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1985

The “Reagan Doctrine” is announced

In his State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan defines some of the key concepts of his foreign policy, establishing what comes to be known as the “Reagan Doctrine.” The doctrine served as the foundation for the Reagan administration’s support of “freedom fighters” around the globe.

Reagan began his foreign policy comments with the dramatic pronouncement that, “Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few; it is the universal right of all God’s children.” America’s “mission” was to “nourish and defend freedom and democracy.” More specifically, Reagan declared that, “We must stand by our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives—on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua—to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.” He concluded, “Support for freedom fighters is self-defense.”

With these words, the Reagan administration laid the foundation for its program of military assistance to “freedom fighters.” In action, this policy translated into covertly supporting the Contras in their attacks on the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua; the Afghan rebels in their fight against the Soviet occupiers; and anticommunist Angolan forces embroiled in that nation’s civil war. President Reagan continued to defend his actions throughout his two terms in office. During his farewell address in 1989, he claimed success in weakening the Sandinista government, forcing the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan, and bringing an end to the conflict in Angola. Domestic critics, however, decried his actions, claiming that the support of so-called “freedom fighters” resulted only in prolonging and escalating bloody conflicts and in U.S. support of repressive and undemocratic elements in each of the respective nations.

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