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The Reagan Doctrine: Principle, Pragmatism, and Policy


Chester Pach is a member of the history department at Ohio University. He is the author of three books including, most recently, Presidential Profiles: The Johnson Years. He is working on The Presidency of Ronald Reagan for the American Presidency Series of the University Press of Kansas. I would like to thank Patrick Griffin for comments on an earlier version of this article.


Ronald Reagan never planned to announce what became known as the Reagan Doctrine. Two months after Reagan declared in his 1985 State of the Union address that the United States should not “break faith” with anti-Communist resistance groups, a political commentator called that declaration the Reagan Doctrine. The Reagan administration's policies toward anti-Communist resistance groups varied far more than the term “Reagan Doctrine” suggested. This article shows that differences in local conditions and U.S. security interests as well as sharp disputes between administration policy makers produced divergent policies toward “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Angola, and Cambodia during Reagan's presidency.