Outlaw States: The United States, Nicaragua, and the Cold War Roots of the War on Terror
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In the 1980s, a terrorism crisis transformed U.S. foreign policy. The Reagan administration altered the old model of Cold War containment and constructed a new offensive policy to combat state sponsored terrorism. While the war on terrorism in the post September 11, 2001 world reflects an important moment in history, the roots lie in U.S. policy with Nicaragua following the overthrow of the Somoza regime in 1979. The Reagan administration's response to a global terrorism crisis involved the adoption of aggressive unilateral measures against states that were allegedly sponsors of terrorism. The Reagan administration argued that terrorism was a new tactic in an expanded Cold War that involved an alliance of radical Middle Eastern powers, communist nations, and Marxist revolutionaries. In order to respond effectively to this threat the Reagan administration adopted a new framework of intervention that involved hardline measures that challenged the norms of international behavior and marginalized the sovereign rights of nations allegedly involved in sponsoring terrorism. In conjunction with its efforts to construct a hardline strategy with Nicaragua, the administration turned to a propaganda campaign in an effort to convince a skeptical Congress, public and international community of the need to adopt an offensive policy against the Sandinistas. In this process, the administration used terrorism as a linguistic weapon that criminalized Nicaragua. The Reagan administration labeled Nicaragua a state sponsor of world terror and insisted on the right to take measures that included an array of military force options. The case of Nicaragua is significant for three reasons: first, since the conflict with Nicaragua began as a defensive conflict to contain communism the transformation to an offensive war on terrorism in the mid-1980s is clear. Second, this case foreshadows how the United States deals with terror states today, with aggressive applications of hard power justified with a powerful rhetoric. Finally, Nicaragua is important because this case helps demonstrate the danger of military oriented wars on terrorism, which to date have created more problems than solutions.