More Precious Than Peace: The Cold War and the Struggle for the Third World

In This Review

More Precious Than Peace: The Cold War and the Struggle F=for the Third World

By Peter W. Rodman
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994
641 pp. $35.00
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A veteran of the Washington policy wars has written a tour de force on the U.S.-Soviet struggle for the Third World. At turns dispassionate, witty, and argumentative, Rodman brings to the work not only a near-unique vantage point as a senior aide in four Republican administrations but also highly impressive skills as a historian. Beginning with the clash between Wilson and Lenin over the colonial question, Rodman expertly traces the unfolding of the great game over the following 75 years, with most of the work given over to the 1970s and 1980s and to detailed treatments of the crises in Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Central America. Rodman shows how, at the moment of abject American demoralization following the collapse in Vietnam, the Soviet Union began to break out of the fetters that Nixon and Kissinger had attempted to impose. Its various interventions, culminating in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, underlined the necessity for vigorous American opposition. They also provided an opportunity to pay the Soviets back in their own coin, and American support was funneled to armed insurgents who contributed significantly to the enfeeblement and collapse of Leninism. Ironically, this resistance was most effective in Afghanistan, where it was least democratic. Nevertheless, in Rodman's view Reagan's great accomplishment was that he joined together a strategic rationale and a moral justification ("the democratic revolution") for U.S. actions, tapping "the Wilsonian tradition as a motivation for the accomplishment of a Nixonian strategic purpose."

Whatever its merit in the past, the relevance of the Reagan formula for the post-Cold War world is questionable. The partners to the union, Mr. Strategic Purpose and Ms. Moral Vision, seem increasingly ill at ease in one another's company. It seems most unlikely that the form their dalliance took under the Reagan Doctrine -- underwriting armed insurrections on behalf of free government -- provides a justifiable policy for a future without the Soviet threat.