In This Review

Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America 1977-1992
Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America 1977-1992
By William M. Leogrande
University of North Carolina Press, 1998, 790 pp.

In a compelling and elegantly written book, LeoGrande provides a detailed exegesis of the bitter struggles over U.S. policy toward Central America in the 1980s. Starting with the overthrow of Somoza in Nicaragua and the outbreak of El Salvador's civil war, he analyzes the intense policy disagreements between the White House and the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department, and Congress.

While Central America was the site of some of the last battles of the Cold War, it was in Washington that foreign policy bickering tied the vicious internecine struggles over Central America to other policy concerns -- leading inexorably to the Iran-contra affair. By paying so much attention to Washington, however, LeoGrande gives too little credit to the Central Americans themselves for the ultimate outcome of peace. In the end, contrary to warnings of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, Central America became neither a Vietnam-style quagmire nor a communist region of "dominoes toppling from Panama to Mexico." Like many in his generation, LeoGrande was profoundly engaged in the Central American crisis. All the same, he has risen above partisanship to produce a book central to any historical evaluation of those troubled times.