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Leave the Reagan Doctrine in the Past

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher makes a dubious claim:

The Reagan Doctrine of assisting local, pro-freedom insurgents to overcome tyrannical regimes was then and is today the most effective way of defending against an enemy that threatens our safety.

That’s a strange assumption to make, since backing insurgencies against communist governments was often unsuccessful or at best inconclusive. When it did “work” as planned, it left chaos in its wake. Even so, there were hardly any U.S.-backed insurgent groups that overcame the regimes they were fighting, and the regimes they were fighting posed no serious threat to the U.S. The purpose of arming these insurgents was to undermine governments that were aligned with the USSR, but it really had nothing to do with keeping the U.S. safe. It was an exercise in inflicting humiliations on an ideological and political rival. That policy might have made a certain amount of sense when the U.S. was in a rivalry with another superpower, but today it is just an invitation to unwise meddling and destabilization for its own sake. Which “pro-freedom insurgents” does Rohrabacher suggest that the U.S. help in the future? More to the point, why should the U.S. be in the business of facilitating the overthrow of foreign governments? At best, the U.S. will subject the affected countries to years and perhaps decades of upheaval and violence, and at worst the U.S. will be pulled in to police the chaos created by the support for these “pro-freedom insurgents.” This may be cheaper than large-scale deployments of U.S. forces, but it doesn’t make any more sense.

The Reagan Doctrine was one of the least impressive parts of Reagan’s record, and it inflicted enormous damage on the countries where it was put into practice. Moreover, it proved to be entirely unnecessary, since the dissolution of the USSR and collapse of communism in Europe underscored just how irrelevant these interventions in Third World civil wars were to the outcome of the Cold War. It would be better to leave the Reagan Doctrine in the past and stop trying to import it into the foreign policy of the present.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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