The major goals of the U.S. Contra policy were a part of what Ronald Reagan conceived as a larger mission '...to repair the damage to the security system caused by the post-Vietnam formula.' (Sharpe, p.30) Although mixed messages were received by the public from the White House the most obvious goal was the overthrow of the Sandinista led government in Nicaragua. CIA operatives were explicit to their Contra charges, their purpose was to 'overthrow the communists'.(Gilbert, p.104)
Even if military victory could not be won, as was later admitted by a retiring general, an objective was to continually raise the cost of the war, literally starving the Sandinistas into subjection. (Jonas and Stein, p.23) Undercutting the position of the FSLN would supposedly lead to unrest and popular revolt against its policies, turning Nicaragua into a negative example that the rest of the developing world would not want to follow. (Gilbert, p.118, Jonas and Stein p.23) In this light the U.S. were keen for Nicaragua not to be seen as a shining model of democracy. (Jonas and Stein p.24)Secretary of State Shultz felt the U.S. was obligated to lift Nicaragua from 'behind the Iron curtain'. (Gilbert, p.122) Their main concern was the installation of democracy and free elections.
After the FSLN election victory in 1984, which was not recognised by the Reagan administration, it became obvious that in order to legitimate themselves the Sandinistas would have had to lose. Reagan became obsessed with the Contras, who he referred to as 'freedom fighters' and 'founding fathers'.The President chose to read the situation in Nicaragua through the events of its neighbor El Salvador. One of its stated aims in Nicaragua was 'to stop the flow of arms' to the FMLN. (Ibid pp. 101-103) Reagan charged that the FSLN was '...exporting violence and subversion to their neighbours...' and justified hostile U.S. policy on the pretext of '...acting to counter this aggression.' (Ibid p.117)
Early on in the conflict these premises was invalidated, '...since no munitions were being captured or destroyed by Contra patrols.' (Ibid p.104) Carter had tried to work with the new revolutionary government, hoping to guide it on a path of moderation that would keep it from totalitarianism, and the Soviet orbit. Under Carter the CIA had begun to supply covert funds to opposition parties, unions, private organizations, and the media.(Gilbert p.105) Carter took a battering from the right who charged him with being too 'soft', and never forgave him for not simply sending in the marines. Reagan considered that victory in El Salvador was out of the question until the Sandinistas were eliminated. His 'moral crusade' was far more ideological than the policies of Carter who, he argued, had weakened the U.S.
Jeanne Kirkpatrick argued for intervention style politics, stating that right wing dictatorships could be democratized, whilst left wing governments couldn't. Reagan harked back to the aging 'domino theory', saying that Nicaragua was part of the geo-political quest by international communism.This meant by defeating the Sandinistas the U.S. would help halt the spectre of Soviet tanks rolling across the Rio Grande. Unlike Carter's policy of 'containment' Reagan wanted to 'rollback' supposed Soviet expansion, figuring that if communist goverments in small nations could be overthrown it would demoralize the USSR, and strike at the very heart of the 'evil empire'. Contra forces, not American soldiers, would absorb the cost of this policy.(Sharpe p.31)
Congress, disgusted over the mining of a Nicaraguan harbor and afraid the affair could escalate into more than 'arms interdiction', chose to discontinue funding.(Gilbert pp.104,120,121) The Reagan team promptly undertook covert means to continue their funding of the Contras. There are many reasons given for this. Policy in Nicaragua would be insulated from a hostile congress, and would hopefully in time win back 'soft' Democratic support. (Sharpe, pp.32-34) Also, any violence would be able to be blamed on the 'communists', and the Reagan administration could distance itself from any Contra indiscretion. (Chamorro p.270) Reagan decided to look for, '...others ways to exercise U.S. will and restore U.S. prestige with little regard for the spirit or the letter of the law.'(Sharpe, p.36)
The ultimate goal of overthrowing the Sandinistas was finally achieved in 1990 when UNO defeated the FSLN at the polls. However the new government has not structured itself in a way that Reaganites approve of, choosing a form of power sharing with the Sandinistas. The FSLN has not been obliterated, but will compete again for power.
The economic blockade caused the ultimate fall of the revolution, not the Contras. However, the cost of the war was a telling factor. The Contras were not viewed by most as 'liberators' but as foreigners, or another version of the U.S. Marines. The Reagan doctrine in fact restricted the opposition within Nicaragua, who may have well achieved his aims if simply left well alone.(Gilbert, p.102)
Edgar Chamorro "Testimony on the Contras" in 'The Sandinistas in Power' 1985
Dennis Gilbert "Nicaragua" in M. Blachman, et al 'Confronting Revolution' Pantheon:NY 1986
Susanne Jonas and Nancy Stein "The Construction of Democracy in Nicaragua" in 'Latin American Perspectives' Issue 66, Vol. 17 No. 3
Kenneth Sharpe "The Real Cause of Irangate" in 'Foreign Policy' Fall 1987
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REF: Nicholas Klar, 1993, "U.S. Foreign Policy: Nicaragua and Reagan" - http://klarbooks.com/academic/nicaraga3.html + date accessed