Life in America: The Reagan Years, A Webography

Reagan and Foreign Policy: A Very Short Introduction

The Reagan Doctrine
The Reagan Doctrine was a strategy orchestrated and implemented by the United States under the Reagan Administration to oppose the global influence of the Soviet Union during the final years of the Cold War. While the doctrine lasted less than a decade, it was the centerpiece of United States foreign policy from the early 1980s until the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. provided overt and covert aid to anti-communist guerrillas and resistance movements in an effort to "rollback" Soviet-backed communist governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The doctrine was designed to serve the dual purposes of diminishing Soviet influence in these regions, while also potentially opening the door for capitalism (and sometimes liberal democracy) in nations that were largely being governed by Soviet-supported socialist governments.

Source:   "Reagan Doctrine."  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  2 Jan. 2011.  Web.  6 Jan. 2011.

The Cold War
Reagan served as president during the latter part of the Cold War, an era of political and ideological disagreement between the United States and Soviet Union.  Reagan labeled the USSR an "Evil Empire" that would be consigned to the "ash heap of history"; he later predicted that communism would collapse. He reversed the policy of détente and massively built up the United States military. Through it, he ordered production of the MX "Peacekeeper" missile and implemented the B-1 bomber program that had been canceled by the Carter administration. He also monitored the deployment of the Pershing II missile in West Germany.

He proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a defense project that planned to use ground and space-based missile defense systems to protect the United States from attack. Reagan believed that this defense shield could make nuclear war impossible. Reagan was convinced that the Soviet Union could be defeated rather than simply negotiated with.

Nuclear Weapons
According to several scholars and Reagan biographers, including Paul Lettow, John Lewis Gaddis, Richard Reeves, Lou Cannon, and Reagan himself in his autobiography, Ronald Reagan earnestly desired the abolition of all nuclear weapons. He proposed to Gorbachev that if a missile shield could be built, all nuclear weapons be eliminated and the missile shield technology shared, the world would be much better off.

In his autobiography, An American Life, Reagan wrote, "The Pentagon said at least 150 million American lives would be lost in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union — even if we 'won.' For Americans who survived such a war, I couldn't imagine what life would be like. The planet would be so poisoned the 'survivors' would have no place to live. Even if a nuclear war did not mean the extinction of mankind, it would certainly mean the end of civilization as we knew it. No one could 'win' a nuclear war. Yet as long as nuclear weapons were in existence, there would always be risks they would be used, and once the first nuclear weapon was unleashed, who knew where it would end? My dream, then, became a world free of nuclear weapons.... For the eight years I was president I never let my dream of a nuclear-free world fade from my mind." Reagan wrote that he believed the mutually assured destruction policy formulated by John Kennedy to be morally wrong.

Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty in 1987 (and ratified in 1988), which was the first in Cold War history to mandate the destruction of an entire class of nuclear weapons.

Originally neutral in the Iran–Iraq War of 1979 to 1988, the Reagan administration began supporting Iraq because an Iranian victory would not serve the interests of the United States. In 1983, Reagan issued a National Security Decision Directive memo, which called for heightened regional military cooperation to defend oil facilities, measures to improve U.S. military capabilities in the Persian Gulf, directed the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take appropriate measures to respond to tensions in the area.

Source:  "Political Positions of Ronald Reagan."  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  31 Dec. 2010.  Web.  6 Jan. 2011.

Web Resources about Reagan and Foreign Policy

Why Ratifying the INF Treaty Really Matters

Score: 17

Summary: This source is an online publication of an article originally published by two Harvard faculty members in 1988 as an argumentative essay in favor of ratifying the recently signed Intermediate Range Nuclear Firearms Treaty with the Soviet Union. The essay is valuable in that it phrases different arguments for the adoption of the treaty, as well as some implications of its ratification. The essay goes on then to describe how the Reagan Administration has adopted new lessons by signing the treaty with the Soviet Union. Such lessons include the idea that “arms control can serve US interests.” This idea was relatively new at the time considering that up until this point the Cold War had been all about building up massive stockpiles of nuclear weaponry. Overall the article serves as an interesting glimpse into one frame of time in American History.

Evaluation: The site gains instant credibility when one observes that the publication is through Harvard University, by Harvard faculty. The credibility is bolstered also by the article being a publication of the time when the treaty was still in the ratification process. The authors of the article are given, along with their credentials which qualify them to opine on such a matter, and a telephone number is provided should the reader have any further inquiries regarding the article.  The one short coming in using this site as an academic resource is that it is argumentative, and therefore somewhat based in opinion. However, the historical value and the evaluation of the treaty provide a valuable glimpse into the INF Treaty, one of the most historic achievements of the Reagan Administration.

Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004) Foreign Affairs

Score: 17

Summary: This site is certainly full of useful information, touching on almost every major event of Reagan’s career dealing with foreign policy. It contains information on topics such as confrontations with Soviet Russia, the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. government’s involvement in Lebanon, Middle Eastern terrorism, the Iran-Contra affair, and finally Reagan’s interactions with Gorbachev. Each of these topics is covered in depth, with information taken directly from speeches and interviews contained in the University of Virginia Presidential speech archive. As one would expect from a document covering so many sources, the article is a bit lengthy to read, but is certainly worth the time as it contains a rather all-encompassing summary of Reagan’s stances on foreign policy.

Evaluation: The article meets nearly all the criteria for a reliable source. The author is a retired accredited journalist for The Washington Post, and is considered to be one of the foremost Reagan biographers in the world. The website itself is published academically through University of Virginia, and the essay content is taken directly from speeches and interviews made available on the same webpage. The website is describe as being a reference site for academic research, and only has one real shortcoming. The essay itself has no dates contained within it; however the website has a copyright of 2011, which would suggest that the content is fairly recent. Overall this is certainly a very credible resource with a vast wealth of knowledge on Reagan foreign policy.

The National Security Archive: The Iran-Contra Affair 20 Years on

Score: 16

Summary: This website provides a look back on the events of the Iran-Contra affair, one of the lower points Reagan foreign policy, and focuses largely on the officials involved in it. The site looks at how the individuals were impacted by, or involved in, the Iran-Contra Affair and where they are today. Such individuals include former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The site is also interesting in that includes links to PDF documents of the original documents that have now been declassified under the freedom of information act. These documents include Reagan’s authorization of CIA activities in Nicaragua, as well as various memorandums and cables between those involved in the event. This site provides an interesting collection of the events which transpired which the public at the time was not privy to.

Evaluation: This site has a reasonable amount of credibility to it, as it is a publication of the National Security Archive through George Washington University. The authors of the page provide contact information for further information on the subject, and the original documents consulted to create the page are provided within the page. Because of all these things, the source can be considered to be highly credible even if it was published in a few years back. The fact that this site provides access to original government documents from the Iran-Contra affair lends greatly to its credibility as well as its usefulness. This is definite a reliable and valuable resource to anyone wanting to learn more about one of the darker moments in the history of Reagan’s foreign policy.

Understanding the Iran-Contra Affair

Score: 16

Summary: This website is an academic compilation similar to this site, but it is specifically dedicated to the Iran-Contra affair. The site includes sections detailing the Iranian involvement as well as the Nicaraguan involvement throughout the affair. The site provides a wealth of information such as timelines, documents from the event, press releases from the time, media footage, and profiles of the individuals involved in the Iran-Contra affair. The site also focuses not only on the initial events, but also the trials and hearings through the World Court and within the United States government itself. The site also shows how the affair has impacted the global political scene through lasting effects. The site provides a wealth of knowledge regarding Reagan’s foreign interactions, as well as how those events have impacted modern government.

Evaluation:  The first indicator of this site being a credible one is that it is published through Brown University, which has a well established reputation as an academic institution. The site itself and the content within it were created by a group of students in an ethics and public policy class called Good Government. The site has been updated as recent as 2010, meaning that the information is updated and maintained. The site provides several sources consulted for the page including several academic and biographical writings, as well as some original information from the era which is made available directly on the page itself. All in all this site is an informative and reliable resource for the Reagan administration and their involvement in the Iran-Contra affair.

President Ronald Reagan: Inside Story of Reagan’s Berlin Challenge to “Tear Down This Wall!”

Score: 16

Summary: This article is a republication of an article originally written by Peter Robinson in 2003. The article is the story of how Reagan’s famous line of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” came into existence from the very speech writer who came up with the line. This is one of the most famous highlights of Reagan’s foreign policy career from his speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987. The article tells the story of how the line was almost removed on several occasions, as it might be viewed as to offensive to the Soviet Union. Ultimately however, it was Reagan himself who approved the line despite advice to the contrary. This article provides an interesting firsthand account of one of Reagan’s most famous moments in the foreign policy era of his presidency.

Evaluation: Although the site itself appears to be not very academic in nature due to plenty of advertisements, the content itself is what one must focus on. The article is a publication by Peter Robinson, the speech writer who drafted Reagan’s famous Berlin Wall speech, and is a highly credible firsthand account. The actual website itself is sponsored by the Weider History Group, a distributor of eleven different history oriented magazines. So, although initial looks may be somewhat deceiving, the source as a whole can be viewed as very credible due to it being a first-hand account by the author of the very speech which it discusses. The various reactions to the initial draft of the speech provide a valuable insight into the tense relations between the United States and The Soviet Union, as well as Reagan’s approach to those relations.

U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian Milestones: 1981-1989

Score: 16

Summary: This website functions as a public source of information for historical events in the history of the Department of State. This includes the foreign policy of past presidential administrations, such as Reagan’s involvement in the cold war. Key aspects of Reagan’s foreign policy found on this website including the denouement of the Cold War, Strategic Defense Initiative, The Reagan Doctrine, and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. Each of these key historical points is indicative of Reagan’s stance toward not only communism, but also nuclear weaponry. Each of these key points is presented in a one page summary, often accompanied with historical photos from the Department of State Archives.

Evaluation: Overall the site is informative and concise, briefly explaining what each event is and how it related to the foreign policy of the Reagan administration, with one or two pictures for each event. This source is one which could be considered reliable due to it being a publication of the Department of State. Where this source lost points was in its citations and the recentness of the content. The source did not do much to list sources, but retained some credibility as it could be considered an “original” source for this kind of information as these are all publications of Department of State archives. There was no date given as to the most recent update, but government websites are often regularly maintained and updated. Despite these minor shortcomings, the source was very informative, and very credible when learning about foreign policy in the Reagan era.

Time Magazine, Essay: The Reagan Doctrine

Score: 15

Summary: This article is unique in that it provides an in depth look at the Reagan Doctrine from the perspective of one reacting to it in the time which it came to be. The article was written in 1985 shortly after Reagan’s State of the Union Address by a political commentator for the Washington Post. It provides insight not only into some of the ideas of the Reagan Doctrine, but also some of the scandal surrounding it. One of these specific controversies was the issues regarding Nicaragua and the U.S. involvement in aiding rebels to combat. Outside of this, the essay provides reactions of the mainstream American culture to the events. The author deems it “slightly comical” that Nicaragua would complain to the World Court about U.S. involvement in their country. It is this opinion and reasoning of the time that are truly valuable in this article.

Evaluation: This essay is a credible source. In short, it comes from a reliable publication and a reliable author. Although credentials are not given in the article, a quick Wikipedia search reveals the author, Charles Krauthammer, to be a retired Pulitzer Prize winning political commentator from the Washington Post. Although not many sources are given formally, it is understood that the source of the essay is the Reagan Doctrine itself. This does lend to some ambiguity, as the Reagan Doctrine is not a formal document, but rather the name for the strategy and approach to foreign relations in the Reagan Administration. One might argue that the opinions offered in the article are not fact; however the opinions and reasoning behind such ideas are very valuable from a historical perspective when studying the Reagan administration and their approach to foreign policy.

Think Again: Ronald Reagan

Score: 15

Summary: This article is somewhat lengthy, but sets forth with the goal of dispelling popular myths regarding Reagan and foreign policy. The article does a good job of providing a factual basis as for why these beliefs may be untrue, but mixes in some opinion from the author as to the true intentions of Reagan’s actions. Some topics include the myth that Reagan was “tough on terror” or that he “frightened the Soviet Union into submission.” The article is somewhat unique compared to other sources in that it also compares Reagan’s foreign policy to that of the Bush and Obama administrations. Despite some presence of opinion, the article is certainly filled with historical facts which are helpful to the reader in grasping a deeper understanding of the Reagan administration and their approach to foreign policy.

Evaluation: As mentioned in the summary, this article does include some opinion, but overall it is not damaging to the credibility of the article as the opinions are supported as academic arguments with plenty of fact. The article also provides decent sources, stating that the article is taken from a book published by the author entitled The Icarus Syndrome: a History of American Hubris. The credentials are also well outlined at the end of the article for the author. He is both a published journalist, but also a professor in journalism and political science from City University of New York. Due to the academic nature of the article, and the credentials of the author, this ends up as a well put together source.

Ronald Reagan on Foreign Policy

Score: 14

Summary: This website is not very in depth in the information which it covers, but it is very wide in its scope regarding various points in the history of Reagan’s foreign policy. It provides a brief summary into many past events such as the Iran-Contra Scandal, Nicaraguan Contra and the CIA, and U.S. support of Taiwan and the involvement with the People’s Republic of China. Each main point is followed by a brief summary of what happened in the event and the stance of the Reagan administration on said event. Although brief, the information does well in conveying the purpose of the website which is to inform readers of the stances of different administrations on key events.

Evaluation: The site is not very elaborate in design, which can initially lead a reader to believe that it is less credible, but it does a good job in citing the sources each individual paragraph, and tends to avoid opinion and stick to fact. The titles of each paragraph do tend to lead to some bias when reading the text through titles such as “Called USSR “Evil Empire,” but signed an anti-nuke deal”. Such titles are suggestive that the author has already taken a stance on the issue before the reader has had a chance to read the facts. The site is very good about listing when information was originally posted, and the date of the most recent update. This attention to detail lends greatly to the credibility of the source as whole.

Foreign Affairs, Ronald Reagan 40th President

Score: 14

Summary: The website focused largely on three main highlights of Reagan’s presidency in terms of foreign affairs, these being communism, nuclear weapons, and terrorism. The website discusses Nixon’s rigid stance against communism, especially against Soviet Russia. This rigid stance was somewhat compromised however, when it came to an issue which Reagan was very passionate about, nuclear weapons. The site also discusses the issues surrounding U.S. government funding of various militia groups attempting to fight off communism in their native countries. All in all, the site provided a good summary of the highlights of Reagan’s foreign interactions, one of the key aspects of this history being Reagan’s treaties with Gorbachev regarding the limitations on nuclear weapons in the world powers.

Evaluation: The site carries a lot of weight in the credibility department based largely on the fact that it is published by PBS, an organization known for educational television media. Because of this, the content comes across as largely trustworthy. In terms of academia however, the site comes short in crediting the author and citing sources. After following a few links, it is possible to discover that the information is taken from a previous PBS television production, and posted to the internet in the form of the article. The site lists various speeches and interviews conducted with Reagan as sources in another location. Unfortunately no author could be located for the article. The material is also somewhat old, being from the early 90’s however, the information is consistent with other sources, and does not appear to need updating.

Content created by David Walters.