The Reagan Doctrine:
Third World Rollback
from the book
Right-wing Power in U.S. Foreign Policy
by Thomas Bodenheimer and Robert Gould
South End Press, 1989
Nowhere is rollback more evident than in U.S. policy toward
the Third World. Third World rollback has come to be named the
Reagan Doctrine. However, it is inaccurate to attribute this Doctrine
solely to Ronald Reagan or the Right. Third World rollback in
the 1980s is little more than an extension of postwar era policy.
... this policy transcends which party holds the office of president
or the balance of power in Congress.
... 1) The Reagan Doctrine affirms that Third World rollback
is justified as the American contribution to a world-wide democratic
revolution; but in fact, the major groups supported by the Reagan
Doctrine are anything but democratic. 2) Third World rollback
plus Third World containment are being carried out through a total
program of political, economic, military and psychological warfare
called "low intensity" conflict. 3) The right wing was
unable to pressure the Reagan administration into pursuing comprehensive
Third World rollback on every possible front because such a policy
is not realistic.
Roots of the Reagan Doctrine
... U.S. government policy in the 1945-1980 period was containment
vis-a-vis the USSR and rollback toward the Third World. In the
late 1970s, intense pressure built from the global rollback network,
particularly the military-industrial complex and ex-CIA operatives,
to reinstate a more aggressive foreign policy. Around 1980, the
right wing publicly formulated a resurgent global rollback doctrine
meant to supplant rather than supplement containment. The rallying
cry for the new rollback came from the Committee of Santa Fe:
"Containment of the Soviet union is not enough.... It
is time to sound a clarion call for freedom, dignity and national
self interest which will echo the spirit of the people of the
United States. Either a Pax Sovietica or a worldwide counter-projection
of American power is in the offing. The hour of decision can no
longer be postponed."
If the Santa Fe Committee was the cheerleader of the rollback
team and Rollnet cadres the players, the Expanding Soviet Empire
(ExSET) theorists were its coaches. According to ExSET, since
the Soviet Union is relentlessly expanding, it takes rollback
(offense), not simply containment (defense), to bring victory.
Because rollback of the USSR itself was not immediately feasible,
the Reagan Doctrine came to mean the rollback of the outposts
of the Soviet Empire in the Third World as a first step toward
An ExSET intellectual who made rollback politically respectable
was neoconservative Jeane Kirkpatrick. She argued in 1979 that
Third World revolutions are illegitimate, the products of Soviet
expansion rather than of local historical forces opposed to repressive
dictatorships. It should be noted that nowhere in her famous Dictatorships
and Double Standards does Kirkpatrick empirically prove that left-wing
regimes are more repressive than right-wing dictatorships. Notwithstanding
this factual weakness, Kirkpatrick had solved the moral problem
of the rollbackers: why it is fine to overthrow left-wing governments
and make friends with rightist dictators. The Kirkpatrick Doctrine
held that right-wing dictatorships can evolve into democratic
governments while left-wing nations cannot. Under this Doctrine,
Marcos, Pinochet, and P.W. Botha were leading their countries
down the path of democracy.
With global rollback newly respectable, it was the Heritage
Foundation that translated theory into concrete policy. Heritage
targeted nine nations for rollback: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia,
Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, Nicaragua, and Vietnam.
The Reagan government's initial implementation of the Heritage
plan was done covertly, following the longstanding custom that
containment can be overt but rollback should be covert. In March
1981, CIA Director William Casey presented proposals for covert
actions against Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada,
Iran, Libya, and Cuba. On March 9, 1981, six weeks after taking
office, Reagan authorized covert military actions against the
Nicaraguan government, and on December 1, 1981, he signed a covert
action plan calling for the creation of a 500 commando force and
the expenditure of $19 million to conduct paramilitary operations
against Nicaragua. On March 19, 1981, Reagan formally asked Congress
to repeal the 1976 Clark Amendment prohibiting U.S. aid to the
rebels attempting to overthrow the government in Angola. The ClA
reportedly violated the Clark ban by training, funding, and arming
the rebels. The Reagan administration increased the covert supply
of arms to the resistance in Afghanistan, a policy begun in the
Carter administration.' In December 1982, the ClA informed Congress
that the Nicaraguan commandos, called counterrevolutionaries or
"contras" by the Sandinistas, had grown to 4,000 men.
By late 1982, the U.S. media reported that the goal of Reagan's
Nicaragua policy was indeed rollback: the overthrow of the Sandinista
government. In 1984, Congress repealed the Clark Amendment; in
1985 and 1986, the administration provided $15 million per year
for Jonis Savimbi's Angolan insurgents. The number of covert actions
jumped from a dozen small ones in 1980, to about forty major operations
In all probability, the Reagan government was planning to
keep its rollback operations covert, but leaks in Washington made
that option impossible. On May 4,1983, Reagan officially made
the Nicaraguan venture public, calling the contras "freedom
fighters," but he stopped short of admitting his rollback
goal." On October 25, 1983, 1,900 U.S. troops invaded Grenada;
the first edge of the evil empire had been unraveled.
The Selling of Rollback as "Democracy"
When Ronald Reagan entered the White House, his policy appeared
to fit the historic scenario of anti-communist military interventions
of containment and rollback, both covert and overt, and support
for pro-U.S. right-wing dictatorships. This traditional "support
your local dictator" policy had a new intellectual rationale:
the Kirkpatrick Doctrine ... But even with Kirkpatrick's intellectual
blessings, this classic right-wing policy ran into major roadblocks.
In Nicaragua, the covert rollback activities were unearthed,
and such CIA actions as the mining of the harbors became embarrassments.
Counterinsurgency in El Salvador was seen as propping up a regime
condoning death squads. "Constructive engagement" in
South Africa was attacked by the president's own party as incompatible
with the gaining of any black domestic electoral support. And
the growing unpopularity of the Philippines' Marcos, which was
spawning an increasingly strong leftist insurgency, reminded too
many people of Somoza and the Shah. The final blow was the 1984
congressional cutoff of aid to the Nicaraguan contras.
To meet this crisis of foreign policy legitimacy, the administration
brought out its modern version of an old ideological weapon: democracy.
The test case was El Salvador. The administration needed a Salvadoran
president to be elected with a "moderate" image who
would be acceptable to a Congress that was balking on the provision
of military aid. Jose Napoleon Duarte was the man, and after his
1984 election-in which the United States provided funds on his
behalf- Duarte came to Washington to be hailed as the answer for
democracy in Central America. A few days later, Congress approved
$61.7 million in military and economic aid for El Salvador.
Nicaragua presented more problems. Initially the U.S.-run
contra operation was covert, but by 1982, its cover had been blown.
The operation was then justified as simply the interdiction of
Nicaraguan arms to the guerrillas in E1 Salvador. But in 1984,
former CIA Central America analyst David MacMichael revealed that
this rationale was bogus. The explanation for the aggression against
Nicaragua then became the need to pressure the Sandinistas to
negotiate. But again credibility was lost when it was the United
States who did not negotiate. A new justification was needed.
In February 1985, Reagan met the problem head on. Starting
in his State of the Union address, escalating in a radio message,
and speaking at a press conference, he proudly stated what everyone
knew: his policy was to support "freedom fighters" trying
to overthrow Third World "communist tyranny." This was
the Reagan Doctrine: overt and unashamed support for Third World
How was the Reagan Doctrine different from the multiple well-known
interventions by the United States in the past? In many respects,
it was a continuation of selective rollback, but there were some
changes. First, it was not simply case-by-case intervention, but
a worldwide rollback policy whose aim was to shrink the "Soviet
empire" at its periphery. Second, it was an openly stated
policy, a clear difference from previous rollback activities that
had generally been covert and denied. Third, its justification
went beyond the negative goal of defeating communism and took
the moral high ground by espousing worldwide democracy.
This was not the first time the United States used democracy
to promote interventionist actions. Truman's March 12, 1947 speech
announcing the Truman Doctrine pledged, "it must be the policy
of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting
attempted subjugation...." Kennedy similarly pledged to "bear
any burden...to assure...the success of liberty." Over the
past twenty years, the national platforms of both the Democratic
and Republican parties have given prominence to the strengthening
of freedom worldwide.
But apart from such general rhetoric, a look at specific interventions
shows that the usual justification was not the establishment of
democracies but the overthrow of "communists." Guatemala
was an elected democracy in 1954; that year, the United States
put a military regime into power. In Vietnam, the United States
supported the cancellation of the 1956 elections and backed one
after another repressive South Vietnamese leader who took power
through coups and assassinations. The 1965 Dominican Republic
intervention (to prevent a previously elected president from re-assuming
power after he had been ousted by a coup) was initially justified
as protecting U.S. citizens from civil unrest and later was sold
to the public as a necessary act to prevent a new communist state
in the hemisphere. Chile's Allende was democratically elected
and the United States covertly installed a bloody military dictatorship
in his place in 1973. It was simply not credible to mouth "democracy"
and then install a military dictator.
Prior to the Vietnam War, the justification of anti-communism
was sufficient to sell foreign interventions to the U.S. population
and to the non-communist world. In the 1970s, with the Vietnam
Syndrome at home and the decline of U.S. influence abroad, this
argument no longer worked. Large percentages of the population
opposed military involvement in Southern Africa and Central America.
Foreign policy analysts and policymakers, aware of the potency
of the Vietnam Syndrome in the United States were-according to
1976 and 1980 surveys-strongly split over whether the United States
should take an interventionary posture in the world. Thus, under
the guise of supporting a genuine Third World movement for democracy,
the Reagan administration tried to make the policy of global rollback
respectable. The U.S. government can no longer get away with the
crushing of democracy around the world directly; to justify its
actions it now... graces its rollback actions with the terminology
While in the long run, the new reliance on "democracy"
was designed to help solve the problem of the Vietnam Syndrome,
in the short run, "democracy" was to get Democratic
congressional support for Reagan's policies in El Salvador and
NIcaragua. Rather than trying to hide its support for the Nicaraguan
contras, the Reagan administration was now proudly trumpeting
its support for them as freedom fighters, the moral equivalent
of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The Reagan Doctrine
spells it out: it is OK to overthrow governments we call communist.
In fact, it is our responsibility to do so.
The Success of the Democracy Argument
Reagan hit the jackpot with his worldwide "democratic
revolution." Most of the right wing accepted the argument,
as did center and center-right Democrats. In the Contragate hearings,
the terminology "freedom fighters" was applied to the
Nicaraguan contras by Congressional interrogators and witnesses
alike as though this designation was an established fact.
Speaking for the right wing, Jeane Kirkpatrick has said, "The
point of departure of Reagan Doctrine...is the idea of freedom."
Right-wing presidential candidate Jack Kemp wrote that the guiding
force in U.S. foreign policy is to protect freedom where it exists,
and to advance freedom where it is denied. Right-wing ideologue
and Reagan consultant Michael Ledeen has stated that the organizing
theme of U.S. foreign policy must be to support the movement for
a democratic revolution around the world.
Some far rightists did not support the democracy adventure
if it meant challenging dictators who were Rollnet actors. Democracy
was a slap in the face to much of the World Anti-Communist League
(WACL), an organization including ex-Nazis, death squad organizers,
and right-wing dictators. Sen. Jesse Helms chastised the State
Department for its (mild) criticisms of the Pinochet government
in Chile. The right-wing periodical, Human Events, strongly supported
South Africa, calling it a "pro-Western bulwark that provides
more in the way of freedom and wealth to its blacks than the vast
majority of black African states." Some would have preferred
death squad organizer Roberto d'Aubuisson over moderate Duarte
as El Salvador's president. But more and more of the Right came
to support the Reagan administration on this issue.
The Democrats bought Reagan's newly found commitment to democracy
en masse. They began to support Reagan on El Salvador after the
Duarte election. In 1983 and 1984, House and Senate Democrats
voted three times by margins of more than 75 percent to prohibit
aid to the contras. In 1985 and 1986, when the contras were transformed
into founding fathers and freedom fighters battling the Reagan-labeled
"totalitarian dungeon" of Nicaragua, the Democrats became
more positive toward contra aid. The Democratic Policy Commission,
composed of centrist Democrats, stated, "The promotion of
our democratic principles is one of the most effective ways of
protecting our strategic interests."
Is "Democracy" New Policy or New Rhetoric?
Is the verbal support for freedom and democracy simply a justification
for U.S.-supported insurgencies or is it an actual change in policy?
The New Republic, which supports the Reagan Doctrine, sees a real
The Reagan Doctrine has a Philippine corollary.... President
Reagan's March 14  message to Congress on regional conflicts
amplifies the doctrine. And it adds a corollary pledging 'to oppose
tyranny in whatever form, whether of the left or the right.' The
struggle for democracy, it seems, is to be supported not only
in Communist countries but also in right-wing dictatorships.
In The New Republic's view, this policy started with El Salvador,
then was applied in Haiti and the Philippines. It was then initiated
in Chile by mild U.S. pressure against Pinochet. The Reagan administration
seemed to recognize that dictatorships (even Kirkpatrick's "good"
dictatorships) do not serve U.S. Iong-term interests.
How much the "Philippine Corollary" is a true change
in Reagan policy is questionable. '' The timing of Reagan's March
14, 1986 statement was no accident; it was to bolster contra aid
by putting it in the context of a global pro-democratic strategy.
The United States abandoned the dictatorships in Haiti and the
Philippines less as a great gesture for freedom and more as a
rat leaving two sinking ships. New York Times writer Bernard Weinraub
observed, "Mr. Reagan seemed to be saying that the United
States will promote ballots for dealing with right-wing regimes,
such as Mr. Marcos's in the Philippines, but bullets for left-wing
dictatorships like that in Nicaragua." While the March 14
statement may have meant little change in policy, it marked a
major potential domestic development: the post-Marcos Reagan Doctrine
attempted to revive the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that
was weakened by the Vietnam War.
A 1986 Wall Street Journal article cites the conservative
authority Robert Tucker of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies: "What is happening in this country
is the reconstitution of the consensus in foreign policy."
Tucker argues that portions of the right wing have moved away
from their Marcoses, D'Aubuissons, and Bothas while liberal Democrats
have become more willing to project U.S. power in the world. Whether
or not the Reagan administration believed its espousal of democracy
as the goal of foreign policy, many other government officials
and news analysts moved toward that position.
What Kind of Democracy?
What are the characteristics of Reagan Doctrine democracy?
For the far Right, democracy is equivalent to Kirkpatrick's authoritarian
regimes. Michael Ledeen, who writes about the importance of the
Reagan Doctrine as part of the worldwide "democratic revolution,"
believes that "in the context of the Middle East, Iran was
a remarkably decent place" under the Shah. He adds, "The
Salvadoran army has been a driving force behind the successful
democratization of the country. Democracy crusader Ledeen has
also advocated the assassination of Sandinista leaders in NIcaragua.
It may not be surprising that the right wing makes the simple
equation between democracy and anti-communism. More disturbing
is that in the case of the Nicaraguan contras, most Republicans
and Democrats have stripped the word democracy of all its meaning.
The Contragate hearings were devoid of any investigation into
the actual practices of the contras.
Democracy and the Contras
The Nicaraguan contras are the prototype "freedom fighters,"
leaders in the worldwide democratic revolution. What is the nature
of the democracy they practice?
Arturo Cruz was one of the three leaders of the contra movement
from 1985 until he resigned on March 9, 1987. Upon his resignation
he condemned the Reagan administration for allowing the contras
to be controlled by military commanders and right-wing politicians
originally chosen by the ClA. He called the contra leaders puppets
of the United States, and said it was impossible to turn the contras
into a democratic movement.'
Edgar Chamorro is a former member of the directorate of the
main contra organization, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN).
In a 1986 interview, Chamorro said he "resigned rather than
continue as a Central Intelligence Agency puppet." Citing
a U.S. congressional study of April 1985, that forty-six of the
forty-eight positions in the FDN's military leadership were held
by ex-Somoza National Guardsmen, he stated:
"It is a gross fabrication to claim that the contras
are composed of democratic groups".... As I can attest, the
'contra', military force is directed and controlled by officers
of Somoza's National Guard.... During my four years as a 'contra
director, it was premeditated policy to terrorize civilian noncombatants
to prevent them from cooperating with the Government. Hundreds
of civilian murders, tortures and rapes were committed in pursuit
of this policy, of which the 'contra' leaders and their CIA superiors
were well aware."
Oliver North's aide Robert W. Owen wrote a memo to North in
March 1986, calling contra leader Adolfo Calero a "creation"
of the U.S. government. Owen said that Calero surrounded himself
with aides who were "liars and greed- and power-motivated,"
adding, "This war has become a business to many of them."
Regarding contra aid in 1986, Owen wrote that without improvements
it "will be like pouring money down a sinkhole."
The contras' terrorist methods have been directly taught by
the United States. The CIA manual Psychological Operations in
Guerrilla War, written for the contras, includes sections on "implicit
and explicit terror" including "neutralizing" Sandinista
officials and coercing individuals to join the contrast
On October 13, 1983, Oliver North's heroes in the "Nicaraguan
democratic resistance" attacked the town of Pantasma, murdering
forty-seven people. There was not one target of military significance
in Pantasma. In November 1984, these same contras attacked the
coffee farm La Sorpresa, killing seventeen residents including
four women and two children. During the contra raid on El Nispero
on November 9, 1986, two Sandinista soldiers, two elderly women,
a young mother, and two infants were killed. On June 18, 1987,
a band of contras attacked a farming settlement in eastern Nicaragua
killing eight civilians and wounding ten others. Episodes of this
nature have been documented over and over since 1983.
Human rights groups and journalists from the United States
have reported the regular occurrence of contras going to people's
houses to kill entire families. This practice is not mindless
brutality. Because the contras are not popular in Nicaragua, they
are forced to kill civilians they think are pro-Sandinista to
prevent those civilians from reporting their location to the Nicaraguan
army. The United States cannot simply tell the contras to clean
up their human rights act; the brutality is necessary for their
When Congress granted the contras $100 million in 1986, a
portion of the funds were earmarked for the U.S.-created Nicaraguan
Association for Human Rights. High-ranking contra commanders including
contra military chief Enrique Bermudez have attempted to block
the work of this organization, denying its formation. In July
1987, the Association reported that the contras not only execute
prisoners and murder civilians; they also forcibly kidnap Nicaraguan
peasants as contra recruits. The New York Times reported a mass
kidnapping by the contras of fifteen to twenty Nicaraguans near
the town of Siuna on April 27, 1987. At least 400 Nicaraguan families
have had a relative kidnapped by the contras, and the practice
was on the increase in 1987.
Other "freedom fighters" around the world treat
civilians similarly. On February 8, 1986, several hundred of Jonas
Savimbi's Angolan insurgents (who were supported by South Africa
and the ClA as far back as the 1975 Angolan war') attacked Camabatela
in northern Angola, killing 107 villagers, most of them civilians,
including women and children. The insurgents routinely plant mines
in farming areas to drive farmers off the land and reduce food
production. Thousands of Angolan farmers have lost their legs
from these mines.
The Mozambican "freedom fighters" of the Mozambique
National Resistance (Renamo) are another example of the right
wing's worldwide democratic revolution. While they have not received
direct U.S. government support, South Africa has been the key
source of their arms, ammunition, and supplies. Renamo's Washington
office shared an address with the Heritage Foundation. Tactics
used by Renamo have included murdering civilians, capturing peasants
and cutting off their ears, burning clinics and schools, attacking
medical teams carrying out vaccination campaigns, and employing
terror to drive farmers from their land thereby creating food
shortages. A UNICEF report concluded that Renamo violence was
the main cause of the famine that has killed 100,000 Mozambicans
since 1983. In the summer of 1987, Renamo carried out two massacres
killing over 400 people. Like the Nicaraguan contras, Renamo kidnapped
civilians as a recruitment device. Renamo demolished 718 clinics
and attacked twelve CARE food deliveries. The viciousness and
common banditry of Renamo prevented even conservatives such as
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan from supporting them. But
right-wing pressure in 1987 brought Senate Minority Leader Robert
Dole into the pro-Renamo camp.
The U.S. government defines terrorists as individuals or groups
seeking to further a political objective through violence, generally
directed against innocent civilians. The freedom fighters of the
right wing's worldwide democratic revolution are not a democratic
resistance; they are terrorists. In the case of the Nicaraguan
contras, they are terrorists run by the U.S. government.
Tactics of the Reagan Doctrine: "Low Intensity"
The military tactics most appropriate for Third World rollback
belong to the category of warfare called "low intensity"
conflict. Such warfare, while "low-intensity" for the
United States, is of very high intensity for the unfortunate Third
World target nations. "Low intensity" conflict (LIC)
is not strictly military, but includes such elements as economic
destabilization, political interference, and psychological operations.
A recently proposed definition of LIC for the revised U.S. Army
field manual on the subject reads:
The limited use of power for political purposes by nations
or organizations...to coerce, control or defend a population,
to control or defend a territory or establish or defend rights.
It includes military operations by or against irregular forces,
peacekeeping operations, terrorism, counter-terrorism, rescue
operations and military assistance under conditions of armed conflict.
The roots of "low intensity" conflict can be traced
to the late 1950s and early 1960s, with full expression in the
counterinsurgency doctrines of the Kennedy administration. In
order to accomplish its containment tasks, the United States had
to adopt a novel approach involving the entire civilian and military
foreign affairs apparatus." The bulk of "low intensity"
conflict has been carried out by Special Operations Forces such
as the Green Berets, with intensive training in insurgency or
Psychological operations ("psyops") is accorded
a particular role within LIC. Army Field Manual 33-5 defines psyops
as the use of propaganda and other means to influence opinions,
attitudes, emotions, and behavior of friendly, neutral, or hostile
groups. According to psyops teachings,
" Military deception is an aspect of strategy and tactics
that is often used but seldom acknowledged...deception is the
deliberate misrepresentation of reality done to gain a competitive
One way to determine if a doctrine is truly being put into
practice is to look at the budget implementing that doctrine.
One area of budgetary support for the Reagan Doctrine lies in
the Pentagon's Special Operations Forces (SOF), the military commando
units specially trained to carry out the frequently covert operations
of LIC. After the military failure of U.S. forces in Vietnam,
SOF funding fell from its peak of over $1 billion per year to
less than $100 million in FY 1975. As recommended by the Heritage
Foundation, the Reagan administration initiated an unprecedented
peacetime expansion of SOF. According to Defense Secretary Caspar
The high priority we have assigned to SOF revitalization reflects
our recognition that low-level conflict-for which the SOF are
uniquely suited-will pose the threat we are most likely to encounter
throughout the end of this century.
Since 1981, money for SOF has more than tripled, with total
FY 1986 funds for special operations at about $1.5 billion. Future
Pentagon plans call for spending $7.6 billion in the five years
beginning in 1988.9' By 1990, active duty SOF personnel will be
80 percent higher than in 1981, with the total forces numbering
38,400. Psyops troops, including three active duty battalions
and nine reserve battalions, will be increased with another active
duty battalion by 1990. SOF units are targeted for the Pacific,
Latin America, the Persian Gulf, and North Africa. With bipartisan
support, Congress has passed measures calling for the beefing
up of special operations forces.
An important aspect of LIC is the use of proxy military forces,
which avoids the unpopularity of sending U.S. troops abroad. One
aspect of proxy armies is the sale of weapons to governments and
movements which carry out U.S. aims in the Third World; such arms
sales increased markedly under the Reagan administration. As part
of the proxy tactic, SOF personnel are heavily involved in Military
Training Teams (MTT) in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East,
Asia, and Europe. Under the Reagan government, the number of MTT
personnel-weeks abroad increased more than five-fold since 1980.
SOF affords the Reagan Doctrine a distinct advantage over
the ClA's covert operations; the Pentagon is not required to report
details of the SOF's activities to Congress, and therefore can
be used in clandestine activities to avoid Congressional oversight.
The use of LIC tactics in Central America is consistent with recommendations
of a 1984 panel convened by right-wing Under Secretary of Defense
for Policy Fred Ikle and headed by WACL leader Gen. John Singlaub.
SOF have been more active in Central America than in any other
region; Special Forces military advisors have trained over 5,000
Salvadoran and 5,000 Honduran troops, and SOF have been deployed
in an almost continuous series of Central American military exercises.'
The 1986 Congressional contra aid package allowed Special Forces
to provide direct training to the contra forces in Honduras and
in the United States.
Rollback and Economic War: The Case of Nicaragua
... the major threat of the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution [was]
the "threat of a good example." It is this threat, rather
than rifles and bullets, that constitutes the "export of
revolution" feared by U.S. policymakers. Nicaraguan Vice
President Sergio Ramirez has argued that the export of revolution
- from 1776 to 1979 - is nothing but the free international circulation
of new ideas:
" Without the revolution of the thirteen North American
colonies, there would never have been a French Revolution...the
revolution which gave rise to the United States' nationhood has
been the most exported revolution in modern history.
How can one prevent a peasant from another Central American
country from hearing, from finding out, from realizing that in
Nicaragua land is given to other poor and barefoot peasants like
him ? How can you avoid his realizing that here children-not his
children-are being vaccinated while his children still die of
gastroenteritis and polio?...ln that sense, we export our revolution."
This threat, that news of the domestic successes of a revolution
will spread throughout a continent, has led the U.S.-run contras
to ruin - the greatest achievements of the Nicaraguan experiment,
the internationally recognized gains in health and education.
The contras have deliberately targeted health centers and schools
for attack. The transfer of budgetary resources from health and
education to the military has also created major problems for
these programs. U.S. officials have openly stated that while they
doubt the contras can depose the government, "they are content
to see the contras debilitate the Sandinistas by forcing them
to divert scarce resources toward the war and away from social
In the same vein, the restrictions on civil liberties in Nicaragua,
such as the closing of the U.S.-funded, pro-contra newspaper la
Prensa, have been turned into major victories by the United States,
even more significant than a victorious military battle by the
contras. It is the war-created press restrictions, food shortages,
population relocations, and military draft that erode support
for Nicaragua around the world. They show other countries that
Nicaragua's socio-economic experiment is not a model to follow.
For the United States, the first choice is to overthrow Nicaragua;
second best is to ruin it.
Psyops, Rollback and Terrorism: The Case of Libya
Libya represents an entirely different use of LIC to rollback
an unfriendly government. In July 1981, a ClA plan was made to
overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi." Prior to 1986,
Reagan authorized covert programs to depose Qaddafi. The United
States tried to recruit Egypt to a joint U.S.-Egyptian military
operation to oust the Libyan leader but Egypt failed to go along."
Libya appeared on the Heritage Foundation hit list of rollback
targets and on CIA Director Casey's rollback list. Lacking the
potential of an insurgent army or of any credible organized opposition
to Qaddafi, Libyan rollback presented major military problems.
Psychological warfare was chosen as the major tool.
For several years, the Reagan administration advertised Qaddafi
as the world's leading terrorist. The truth is that Qaddafi has
been a relatively minor and unimportant terrorist. When terrorists
shot up the Vienna and Rome airports on December 27, 1985, the
administration blamed Qaddafi though the incident was probably
related to Iran, not Libya. In March 1986, the United States bombed
Libyan ships in the Gulf of Sidra with the intent of producing
discontent in the Libyan army and provoking Libyan terrorist retaliation
that could justify further military moves. The subsequent April
5, 1986 bombing of La Belle discotheque in West Berlin was again
blamed on Libya, though the chief of the German investigating
team later admitted there was no evidence of Libya's connection
to the bombing. The Berlin incident was then used as pretext for
the April 14 bombing of Qaddafi's headquarters in Libya, killing
Qaddafi's daughter; the goal of the bombing was to assassinate
Qaddafi or to encourage a coup against him. Because of almost
unanimous negative foreign reaction, the United States stopped
the escalation. In the words of columnist Jack Anderson, "The
administration set up Libya's erratic Muammar Khadafy as a scapegoat,
portraying him as the chief terrorist menace, at the same time
that it was selling arms to the real menace, Iran's implacable
Following the April bombing, the United States continued its
psyops campaign against Qaddafi, finally causing State Department
spokesman and highly regarded journalist Bernard Kalb to resign
in protest against the deliberate deceptions of the U.S. press.
The Libya operation had a major goal besides that of rollback.
Libya became the center of a program of deception to support the
entire Reagan Doctrine by linking Mideast terrorism to Nicaragua,
Cuba, and the Soviet Union. In 1985, Reagan spoke to the American
Bar Association, claiming, "Most of the terrorists who are
kidnapping and murdering American citizens and attacking American
installations are being trained, financed and directly or indirectly
controlled by a core group of radical and totalitarian governments,
a new international version of Murder, Inc." Reagan considered
these governments-Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba and Nicaragua-a
confederation of outlaw terrorist states engaged in outright war
against the United States; he noted the support for this terrorist
network provided by the Soviet Union. Right-wing Sen. Jeremiah
Denton, Chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, claimed
that a vast terrorist network is controlled by the Soviet Union
and allied with the international narcotics trade.
The Republican platform of 1984 states: "The international
links among terrorist groups are now clearly understood; and the
Soviet link, direct and indirect, is also clearly understood.
The Soviets use terrorist groups to weaken democracy and undermine
This entire construction is factually incorrect as Professor
Edward Herman shows in The Real Terror Network. The characterization
has two purposes. First, it makes the Reagan Doctrine of rollback
into a defense of the United States against terrorist aggressors.
Second, it distracts attention from the U.S.-sponsored contra
terrorism in countries like Nicaragua. The entire anti-terrorism
campaign has been an example of psychological operations as part
of LIC on a worldwide basis, building support for more and more
Special Operations Forces funding.
For example, the Reagan government manipulated popular outrage
about violence conducted against innocent victims (e.g., the Achille
Lauro hijacking) by extending the "terrorist" label
to left-wing governments such as Nicaragua and Cuba with no evidence
to support such claims. The Reagan government portrayed Managua
as a place where Palestinians, Libyans, Cubans, and Iranians plot
against innocent U.S. citizens. A Conservative Digest article
(June 1986) claims that Nicaragua is a major base for Libyan operations
in the Western hemisphere. There is no denying that terrorism
has become an important weapon for some groups. What is hidden
by the right-wing anti-terrorist campaign is the fact that the
United States sponsors terrorism in its rollback actions.
By the later years of the Reagan regime, a preferred nomenclature
suited to U.S. interests became standardized for the Third World.
In the case of nations to be rolled back (e.g., Nicaragua), governments
were called terrorist and the insurgents were labeled democratic.
In the case of countries to be supported against "communist"
insurgencies (e.g., El Salvador and the Philippines), the governments
were called democratic and the insurgents were labeled terrorists.