Renewed U.S. Power Image

Regents Prep: U.S. History: Human Systems & Society: Renewed U.S. Power Image

Central America and the Middle East

During the 20th Century, America followed a policy of intervention in Central America. Beginning with President Franklin Roosevelt, continuing on through presidents Taft and Wilson, American military forces intervened, or became involved, several times in Central American politics. The most notable were when U.S. Marines were sent into Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.

Such actions offended many other Latin America countries, and made them very resentful of America and Americans. Seeing this, President Roosevelt pulled the U.S. out the of Central America and the Caribbean in the 1930s. He wanted America to behave like a “good neighbor” to these areas, and not become directly involved.

After World War II, the relationship between America and the U.S.S.R. was extremely fragile. The United States feared the Soviet Union would aid Communist revolutions around the world. In a March 1961 speech entitled Alliance for Progress, President Kennedy promised to aid Central American nations in resisting a global Communist threat. At the end, he encouraged Central Americans by saying :

“And so I say to the men and women of the Americas – to the I [peasant] in the fields, to the obrero [worker] in the cities, to the estudiante in the schools – prepare your mind and heart for the task ahead, call forth your strength, and let each devote his energies to the betterment of all so that your children and our children in this hemisphere can find an ever richer and a freer life.

Let us once again transform the American Continent into a vast crucible of revolutionary ideas and efforts, a tribute to the power of the creative energies of free men and women, an example to all the world that liberty and progress walk hand in hand. Let us once again awaken our American revolution until it guides the struggles of people everywhere-not with an imperialism of force or fear but the rule of courage and freedom and hope for the future of man.”

President Kennedy also authorized a covert (secret or undercover) invasion of Cuba in April 1961 in an attempt to overthrow the Marxist-Leninist dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs mission failed, and only increased tensions between the U.S., Cuba, and the U.S.S.R.

From that point forward, America has followed both the path of intervention while trying to be a “good neighbor.” In other words, the U.S. still gives economic aid to Central America, but it also intervenes militarily when it is deemed necessary. In fact, since 1945, America has intervened (for various reasons) in Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Haiti.

President Ronald Reagan viewed Central America and the Caribbean differently. He thought the U.S. should intervene any time America was concerned or threatened.


In 1983, the democratic government of this Caribbean island was overthrown by Communist forces supported by Cuba’s Castro. President Reagan believed that the lives of several hundred American students attending medical school there were in danger. American forces invaded, rescued the students, and quickly restored the old government.

El Salvador

Throughout the 19809s, El Salvador was in a state of civil war. President Reagan was convinced that rebels against the government would establish a Communist government if they won. Congress voted over $600 million in aid to the government, but the war did not end. The civil war ended with a U.N. brokered peace treaty in 1991.

Nicaragua: Contras and Sandinistas

In 1979, a Communist government came to power in Nicaragua. Anti-communist forces called Contras battled the government Sandinista soldiers. President Reagan convinced Congress to give military and financial aid to the Contras. Congress withdrew military aid in 1984, but it was restored in 1986. The civil war ended in 1990, when the open electionsClick To Download were held.

Reagan did not expect the Sandinistas to give in, and he did not want to abandon the Contras. What could he do? The answer involved Iran.


In 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran was overrun, and 66 hostages were taken. The President at the time, Jimmy Carter, unsuccessfully negotiated for their release. Carter sent military forces to extricate the hostages, but the mission failed, sending tensions even higher.

At the same time, from 1980 to 1988, Iran and Iraq were at war. In 1984-85, Iran secretly asked to buy weapons from the U.S. despite an American embargo against Iran. President Reagan agreed to a plan that called for selling weapons to Iran, and secretly giving part of the money earned to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. He thought that the sales would put the U.S. on better political terms with Iran and other Middle Eastern nations.

Reagan also hoped that a group of Iranian terrorists who were holding Americans hostages in Lebanon would release their prisoners. The hostages were released in January 1981, after $8 billion in Iranian assets were freed. When these details were discovered, the American Press began calling it the Iran-Contra Affair.


In 1975 Christians and Muslims became involved in a civil war. Palestinian refugees from Israel living in southern Lebanon also got involved. Syria supported the Muslims and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Israel sent troops into Lebanon to retaliate for PLO terrorist attacks against Israel. Into this confusion, President Reagan sent U.S. Marines (as peacekeepers) to the Lebanese capital, Beirut. In 1983, 241 Marines were killed when a terrorist bombed their barracks. Reagan withdrew American troops in 1984, leaving Syria and Israel controlling large portions of Lebanon.


On April 5, 1986, a terrorist bombed a Berlin disco, killing two American soldiers. Reagan blamed Libyan PresidentClick To Download Muammar Qadaffi for supporting terrorism, an ordered Operation El Dorado Canyon. On April 14, 1986, American fighter jets bombed strategic targets in and around Tripoli, the capital city. Qadaffi remained in power, and has since come out in support of U.S. actions against terrorist attacks.

U.S. Power Image

During these events, American power and prestige throughout the world seemed to dwindle. It was perhaps not until June 1987, when President Reagan, standing before the Berlin Wall said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” that American power and prestige began to rise.

The September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon resulted in the Bush Doctrine, a new foreign policy that called for pre-emptive actions against suspected terrorist states, and called for worldwide collaboration to end the threat of terrorism in the world. To this end, the United States and its allies have initiated regime change in both Afghanistan and Iraq through the use of military force.