Iran-Contra 25 Years Later

Iran Contra Anniversary – The Lost Opportunities of Iran-Contra, 25 Years Later – Esquire

Washington decided, quite on its own, that “the country” didn’t need another “failed presidency,” so what is now known as The Village circled the wagons to rescue Reagan from his crimes. There was the customary gathering of Wise Men — The Tower Commission — which buried the true scandal in Beltway off-English and the passive voice. There was a joint congressional investigation that served only to furnish people like Oliver North with legal loopholes that prevented their incarceration. There was poor Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor, whom everybody wished would simply go away, but who pressed on, making a case that ultimately forced President Poppy Bush to pardon everyone except Shoeless Joe Jackson on his way out the door in 1992.

The press was next to useless. (Mark Hertsgaard’s On Bended Knee is the essential text here.) Hell, the scandal was uncovered by two guys in Beirut with a mimeograph machine. And while there was some excellent work done in spots by the elite American press, the general tone was that the scandal was “too complex” for the country to follow, which led to its having “dragged on too long” and to the eventual dissipation of its political force. (This was a trial run for the infantilization of political self-government, by which the self-governing public is treated as though it were made of candyglass. The masterwork in this regard was the haste to settle the “dangerous uncertainity” surrounding the 2000 presidential election, when almost every poll indicated that the country was perfectly willing to live through a constitutional crisis so long as the crisis followed the Constitution.) This was, of course, nonsense. The Whitewater scandal was insanely complex, largely because there was virtually nothing to the damned thing, and that dragged on all the way to an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Compared to a real-estate scam masterminded by crooks and loons in Arkansas that somehow led to hearings on what the president did with his pee-pee, 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. As Kornbluh writes, the following ensued:

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.

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.


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17 comments on “Iran-Contra 25 Years Later

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  1. The connection between Iran and the US is more topical, but let’s not forget the Panama invasion crimes:

    “The U.S. stole Panama from Colombia in 1903. They colonized the Canal Zone and packed it with U.S. bases–so that no one (including Panama�s people) could challenge U.S. control. And after World War 2, it became the headquarters of SOUTHCOM–the U.S. military command center for gathering intelligence, carrying out intrigues, and suppressing insurgencies throughout Latin America.

    In the 1970s, faced with defeat in Vietnam and growing challenges from its Soviet rivals, the U.S. ruling class decided to change how they exercised control over the Panama Canal Zone–from direct U.S. colonial control, to control through the Panamanian neocolonial government.

    As that changeover approached, Noriega looked less and less like the man-for-the-job. Just ten days before much of the administration of the Canal was scheduled to go over to Panama (on January 1, 1990) the U.S. invaded to get rid of Noriega.

    Thousands of Panamanians were killed so that Washington could be confident it would keep control of the Canal–and so a new set of corrupt rulers could imposed.”

    There is a really good documentary on what happened to Noriega but I can’t remember what it’s called.

    • In some absolute sense, what was done to Panama, or perhaps worst of all Guatemala, may have been worse, but, for Pierce apparently, Iran-Contra was the exceptional instance where the system had an opportunity to self-correct, and among other things make future Panamas and Guatemalas less, not more, likely.

  2. Really, well I wouldn’t have sent TOW missiles to Iraq, then again the British and the French kept breaking Operation Staunch,
    read Timmerman’s ‘Fanning the Flames’ for a contemporary take, but once got the silly notion of Iranian moderates, that would succeed Khomeini, flowing through the Company, these notions take hold, When the likes of Mohastemi-pur and Vahadi were directing the kidnappings of Western academics, journalists et al, what is one to do, The support for the Contras
    was much more justifiable,

  3. What Guatemala did to itself, as they did with Ubico in the 30s and Estrada Cabrera in the late 19th Century, of course, the
    fall of Somoza, probably made asistance to the regime, more likely. Now with Perez Molina, back in charge, all is well.

  4. That’s why I brought up the previous two instances of tyrannical rule, which the US had little or no involvement with, I think Asturias ‘Yo Presidente’ gives you a flavor of the time.

    • So, by bringing up previous events with which you assert the US had “little or no involvement,” that gives you an excuse, in your mind, to wish the modern history of Guatemala and of US involvement out of existence, along with the mass graves of those among the hundreds of thousands of victims given the dignity of burials at all?

  5. So how long are we to bear the guilt for having aided Castillo over Arbenz, without the example of the Cuban Revolution, it’s likely that it would have reverted back to normality, around the time of Ydrigoras Fuentes, but that was not be

    • You bear the guilt at least as long as you seek to deny it. If you bear witness to the truth, and face it honestly, then at least no one will have reason to suspect that you are ignorant or are seeking to evade responsibility, and either way are prepared for some kind of repetition. And you’re still shading and hedging. The speculation regarding the Cuban revolution is lame: You could just as easily claim, and I think with a lot more logic, that Cuban revolutionary radicalism and rush into the arms of the Soviets was a lesson learned from Central and South America. As for Guatemala, if wasn’t just Arbenz, and I think you know it. 30 years later we were still supporting the reactionary forces in a war so brutal it otherwise completely isolated the Guatemalan government and forced us to disavow involvement publicly, even at a time when the Reagan Administration was proudly supporting your Nicaraguan “freedom fighters,” and scrambling to contain the Salvadoran revolution.

      Does the name John Longan ring a bell for you?

  6. I don’t know Langan, I do know men who spent years in the UMAP camps, where Fidel was ‘perfecting his New Socialist Man’, relatives who drowned in the Florida straits, trying to get away from that. Notions that Hobshawn or your new friend
    David Harvey, never address

  7. Yes, Longan, the police advisor in Guatemala, and Brazil, among other places, is it not clear that Hobshawn as with Gott were apologists of Stalin, as for Harvey, he has a more hermeneutic style, but the way he dismisses ‘the ending of experimentation’ by Stalin, in Chapter 5, of the Geography of Capital, is just choice, it’s like arguing the Terror was not inevitable, it was.

    • Harvey is less an apologist for Stalin than you are for Longan, the inventor of Latin American death squads and disappearance tactics.

      Don’t know where you’re grabbing that odd description of Chapter 5 of the Enigma of Capital – some Amazon review, perhaps? – but Harvey has nothing positive or “apologetic” to say about Stalin at all. In a sub-section of chapter devoted to proposing a complex model of society, Harvey views Stalin’s termination of experimentation and the general approach of historical revolutionary communism as doomed to failure, typical of a supreme error in “attempts to build socialism,” that “led to stasis, stagnant administration and institutional arrangements, turned daily life into monotony… paid no mind to the relation to nature, with disastrous consequences.” He does not seem to consider Stalin’s administration “truly socialist,” and why should he? All he has to say about Stalin specifically anywhere else in the book is to comment on the “appallng violence” of his regime.

      Dismissing Hobsbawm, a man of a different era, as a mere “apologist” for Stalin is a gross oversimplification worthy of the rightwing political press. He has openly acknowledged the above-referenced “appalling violence,” though, over the course of a long, productive, and interesting life has said, thought, and done all sorts of things worthy of condemnation, just like most people.

  8. Of course, he wouldn’t, only IngSoc is the perfection of Socialism, who cares that Hobshawn is of a different age, his take on Mao is similarly bloodless, We’ll probably have to wait for our own ‘wonderful democratic revolution’.

    • See above – though your invocation of Orwell is ironic, since your reaction on this subject matter is a good example of trained reflexive response. You just belong to a different “party,” organized along somewhat different lines but with the same degree of thought control.

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