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Ronald Reagan's efforts to eradicate Communism spanned the globe, but the insurgent Contras' cause in Nicaragua was particularly dear to him. Battling the Cuban-backed Sandinistas, the Contras were, according to Reagan, "the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers. Assisting involved supplying financial support, a difficult task politically after the Democratic sweep of congressional elections in November First Democrats passed the Boland Amendment, which restricted CIA and Department of Defense operations in Nicaragua specifically; in , a strengthened Boland Amendment made support almost impossible.
A determined, unyielding Reagan told National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, "I want you to do whatever you have to do to help these people keep body and soul together. What followed would alter the public's perception of the president dramatically.
How "Iran" and "Contra" came to be said in the same breath was the result of complicated covert activities, all carried out, the players said, in the name of democracy. In , while Iran and Iraq were at war, Iran made a secret request to buy weapons from the United States.
McFarlane sought Reagan's approval, in spite of the embargo against selling arms to Iran. McFarlane explained that the sale of arms would not only improve U. Reagan was driven by a different obsession. He had become frustrated at his inability to secure the release of the seven American hostages being held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon.
As president, Reagan felt that "he had the duty to bring those Americans home," and he convinced himself that he was not negotiating with terrorists. While shipping arms to Iran violated the embargo, dealing with terrorists violated Reagan's campaign promise never to do so.
Reagan had always been admired for his honesty. The arms-for-hostages proposal divided the administration.
With the backing of the president, the plan progressed. By the time the sales were discovered, more than 1, missiles had been shipped to Iran. Three hostages had been released, only to be replaced with three more, in what Secretary of State George Shultz called "a hostage bazaar. He retracted the statement a week later, insisting that the sale of weapons had not been an arms-for-hostages deal. Despite the fact that Reagan defended the actions by virtue of their good intentions, his honesty was doubted.
Polls showed that only 14 percent of Americans believed the president when he said he had not traded arms for hostages. Then-unknown Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council explained the discrepancy: he had been diverting funds from the arms sales to the Contras, with the full knowledge of National Security Adviser Admiral John Poindexter and with the unspoken blessing, he assumed, of President Reagan.
Poindexter resigned, and North was fired, but Iran-Contra was far from over. The press hounded the president: Did he know about these illegal activities, and if not, how could something of this magnitude occur without his knowledge? In an investigation by the Reagan-appointed Tower Commission, it was determined that, as president, Reagan's disengagement from the management of his White House had created conditions which made possible the diversion of funds to the Contras.
But there was no evidence linking Reagan to the diversion. Speculation about the involvement of Reagan, Vice President George Bush and the administration at large ran rampant. Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh investigated the affair for the next eight years. Fourteen people were charged with either operational or "cover-up" crimes. In the end, North's conviction was overturned on a technicality, and President Bush issued six pardons, including one to McFarlane, who had already been convicted, and one to Weinberger before he stood trial.
Although laws had been broken, and Reagan's image suffered as a result of Iran-Contra, his popularity rebounded. In he left office with the highest approval rating of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. Whether on the silver screen or the political stage, Reagan was durable, optimistic, American. Support Provided by: Learn More.
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HOW IRANGATE DIFFERS FROM WATERGATE
Senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran , which was the subject of an arms embargo. Under the Boland Amendment , further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress. The official justification for the arms shipments was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah , a paramilitary group with Iranian ties connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Iranian recipients promised to do everything in their power to achieve the release of the hostages.
The Iran-Contra Affair was a secret U. The controversial deal—and the ensuing political scandal—threatened to bring down the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The amendment was specifically aimed at Nicaragua, where anti-communist Contras were battling the communist Sandinista government. Still, the president instructed his National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, to find a way to assist the drug-dealing Contras, regardless of the cost—political or otherwise.
Is Irangate Watergate revisited? As in Watergate, one little accidental revelation popped open a fantastic political can of worms, a pile of twisted deceptions, a tangle of operations running outside the constitutional fence. As in Watergate, what looked at first like a low-level imbroglio soon crawled up to the White House and eventually into the lap of the President himself. But there the similarity ends. President Reagan is as guilty for his failure to ''take care that the laws be faithfully executed'' as Richard M. Nixon was, but their sins are very different. If there is a civics lesson here, it is that watching out for another Richard Nixon will not protect us from another Ronald Reagan.