Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977-1992 by William M. LeoGrande

September 25, 2007

This exhaustive account of the last major U.S. Cold War adventure is destined to become a definitive source on the subject. From the waning weeks of the Carter Administration through the tumultuous and bellicose Reagan years, to the seeming “normalcy” of the Bush administration, LeoGrande provides the in-depth story of the ideologically inspired battle to keep leftist insurgents from toppling the U.S.-sponsored dictatorships.

The key to the puzzle of the U.S. obsession with events in Nicaragua and El Salvador was the election of Ronald Reagan, a president committed to reigniting the Cold War and determined to see the United States overcome the “Vietnam syndrome” in foreign policy. This set the stage for a battle between moderate “pragmatists” in both Congress and the State Department and Reagan’s team of hard-line anti-Communists intent upon rolling back these newest outposts of the “Evil Empire.” With vivid portraits of characters ranging from “the Gipper” himself to Al “I’m in Charge” Haig, to the redoubtable Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the book provides a riveting blow-by-blow account of the ensuing battles.

In the end, Reagan and his lieutenants proved so unrelenting in their pursuit of military victory that they repudiated all attempts at diplomacy and peaceful resolution. They were willing to disregard the will of the Congress, violate the Constitution and engage in criminal acts—like running arms to the Nicaraguan Contras—in their zeal to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and keep the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) from power in El Salvador. The Iran-Contra scandal and the end of the Reagan years resulted in a chance for diplomacy to end the conflicts. Peace was finally achieved, but at great cost to the people of both nations. As LeoGrande points out, the final settlements reached were essentially identical to the peace proposals undermined by the United States in the early 1980s.


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