Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Adam has a master's degree in history.
The primary goal of President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy during his two terms in office was to renew the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Reagan believed that President Gerald Ford and President Jimmy Carter had allowed the Soviet Union to gain a military advantage during the 1970s. As a result, the Soviet Union had become more aggressive in acquiring territory, as well as persecuting ethnic minorities. Reagan also admonished that if the Soviet Union remained unchecked, the United States was in great peril.
In 1981, Reagan petitioned Congress for a massive military buildup to compete with the Soviet Union. The Reagan Doctrine focused on three important points. First, Reagan wanted to invalidate the Brezhnev Doctrine that was created by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and maintained that no country that became communist could leave the Soviet sphere of influence. Second, Reagan wanted to overturn existing Soviet governments in various parts of the world. This included providing aid to anti-communist rebels in Asia, Latin America and Europe. The third and final point was to economically bleed the Soviet Union. The idea was that if Reagan drastically increased spending, the Soviet Union, in an attempt to compete, would bankrupt itself.
Reagan was unafraid to spend to defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Reagan approved of the National Security Defense Directive-66 (NSDD-66) to appropriate funds aimed at undermining the Soviet economy. Reagan followed by issuing National Security Defense Directive-75 (NSDD-75), which modernized United States nuclear and military forces to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that the United States would not back down. Simultaneously, the Navy was enlarged and advanced missile systems were strategically placed throughout Europe.
The largest expenditure within Reagan's foreign policy was the Strategic Defense Initiative. This was known as the 'Star Wars' program as it called for a massive space-based shield to defend the United States from long-range Soviet missiles. The immediate upfront cost of the program (just to begin the research phase) was roughly $26 million. Congress approved some funding for the Strategic Defense Initiative, but the program was never fully implemented as the Cold War began winding down toward the end of the decade.
Defense buildup was not the only entity to receive funding from the Reagan administration. Reagan appropriated funding toward the erection of new media markets aimed at discrediting Soviet communism. For example, Reagan established Radio Marti in Florida, which sent pro-democratic messages to listeners in Cuba, which was similar to the Radio Free Europe program. He also approved the Caribbean Basin Initiative, which provided funding to Caribbean nations that opened their markets to free trade in an effort to eliminate the closed economy principle under communism.
The presidents of the 1970s often refused to engage in force following the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Reagan, however, believed that the United States needed to move on from the legacy of the war and re-establish itself as a force in the world. The result was American military action against nations that were aligned with the Soviet Union, such as Lebanon, Grenada and Libya.
In Lebanon, Reagan supported Israeli forces that were combating Lebanese Muslims who aligned with the Soviet Union and communist Syria. Irritated by the inability of the Israelis to defeat the Lebanese Muslims, Reagan, in 1982, deployed 1,400 marines to the region. Unfortunately, Reagan's first test of force was met with a severe loss. In 1983, suicide bombers from the Lebanese Muslim forces (officially known as the 'Islamic Jihad') exploded a device inside of a Marine compound, killing 241 soldiers. Reagan quickly withdrew, fearful of the American backlash.
Successful American military action in Grenada (a small island in the Caribbean) helped to reverse the negativity toward Reagan's foreign initiatives. At the onset of the engagement in 1983, Reagan deployed 2,000 American soldiers under Operation Urgent Fury to the island. The mission was to successfully remove the socialist government installed in Grenada (as it was associated with Cuban leader Fidel Castro) and replace it with a democratic institution. The engagement lasted a few short weeks and Reagan declared the invasion a triumph.
Libya proved to be an early battleground against terrorism. The Middle East was rife with terrorism and kidnapping during the 1980s, especially against Americans. Reagan was informed that many of the attacks were being supported by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi who was an alleged adherent of the Soviet Union. In response, Reagan ordered a massive air campaign over Libya aimed at dissuading Qaddafi from continuing to support terrorism. American planes bombed targets in Libya, including Qaddafi's compound. While Qaddafi escaped unharmed, his complex was annihilated and his daughter was killed.
The Iran-Contra affair was a convoluted foreign policy disaster for Reagan. Beginning in 1984, Reagan decided to support a pro-America regime in Nicaragua known as the Contras. His hope was to provide enough aid so that the Contras were capable of removing the socialist, and largely anti-American, Sandinista regime (yes, the same regime President Richard Nixon helped to install). Reagan authorized the training of the Contras, while launching a campaign to discredit the Sandinista regime throughout the world. The problem was Reagan had to maintain the secrecy of his efforts to train and fund the Contras from Congress because a ban on American aid had been established. Therefore, he had to somehow find a way to pay for the American effort in Nicaragua. This is where the event took an interesting turn.
Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, the United States had battled Iran over various hostage situations. The hostage situation, at the time, witnessed Iran capturing dozens of Americans. Iran then demanded American arms in return for the hostages (Iran needed weapons to wage war against Iraq). As a result, Reagan secretly approved of an arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. The United States supplied Iran with weapons through various intermediaries, while Reagan credited his administration with securing the release of American hostages. Additionally, Reagan used the extra funds from their weapons deals to support his Contra operations in Latin America. It was a win-win for Reagan until his secret was leaked to the public in 1986. Reagan vehemently denied his involvement in the affair as did others within the administration.
After all of Reagan's rhetoric aimed at the Soviet Union and his call for a massive military buildup to renew the Cold War, diplomacy proved to be the most successful foreign policy tool. Neither nation could continue to burden its respective economy with military expenditures. Also helping the cause was the election of the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev proved to be more moderate in his political leanings and overall feelings toward the United States. He also understood that the Cold War economic battles with the United States had crippled the Soviet Union. To extend peaceful overtures toward the United States, Gorbachev ended the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, severely curtailed funding to communist nations, liberalized the Soviet economy, known as perestroika, and opened the Soviet society, known as glasnost.
Reagan and Gorbachev met regularly to discuss arms regulations. In 1986, Reagan announced a complete ban on nuclear weapons. In 1987, the two leaders signed arms regulations that limited each nation's arsenals of long-range missiles and established an inspection system that ensured the disposal of arms. In the same year, Reagan also encouraged Gorbachev to disassemble the Berlin Wall as an example of the 'openness' of the Soviet Union under his leadership. Reagan's words, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,' rang supreme as, in 1989, Gorbachev approved the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The Cold War between the two powerful nations had run its course.
President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy rested on the notion of renewing the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In order to achieve this task, Reagan petitioned Congress for a massive military buildup. Simultaneously, he hoped that the buildup would encourage the Soviet Union to compete with the United States. Reagan hoped that the competition between the two nations would result in a collapse of the Soviet economy and an American victory over communism.
To renew the Cold War, Reagan spent massive amounts of money on military buildup and improvements. The focal point of his spending was on the Strategic Defense Initiative, which called for a giant defense system to be placed into outer space in an effort to block Soviet missiles. Reagan also deployed American military personnel to international hotspots, such as Libya, Grenada and Lebanon, to combat suspected communist subversion. In a misguided attempt to eliminate the anti-American Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, Reagan sold and traded weapons to Iran in return for hostages and funds to support the pro-American Contras. This was known as the Iran-Contra affair.
The tide of the Cold War shifted in favor of the United States when Reagan utilized diplomacy over force. The rise of Mikhail Gorbachev as the new Soviet leader yielded promising results between the two nations. Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to several arms limitations and inspection agreements. The Cold War had run its course by 1989 after Reagan encouraged Gorbachev to deconstruct the Berlin Wall.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets