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Iran Contra

.. bad results, and that a lawless process leads to worse. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that “A lawless government is a contradiction in terms .” This particular Administration’s departure from democratic processes created the conditions for policy failure, and led to contradictions which undermined the credibility of the United States. The United States simultaneously pursued two contradictory foreign policies during the 1980’s. The public policy was to observe the letter and spirit of the Boland Amendment’s proscriptions against military or paramilitary assistance to the Contras. The United States was not to make any concessions for the release of hostages lest such concessions encourage more hostages taking. Arms shipments to Iran were banned and other Governments were urged to observe this embargo. Measures were to be taken to improve relations with Iraq.

The United States was urging all Governments to punish terrorism and to support, indeed encourage, the refusal of Kuwait to free the Da’wa prisoners. These prisoners were Muslim extremists who had bombed the U.S. Embassy and attempted to assassinate our embassy personnel in Kuwait in 1983. In 1985 this same group of terrorists had hijacked a TWA jet in Beirut and executed two Americans. Finally, the public policy, which was embodied in Executive Order 12333, was to conduct covert operations solely through the CIA or other organs of the intelligence community specifically authorized by the President.

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While promoting the public policies previously mentioned, certain parties were secretly trading weapons in an attempt to get the American hostages released from Iran. The United States was secretly selling sophisticated missiles to Iran and promising more. It was during this time that the United States covertly shared military intelligence on Iraq with Iran. North told the Iranians, (in contradiction to United States policy) that the United States would help promote the overthrow of the Iraqi head of government. Senior officials secretly endorsed a Second-Hakim plan to permit Iran to obtain the release of the Da’wa prisoners.

The NSC staff was secretly assuming direction and funding of the Contras’ military effort. The CIA and the White House were secretly withholding from Congressional Committees all information concerning the Iran initiative and the Contra support network. Although the NSC was not so authorized, the NSC staff secretly became operational and used private, non-accountable agents to engage in covert activities. It was these contradictions in policy inevitably resulted in policy failure. The United States armed Iran, including its most radical elements, but attained neither a new relationship with that hostile regime nor a reduction in the number of American hostages. The arms sales did not lead to a moderation of Iranian policies.

Moderates did not come forward, and Iran to this day sponsors actions directed against the United States in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. The United States opened itself to blackmail by adversaries who might reveal the secret arms sales and who, according to North, threatened to kill the hostages if the sales stopped. The United States undermined its credibility with friends and allies, including moderate Arab states, by its public stance of opposing arms sales to Iran while undertaking such arms sales in secret. A ten million-dollar contribution to the contras from the Sultan of Brunei was lost by directing it to the wrong bank account – the result of an improper effort to channel that humanitarian aid contribution into an account used for lethal assistance. Members of this covert operation sought illicit funding for the Contras through profits from the secret arms sales. A substantial portion of those profits ended up in the personal bank accounts of the private individuals executing the sales – while the exorbitant amounts charged for the weapons inflamed the Iranians with whom the United States was seeking a new relationship. Undoubtedly, the record of the Iran-Contra Affair also shows a seriously flawed policy making process.

The President first told the Tower Board that he had approved the initial shipments to Iran through the Israelis. Later he told the Tower Board that he had not. Finally, he told the Tower Board that he did not know whether he approved the initial Israeli arms shipments, and his top advisers disagree on the question. The President claimed he did not recall signing a Presidential Finding which authorized November 1985 HAWK shipments to Iran. But Poindexter testified that the President did sign a Finding on December 5, 1985, approving the shipment retroactively. However, Poindexter also testified that the Finding was prepared without adequate discussion and stuck in his safe for a year.

He claimed he forgot about it. The White House asserts the President never signed it. When events began to unravel, Poindexter claims he ripped it up. One National Security Adviser understood that the Boland Amendment applied to the NSC; another thought it did not. Neither sought a legal opinion on the question.

The President incorrectly assured the American people that the NSC staff was adhering to the law and that the Government was not connected to the Hasenfus airplane. His staff was in fact conducting a full service covert operation to support the Contras, which they believed he had authorized. North says he sent five or six completed memorandums to Poindexter seeking the President’s approval for the diversion. Poindexter does not remember receiving any. Only one has been found.

Pervasive dishonesty and secrecy characterized the Iran-Contra Affair. North admitted that he and other officials lied repeatedly to Congress and to the American people about the Contra covert action and Iran arms sales. North testified before Congress “I will tell you right now, counsel, and all the members here gathered, that I misled the Congress.” He admittedly altered and destroyed official documents. North’s testimony demonstrates that he also lied to members of the Executive branch, including the Attorney General, and officials of the State Department, CIA and NSC. As new details of the scandal came to light, investigations began. Reagan created a board of inquiry headed by former Texas Senator John Tower.

Congress initiated an investigation by independent counsel. President Reagan and his cabinet were chastised for their lack of control over the National Security Council. In the end, it was decided that President Reagan was in the long run responsible for his Administration’s actions. However, there was no concrete evidence that he was aware of the diversion of funds to the contras. Despite several inconsistencies in comparing his own stories with that of his staff, Ronald Reagan himself never really faced any charges. When Reagan took office, his pledge to restore America’s military and moral prestige in the world reestablished the confidence of the American people.

The Iran Contra Scandal seriously weakened his Administration. This scandal undermined the balance of power between Congress and the President of the United States. This balance of power is a safeguard. It guards against individuals whose lust for power overrides their moral wisdom. The Constitution is “our defense against ourselves, the one foe who might defeat us.” Notes Bibliography Bill Moyers, The Secret Government:The Constitution in Crisis. (Cabin John, MD:Washington DC, 1988) 18. Lawrence E.

Walsh., Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran Contra Matters: Investigations and Prosecutions (Washington, DC 1993) 2. Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History (New York: The New Press, 1993 ) 380. Kornbluh and Byrne 385. Walsh 3. Walsh 12. Moyer 4.

Moyer 105. William S. Cohen and George J. Mitchell, Men of Zeal: A Candid Inside Story of the Iran Contra Hearings (New York: Viking 1988) 105. Kornbluh and Byrne 4. Moyer 18-23. Kornbluh and Byrne 338-339.

Kornbluh and Byrne 338-339. Cohen and Mitchell 114. Cohen and Mitchell XXI. Walsh 12. Cohen and Mitchell 202.

Moyer 17. Moyer 101. History Essays.


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