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Iran-Contra Scandal

The Cold War peaked the interest of the entire globe. Each threat, policy and action that took place had ramifications far more reaching then ever imaginable. The world sat on edge because it feared its own destruction, after the introduction of nuclear warfare at the close of World War II, another World War could result in the Earth’s demise. This fear ran through the hearts and minds of citizens of both the United States and the Soviet Union, but it is the citizens elsewhere that had to pay the consequences for these fears.

The “race” to become the premier superpower of the world between the U. S. and U. S. S. R. did not always remain as subsided as many like to believe. Many regions of the world were held accountable for fighting the ideological warfare that was to separate the two world powers. One region that has always been very active with warfare since the beginning of time is the Middle East. Fighting has remained one standard of living that many countries in the Middle East have come to live, and die with. When the ideological war came to the Middle East, the primary target became Iran.

Iran held the largest wealth in the region at the time because of its proceeds from the sale of oil and the United States feared that the neighboring communist would attempt to take over Iran and then have additional funding and support. One of the most pivotal moments at the end of the Cold War was the Iran-contra Affair. “The Iran-contra policies centered on two regions of the World which cast shadows of doubt on the public mind, and were difficult for the government to portray in positive terms; Central America and the Middle East.

Central America conjured up images of another Vietnam, of the United State being slowly sucked into an anti-communist third-world guerilla conflict for few tangible gains. Iranian ventures revived memories of other foreign policy nightmares, most obviously the Iranian hostage crises of 1979-1980, which had highlighted the potential impotence of American power in the Middle East. “[1] Now the United States was attempting to get hostages back from Iran by selling them arms and then turned around and gave the profits to the contra rebels in Nicaragua for the rebellion against the Sandinistas government.

This illegal, and therefore, secret operation was not only a failure, but it also brought relations between the Americans and Iranians to a crumbling halt. This paper will examine all aspects of the Iran-contra Affair by defining the history between the Iranians and the United States, then the Nicaraguans and the United States, and finally discussing the cover-up scandal, and impact the affair had on the United States and globally. To understand the Iran-contra Affair it is necessary to understand American-Iranian relations leading up to the scandal.

Since the origin of both major powers, Iran had managed to “to maintain its independence as a nation-state by playing the two superpowers against one another. ” And it was when the two rivals came to an understanding that, “Iranian leaders saw their country’s independence and identity in serious jeopardy. “[2] The turning point in the relationship between the Iran and the United States began “after [the United States] part in the overthrow of Muhammad Musadiq in 1953, the United States found itself the object of growing Iranian criticism. 3]

Moderate, nationalistic opposition forces and radical leftist began to refer to the United States as an “imperialistic, oppressive external force,” all as Shi’i religious leaders begun condemning America and their policies. “Iranians of all political persuasions increasingly formed a negative image of the United States. “[4] America exposed itself as no longer an external liberating force that was held responsible for protecting Iran from Great Britain and the Soviet Union, and instead, became the exploiter. “Throughout the 1970’s the United States increased its influence in

Iranand entwined itself more and more with the governing regime in Iran. By the time of the Iranian revolution in 1978, America’s reservoir of historical goodwill had been drained dry. The violent, antimonarchical revolution had a sharp anti-American edge that became sharper in reaction to policies developed in Washington in response to the revolution. “[5] In Iranian perspective, the United States decided to support and save the Shah, and this was their ultimate downfall in the relationship. As a result of the shah’s support the first hostage crisis took place.

When over fifty hostages were taken from the American embassy and held for almost fifteen months causing “the two countries engaged in practically every form of conflict short of all-out war. “[6] Iran’s newly formed Islamic Republic by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was dropped from all diplomatic relations and had all trade embargoed by the United States because of its embassy staff being held hostage. After the hostages were released, the U. S. kept all arms shipment from being sent. “In the meantime, Iraq had opened war on Iran. The United States remained neutral and refused to ship arms to either side. 7]

The United States went a step further in 1984, designating Iran a “sponsor of international terrorism” and urged all allies to not ship arms there. “Beginning in March 1984, members of Hezbollah, a fundamentalist Shiite group sympathetic to the government of the Ayatollah Khomeini, kidnapped seven Americans in Beirut, Lebanon. “[8] Manucher Ghorbanifar, previously denounced by the CIA, was now relied on by NSC aides because of the capturing of William Buckley, CIA station chief, and the subsequent disappearing or hiding of many other CIA agents.

Ghorbanifar believed by selling arms to Iran their influence on the Lebanese Shiite group would result in the hostage release. [9] There were several other reasons why the Americans did take this course of action. “First, there was the urgent need to rescue CIA agent Buckley. (captured March 14, 1984) Secondly, American influence in Iran would help to counter possible Soviet intervention in the region, and thirdly, there was the appeal of solving a long-term geo-political problem via novel and cavalier means. “[10] The sale of missiles to Iran figured to be the best means to achieve the exchange for hostages.

The selling of missiles did result in the release of one hostage, Reverend Benjamin Weir (captured on May 08, 1984). “Oliver North, an industrious NSC aide, came to play an increasingly pivotal role in the logistical management of operations and, at a later date, set up a number of accounts to hold the money from the arms sales that were to support covert operations. “[11] And missiles continued to get sold to Iran throughout the end of 1985 and into the beginning of 1986, without anymore hostages being released. 2]

“In an attempt to promote relations and achieve a mutual understanding and ultimately have hostages released NSC agent North went to Tehran with several senior colleagues, however, this was unsuccessful because of the secrecy of the mission and lack of leverage the Americans held. After another hostage is released, three more are taken into hostage and it is at this time that the media becomes privy because of a leak in a Lebanese newspaper and the negotiations and selling of arms to Iran are shut down by Congress.

The Nicaraguan situation was actually separate from the Iran issue, but brought together because of the transfer of funds to Nicaragua from the sale of arms to Iran. The Reagan administration’s first attempt at covert operations was the contra affair that took place after the upheaval of Nicaragua government. After being overthrown by a revolutionary coalition called the Sandinista National Liberation Front, “On July 17, 1979, toward the end of the Carter administration, the forty-two-year-old Somoza dictatorship collapsed. 13] The rebels were named after the original revolutionary leader, Augusto Cesar Sandino, who had been killed many years before in a rebellion against patriarchal dynasty. [14] Carter’s offering of goodwill donations to Nicaragua in an attempt to promote democratic elements in their new government failed and “extremist leader, Daniel Ortega, emerged as the Nicaraguan Castro’. “[15]

The new order of government, the “Sandinistas,” then proceeded to support “leftist guerilla movements. In addition to breaking their promise of a democratic government, the Sandinistas permitted weapons from Cuba to be transported through Nicaragua to rebels in neighboring El Salvador. “[16] Soon after, “in March 1980, a Sandinista delegation went to Moscow and signed economic, technical, scientific, and cultural agreements with the Soviet Union. “[17] This triggered American fear and cautiousness to the Nicaraguan situation as Cuban “advisors” even began to move to Nicaragua.

Reagan, now a candidate, affirmed his standing on the issue by, “calling for the overthrow of the Sandinista regime: We will support the efforts of Nicaraguan people to establish a free and independent government. “[18] Reagan’s inauguration came at the same time of an obvious need for American drastic change in policies against the new Sandinista government. There was severe concern because of the Nicaraguan involvement with communist countries of Cuba and the Soviet Union, and this resulted in President Reagan’s authorization of a “CIA covert program for Central America. 19]

The United States effort to support the overthrow was difficult task because of the split of revolutionary factions. However, a decision was made to support a group primary made up of former national guardsmen for Somoza. The group was led by Enrique Bermudez, and was concentrated in Honduras. [20] CIA director Casey’s supplying, training, and support of this revolutionary faction was leaked to magazines and newspapers resulting in a series of laws produced by Congress called the Boland Amendments, named after the Massachusetts Representative Edward P. Boland. 1]

Effectively, declaring that, “The CIA was ostensibly forbidden to engage in such paramilitary operations. “[22] In order to still actively monitor and assist revolutionary attempts the NSC was arranged to now take over where the CIA left off in the operation. They realized that the NSC was excluded from the Boland Amendment, “on a distinction between a collecting intelligence agency and a coordinating on. “[23] The implication was that the CIA was an operational agency, the NSC staff was not; the latter was merely an extension of the President’s person and a recipient, not a collector of intelligence information.

It was necessary for the NSC to remain attentive to the situation in Nicaragua because of their contacts with communist countries and their closeness to the United States. “The Nicaraguan element of the Iran-Contra scandal involved the upkeep of a small guerilla force in Nicaragua, disposed towards the forcible removal of the leftist government, the Sandinistas. ” [24] “As was the case in the Iranian operation, when open action would not suffice, the policy was then taken underground and shielded from the eyes of Congress. 25] “The November 1985 shipment of arms to Iran exposed a number of weaknesses in the expansion of policy which would later form the core of the scandal which hit at the heart of the Reagan Presidency. Action had been taken which had been hidden from the Congress, the system of checks and balances were purposefully circumvented and Congress, alongside several administration officials, misled in order to sustain a covert and possibly illegal transfer of weapons. 26]

“Congressional opinion rested upon the belief that the United States had been held ransom by terrorist cells, and had violated its own publicly declared stance of no deals with terrorists. “[27] Many convictions resulted because of the Iran-contra Affair, but surprising, due to immunity agreements and later pardons, no one still serves any penalty for involvement. However, and probably more importantly, the Iran-contra affair did raise many concerns about the limit of the executive branch as well as government programs capabilities beyond the knowledge and scope of Congressional understanding.

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