The Reagan Doctrine: The Guns of July

Courtesy Reuters

On a long hot day last June and then three straight days in early July, American foreign policy clicked into a new phase whose implications the nation is only beginning to explore. In rapid succession, the House of Representatives, dominated by the Democrats and until then an off-and-on check on the bent of a Republican President and Senate, took four signal votes.

The House dramatically reversed itself and voted "humanitarian" aid to the contras in Nicaragua. It initiated the first open American assistance to the non-communist resistance in Cambodia. It repealed a ten-year-old legislative ban on military aid to antigovernment guerrillas in Angola. And for the first time it publicly voted funds to sustain the resistance in Afghanistan.

The notion that the United States should sponsor putatively democratic forces striving to unseat Soviet-supported regimes had been gaining momentum for several years. These votes to aid the world’s four leading anti-communist insurgencies, however, gave the so-called Reagan Doctrine a sharp new profile and a powerful new thrust. I propose to examine how the Reagan Doctrine came to be, what it might become, and what its progress tells us about the kind of nation we are. This is an inquiry into what might be called the guns of July.


At first glance the Reagan Doctrine has a familiar look; it appears to fit easily into the United States’ 40-year quest for containment of the Soviet Union. Actually it is different. As practiced by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon and Carter, whose names have embellished previous "doctrines," containment is a defensive theory referring to efforts to limit the further spread of Soviet power.

The Reagan Doctrine goes over to the offensive. It upholds liberation, the goal of trying to recover communist-controlled turf for freedom. In theory, its reach is universal. In practice, the places to which the Reagan Doctrine has been applied are a particular set of Third World countries where the Marxist grip is relatively recent and therefore presumably light. This puts

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