Freedom on the Offensive

Freedom on the Offensive

Human Rights, Democracy Promotion, and US Interventionism in the Late Cold War

The United States in the World

by William Michael Schmidli

Published by: Cornell University Press

324 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 0.00 mm

  • ISBN: 9781501765148
  • Published: September 2022


In Freedom on the Offensive, William Michael Schmidli illuminates how the Reagan administration's embrace of democracy promotion was a defining development in US foreign relations in the late twentieth century. Reagan used democracy promotion to refashion the bipartisan Cold War consensus that had collapsed in the late 1960s amid opposition to the Vietnam War.Over the course of the 1980s, the initiative led to a greater institutionalization of human rights—narrowly defined to include political rights and civil liberties and to exclude social and economic rights—as a US foreign policy priority. Democracy promotion thus served to legitimize a distinctive form of US interventionism and to underpin the administration's aggressive Cold War foreign policies. Drawing onnewly availablearchival materials, and ranging from top-level policymakers and politicians to grassroots activists and militants, this study makes a defining contribution to our understanding of human rights ideas and the projection of American power during the final decade of the Cold War.

Using Reagan's undeclared war on Nicaragua as a case study in American interventionism, Freedom on the Offensive explores how democracy promotion emerged as the centerpiece of an increasingly robust US human rights agenda.Yet, the initiative also became intertwined with deeply undemocratic practices that misled the American people, violated US law, and contributed to immense human and material destruction. Pursued through civil society or low-cost military interventions and rooted in the neoliberal imperatives of US-led globalization, Reagan's democracy promotion initiative had major implications for post-Cold War US foreign policy.