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 global rollback.

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 1986.

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 rollback.

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 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 of democracy.

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 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 change:

The Reagan Doctrine has a Philippine corollary.... President Reagan's March 14 [1986] 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 survival.

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" Conflict

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 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 counterinsurgency warfare.

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 advantage. "

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 Weinberger,

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 programs."

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 Ayatollah Khomeini."

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 world stability."

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.


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