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Political Science

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Public Opinion in U.S. Foreign Policy: The Controversy Over Contra Aid

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The domestic politics of contra aid during the Reagan administration is a story of both success and failure. It is a story of success in that public preferences on the issue were mirrored in congressional behavior and ultimately constrained presidential action in a manner roughly consistent with the expectations of democratic theory. It is story of failure in that the president of the United States fought a long political battle against a determined domestic opposition and came up short. That fact distinguishes this case from most other presidential foreign policy initiatives. Truman enjoyed overwhelming support for his opposition to communism in Southeastern Europe, as did Eisenhower for his posture toward the spread of communism in the Middle East, Johnson initially for the use of military force against communist forces in Indochina, and Carter for his pledge to protect the Persian Gulf region from Soviet intrusion. Even Kennedy's failed efforts against Castro's Cuba won him applause at the time. But Ronald Reagan failed in his attempt to persuade Congress and the American people that the threat of communism in Central American required the same determination abroad and support at home that his predecessors bad enjoyed in arguably analogous situations.


"The Domestic Politics of Contra Aid: Public Opinion, Congress, and the President," in Richard Sobel (ed.) Public Opinion in U.S. Foreign Policy: The Controversy Over Contra Aid. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1993), pp. 73-103 reproduced with permission of Rowman & Littlefield.

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Rowman & Littlefield



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