Now that reports of Iranians storming embassies indicate that our national newspapers of record have been permitted to shake up the normal somnolence of their readers, an optimist might wonder if any aspiring journo would dare to mention the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Iran-Contra scandal. Few Balloon-Juice readers are optimists, but it did surprise me slightly how much the whole disgraceful interlude seems to have passed from the national public memory. Peter Kornbluh, of the National Security Archives, published an excellent precis in Salon:
It has been 25 years since President Ronald Reagan stepped up to the microphone in the White House press room and made the announcement that launched one of the greatest scandals in modern American politics.
Reagan announced that his administration had sent “small amounts of defense weapons and spare parts to Iran” not to trade arms for hostages, but to improve relations and support moderate mullahs. There was “one aspect” of the operation that, the President said, he had been “unaware of.” His attorney general, Edwin Meese, then stepped forward to describe how “private benefactors” had transferred profits from those sales to counterrevolutionary forces, the contras, fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. No U.S. officials were involved, according to Meese, in this “diversion” of funds that linked two seemingly separate covert operations…
The list of the “other… more important ” aspects of the sordid story that became known as “Iran-contra” scandal is a long one but worth recalling 25 years later. The Reagan administration had been negotiating with terrorists (despite Reagan’s repeated public position that he would “never” do so). There were illegal arms transfers to Iran, flagrant lying to Congress, soliciting third country funding to circumvent the Congressional ban on financing the contra war in Nicaragua, White House bribes to various generals in Honduras, illegal propaganda and psychological operations directed by the CIA against the U.S. press and public, collaboration with drug kingpins such as Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, and violating the checks and balances of the constitution.
“If ever the constitutional democracy of the United States is overthrow,” the leading political analyst of the scandal, Theodore Draper wrote at the time, “we now have a better idea of how this is likely to be done.”…
Charles P. Pierce, in Esquire‘s Political Blog, nicely summarizes the “lost opportunities of Iran-Contra“:
… Iran-Contra was a straightforward constitutional B&E. The Reagan people wanted to fight a war in Central America. Congress did its constitutional duty and shut off the money. The administration then broke the law by arranging private funding for its pet war. One of the ways it did that was to sell military hardware to the government of Iran, which sponsored not only terrorism, but also the kidnapping of various American citizens abroad. All of this was in service to a private foreign policy, devoid of checks and balances, and based on a fundamental contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law…
Iran-Contra was the moment when the country decided — or, alternatively, when it was decided for the country — that self-government was too damned hard, and that we’re all better off just not knowing. It was the moment when all the checks and balances failed, when our faith in the Constitution was most sorely tested, and when it was found most seriously wanting. Iran-Contra is how all the crimes of the subsequent years became possible. It is when the Constitution became a puppet show.
I was in my mid-20s then, old enough to understand the depths of Republican treason and dishonesty exposed by the Walsh investigation, and young enough to be outraged by the unseemly haste by which both wings of the Permanent Government Party and its media courtiers swept all evidence of global criminality out of the public eye. Mistakes were made! Honorable men — opinions differ! And yet even the truncated clown-show proceedings permitted to enter the official records established, to me, what prosecutors call “a pattern of misconduct”: One October Surprise might be dismissed as the abberation of a paranoid drunk misleading a band of well-meaning innocents, but repeating Nixon’s ‘mastercoup’– putting American lives at risk for nothing more valuable than a presidential campaign — made it clear that the Republican Party was deliberately degenerating from a political party into a criminal junta. I have always been a proud Democrat, but it was the whole sordid, murderous Iran-Contra scandal which convinced me that (to quote Driftglass and the Rude Pundit):
Anyone who votes for a modern Republican is voting for a Bad Person.