Ronald Reagan notoriously labeled Nicaragua's Contras as "the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance." In reality, the Contras committed many atrocities. The Sandinista regime was eventually replaced, not by U.S.-armed Contras, but by free and fair elections in which both sides of the low-grade civil war were rejected. The most lasting consequence was not a free Nicaragua, but a law-breaking scandal that consumed the latter years of the Reagan administration.
It was not a lesson America's foreign policy elites took to heart. In the late 1990s, the same simplistic thinking led the United States to militarily intervene on behalf of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group that had until recently and for good reasons been considered a terrorist group. Not only did the American-led NATO intervention lead to a frozen conflict and an economically dysfunctional, partially recognized independent Kosovo, it also set a precedent that Vladimir Putin's Russia eagerly seized on to justify military interventions in Georgia and Ukraine.
Through the lens of these examples and others, including Angola, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and the "Color Revolutions" of the mid-2000s, Carpenter explains how "foreign insurgent groups have a distressing record of manipulating U.S. political figures, policymakers, and opinion leaders into supporting their causes." The cost of this gullibility has been measured in needless wars, failed states, and destabilizing chaos. As Gullible Superpower makes clear, it is time for America to heed the advice of John Quincy Adams and "[go] not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."
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