Deciding to Intervene: The Reagan Doctrine and American Foreign Policy

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Deciding to Intervene: The Reagan Doctrine and American Foreign Policy

By James M. Scott
Duke University Press, 1996
333 pp. $49.95
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This study by a political scientist at Illinois State University does two different things very well. It gives a fair and accurate account of the origins, development, and consequences of the Reagan Doctrine, paying detailed attention to the varying ways in which that policy played out in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola, Nicaragua, and Mozambique. And it provides an excellent case study of the strange workings of the American system of government, in which disparate actors struggle to define, control, and implement policy, the sum of which reflects shifting coalitions in various states of equipoise but usually corresponds with the precise intention of nobody. One admires the adeptness with which the author blends these two interpretive purposes, an enterprise carried off far more coherently than was the subject of his inquiry. It would not occur to anyone today to describe this system of policymaking "as the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man," as Gladstone once described the American Constitution, but one might well say, after reading this account: "Two cheers for checks and balances."