"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 . . . Support for freedom fighters is self-defense."
--President Reagan, in the State of the Union, February 1985
Ronald Reagan is the master of the new idea, and has built the most successful political career in a half-century launching one after another. His list of credits includes small government (Barry Goldwater having tried, and failed, with it first), supply-side economics and strategic defense (Star Wars). These radically changed the terms of debate on the welfare state, economic theory and nuclear strategy. All that was left for him to turn on its head was accepted thinking on geopolitics. Now he has done that too. He has produced the Reagan Doctrine.
You may not have noticed. Doctrines, like submarines, tend to be launched with fanfare. The Monroe Doctrine was instantly recognized, on both sides of the Atlantic, as a historic declaration; the Truman Doctrine was unveiled in a dramatic address to a joint session of Congress; and when President Carter announced a new aggressive Persian Gulf policy on Jan. 23, 1980, by the next morning the New York Times had dubbed it "the Carter Doctrine." President Reagan saw fit to bury his doctrine in his 1985 State of the Union address beneath the balanced budget amendment, school prayer and the line-item veto. That he decided to make his a footnote is as much a tribute to Mr. Reagan's prudence as to his modesty. Truly new ideas--what Democrats lie awake at night dreaming of--are as risky as they are rare. This one has already precipitated a storm.
The Reagan Doctrine proclaims overt and unashamed American support for anti- Communist revolution. The grounds are justice, necessity and democratic tradition. Justice, said the President in his Feb. 16 radio address, because these revolutionaries are "fighting for an end to tyranny." Necessity, said Secretary of State George Shultz in a subsequent address in San Francisco, because if these "freedom fighters" are defeated, their countries will be irrevocably lost behind an Iron Curtain of Soviet domination. And democratic tradition, said the President, because to support "our brothers" in revolution is to continue--"in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Angola . . . (and) Nicaragua"--200 years of American support for "Simon Bolivar . . . the Polish patriots, the French Resistance and others seeking freedom."