Reagan’s Good Neighbor Policy

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The academic Left would like to forget him but can’t. The Cold War’s Last Battlefield: Reagan, the Soviets and Central America by Edward A. Lynch, shows why he is so memorable. “Reagan rejected the traditional Cold War notion among American policy makers that the best defense against a Communist threat from the left was a strong dictatorship of the right,” Lynch writes.

Practicing that traditional notion has resulted in the elevation, and eventual ouster, of corrupt autocrats south of the border who have given the political Left raw material for propaganda for decades. Conversely, pushing for elections where people can choose their own leaders seemed to Reagan a more promising approach.

People forget that not only was Reagan the first president in decades to repeatedly use the word “communist,” but he also resurrected a phrase from the Second World War—“Good Neighbor Policy”—to describe what he thought America’s relations should be with Latin America.

“Scholars and analysts have taken great pains to categorize and explain the multiplicity of voices emanating from the Reagan Administration,” Lynch notes. “Some analysts have focused on the conflicts between conservatives and liberals, between ‘hawks’ and doves,’ between ‘true believers’ and ‘moderates,’ between the State Department and the Defense Department, and between presidential appointees and permanent bureaucrats.”

“In the internal wars of the Reagan administration over Central America policy, it was the conflict between those who preferred leveraged allies and those who preferred natural allies that best explained the sometimes bewildering cacophony of voices from the administration.” Lynch teaches political science at Hollins University.

When President Reagan took office, he faced a Soviet-supported communist dictatorship in Nicaragua and a beleaguered government in El Salvador fighting off a Nicaragua-backed communist insurgency—the FMLN. His support of indigenous armed “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua has been covered extensively while his promotion of free market advocates willing to run in free elections in El Salvador has not.

“The country has had regular elections, on schedule, up to the present day,” Lynch notes. “Eventually former members of the FMLN were permitted to take part.”

“On one occasion, a leftist nearly won the election, and his near victory made barely a ripple in the U. S. media.” Lynch worked in the Reagan White House in the early 1980s.

“None of this progress has made El Salvador a less reliable ally of the United States,” Lynch observes. “On the contrary, El Salvador’s government has been a consistent supporter of U. S. foreign policy.”

“Reagan’s policies, often undertaken over the objections of his own Cabinet members, and sometimes nearly invisible to the untrained eye, had helped to save El Salvador from both Soviet and American domination.” Sometimes even the trained eye missed those policies.

Back during the Reagan years, Lynch recalls that, “William LeoGrande, an American University professor sympathetic to the FMLN said that in trying to protect El Salvador from Communism, ‘Washington will be faced with only two options: allowing a victory for the leftist guerrillas or sending in ground combat troops on a large scale.’”

Currently, LeoGrande gets overwhelming raves from his students on Rate My but one apostate did urge, “Take his class…….If you’re a communist.”


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail