The Deputy Director of the CIA Advises on the Situation in Nicaragua

In a memorandum to Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey, CIA Deputy Director Robert Gates offers "straight talk" about Nicaragua. In the memo, Gates concedes that the CIA-backed Contras cannot overthrow the Sandinista government. He argues that the Contra war is "an essentially half-hearted policy," recommending instead that the Reagan administration initiate a "comprehensive campaign openly aimed at bringing down the regime," including "the use of air strikes." "The fact is that the Western Hemisphere is the sphere of influence of the United States," Gates states. "If we have decided totally to abandon the Monroe Doctrine... then we ought to save political capital in Washington, acknowledge our helplessness and stop wasting everybody's time." Gates was appointed Director of the CIA by President George H. W. Bush in 1991, and served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

14 December 1984

MEMORANDUM FOR: Director of Central Intelligence

FROM: Deputy Director for Intelligence

SUBJECT: Nicaragua

1. It is time to talk absolutely straight about Nicaragua. To recap where we are:

  • Based on all the assessments we have done, the Contras, even with American support, cannot overthrow the Sandinista regime...

  • The Nicaraguan regime is steadily moving toward consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist government and the establishment of a permanent and well armed ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba on the mainland of the Western Hemisphere. Its avowed aim is to spread further revolution in the Americas...

3. What is happening in Central America in many ways vividly calls to mind the old saw that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

  • In 1958-60 we thought that we could reach some sort of an accommodation with Castro that would encourage him to build a pluralistic government in Cuba. We have been trying to do the same thing in Nicaragua, with the same success...

  • In Vietnam, our strategy consisted of a series of measures applied very gradually and over a long period of time. With each step of new US involvement the gradual approach enabled the enemy to adjust to each new turn of the screw so that by the end of the war, even in the face of the most severe bombing, the Vietnamese had developed enormous tolerance. Half measures, half-heartedly applied, will have the same result in Nicaragua.  

...[Gates recommends that the best policy would be "overtly trying to bring down the regime through the following measures]:

  • Withdrawal of diplomatic recognition of the regime in Managua and the recognition of a government in exile.

  • Overt provision to the government in exile of military assistance, funds, propaganda support and so forth including major efforts to gain additional support in international community, including real pressure.

  • Economic sanctions against Nicaragua, perhaps even including a quarantine...

  • Politically most difficult of all, the use of air strikes to destroy a considerable portion of Nicaragua's military buildup...  This would be accompanied by an announcement that the United States did not intend to invade Nicaragua but that no more arms deliveries...would be permitted...

8. These are hard measures. They probably are politically unacceptable. But it is time to stop fooling ourselves about what is going to happen in Central America...

9. The fact is that the Western Hemisphere is the sphere of influence of the United States. If we have decided totally to abandon the Monroe Doctrine, if in the 1980s taking strong actions to protect our interests despite the hail of criticism is too difficult, then we ought to save political capital in Washington, acknowledge our helplessness and stop wasting everybody's time. 

...

11. All this may be politically out of the question. Probably. But all the cards ought to be on the table and people should understand the consequences of what we do and do not do in Nicaragua. Half measures will not even produce half successes. The course we have been on (even before the funding cut-off) -- as the last two years suggest -- will result in further strengthening of the regime and a Communist Nicaragua which, allied with its Soviet and Cuban friends, will serve as the engine for the destabilization of Central America...

Source | CIA, Memorandum from DDI Robert M. Gates to DCI William J. Casey, "Nicaragua," SECRET, 14 December 1984, George Washington University, The National Security Archive, The Iran-Contra Affair 20 Years On, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB210/index.htm.
Creator | Robert M. Gates
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | Robert M. Gates, “The Deputy Director of the CIA Advises on the Situation in Nicaragua,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 24, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/780.