The Iran- Contra Affair is a political scandal in the U.S. that took place during the second term of President Ronald Reagan's administration. The senior officials of the then administration facilitated covertly the sale of ammunition to Iran, a country that at the time was subject of an arms embargo (Abshire & Neustadt p.23). These officials reasoned that the deal would help negotiate the release of a number of American hostages and at the same time fund the Nicaraguan Contras. The Congress under the Boland Amendment had prohibited the funding of the Contras by the administration. The scandal started as a mission to free 7 American prisoners that were being held by Hezbollah, a paramilitary group linked to Islamic to the Revolutionary Guard Corps with Iran ties, based in Lebanon. It was agreed that Israel would deliver weapons to Iran, and after that, the United States would replenish Israel's reserves in exchange for money. The Iranian beneficiaries guaranteed to make every effort to secure the release of the American hostages. In late 1985, the National Security Council under Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North made significant modifications to the plan, diverting a portion of the proceeds from the sale to finance anti-Sandinista terrorists, commonly as Contras, who revolted against the Nicaraguan socialist government. The paper reviews the Iran-Contra Affair Scandal to provide insights about the covert activities of American operative that remain a mystery.
Ronald Reagan, in 1981, was inaugurated as the President in a period when the U.S. politic was shifting to the right. The President immediately stopped all aids towards FSLN uncertainly because of the Sandinista's ceaseless support of Salvadoran agitators. Accordingly, the Sandinistas joined forces and increased arrests of supposed dissidents, believing that the U.S. invasion was imminent. In 1981 December, Reagan consented to a direction that authorized the CIA to provide support to the Contras regarding equipment, money, and arms. This direction was enforced in conjunction with the general fortification of the American presence in Central America and strengthened the conviction that covert activities were the best approach to putting pressurizing a regime.
President Reagan's endeavors to destroy Communism traversed the globe, but the cause of the guerilla Contras in Nicaragua was urgent. Fighting Cuban-supported Sandinistas, according to Regan, the Contras were morally equivalent to the Americans Founding Fathers. The CIA, under the alleged Reagan Doctrine, assisted and trained various anti-Communist revolts around the world. Assistance came in the form of financial support and logistics, a troublesome task politically particularly following the Democratic sweep of mid-elections in 1982 (Byrne p.54). The first order of business for the Democratic-led Congress approved the Boland Amendment that limited Department of Defense and CIA operations specifically in Nicaragua. In 1984, a reinforced Boland Amendment made it extremely difficult for such support. The unyielding and determined Reagan revealed to Robert McFarlane, the National Security Adviser that he was going to whatever possible to ensure the mission succeeded. The events that followed changed the perspective of the American population and the Congress on Reagan and the Contras. The link between Contra and Iran came to be considered as an aftereffect of complicated covert undertakings, all executed in the name of safeguarding democracy.
While President Reagan supported the Contra objective and cause, the claim that he approved the diversion of the sales proceeds to the Contras is debatable. Caspar Weinberger took handwritten notes, the then Defense Secretary, on the 7th of December, 1985, reveal that Reagan knew about possible prisoner exchanges with Iran, and also the sale of TOW missiles and a Hawk to neutralize elements within the said country (Howard p.34). He asserted that Reagan indicated that was willing to face charges of illegality instead be considered as a powerful President who wasted an opportunity to secure American hostages. Following the uncovering of the weapon deal in 1986, the President appeared on live television and expressed that he knew the deal, although the United States was not doing it in exchange for hostages. An inquiry on the scandal was launched but was hindered by expansive volumes of records as evidence to the dealings were pulverized or withheld from agents by the Reagan administration. A few months later, President Reagan reappeared in a broadly broadcast address, assuming full responsibility, and indicating that a mission that started as a tactical opening to Iran ended up as a weapon trade in exchange of American hostage.
In 1983, public diplomacy was institutionalized through the "Management of Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security" directive. Subsequently, a special team under NSC was in charge of coordinating campaigns. It was the first American propaganda ministry during peacetime. Present administrations have always attempted to influence both congressional and public opinion, but it is only after Reagan saw it institutionalized. "White propaganda," where the truth put out rather than manipulated, was employed by Group of Latin American Public Diplomacy, a committee, which although housed by the State Department was controlled by NSC. The committees operated a range of media propaganda and regulation efforts (Koh p.8). Over eighty publicity stunts were used to influence congressional and public stance before the Contra aid vote, which was imminent. The officials of public diplomacy similarly leaked strategic information to journalists, which they perceived would act in favor of Reagan's approval rating. Strategic declassification and leaking of documents gave the Executive an opportunity to manage congressional and public perceptions of the U.S. efforts in Nicaragua and South American.
A few inquiries on the scandal followed, including by the United States Congress and the Tower Commission. Both of these investigations failed to find proof that President Reagan personally knew about the degree of the multiple programs (Wroe p.21). Ultimately, the weapons sale to Iran was not perceived as a criminal offense, but instead, the support of the illegitimate Contras was what was deemed illegal. However, those charges were later withdrawn as the administration declined to declassify specific records. The accused conspirators faced multiple but lesser charges. At last, fourteen organization authorities were prosecuted, including then-Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. These investigations resulted in eleven convictions, as well as sackings, although most of the persons indicted or convicted were pardoned in the last days of the administration of President Bush, who served as the Vice President under the Reagan administration.
The Iran- Contra undertaking and the following dishonesty aimed at protecting the officials of the administration including Reagan were a case of post-truth politics. Speculation regarding the roles of President Regan Reagan, George Bush, his deputy, and the entire administration ran rampant. Lawrence Walsh, a senior and independent counsel, investigated the alleged link for eight years. His insights led to the further incarceration of fourteen officials who were accused of either cover-up or operational crimes. At last, President Bush overturned North's conviction on account of a technicality, issuing six pardons with those of McFarlane and Weinberger, who had been convicted, included (Walsh p.11). Despite laws have been broken and distortion of Reagan's reputation following the Iran-Contra affair, the President's popularity bounced back. In 1989, while leaving the office, he had the highest ever approval rating for a president since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.
The shift in foreign policy from the non-intervention approach, which marked Carter's administration, ended in 1982 where Regan Doctrine came into force in support for democratization globally. While his motivations were genuine, the approach to the whole operation was faulty and misinformed. It was during the time that the Nicaraguan undercover operations changed from mere interdiction of arms to backing regime change. It has been shown that the underlying and primary goal was in the first place regime change. In popularizing the shift in foreign policy initiated by the Regan administration, various media and propaganda initiatives were actualized to try to sway congressional and public opinion on the issue. These officials reasoned that the deal would help negotiate the release of some American hostages and at the same time fund the Nicaraguan based Contras, which was prohibited by the Congress under the Boland Amendment. It not only resulted in more hostages, but it also injured the reputation of Reagan's administration and the American face globally. The covert approach to pressurizing regimes has turned American into foe rather than a friend in the numerous interventions it has engaged in, which happened to be genuine but viewed with caution.
Abshire, David M, and Richard E. Neustadt. Saving the Reagan Presidency: Trust Is the Coin of the Realm. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005.
Byrne, Malcolm. Iran-contra: Reagan's Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power. , 2014.
Howard, Roger. Iran Oil: The New Middle East Challenge to America. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.
Koh, Harold H. The National Security Constitution: Sharing Power After the Iran-Contra Affair. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.
Walsh, Lawrence E. Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up. New York: Norton, 1997.
Wroe, Ann. Lives, Lies and the Iran-Contra Affair. London: I.B. Tauris & Co, 1992.
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