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The Return of Iran/Contra

October 1, 2009

As the United States begins multiparty talks with Iran over its nuclear program, many of the cast of characters from Tehran fiascos past are coming out of the woodwork to weigh in once again. Jimmy Carter advised President Obama that "the best thing we can do is engage them and stop making these idle threats." Meanwhile, Michael Ledeen surfaced on the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn "change in Iran requires a change in government." Of course, Ledeen conveniently omitted his own nefarious role in the Iran/Contra scheme of the Reagan administration, a which policy consisted of giving the mullahs in Iran a cake, a Bible - and U.S. arms.
The Iran-Contra scandal, as you'll recall, almost laid waste to the Reagan presidency. Desperate to free U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, President Reagan provided weapons Tehran badly needed in its long war with Saddam Hussein (who, of course, was backed by the United States). In a clumsy and illegal attempt to skirt U.S. law, the proceeds of those sales were then funneled to the contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And as the New York Times recalled, Reagan's fiasco started with an emissary bearing gifts from the Gipper himself:

A retired Central Intelligence Agency official has confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee that on the secret mission to Teheran last May, Robert C. McFarlane and his party carried a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan for Iranian leaders.
According to a person who has read the committee's draft report, the retired C.I.A. official, George W. Cave, an Iran expert who was part of the mission, said the group had 10 falsified passports, believed to be Irish, and a key-shaped cake to symbolize the anticipated ''opening'' to Iran.

The rest, as they say, is history. After the revelations regarding his trip to Tehran and the Iran-Contra scheme, a disgraced McFarlane attempted suicide. After his initial denials, President Reagan was forced to address the nation on March 4, 1987 and acknowledge he indeed swapped arms for hostages (video here):

"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. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages."

(For more background, read the Reagan diaries, starting with the part in which he admits in 1986, "I agreed to sell TOWs to Iran.")
Of course, the sad saga didn't end there. Then Lt. Colonel and now Fox News commentator Oliver North saw his Iran-Contra conviction overturned by an appellate court led by faithful Republican partisan and later Iraq WMD commissioner Laurence Silberman. And in December 1992, outgoing President George H.W. Bush offered Christmas pardons to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other Iran-Contra scandal figures. Among them were Elliot Abrams and John Poindexter, men who eight years later reprised their roles in the administration of George W. Bush. (The disgraced Robert McFarlane reemerged this week, only to be disgraced again over his work as a lobbyist for the government of Sudan.)
As for Michael Ledeen, his preoccupation - and dubious dealings - with Iran has continued uninterrupted. Beginning in 2001, Ledeen, now at the American Enterprise Institute, brokered meetings between Israeli arms middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar (a man the CIA deemed a "fabricator" during Iran/Contra) and the terrorist Mujahedeen Khalq. And in the Wall Street Journal this week, Ledeen argued:

Thirty years of negotiations and sanctions have failed to end the Iranian nuclear program and its war against the West. Why should anyone think they will work now? A change in Iran requires a change in government. Common sense and moral vision suggest we should support the courageous opposition movement, whose leaders have promised to end support for terrorism and provide total transparency regarding the nuclear program.

As it turns out, that "courageous opposition movement" is best identified with Ahmadinejad foe Mir-Hossain Mousavi. That would be the same Mir-Hossain Mousavi who was Prime Minister of Iran during the time of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut - and the Iran/Contra fiasco.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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