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U.S. Captain Rescued, No Reagan-Style Hostage Deal

April 12, 2009

News that American Captain Richard Phillips was rescued by U.S. forces from Somali pirates must have come as something as a shock to the right-wing noise machine. After all, over the past two days, frothing-at-the-mouth conservatives branded Barack Obama "eunuch-in-chief", "President Pantywaist," and worse, while Newt Gingrich twittered Friday, "The correct answer to piracy is to destroy, not negotiate with it." Apparently, these children of the Reagan revolution conveniently forgot the Gipper's arms-for-hostages deals during the Iran-Contra crisis.
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. 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.
To be sure, the heroic rescue by U.S. Navy Seals today won't be the last battle in the war against Somali piracy. The Bush administration essentially punted on the pirate problem, having issued in December plans the Wall Street Journal described as limited to "making sure pirates never reached commercial vessels." For its part, the Obama White House is grappling with its own anti-piracy strategy, including the extent of military action against pirate bases in Somalia. Regardless, in tackling the criminal pirates and the Al Qaeda allied groups which may or may not support them in Somalia, the United States can never engage in doing deals to free hostages.
Like Ronald Reagan.

3 comments on “U.S. Captain Rescued, No Reagan-Style Hostage Deal”

  1. Please tell me who started these negoations. I believe it was Carter and Regan finished them. Thanks again for your slanted view.

  2. Paul,
    I'm afraid you're confusing two different historical situations.
    The piece above does not refer to the U.S. embassy hostages held in Tehran during the Carter administration. It refers to U.S. (including a CIA station chief) captured in Lebanon by Iranian-backed militias.
    And at the end of the day, despite the mantra of not negotiating with terrorists, the Reagan administration did exactly that.

  3. all of these right wing pundits were calling for the president to invade somali start a new war, Newt Gingrich was calling the president a coward, the republican answer to all problems are go to war, the last president and Carl Rove plan was to show that the republican were the strongest on national security than the democrats, what that means is that they will go to war with our children in a flash, to show how tough they are,all of the republican pundits were saying for the president to invade somali, not thinking about those other hostages that the pirates are holding.war mongers and money changers that is the republican party.


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

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