Should the U.S. government aid anti-communist insurgents? This question of whether the so-called Reagan Doctrine is right or wrong divides—often bitterly—even those who share a common devotion to individual liberty. Yet all too often, the two sides talk past each other. Put them in a room together, add a good moderator, and they won't. That's what the editors of REASON figured when we asked four of our authors, with widely varying views, to debate the question one afternoon in early March—the same day, it so happened, that the Tower Commission released its findings on the Iran-contra affair.
Our panel included two men who can, and do, claim some credit for introducing the Reagan Doctrine to Ronald Reagan. Laurence W. Beilenson, a former trial lawyer and author of numerous books on history and foreign policy, first articulated the doctrine's theoretical basis long before Reagan became president. Jack Wheeler, president of the Freedom Research Foundation, traveled around the world for REASON to report on anti-Soviet resistance movements. His series of articles and subsequent speeches encouraged policymakers to think of these insurgents not as isolated cases but as a worldwide rebellion against the Soviet Union.
On the other side of the table, literally and figuratively, were two frequent critics of the doctrine and of U.S. intervention abroad in general. Ted Galen Carpenter, a historian, is a foreign policy analyst for the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Christopher Layne, an attorney by profession, writes frequently on foreign policy not only for REASON but also for such publications as The New Republic and Foreign Policy. The discussion was moderated by Reason Foundation president and REASON publisher Robert W. Poole, Jr.
Robert W. Poole, Jr.: We'll start by addressing the general question of the rightness of the Reagan Doctrine—what do each of you think about whether it is appropriate for a free society, for a society that believes in limited government and individual liberty? I'd like to start off by asking Jack to make the basic case for the rightness of the doctrine.
Jack Wheeler: It is an entirely legitimate and necessary function of the government to provide defense. The U.S. is up against an enemy of staggering military power whose purpose of existence is to remove every obstacle in its way to world domination. That is the religion of Soviet Marxism. We are obligated in terms of our national survival to take every measure that we can to weaken the Soviet Union and to render it incapable of being a threat to the U.S. Supporting these freedom fighter organizations is the most cost-effective way that I can possibly think of to defend the interests of the U.S. and to also do something which I would consider to be moral, and that is to make an effort to bring freedom to these peoples under Soviet colonial sway.
Poole: Ted, would you like to give us your reasons for questioning the rightness of the doctrine as a free society's policy?
Ted Carpenter: The Reagan Doctrine, as Jack has just enunciated it, has deficiencies both from the standpoint of security concerns and also moral concerns. That is not to say that there are no strategic or moral arguments for the Reagan Doctrine, because I think there are. But a number of very important subsidiary questions have to be addressed, and I don't think most proponents of the Reagan Doctrine have ever done so.
With regard to security, we must ask ourselves whether supporting these movements inevitably enhances the security of the U.S. Conversely, would support for only some of them enhance our security? What are the risks involved—both in terms of financial cost and also the potential for long-term undesirable political and military entanglements? With regard to the moral dimension, we have to ask ourselves whether all of these insurgents are indeed freedom fighters or whether many of them, while they may be anticommunist, do not necessarily stand for freedom. I think we have to be very, very careful if we are going to link our heritage and our values to diverse insurgencies with often murky ideologies.
I also think it's an oversimplification to assert that the Soviet colonial empire extends to every regime that has a Soviet presence in that country or exhibits a clear pro-Soviet policy. They may well be rather repulsive and undesirable regimes, but that does not in and of itself make them Soviet puppets.
Laurence W. Beilenson: I think the great mistake is in calling it the Reagan Doctrine. Any successful subversion has to be long-term. Therefore it has to outlive any president, and furthermore it needs a consensus of the American people in order to make it successful. I agree more with Mr. Wheeler than I do with Mr. Carpenter. The fact is that it is a mistake to speak of Marxism. Lenin. The Soviet policy is what Lenin said Marx meant. If you read Lenin's works, he's perfectly clear on the whole subject. You always have to ask, by what tool? Is it war, subversion, subsidy, or what tool? Now Lenin was very clear that the major tool of the Soviet Union was not to be war but was to be subversion.
I would confine U.S. aid to money aid only, and I would not have the CIA administer it. I would make clear publicly that we would not go further than money. That is the only way you'll ever get a consensus. You have to give up the military approach completely. In Nicaragua, for instance, I would withdraw all the ships, the troops, and the CIA. Give them the money, leave them alone, let them make their own mistakes. Of course, they'll make them. But the CIA has made and will make more.
Christopher Layne: In a sense, it's perhaps wrong to call this the Reagan Doctrine. What it really represents is a revitalization of the Truman Doctrine and Cold War liberalism. It reflects a perception of the world as bipolar ideologically. It very much overstates the nature of the Soviet threat to American security.
If the Reagan Doctrine is followed to its logical conclusion, the U.S. is going to find itself with a foreign policy of undifferentiated global interventionism, because the doctrine as it has been articulated makes no distinction between what are vital American interests and what is merely desirable to accomplish in the world. As Professor George Guester phrased it, the world might be a better place and a more comfortable place if all nations were governed in the same manner as Minnesota, but the fact is the rest of the world is not like Minnesota and the world is not infinitely malleable. And for the U.S. to reshape the world—at horrible costs to its domestic institutions, at horrible economic costs, at horrible political costs internationally—is a goal, an objective, that is far beyond our material or psychological resources.
No one who considers themselves to be a foreign policy realist would ever say that in a great-power rivalry, such as that between the United States and Soviet Union, the U.S. should always forswear the use of force or the use of subversion. But the Reagan Doctrine is framed in terms of per se. And I think that is a very dangerous thing.
There are two other points that disturb me and that I hope will come out as this discussion continues. One is that not every government that we disapprove of in the Third World is necessarily in Moscow's camp. Nationalism and pluralism in the Third World are rampant forces that the U.S. is going to have to learn to deal with.
Finally, one reason I personally recoil from the Reagan Doctrine is the implication that by inflicting these defeats on the Soviets in the Third World the U.S. is going to somehow trigger an internal transformation of the Soviet Union. The fact is, for better or worse again, the Soviet Union is here to stay for a very long time. And history offers no convincing proof that great powers are brought low by small defeats. It does provide numerous examples of great powers that have been laid low by embracing foreign policies that are simply beyond their powers to sustain.
Beilenson: You say it's a danger to high institutions—in my opinion if we're going to follow this policy it should be openly announced. You should get a consensus of the American people and of Congress. You say the Soviet Union is here to stay. Of course it is. That is as Russia is here to stay. But if you look at the whole history of subversion, you will find two trends that Lenin traced.
One, a government is a sometime thing. You never know when and where it will fall. Therefore, you keep trying. You never know when revolution will break out. Anybody in Europe would have told you before the French Revolution that it would break out in England and not in France, which had been stable for two centuries, and yet it came in France and not in England.
Second, you keep talking about policy. When you talk about policy you get the fuzzy area. Always ask, by what tool will the policy be carried out? And if you go through all of them, you'll find they are all nonsense except war and subversion. They are the only things that really change things. Diplomacy can patch up. It's valuable for that purpose because people change, and it gives time to change. You say expense. Subversion is quite cheap, if you do it properly. You just give them the money and leave them alone. What costs money is subsidy. Propping up governments, which you can never do and which we should not be in the business of doing.
Layne: I think you really hit the proverbial nail right on the head. That is that there is no consensus in this country for that kind of policy. Nor is there any likelihood that we are going to see one. And it's not just a matter of saying we'll just give money to these people, we won't give weapons, we won't engage our troops. The fact is, once any great power engages its prestige in some foreign venture, even if it starts out only supporting anti-Soviet guerrilla groups with money, there is always the possibility that the other side will escalate. There is always the possibility that, as we see our own political interests engaged in the outcome, we will escalate.
The question, I think I beg to differ, is not the means of policy but the end of the policy. Why are we going to get involved in these conflicts in the Third World in the first place? How are American interests really threatened by the outcomes of most of these disputes? What is there in the Third World, beyond Central America and the Persian Gulf, that is really critical for the superpower rivalry? Dividing the world and saying that it is bipolar, ideologically as well as politically, and formulating a foreign policy that is really the domino theory writ large—that is a silly policy. That is one that the American people will not support.
Wheeler: The goal of American foreign policy should be to render the Soviet Union incapable of being a threat to the United States. And the Reagan Doctrine can be very, very effective at that. It's not the only way—SDI is another. I would adhere much, much more strictly to noninterventionist foreign policy if it weren't for the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union changes everything. As a strategy regarding the Soviet Union, the Reagan Doctrine does not deal with each one of these insurgencies in isolation but looks upon it as a structural assault upon the Soviet colonial empire. You don't want to support just one insurgency here and one there and have different policies or deal with them in isolation. You want an assault on the structure of the Soviet colonial empire itself. I look upon that structure in three layers. You have the colonies of the periphery, of the Third World; you have the border colonies of Eastern Europe; and then you have the inner colonies, which are within the Soviet Union itself.
It is ridiculous to say that the Soviet Union must be here to stay. My own personal view is that the Soviet Union will not survive until its 100th birthday. There are too many centrifugal forces within it to break it up. It will eventually Balkanize. But I'm not a Marxist, I'm a Leninist in this regard, as Larry will appreciate—I don't want to sit there and have history take care of things for me. I want to move it along as much as I can.
Carpenter: I'm disturbed by this complacent assumption that this is really a relatively cheap way of dealing with the Soviet Union. I think the sums that we've been looking at in terms of implementing the Reagan Doctrine thus far—$300–500 million a year for the Afghan rebels, $100 million to the Nicaraguan insurgency, roughly $15 million to UNITA in Angola—these are merely down payments. If we are serious about aiding those insurgencies and are really going to give them a chance to win, you are talking about sums that are substantially in excess of that. It reminds me of Everett McKinley Dirksen's statement that you talk about a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you're talking real money.
Secondly, with regard to Jack's point, I think when one concedes that the Soviet Union poses a threat to the U.S., one must also define what the nature of that threat is and how doing battle with the Soviet Union in peripheral areas of the Third World somehow enhances the security of the U.S. and thereby weakens the USSR.
Wheeler: The threat in Central America is simply enormous. If the Sandinistas become established in Nicaragua, the contras end as a threat, and there is no military threat from the U.S., you will immediately see guerrilla war, financed by Havana and the Sandinistas, in Honduras, immediately in Costa Rica, and overwhelming support for the guerrillas in El Salvador and in Guatemala. We will have a Soviet Central America within the next few years following the consolidation of the Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua. There is no question of that. Next comes Mexico. I think Mexico is an Iran waiting for an ayatollah. We are dealing with a very serious situation and it's my own opinion—I'll state it flat out—it's the contras now or it's the Marines later. The Sandinistas have to be removed from power one way or the other, either with the contras or with the United States Marines.
Regarding this large sum stuff, it's just not the case that billions and billions are needed. The cost differs from case to case. But for a few million dollars and the Stinger missiles that we have given to Savimbi in Angola, they have blunted the offensive, completely stopped it this year. Our sources say that the Luanda regime has given up any thought of militarily defeating Savimbi, and the Stinger missiles have shot down between 40 and 50 Soviet fighter aircraft in the last few months. Things are going very well for Savimbi, and negotiations may begin this year. So for only a few million dollars, when it has cost the Soviets well over a billion dollars in aid to the Luanda government, that is being cost-effective. It is not going to cost us billions and billions of dollars to keep helping these insurgents.
Beilenson: I would be perfectly willing to put a ceiling of $5 billion a year for all subversion. How much do you think foreign aid has cost us since the Second World War? It has cost us over two trillion dollars since then, propping up governments. Second, when you consider nuclear power, it's simply remarkable that we haven't blown ourselves up so far. Since a nuclear war would be disastrous, the overthrow of the Soviet Union is the best hope of peace. It wouldn't guarantee peace, but it is the real hope of peace.
Wheeler: I couldn't agree more.
Layne: I hardly know where to start, the table is so rich with goodies. In sequence: really, Jack, the question isn't contras now or the Marines later. If your goal is to overthrow the Sandinistas, the question is the Marines now or the Marines later. Because I think there is little belief anywhere in the American government or among the American people that the contras are going to be able to overthrow the Sandinistas. If you define the Sandinistas as an existential threat—that they have to be removed, that you cannot tolerate a Marxist-Leninist government in Managua—the ultimate implication of that policy is that the U.S. is going to have to intervene militarily. That is where we see the implications of the Reagan Doctrine. Because if you define your interests ideologically, and if you say it is of vital interest to remove Marxist-Leninist governments in certain areas, you are not going to stop with money or with arms. I am not going to say that I don't agree that the Sandinistas are a threat. If the Soviets were to put military bases in Nicaragua…
Wheeler: They have.
Layne: …if the Nicaraguans were equipped with certain types of advanced weaponry, I would support the limited use of American military force to remove that particular threat. I am not, however, so convinced that the mere existence of a Sandinista government is going to lead to the parade of horribles that you outline. I think this is where we get into problems, because the Third World is a very unstable place. No one doubts that Mexico is an extremely fragile society. But Mexico is going to be an extremely fragile society whether the Sandinistas are there or not. There is going to be turmoil and unrest in the Third World, and the American ability ultimately to do much about it in most places is more limited than we would like or hope.
If your ultimate goal is to remove one government and install another government, you are going to have to at some point pay the cost of propping up that government. Very few governments, no matter who puts them into power, in the Third World seem to be terribly stable. If you want to ensure the continuation of friendly regimes in these places, then that means continuing American involvement.
Finally, to me the Austria, Hungary, and Turkey examples at the beginning of the century are perhaps more compelling than they are to you. By pressing a nation that has obvious problems and pushing them to the wall, I think you in fact increase the chances of war rather than minimizing them. I would just ask one further question. If the Soviet Union were to disappear tomorrow, do you really believe that great-power politics would cease? Nuclear weapons would still exist, and the risk of nuclear war would still be there, and I'm not convinced that it would be any less.
Wheeler: Drastically reduced.
Layne: Why? Because communists are inherently bad?
Wheeler: No, because the Soviet Union is a particularly virulent synergy between Great Russian imperialism and Marxist expansionism. It is this particular synergy that makes it so very dangerous. I, for example, am not worried about China. Whatever the future may hold, right now China is no threat to us. The Soviet Union is. There is no question about it, and if you take a look at the expansionism of Russia historically and graft on to it the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, you have got the most dangerous political power in history. And it has got to be removed.
Layne: You'd have to go a long way to convince me and a number of other people I know that the Soviet Union has conducted a particularly belligerent or aggressive foreign policy since 1917. The Soviet Union has followed a foreign policy that has been reasonably cautious in many respects. Certainly, it manifests the kind of imperial drive that we associate with great powers, but certainly not to the extent that one could characterize it as particularly or exceptionally virulent.
Poole: Like the British Empire?
Layne: Or Germany during the Wilhelmine period. Or even the U.S. during the 1890s and the early part of the century, when we blossomed as a great power. The Soviet Union certainly has acted like an empire, but it has not acted in a way markedly different from other imperial powers seeking their place in the sun.
Wheeler: Completely untrue.
Carpenter: Jack's comments underscore again that the Reagan Doctrine seems to be a meld of old bipolar assumptions with a global domino theory. I think both of those assumptions are inherently holey. Jack says that China, for example, is no threat to the U.S. It wasn't all that long ago that policymakers in Washington assumed that the mere presence of a Communist regime in Beijing enhanced the power of the Soviet Union. He again assumes that the presence of a pro-Soviet regime anywhere augments the power of the Soviet empire. But the Soviets constantly suffer reversals. Obvious examples: Yugoslavia, 1948; China in the late 1950s and early 1960s; Egypt in the early 1970s; Ghana in the early 1970s. The mere ascension to power of a pro-Soviet government does not necessarily mean that Moscow is going to be in total control.
This kind of strategy is not going to enhance prospects for peace. If anything, I think it dangerously escalates the possibility of war. To take just one example, we, or at least policymakers within the Reagan administration, have stressed that we have got to be concerned about developments in Nicaragua. Why? Well, Central America is our backyard. How often have we heard that phrase? That being the case, what about U.S. efforts to interfere in Afghanistan? If we are going to talk "spheres of influence" here, Afghanistan is not only in the Soviets' backyard, it's on the Soviet Union's back porch. That kind of interference can provoke a normally rational, shrewd, albeit ruthless and unscrupulous, government into taking rash action.
Beilenson: We all keep talking about great-power politics just as though the nuclear bomb had never existed. All this business of aircraft carriers to project our power—we don't want to project our power, we don't need allies. I am strictly a noninterventionist. I make the one exception of aiding, only against Communist governments, insurgencies by money only. It isn't necessary to overthrow the government, it's only necessary to keep them busy. If you keep them too damn busy to do anything else, you've accomplished your purpose.
What we should do is give them a steady stream of money and leave them alone. The CIA does not know how to manage anything. How do we police the money? Well, some of it's going to get embezzled. The Spanish insurgents, when England gave them money, embezzled or wasted 90 percent. But the 10 percent helped defeat Napoleon. There is a very simple way of monitoring the money. You say, here is the money but we are going to pay you in installments. Here is the first installment. We are not going to ask you how you are going to spend it, but please don't come back for the second installment unless you can account for the first installment—and not with easy living in Miami. You don't have to give them sophisticated weapons.
Wheeler: I agree substantially, but money just doesn't do it in certain instances. When the Soviets wage counterinsurgency warfare, one of their major weapons is the MI-24 Hind helicopter gunship. You just can't take this thing out of the air with anything that is available on the open arms market. Sam Cummings, who is one of the biggest arms dealers there is—he can't get you a Stinger, no matter how much money you come to him with. The only way you can get a Stinger is if the U.S. government gives it to you.
To respond to Chris's point about the Soviets as an empire, I don't think he understands the difference between a totalitarian government and an authoritarian government. To establish a totalitarian regime the way the Soviets do is the complete politicization of the entire society. A Marxist-Leninist government has never been overthrown from within, without foreign intervention. That the Soviet Union will not allow that to happen is the Brezhnev Doctrine—and it is the Brezhnev Doctrine that has to be broken.
Layne: I think the great mistake that Jack makes, and it is typical of people who look at the world through an ideological prism, is to assume that a nation's foreign policy is dictated by its domestic institutions. All of us around the table here could agree that the Soviet Union is, at least in terms of its domestic system, an evil empire with a history that causes all of us to feel repelled. If one looks at the way the Soviet Union has conducted its foreign policy, however, one sees that Soviet goals in the international system have been very constant—constant over time dating back to well before the Soviet revolution. I think we want to keep those two points separate. Of course, I don't think you can keep those two points separate, because I think you and people like you who have this tremendous ideological drive feel that the world will never be safe as long as there are nations with differing ideologies than Americans.
Wheeler: The world will never be safe with the Soviet Union. It's not different ideologies.
Layne: Well, Hans Morgenthau was much more perceptive, Jack, when he said that the great myth of going on ideological crusades is to assume that once you exorcise the devil, there won't be a devil popping up subsequently to the one you've killed. Once the Soviet Union is removed, there will be some other power, some other system, that you will find just as flagrant and just as egregious.
Beilenson: It is true that subversion has existed, irrespective of the ideology, from the beginning. Thus the Athenians subverted and were an evil empire outside of Athens, where they were a democracy of sorts if you forget the 400,000 slaves. But throughout history, subversion has been two things: It has been spotty geographically and it has been an auxiliary to war, expected or in progress. Lenin substituted two things, time and space. He made it universal and he was patient. Plant a nucleus and wait it out. That is what the Soviets have consistently pursued. And, incidentally, the most conservative and cautious rulers were Lenin and Stalin. They got progressively more adventurous ever since.
Poole: The Soviets have?
Carpenter: I'd like to comment on Jack's tendency to see the Soviet Union as this great dynamic threat to the U.S. I think his characterization would be far more accurate if one placed it, say, 20 to 25 years ago. Soviet dynamism and particularly the Soviet example had its greatest power and appeal in the Third World during the 1950s and '60s. The Soviet Union certainly remains a serious imperial power, but I think the ability of the Soviets to project their power into the Third World has already reached its zenith and is now on a downward slide, which makes the Reagan Doctrine even less necessary.
Wheeler: I think history of recent years is a pretty effective refutation of that. It was during the era of so-called detente in the '70s that Soviet expansionism really peaked. You can list country after country after country that was subsumed within the Soviet colonial empire in the aftermath of Watergate and Vietnam: Vietnam itself, of course, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Grenada—country after country after country. To say that they are receding is wrong. They have a very dynamic program. They have at least 2,000 Baluchi students at the University of Kabul to subvert Baluchistan, which is southern Pakistan and southern Iran. That, of course, is a target—then they are right across the Persian Gulf from the Saudi oil fields.
The Soviets have four primary strategic targets right now. One is Baluchistan and the Saudi oil fields. The second is South Africa—their sponsorship of the ANC leaves no doubt—and Namibia and, as a matter of fact, Zaire. We are getting increasing reports of several thousand guerrillas now, Katanga and other Zairian guerrillas trying to generate an insurgency to overthrow Mobutu. So it is virtually all of southern Africa below the equator. Then Central America, as we just discussed, and the Finlandization of Europe and dismantlement of NATO. To say that it is receding is to completely misread the situation.
Poole: I'd like us to focus on some of the practical difficulties in attempting to implement something like the Reagan Doctrine. Who should be eligible for such aid if one proposes to do it? Should such aid be limited to groups fighting against Soviet-type states or extended to people revolting against a corrupt Marcos in the Philippines? What kind of standards should a group have to meet? Should only a group that is working toward a democratic society get aid? Or should a group like the Mujaheddin, which will probably set up a theocracy and one that is hardly a free society, be eligible? If there are multiple groups in a country, should they all get aid? At what point would the aid stop?
Layne: The nature of the questions asked suggest some of the difficulties of implementing the policy. The questions you've got to really ask are what interests are vital, what interests are not, what is it that you can mobilize public support for. Because it is conceivable that following a particular policy would in fact serve the national interest but there may not be public support for it. In which case it really makes no sense, unless you're willing to countenance the kind of thing we've gone through for the last four months.
I would suggest that one of the real flaws of a policy like the Reagan Doctrine, which does justify itself as a global policy, is that it causes people to feel very apprehensive, because they feel they are being led slowly but surely down a slippery slope. They don't know where the particular intervention is going to stop or whether it is going to lead to a series of interventions. Consequently, policies such as aid to the contras, which could conceivably be justified in traditional realpolitik terms, have trouble gaining support because people are actually more frightened of the implications of the policy as it's articulated than they are inclined to see the policy in discrete terms: Here is a particular problem, here is a particular threat to American security interests, and this is a specific response to this particular threat.
It is a perfectly rational argument to say we have to support the contras in Nicaragua because Central America is historically an area in which the U.S. has very special and justifiable interests. If the Soviets aren't willing to recognize the primacy of our interest here, then we certainly have every right to support the Afghan rebels in order to say to the Soviets: Look, if you don't like us mucking around in your backyard then negotiate with us. Because we are not going to stop doing this until you stop what you are doing in our sphere of influence. So, you can justify these things in terms of traditional diplomacy, rather than as part of a seamless web of global interventionism.
Wheeler: It's just that traditional diplomacy doesn't work with the Soviets. They don't recognize spheres of influence. That is what makes them a different kind of political power, a different kind of empire. No government is legitimate unless it is aligned with them. That is the basic Soviet position.
I do not think that we should have an ad hoc policy, but it should be a strategy that is directed at the entire structure of the Soviet colonial empire. If it is laid out that way, rather than causing apprehension, you give people hope that Soviet power can be reduced in the world. It is just what I call the "Soviet myth of hopelessness" that makes people like Dan Rather ask an Afghan Mujahed, "Why are you fighting in a war you can't possibly win?" The Afghan looks at him as if to say, "What, are you crazy? The British didn't beat us. What makes you think the Russians are some kind of superman? Of course we can beat the Russians." But it is the thought that the Russians can't be beaten, that they are invincible, that makes people lose hope.
I do think the Reagan Doctrine should be limited to anti-Soviet insurgencies. The last thing we want to do is to have a global interventionist policy. What in the world business is it of ours what government the South Africans have?
Layne: What business is it of ours what government the Nicaraguans have? Because they are communist?
Wheeler: No, because they are a direct threat.
Layne: Are the Angolans a direct threat to the security interests of the United States?
Wheeler: The Reagan Doctrine is not a messianistic doctrine to spread our form of American constitutional democracy to the world. It is directed at weakening Soviet power in the world and not just stopping expansionism.
As far as standards, an obvious example where you draw the line would be the Khmer Rouge. So, okay, they're up against the Soviets, they're up against Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia. But you cannot back a people like the Khmer Rouge.
You would try to do as much as you can to educate the leaders of these movements on the benefits of free-market economics. We have had a lot of success in that regard. I gave Savimbi my copy of Milton Friedman's Free to Choose. I told Friedman that once and he was very happy. How much of a free-market guy Savimbi is, I'm not sure, but certainly it's not going to be any kind of socialist dictatorship. At the very least it will be some kind of mixed economy. Somebody like Dhlakama of RENAMO in Mozambique is almost explicitly pro-capitalist, explicity pro-democrat.
Poole: What happens if you have social democrats or socialists who are wanting to overthrow a Soviet regime?
Wheeler: You have an example of that in Ethiopia. I think that is one reason why you don't hear too much about the EPLF, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, because they are Marxist. So there is a lot less enthusiasm for them. It is a lot easier to develop support and enthusiasm for anti-Soviet insurgencies that proclaim democratic ideas and pro-free-market ideals.
Poole: What do you think, Ted or Chris, about the practicability of being able to set criteria for who will get aid under such a doctrine?
Layne: People are going to ask questions similar to my interjection. Not everybody in this country thinks that it is a practical policy to try and not just roll back the Soviet empire but ultimately cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since most people don't, they are bound to ask why is it that we should aid people fighting Soviet-supported governments and not support resistance movements in places like South Africa or the Philippines.
The question comes down to not "How bad are things now?" but "Are things likely to be better or worse in the future if we replace regimes?" Americans have two problems. First, they really need to be persuaded that supporting any kind of foreign involvement—whether it's the contras, obviously, or the Afghan rebels or the ANC, if you happen to be of that persuasion—is really in the national interest. Americans like to talk and think about, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if the world were democratic." But when it comes to putting up money for it or sending their sons to die for it, they become extremely reluctant to contemplate real sacrifice to achieve those goals unless they are persuaded that there is some immediate overriding threat to American security interests.
And secondly, there is the problem of hypocrisy involved. I don't mean that as a slur or an accusation. I mean it in terms of a perception. Among the population as a whole, they are not really keen or interested in subtleties. Any policy that is fundamentally articulated in moral ideological terms has got to be consistent. That is the one advantage of realpolitik policy. You don't have to say I'm being morally consistent. All you have to do is ask yourself, is this effective? Does this serve my interests?
Carpenter: Bob, I think the various factors that you listed in the beginning of this portion of the discussion indicate just what a potential can of worms the Reagan Doctrine really is. In sponsoring indigenous insurgencies, we face two choices, neither of them very good. One, we can support any insurgency so long as it is anti-Soviet, no questions asked. If we do that, then the Reagan Doctrine becomes nothing more than the flip side of our longstanding policy of supporting authoritarian regimes in the Third World, no matter what their human rights records, no matter what their views on economics, purely because they are anticommunist. That policy has made us legions of enemies throughout the Third World. Had we not pursued that kind of near-sighted strategy, the Ugly Russian would have become apparent throughout the Third World long ago.
On the other hand, if we choose to apply purity tests to these various movements, then we face a number of problems. How pure is pure? Is support for democratic political values more important than for capitalist economics? Or vice versa? Even worse, what do we do when there are a number of factions? Do we pick and choose? That again implies a tremendous degree of American paternalism, which I think—given the national sentiment that is so strong throughout the Third World—is going to be deeply resented.
Finally, sponsorship implies responsibility for the ultimate result. That concerns me very deeply, because I think the left in this country has managed to discredit itself by its naive views of the kinds of regimes it supported in the past. We recall leftists saying that Mao Zedong was an agrarian reformer. How many people saw Ho Chi Minh as a noble revolutionary? Herbert Matthews, of course, with Fidel Castro as the George Washington of Cuba. I'm afraid the right is courting the same kind of danger when it embraces Third World insurgencies. If we sell the American people on the idea that we are supporting these revolutions not just out of national security interests but because it's moral to do it, and then our assistance gives a country a brutal, corrupt dictatorship, I think those on the right who supported that are going to have to answer for that, and I suspect the leftist elements in society will never let them forget.
Wheeler: Ted makes some very good points which have to be addressed. First, it would be very, very difficult to get a worse form of government than these Soviet colonies have already—to get a more brutal dictatorship than the government already in Angola or Mozambique or Nicaragua or Afghanistan or South Yemen or wherever you want. It's my experience that most all, certainly not all, of these insurgencies are genuinely motivated by some form of democratic ideal, because they have seen what the alternative has done to their country. And I can't help but thinking that with any one of these insurgencies, especially the ones I'm familiar with, you'd have a government that is a heck of a lot better than the one you have right now.
Layne: I won't argue with that, because I don't think you can look inside a crystal ball and see what is going to happen. But even if that is true and the government you end up with tends to be undemocractic—in the sense that it does not mirror American values—you are still going to have a very serious problem with how the public perceives policy in this country. Because again, it's one thing for a bunch of people who are patently interested in foreign policy to sit in a room and debate this issue, but ultimately you have to go sell a policy to the American people and the Congress. And it seems historically that Americans like to make judgments on a rather grand basis. Either a government is democratic, like us, or it's not. If it's not, it's bad and we don't like supporting bad governments.
Wheeler: Nothing succeeds like success. If you want to get the American people behind this policy it has got to start winning. Once the American people see that the policy is winning, that we are winning against the Soviets, you will see the Americans behind it. Americans do not like the Soviet Union.
Beilenson: Chris Layne advocated realpolitik. Look at the result. It has drenched the world with blood for thousands of years. It has forced us to thievery, deceit, deception. What is so good about it? What he neglects is that it is not only the Russians who break agreements. All nations break agreements, including the United States. So when you get an agreement, it is not worth the paper it is written on. Do I think it will make a difference if the Soviet Union is overthrown? Yes, because most of Western Europe, who caused all the trouble in the world, has lost the desire to fight. So, the real trouble, the one country that really possesses a huge nuclear arsenal, is the Soviet Union.
Layne: First, for the record, I think that all the bloodshed we witness through international history is a reflection that international politics is characterized by anarchy. It is not the responsibility of the doctrine of realpolitik, which is a logical response to an anarchic condition. Secondly, all powers violate agreements. That is why any diplomatic agreement is a function of the balance of interests, because sometimes even rival powers have overlapping interests, and the balance of power. It is why diplomacy must always be supported by military strength. Third point, I still find myself amazed—it's not just a view that has been articulated by Larry but one that we run across frequently discussing the Reagan Doctrine—I'm amazed at how the mind can hold at the same time the thought that the best way to achieve peace is to follow a policy that is aimed at overthrowing the Soviet Union.
Wheeler: Strange but true.
Layne: One of the major contributing factors to the start of the First World War was precisely the desire of certain people to overthrow Austria-Hungary. There are times when destroying your enemy can lead to your own destruction. I think maybe that takes us to another point. The fact is that, despite all the alarm that neoconservatives express, the American people don't feel the same sense of threat that neoconservatives feel from the Soviet Union. They feel that America, as long as it has credible deterrence, as long as we maintain reasonably strong military forces, is a secure nation and is capable of protecting its interests. That presents the neoconservatives with a problem. You passionately believe that the American people are wrong. You passionately believe that the threat exists. How do you implement a policy or justify a policy that commands no public support? Are you really going to tell me that the end justifies the means? That it is all right for Ollie North and John Poindexter and Bill Casey to conduct a foreign policy in defiance of Congress?
Wheeler: For most Americans, America is an island and the rest of the world exists in the mists in some hazy fashion on the other side of the horizon. But it is just not true that the American people do not look upon the Soviet Union as a threat. As Sandinista Commander Tomas Borge said, "The struggle for Nicaragua will not be won in the jungles of Jinotega or Zalaya provinces. It will be won on the front pages of American newspapers." They have been extraordinarily proficient at manipulating public opinion and disinforming the American people on what is going on in Nicaragua.
The historical fact is that when we gave up in Southeast Asia, there was a bloodbath of indescribable proportions. Millions of people were put to death. You did have a number of countries go quickly down the Soviet drain. You had an extraordinary extension of Soviet military strength. If the same thing happens in Nicaragua, it is not 8,000 miles away. It is right here. And it is going to happen again—a similar disaster—unless we take care of it. I am arguing that there is a threat whether or not the American people recognize it. And that threat has to be dealt with.
Layne: And I am arguing that in a system of democracy such as the U.S., it is really not your decision to make. I don't think you can just cavalierly dismiss the structure of this country constitutionally and say that Congress has no role or that it is not, in terms of the constitutional framework of this country, considered to be the embodiment of public opinion. But whether it is or it isn't, the fact is that you haven't been able to persuade Congress and you haven't been able to persuade the public, as reflected in the opinion polls. I have no doubt that if the Soviets were to put a naval base in Nicaragua tomorrow, you would have no trouble getting congressional authorization and public support.
Wheeler: They have, at Bluefields. One is being built right now.
Layne: Well, that is an allegation.
Wheeler: Bluefields and El Bluff. There are satellite photographs to prove it.
Layne: If there were Soviet naval forces deployed or Soviet combat jet aircraft deployed in Nicaragua, there would be no debate in this country. Even the most liberal Democrats have said that the U.S. should take military action. Readers of REASON would be somewhat amazed at the argument that a foreign policy elite has the power to arrogate to itself the power to say, "Well the people in this country are threatened but they don't realize it, so we will take the decision out of their hands and make it for them, because we are somehow wiser than they are or more perceptive than they are." Now maybe you are. But the fact is, unless you are quarreling with the fundamental structure of the American system of government, that's really not a decision for an elite to make. If it cannot command public opinion, it cannot command congressional support, then the American government has no business doing it behind the American people's back.
Carpenter: Every executive branch official who has ever dealt with foreign policy assumed he was pursuing a policy that was in the national interest. If you allow that branch of government, or even worse a small subgovernment, to decide for itself that it is going to pursue a foreign policy initiative and the Congress and the American people be damned, there is going to be one of two results. Either you are going to seriously erode our entire constitutional system, or at some point Congress and the American people are going to undercut you hopelessly and your policy will fall.
Wheeler: I am not disagreeing with that. But I think this whole discussion of the rule of the people is naive. We do have a foreign policy elite governing the foreign policy of the U.S. It's the foreign-service establishment of the State Department. And to think that Ronald Reagan tells them what to do is to be seriously estranged from reality. They have their own agenda. They have made every effort to undercut the Reagan Doctrine, they have made every effort to get Ronald Reagan to sell out the contras, to cut some kind of deal, to take a piece of paper—a promise of the communists—at face value.
Poole: Here we sit in March of 1987 with the Iran-contra thing going on. Do each of you think there is going to be a Reagan Doctrine in the future?
Layne: I don't think that in January 1989 there will be a Reagan Doctrine, for the obvious reason that Ronald Reagan will no longer be president. But the more important reason is that I don't think that the neoconservatives and the Reagan Doctrine will emerge—not only from Iran-contra but also from the experience of the eight years of this administration—with credibility in hand.
On the other hand, I don't think that means we're going to see the end of American support to various anti-Soviet resistance groups. I don't think we're going to see an end to the debate on whether the U.S. should intervene, whether it should uphold authoritarian governments or pull the rug out from under them. These are problems that have plagued us since we emerged as a great power, going back to McKinley's decision to annex the Philippines. I think that to sell those kinds of interventions abroad, however, people who advocate them are going to have to meet a much higher standard. To not simply be able to rally public support by pointing to a communist menace and assume that the American people will fall in line. The great difference between now and the late 1940s is that kind of rhetoric doesn't get people mobilized. People learned from Vietnam. They want things explained to them and justified to them, and they want to know that there are damned important reasons why the United States becomes involved in some overseas conflict before they are going to support that policy.
Wheeler: It's impossible to predict the future, but we should make a distinction between the prospects of the Reagan Doctrine and the prospects of these various freedom fighter organizations. Because they are not our pawns and puppets. They emerged spontaneously and indigenously and, with or without our support, they will continue, and this includes the contras. The one democratic insurgency that has the best prospect is the one that we do not support in any way—RENAMO in Mozambique. The Mozambique government is just about to collapse, the RENAMO forces have denied it control of about 80 percent of the country, and I think there is a high degree of likelihood that RENAMO will militarily overthrow the regime sometime this year.
The Reagan Doctrine will succeed or fail according to the success or failure of these various insurgencies. If Dhlakama wins in Mozambique, Savimbi will win very quickly in Angola. That will have disastrous effects on Castro—45,000 Cubans have to go home (and a lot of them with AIDS, by the way)—and it will seriously damage his efforts in Nicaragua. So, if these insurgencies start to succeed, the Reagan Doctrine will remain the Reagan Doctrine, just as the Brezhnev Doctrine is still called the Brezhnev Doctrine.
Carpenter: The Reagan Doctrine faces a fundamental problem, and that is that it creates potential arenas for undesirable entanglements for the United States. I suspect the American people are smart enough to realize that, and they are going to pursue this doctrine with a great deal of caution. It's instructive to remember that in the early 1950s, the doctrine of rollback had a great deal of public support, so long as it was confined to rhetoric. When revolts erupted in East Germany, in Poland, in Hungary, and we had to make the decision of whether we were really going to commit our prestige, our resources, and run the risks involved, rollback evaporated very quickly. I suspect that the Reagan Doctrine may exert enough influence to entangle the U.S. in Third World struggles. That will be the death of the doctrine. I hope we can avoid that. We already went that route in Vietnam, and I don't think we want a repeat performance.
Beilenson: Hindsight is a lot better than foresight. If you want to know whether the Reagan Doctrine will be in existence, tell me whether the stock market will be up or down. If it's collapsed, the Democrats will win. If it's healthy and at 3,000, the Republicans will win. Politics is just that simple. If I had to choose between Jack and the other side of the table, I would choose Jack. But I'd choose neither if I could. I think that the forces we have to conciliate are the young idealists among us. They must be won over to our side, and they'll never be won over to a policy that can make them fight abroad. Therefore, the chief reason I never want to send in the Marines is that people with good sense—and I say this as one who has fought in two wars—don't want to fight abroad if they can avoid it.
Poole: I think we can see we don't have anything like consensus—nor did we expect there to be one on such a tough issue. Thank you all very much.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Reagan Doctrine".