conception o f the proper international role for the United States.

One might argue that the change in policy from Reagan to Bush was a mere

reflection o f the changing international balance o f power. By the early 1990s the Soviet

Union had virtually withdrawn its active support for both the Sandinista government and

for revolutionary groups operating throughout the region. Revolutionary events were

taking place in Eastern Europe beginning in late 1989 and the Soviet regime began to

turn inward to try to deal with its own faltering political and economic system. These

changes in the degree o f Soviet interference in this hemisphere therefore meant that the

United States no longer needed to be overly concerned with the events taking place in El

Salvador and Nicaragua. There was simply no longer a need to try to balance against

potential Soviet gains. Thus, Bush quite logically stepped back from having the United

States take an active role in trying to solve the problems of the region.

Yet how valid is this argument? The key problem with the neo-realist explanation

can be seen by subjecting it to a counter-factual test.516 Suppose that the Cold War did

516 F ora very persuasive argument on the benefits o f using counter-factuals to discover causal chains in international politics consult:
Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History (New York: Addison, Wesley,

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not end in the late 1980s and that the structure o f the international system remained

bi-polar during the Bush administration. Would George Bush have continued the Reagan

policy o f actively propping up the government o f El Salvador and the funding and

training o f the Contras in Nicaragua? Neo-realists would answer: probably. However, a

belief system model would suggest that Bush would respond in a much different fashion.

Prior to becoming president, and even while president, Bush possessed a cautious and

conservative personality. It seems highly unlikely that Bush, like Reagan, would be bent

on actively pursuing a victory over communism in Central America at virtually any cost.

Instead, it is much more likely that Bush would have responded to events in the region as

he later responded to the changes in Central Europe: slowly and incrementally, taking a

wait-and-see approach as he tried out various policy options.

The problem with the use o f a counter-factual test is that empirical evidence can

not really be brought to bear in order to test the validity o f this assertion. However, if

subsequent responses to international events teach us anything at all, it seems reasonable

to assume that Bushs policies toward El Salvador and Nicaragua would have been

similar to his policies toward the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc.

In the end, then, structural explanations are on target in predicting a change in

U.S. foreign policy in response to shifts in the international distribution o f power. But,

this approach can and should be complemented with a belief system model if one wants

to make reasonable predictions concerning the type o f response that ultimately will be

chosen.

Longman: 2000,3rd edition) pp. 47-50. See also, Philip Tetlock and Arone Belkin, eds., Counterfactual Thought Experiments in
World Politics: Logical. Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996)

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Domestic-level Explanations

The two most frequently used domestic-level explanations for analyzing change

in U.S. foreign policy focus on the interplay between the executive and legislative

branches for control o f the direction o f U.S. foreign policy and the competition between

internal bureaucratic actors within the executive branch for control over the foreign

policy agenda. The first approach assumes that Congress can tie the president's hands in

meeting his foreign policy objectives by controlling the purse strings. The second

approach assumes that the internal bureaucratic group that has the president's ear can

shape his subsequent foreign policy decisions by controlling the type and amount of

information that is provided to the chief executive. Both schools o f thought, it should be

noted, have a great deal o f empirical evidence that can be brought to bear to support their

claims. Yet each explanation is problematic in certain ways and can be improved by

incorporating some of the findings of belief system theory.

For the entire period o f their respective presidencies, Ronald Reagan and George

Bush faced a domestic political environment where the Republican political party was in

the minority in either one or both houses of Congress. Needless to say, Ronald Reagan's

ability to wage a policy o f low intensity conflict in El Salvador and in Nicaragua was

limited by Congressional restrictions. With respect to El Salvador, for most o f the period

from 1981 until 1989, Congress mandated that President Reagan certify that the

government in San Salvador was making progress in its human rights record and that it

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was pursuing a negotiated end to the civil war. These certifications were required

before Congress would agree to any increase in the level o f military and economic

assistance.

With respect to Nicaragua, Congress was even more committed to staying the

president's hand. First in 1982 and later in 1984, a Democratic-dominated House of

Representatives attached a series o f amendments to the foreign aid appropriations bill that

severely limited the use of U.S. funds to assist in the overthrow o f the Sandinista

government.

Admittedly, both sets o f restrictions played an important role in shaping the types

of policies that Reagan could use. However, they did not necessarily determine the

policies that he ultimately did select. President Reagan abided by the certification

requirements, albeit in a minimal fashion. As for restrictions on U.S. aid to the Contras,

when the Congressional amendments were put into place, the president and his advisors

began to accept both legal and illegal sources o f funding, which ultimately culminated in

the Iran-Contra debacle.

When President Bush entered office, adherents to this school believed that the

president-elect was faced with a legislative branch that was unwilling to continue

Reagan's not-so-secret war in Central America. George Bush was thus put in a

predicament. He could expend an enormous amount of political capital on the Hill in an

effort to continue an activist course for the United States in Central America, which

might or might not have led to a successful outcome. Or, he could agree to Congressional

demands to promote regional peace initiatives, and thus be assured o f the national

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legislature's support in other areas o f concern for U.S. foreign policy. Bush, it is

argued, logically choose the latter.

The question that needs to be asked is whether Bush chose a different course o f

action than Ronald Reagan in Central America because of Congressional pressure or

because it fit within the context o f his own set o f foreign policy beliefs. I believe that the

answer is a little o f both. By 1989, Congress was in no mood to continue pumping into

the region the same amount o f aid as it had the previous eight years. For Congress, the

Reagan years demonstrated what could go wrong in U.S. foreign policy if they did not

keep a watchful eye on the president. In the immediate post-Reagan years, Congress was

going to be very careful in monitoring the funds that they appropriated. Bush would have

to, and indeed did, work very hard to obtain any additional assistance for the Salvadoran

government and the Contras in 1989-1990. But, the desire to move beyond a military

solution to the crisis was also, in part, a manifestation of George Bush's cautious

personality. Bush believed that responding to change should be done prudently. Working

with regional actors to bring peace to Central America appeared to be a pragmatic and

politically astute maneuver. Bush reasoned that he could possibly achieve two objectives

at once: democratization for Central America, while at the same time re-establishing a

sense o f bi-partisanship in U.S. foreign policy that, the president believed, would be

needed to respond to the larger transformations taking place internationally.

Another domestic-level explanation for change in U.S. foreign policy attempts to

establish a correlation between presidential decisions and the advisors who provide the

chief executive with information and advice. In short, the basic argument suggests that

presidential foreign policy decisions will tend to mirror the preferences o f the advisors in

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the bureaucracy who hold the president's confidence and provide him with

information. Within the context o f U.S.-Central American policy in the 1980s, the

argument is that any shifts in U.S. policy that took place over this time period reflected

the shifting correlation o f power within the executive branch. For example, the shift in

administration policy in late 1981, whereby the United States announced that aid to the

Salvadoran government would be contingent on human rights improvements and that the

U.S. was pushing for wide-scale political reforms, is explained as a victory by moderate

elements within the executive branch over their more ideological and hard-line

opponents. Likewise, the major shift in U.S. policy in the Reagan to Bush transition is

also explained as a reflection of which advisors held sway within the executive branch. In

this case, it is argued that Bush's moderate foreign policy advisors fundamentally

influenced the president's foreign policy direction.

It goes without saying that the advice and information which advisors present to

their president will indeed influence the final choice that he makes. However, what those

o f a bureaucratic politics persuasion often fail of point out is that the president relies most

heavily on advisors who usually share similar core beliefs. It is no coincidence, for

example, that Ronald Reagan most frequently consulted Edwin Meese, Casper

Weinberger, Jeane Kirkpatrick, William Casey and W illiam Clark for advice on foreign

policy. Ail these individuals held similar ideological viewpoints as the president. And

when Reagan did heed the advice o f more moderate advisors, such as Thomas Enders

from the State Department, and the suggested policy appeared to fail, the president

became all the more likely to rely on those who held similar ideological viewpoints (see

chapter 5).

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Likewise, George Bush tended to trust the advice o f men who shared some o f

his conservative beliefs, such as Secretary of State James Baker and National Security

Advisor Brent Scowcroft. The point is that although the bureaucratic politics argument is

very useful in acknowledging the importance that advisors and bureaucratic agencies play

in the creation and implementation o f U.S. foreign policy, it is also quite true that

bureaucratic winners and losers are often determined by how well they match-up with the

beliefs held by the president.

As was the case for the structural argument presented above, domestic-level

explanations are very useful in helping to uncover some o f the constraints that a president

faces in selecting certain foreign policy options. Presidents do not make policy decisions

in a vacuum. Opposition from the legislative branch and competition within the

bureaucracy will influence presidential decision-making. What one must also keep in

mind, however, is that these are simply constraints. And, it must be acknowledged that

constraints do not determine policy, they merely influence it. A full understanding o f the

nature o f change in U.S. foreign policy therefore requires an examination not only o f

structural and domestic limitations, but also the beliefs held by U.S. presidents.

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290
: j(c jfc :fc sfe sfe sfe

Overall, I believe this study has added a new dimension to the study o f U.S.-

Central American relations and has helped fill some o f the theoretical lacunas in the field.

The central hypothesis for the study that presidential beliefs are correlated with changes

in U.S. foreign policy can be considered confirmed, albeit with reservations. Presidential

beliefs are certainly not sufficient for an explanation o f change in U.S. foreign policy.

Beliefs need to be coupled with an examination of system and domestic-level variables.

Despite these reservations, it is still true that the role o f presidential belief systems

on the conduct o f U.S. foreign policy has not nearly received the attention that it

deserves. Perhaps no one expressed the need to bring the individual back to center o f

analysis better than did James Barber. In his most frequently cited book, Barber writes:

To the grand theorists o f social movements and the engineers of systems

and structures- some o f whom see human choice as determined by forces

outside the control o f human being- I can only express puzzlement.

Shuffle the system as you will, there is still at its center the person, and it

is his initiative and responses that steer the ship.517

In U.S. foreign affairs the most important decision-maker remains the president. Indeed,

it is often his decisions that have the greatest weight in determining the course this

country will take in the global arena. It is my hope that this dissertation has helped not

517 James D. Barber, The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall,
1977). p. xi.

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only to shed light on the importance that a president's foreign policy belief system has

had on the changing nature o f U.S.-Central American relations, but has also helped to

improve our overall understanding o f the causes behind change in all o f U.S. foreign

policy.

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292
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