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Reagan Years - Iran


"When you meet the President you ask yourself, 'How did it ever occur to anybody that he should be governor, much less President?'"
--Henry Kissinger, addressing a small group of scholars at the Library of Congress (unaware of the presence of a reporter), April 1986

The following transcribed text is from a taped conversation between President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger on the morning of November 17, 1971:

Nixon:  What’s your evaluation of Reagan after meeting him several times now.

Kissinger:  Well, I think he’s a—actually I think he’s a pretty decent guy.

Nixon:  Oh, decent, no question, but his brains?

Kissinger:  Well, his brains are negligible. I—

Nixon:  He’s really pretty shallow, Henry.

Kissinger:  He’s shallow. He’s got no ... he’s an actor....

Nixon:  It shows you how a man of limited mental capacity simply doesn’t know what the Christ is going on in the foreign area.


The Beirut Fiasco -- Reagan Decides to Intervene in Lebanon's Civil War

The deaths lie on him and the defeat in Lebanon lies on him and him alone....  The trouble with this fellow is he tries to be tough rather than smart."
--House Speaker Tip O'Neill on President Reagan, April 1984

In the spring of 1983, President Reagan and his team of hawkish advisors decided to intervene in Lebanon's civil war on behalf of Christian President Amin Gemayel.  On March 24, the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit was dispatched to Lebanon where Muslim and Christian factions were fighting.

On April 28, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with 2,000 pounds of explosives into the U.S. embassy in Beirut.  Sixty-three people died, including seventeen Americans.

The Reagan Years

Four months later (September 6, 1983), two U.S. Marines were killed by rocket and mortar fire.  At an October 19 press conference, Reagan was asked about the safety of the Marines in Beirut to which he replied, "We're looking at everything that can be done to try and make their position safer.  We're not sitting idly by."

A few days later (October 23), another suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the headquarters building of the First Battalion, 8th Marines, located at the Beirut airport. The resulting explosion killed 241 American servicemen. 

The Reagan Years

Three months later, the Reagan administration removed American troops from Beirut and put them aboard offshore ships.  Reagan described the retreat as taking "decisive new steps."  Reagan spokesman Larry Speakes explained:  "We don't consider this a withdrawal but more of a redeployment."


The Iran-Contra Conspiracy

"The United States gives terrorists no rewards and no guarantees.  We make no concessions; we make no deals."
--President Reagan, June 30, 1985

"...the moral equal of our Founding Fathers."
--Ronald Reagan, describing the Nicaraguan contras

"I guess in a way they are counter-revolutionary and God bless them for being that.  And I guess that makes them contras and so it makes me a contra, too"
--Ronald Reagan

Thus did Reagan declare his support for the contras--remnants from the old Somoza regime--who were attempting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.  Reagan hoped to sway a reluctant American public to back the contra cause as well.  

However, enlisting public support was turning out to be a hard sell.  Many Americans were wary of the CIA-trained mercenaries due in large part to numerous reports of atrocities committed by the contras against Nicaraguan civilians.

More bad press came in the form of a CIA manual written for the contras.  The manual instructed on such things as how to blackmail unwilling Nicaraguans into supporting the contra cause, how to create martyrs by arranging the deaths of fellow contras, and how to "neutralize" Nicaraguan government officials.

Public skepticism increased further when the CIA was caught mining Nicaragua's harbors.  When Nicaragua brought charges in the World Court against CIA aggression, the Reagan administration announced that it would not be bound by the World Court ruling.

Many in Congress were growing weary of CIA recklessness, including Republican Senator Barry Goldwater.  Regarding the mining of Nicaragua's harbors Goldwater wrote, "This is an act violating international law.  It is an act of war."  Later, CIA Director William Casey would apologize to the Senate Intelligence Committee for keeping the Nicaraguan mining a secret.

However, the U.S. Congress was not swayed by Casey's belated apology.  In October 1984, Congress voted to cut off funding for CIA-contra operations.  

With the Congressional cutoff, Casey decided to make an end run around Congress by "handing off" contra operations to the National Security Council (NSC).  National Security Advisor John Poindexter and NSC member Lt. Col. Oliver North were placed in charge.  North and Poindexter were soon employing every clandestine scheme they could think of to fund the contras.  

During this period, unknown to the public, the Reagan administration was selling arms to Iran in exchange for American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian terrorists.  North and Poindexter surreptitiously diverted money from these arms sales to help fund the contras--a crime for which they would later both be convicted.

The administration had tried to keep its weapon sales to Iran a secret.  However, on November 3, 1986, the Beirut magazine, Al-Shiraa broke the story.  This was the beginning of the Iran-contra scandal which would cause a political firestorm in the United States.  The following quotes give a sense of the controversy:

"The charge has been made that the United States has shipped weapons to Iran as ransom payment for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, that the United States undercut its allies and secretly violated American policy against trafficking with terrorists....  Those charges are utterly false....  We did not--repeat--did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we."
--President Reagan, television address, November 13, 1986

"... [I] was not fully informed on the nature of one of the activities."
--President Reagan, referring to the fact that money from weapons sales to Iran was diverted to the contras, November 25, 1986

"If he knew about it, then he has willfully broken the law; if he didn't know about it, then he is failing to do his job.  After all, we expect the President to know about the foreign policy activities being run directly out of the White House."
--Senator John Glenn, November 25, 1986

"When someone says, 'But he was giving arms to people he knew had killed our Marines,' it's hard to respond to that."
--House Republican Robert Dornan, previously one of Reagan's most ardent supporters, December 11, 1986

"The simple truth is, 'I don't remember--period.'"
--President Reagan, responding to a question about when he authorized arms shipments to Iran, February 2, 1987

"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages.  My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."
--Reagan in a television address is forced to acknowledge "the facts and the evidence" uncovered by the commission that Reagan appointed to look into the matter, March 4, 1987

"I told you all the truth that first day after...everything hit the fan."
--President Reagan, June 11, 1987

The Reagan Years

Four years after Reagan left office, more of the truth would come out.  In 1992, former defense secretary Casper Weinberger was ordered to turn over notes of a January 1986 White House meeting.  Weinberger's notes said, "President decided to go with Israeli-Iranian offer to release our 5 hostages in return for sale of 4,000 TOWs [U.S. missiles] to Iran by Israel.  George Shultz + I opposed--Bill Casey, Ed Meese + VP favored--as did Poindexter."

Before leaving office in 1992, then-president George Bush pardoned Weinberger and five others who were facing felony charges stemming from Iran-contra.  The Bush pardons effectively ended the Iran-contra investigation.

"If the American people ever find out what we have done, they will chase us down the streets and lynch us."
--George H. W. Bush, to White House correspondent Sarah McClendon, June 1992, in response to the question, "What will the people do if they ever find out the truth about Iraq-gate and Iran-contra?"


Right-Wing Subversives Masquerading as Patriots

There were some disturbing similarities between Oliver North testifying before the U.S. Congress in 1987 and Adolph Hitler testifying during his trial in Germany in 1923.  Both North and Hitler assumed the stance of self-righteous patriots to justify their illegal, unconstitutional activities.  And both achieved celebrity status, winning sympathy from a large section of the public, especially those on the political Right.

The Reagan Years

Oliver North was convicted in 1989 of destroying documents and obstructing Congress. Later, the country of Costa Rica banned him for having aided drug traffickers who were selling arms to the contras.

The Reagan Years

Adolph Hitler in 1925 after his release from Landsberg prison. He was sent to prison for attempting to take over the government of Germany.  The attempt failed in what would later be called "The Beer Hall Putsch."

David Hackworth on Oliver North

Oliver North's Plan to Suspend the Constitution and Declare Martial Law

The Ronald Reagan Years - The Real Reagan Record
by Mark Tracy