American domestic public worries regarding intervening in foreign conflicts have resulted from the end of the Vietnam War. The Reagan administration indicated the use of prompt, low-cost counter-insurgency tactics to intervene in external disputes. In 1983, the Reagan administration interfered in the Lebanese Civil War, bombed Libya, invaded Grenada, and backed the anti-communist paramilitaries seeking to defeat the Soviet-aligned Sandinista government in Nicaragua. While the president’s interventions against Libya and Grenada were popular in the U.S., his backing of the Contra rebels was more controversial as well as the support of the military government of Guatemala in the Guatemalan Civil War, especially the regime of Efraín Ríos Montt.
Meanwhile, the USSR incurred high prices for its foreign interventions. Even though Brezhnev was convinced that the Soviet war in Afghanistan would be short, Muslim guerrillas, aided by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Britain, China, and Pakistan, waged a fierce resistance against the invasion. The Kremlin sent approximately 100,000 troops to support its regime in Afghanistan, leading many outside observers to dub the war “the Soviets’ Vietnam.” However, Moscow’s quagmire in Afghanistan happened to be far more destructive for the Soviets than Vietnam had been for the U.S. because the conflict coincided with a phase of domestic crisis and internal decay in the Soviet system.
In the Soviet Union itself, glasnost led to the weakening of the bonds that held the USSR together. By February 1990, with the end of the USSR looming, the Communist Party had to surrender its 73-year-old monopoly of the state power. At the same time, liberty and independence of press and dissent allowed and supported by glasnost and the festering "nationalities question" led the union's component republics to announce their autonomy from Moscow, as the Baltic states withdrew from the Soviet Union entirely.
Gorbachev's permissive approach toward Central and Eastern Europe did not originally extend to Soviet territory. Bush, who aimed to maintain friendly relations, condemned the January 1991 murders in Lithuania and Latvia, privately warning that economic ties would be stopped in case of the continuum of violence. The Soviet Union was drastically weakened by a failed coup in 1991, and an increasing number of Soviet republics, particularly Russia, threatened to secede from the Soviet Union. The Commonwealth of Independent States, established on 21 December 1991, is viewed as a successor entity to the USSR, but, according to Russia's leaders, its goal was to "allow a civilized divorce" between the Soviet Republics. The Union was officially dissolved on 26 December 1991.
President George H.W. Bush expressed his position by stating that the biggest thing that has happened in the world during his life was America's winning the Cold War.