As could be expected, Moscow’s reaction to the Iran Contra scandal was negative, intensifying the tension that had developed following the election of Ronald Reagan.
Reagan was a leader whose vision exploited America’s anti-Soviet feelings, the roots of which went back to the 1940s (if not the 1890s). Reagan couched his appeal in religious terms, arguing that the Soviet Union was “the focus of evil in the modern world.” However, while he continued — and expanded — the military buildup begun by President Carter, it soon became clear that Reagan’s rhetoric did not determine his actions.
During his first term in office, Reagan lifted the grain embargo that Carter had imposed in reaction to the occupation of Afghanistan and sent high tech weapons to the Chinese. leading scholars like Gaddis to say: “This administration evidently loves commerce more than it loathes communism.”
Meanwhile, Reagan took up the cause of “freedom fighting” in the name of American self-defense. The US began to support “low intensity conflicts” (LICs) whereby small, specially trained counterinsurgency forces would — over a long period of time — destroy their opponents.
The LICs were intended to undermine Communist governments in places like Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
This strategy was controversial, of course.
The Soviets launched a major political, diplomatic, and propaganda campaign, stressing a reactive policy toward the American response to Afghanistan and the possibility of American moves against Iran. Surprisingly, the administration itself was split.
US Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger asserted that the US should
use military power only when certain conditions were met: an assurance of long-term public and congressional support, a guarantee that the commitment would be made ‘wholeheartedly’ and with full intention of ‘winning,’ and a clear definition of the objectives that were to be sought.
Obviously LICs could not meet these criteria.
Domestic dissension regarding Cold War strategy was not the only issue.
Long evident spillover effects associated with superpower activity in the Third World soon began to grow more serious in the United States itself, as an influx of immigrants (both legal and illegal) and drugs became pervasive, and as the globalization of the economy took on increased significance for American workers.
In addition to the several waves of Cuban immigrants who had sought asylum in the southern US, more than 500,000 Salvadorans had arrived illegally. These groups combined with those fleeing turmoil in Southeast Asia and Iran, and were soon joined by increasing numbers of Soviet Jews.
Emigration fluctuated according to US-Soviet relations and how badly Moscow wanted an arms deal and economic help. According to McCarthy and Ronfeldt
The cases of Cuba and Southeast Asian refugees provide striking examples of how global flows may have unanticipated long-term consequences and tend to create situations in which foreign policy decisions produce domestic ramifications. Both of these refugee flows originated as unanticipated results of foreign policy actions, and both created situations in which the United States was unwilling or unable to stop the flow once its domestic effect began to be felt.