The Iran-Contra affair was a US scandal that occurred in the mid 1980s under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan and vice president George bush. The scandal majorly involved two events. First, there was the sale of US arms to one of its main enemies, Iran and then the millions of dollars in profits derived from the arms deal were used to finance a clandestine operation rejected by congress, the financing of Nicaraguan guerrillas named the Contra. The Contra guerillas were opponents of the Nicaraguan’s Sandinista rebels who came to power after overthrowing Anastasio Somoza, the then leader of Nicaragua in the year 1979.
The idea was to secure the release of American hostages held by the Hezbollah terrorists. This scandal prompted numerous investigations that led the indictment of US government officials. Indeed, many questions still linger on the minds of many concerning the role played by top US White House officials including President Reagan and the then vice president George Bush (TheFreeDictionary, 2009). This paper will discuss some of the dealings in the arms trade, stating their historical background, reasons behind the trade, the parties involved and its eventual outcome.
The Contra Affair first received public attention in November 1986 after al-sharia, a Lebanese publication reported that the American government was involved in arms trade with Iran. Worse still, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) supply plane was shot down by the Nicaraguan forces. The only survivor was the pilot and he was captured. The plane was carrying, over 50 000 rounds of ammunition, Russian rifles and boots (Tristam, 2009). The confession of the pilot shocked the public indicating that the US government was involved in arming the contra rebels and also confirmed the earlier reports in the Lebanese publication.
The irony was that President Ronald Reagan was on record as having numerously associated the Iran government with terrorism (TheFreeDictionary, 2009). Why Reagan supported the Sandinistas To Reagan, the victory of the Sandinista in Nicaragua was a major US security threat since he thought that it had the potential of sparking off a revolution in Central America (BBC News Channel, 2004). The fear could be traced back to 1954 when Jacobo Arbenz won the elections to become president of Guatemala. What alarmed the US government was his oratory which indicated that the US government was on the verge of losing its control in Central America.
In 1979, the Sandinistas overthrew the Arbenz government and initiated communist reforms. This was in spite of the fact that in actual sense they never really defined themselves as communists but as pluralists. They began to reallocate estates and to redistribute wealth and this was enough to alarm the United States which became uncomfortable with having a communist state right in its backyard. Violence also erupted spreading to other countries and this was seen as an indication that communism could end up spreading to other countries in Central America (BBC News Channel, 2004).
Reagan was alarmed by these developments and felt that he had to do whatever it took to stop this. Fortunately for him, other groups within Nicaragua began arming themselves against the policies initiated by the Sandinistas. Reagan’s hope then lay in equipping the rebels in an attempt to overthrow the Sandinistas government. At first he allocated the funds openly and even gave additional funds to the CIA to carry out his mission. However, the allocation of funds to the contras was opposed within the United States throwing his plans to the gutter.
Ronald Reagan involvement with Iran Ronald Reagan was known to have publicly referred to Iran as one of the nations that both supported and financed terrorism in the world. It therefore seemed to be a stab in the back for US citizens when the world heard reports that the US was trading arms with its worst enemy. The entire situation could be traced back to the 1980 US presidential elections. These pitted the then president Jimmy Carter against the implicated Ronald Reagan. The period between the 1970s and 1980 was one characterized by numerous incidences of hostage taking.
In the year 1979, fifty two workers of the US embassy in Iran were captured by Iranian students and held hostage. The US at the time proclaimed a ‘no- negotiation’ policy when dealing with terrorists. The then president Jimmy Carter failed to secure the release of these hostages (Absolute astronomy, 2009). During the elections, Jimmy Carter was slightly taking the lead and if only the US hostages held by the Hezbollah group had been released, it could have been a sure win for Carter. The release of the hostages then became the decisive factor on who would win the elections.
This prompted the Reagan team to negotiate a release deal with Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. This team met with the then prime minister of Iran Bani-sadr in Paris. The agreement reached was that the US hostages would remain captives until after the election and in extension of this favor, Iran would be supplied with weapons. At that time, Iran was at war with Iraq and the supply of weapons was absolutely welcomed. It therefore came to be that immediately after Reagan won the elections, the hostages were released (Angel Force, n. d). Arms transactions
The US received special assistance from Israel to carry out the sale of arms to moderate Iranians opposed to Ayatollah Khomeni. Michael Ledeen and Robert McFarlane the then National Security Adviser managed to convince the Israeli government to ship arms to these politically influential Iranians in return for the same kind of weapons along with monetary benefits. Israel agreed but in the mean time Reagan was hospitalized for a colon cancer surgery. Later on, Israel tried to convince the United States to allow Israel to sell a few antitank missiles as an indication that the Iranian group had strong US ties.
This offer was initially rejected but eventually Israel managed to convince Reagan that the group was an antiterrorist group. The group in return had promised to talk to the captor to release seven hostages, a proposal that Reagan readily consented to. The plan was later readjusted such that the arms were now to be sold directly to the Iranians at a marked up price of about 715 million dollars as suggested by North. This price was rejected but eventually over one thousand anti-tank missiles were shipped.
The adjustments also included the financing of the contras contrary to the Boland Amendments that restricted the US administration and the CIA from financing the contras. (Absolute astronomy, 2009). The scandal blew up after Mehdi Hashemi a cleric with the Islamic revolutionary guards leaked information concerning the trade to Ash-Shiraa, a renowned Lebanese magazine. This together with the crashing of a CIA plane led to Reagan’s confession in the national television that the arms deal transactions had indeed taken place.
His argument was that the trade had taken place in an attempt to forge better ties with Iran and to also to make Iran reconsider a negotiation for the release of held hostages (Absolute astronomy, 2009). Conclusion The Iran-Contra Scandal led to the sacking of numerous government officials including Oliver North who was sacked and also tried for the shredding of evidence (some say that the evidence was bulky enough to jam the government’s shredding machine. In his defense, North tried to link the case with the Vietnam War by arguing that the main issue in the affair was the actual financing of the contras (Isaacs, (1997).
He also attempted to justify his action by saying that it fell within his powers. The president’s popularity ratings also dropped from a high of 67% to a low of 46%. Internationally, the scandal sent harmful signal to terror indicating that hostage taking could be used as a powerful means of coaxing political influence with the west (Absolute astronomy, 2009). References Absolute astronomy. (2009). Iran-Contra Affair. Retrieved on 28th March, 2009, from: http://www. absoluteastronomy. com/topics/Iran-Contra_Affair BBC News Channel. (2004). Reagan and the ‘Iran-Contra’ affair.
Retrieved on 30th March, 2009, from: http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/world/americas/269619. stm Isaacs, A. (1997) Vietnam Shadows. Baltimore & London: John Hopkins University Press. TheFreeDictionary. (2009). Iran-Contra Affair . Retrieved on 30th March, 2009, from: http://www. acc. af. mil/news/story. asp? id=123080422 Tristam, P. (2009). What Was the Arms-for-Hostages Iran-Contra Affair? Retrieved on 30th March, 2009, from: http://middleeast. about. com/od/usmideastpolicy/f/me081109f. htm Angel Force. (n. d). Iran-Contra. Retrieved on 30th March, 2009, from: http://www. angelfire. com/ca3/jphuck/BOOK3Ch7. html