The United States became a child of the enlightenment with the birth of its diplomacy in the modern world with an exceptionalist self perception. Its diplomacy was reinforced with a moral force owing to its messianic tendencies during its initial visions. The goals of the nation were unambiguously articulated in the early works of the States and the Republic. These writings formed the foundation of United States identity, making it stands out among the other nations of the world.
By the principles upon which the nation was founded, high levels of integrity were to be observed among its citizens and officials. As such, transparency and accountability were meant to be the guiding principles of all public office holders. The role of the leaders was to act in the interest of the subjects and the interest of the nation. According to Ryan, the fundamental to democratic theory is the idea that the legitimacy of a government is founded on the consent of the governed. Practically, this was not extended to all the governed, but to the citizens, to those who had stakes in society.
Even then, issues concerning policy must be agreed upon by the citizens through their representatives. The strength of the basic principles upon which the United States were founded has been tested ever since the birth of the nation. There have been significant constructions that have remained potent forces throughout the United States policy making in the twentieth century. The development of collective memories and ideological assumptions that form the reference points in United States diplomacy is among these forces.
Again, the basis of a sphere of influence approach to policy making and the way in which the various universal ambitions are influenced by practical necessity or the incapability to further the sphere unchallenged also remained a potent force in United States policy making. It therefore comes as a surprise that the very principles that form the basis of the American strength are blatantly abused by the very individuals and officials meant to protect them. The Iran-Contra Affair is an example of this gross violation of the American principles.
Background The relationship between the United States and Iran has not been good since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. As such, the relations have been anything but poor. It therefore comes as a surprise if claims begin to circulate to the effect that the two countries are having some form of arms deal. A Lebanese weekly, on November 3, 1986, reported that the United States had made a secret arms sale to Iran. Reports that followed suggested that the aim of the sales was to secure the release of American citizens that had been taken captive in Lebanon.
The reports were difficult to believe as the Reagan administration’s policy on arms sale especially to the Government of Khomeini of Iran was only rivaled by a few on strictness. Initially, the United State’s government denied the reports. However, the truth of the claims was revealed later in the month just as had been stated by the weekly. The United States had indeed sold weapons to Iran so as to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon. As much as the weapons were sold to Iran, the number of American hostages in Lebanon remained the same.
Three hostages were released and three more were taken captive during the period of the sales. The fact of the sale was proved even further when the Attorney General announced on November 25 that the proceeds from the Iran arms sale will be channeled to the Nicaraguan resistance. This happed at a time when the United States military aid to the Contras was prohibited. Iran and Nicaragua were thus brought together in a credibility crisis that posed serious questions about the adherence of Reagan’s administration to the constitutional process of the government.
During the 1980s, Iran and Nicaragua had posed serious challenges to the United States foreign policy. The propriety and legality of the actions taken by the staff of the National Security Council and other government officers with regard to the sale of the arms and the secret assistance to the Contras raised deep concerns among the members of the Public and Congress. The United States assistance to the Contras was not a new issue as the Congress and the President had engaged in serious debate concerning the proper course of United States policy with Congress resolving to bar support of Contra military operation for almost two years.
Senior government officials had also reiterated the administration’s willingness to abide by the law. The United States foreign policy and the democratic rule of law came to be faced by such serious implications by the Iran-Contra Affair that the 100th Congress rooted to undertake its own investigation of the Affair. Origin The Iran-Contra Affair can be traced in two unrelated revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua. In 1979, the government of General Debayle in Nicaragua was overthrown and replaced by a government controlled by Sandinista leftists.
During the same year in Iran, the pro-Western government of Pahlavi was overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists let by Ayatollah Khomeini. The Khomeini government allegedly became a supporter of terrorism against the citizens of United States. Following the revolution in Nicaragua, the United States policy towards the Sandinista government was such as to encourage it to keep its pledges of pluralism and democracy. However, this government became increasingly autocratic and anti-American.
Nicaraguan government begun aiding a leftist insurgency in El Salvador, turned toward the communist countries of Cuba and Soviet Union for political, military and economic assistance. The United States, by December 1981, had started to support the Nicaraguan Contras. The CIA was the United states government agency that assisted the Contras, arming, feeding and clothing them in accordance with presidential decisions and funds appropriated by Congress. However, the contras failed to win widespread support or military victories despite this support.
As much as the United States president continued to favor support of Contras, the majority of the public were opposed to it. Those who did not support Contras feared that the involvement of the United States with the Contras might lead it to a similar situation experienced in Vietnam. Its supporters on the other hand feared that the Soviets would have a dangerous hold in Central America without United states involvement. In 1983, Congress prohibited aid to contra for the purpose of overthrowing the Sandinista government.
In 1984, it further limited aid to the Contras. The Congress later cut off all funds to the Contras following a disclosure that the CIA was involved in mining of the Nicaragua harbor without notifying Congress. The president however still felt strongly for the Contras and was therefore focused on keeping them alive . With this regard, he ordered his staff to device a way of keeping the Contras together which led to the NSC becoming operational entity that saw the secret running of the contra assistance effort, and later the Iran initiative.
Having been denied funding from by the Congress, the president turned to private sources and third world countries. The president, together with the NSC secretly raised money from other countries to support the Contras. The Flaws Iran-Contra has two illusions at its heart. The first was that Iran would be easy to handle; and the second was that the Nicaraguan contras would save the United States from Communism. Both the illusions were destroyed in ways that showed how fragile the policies were and this occurred within a month of each other.
At the beginning of the October 1986, a supply aircraft carrying weapons to the contras was shot down by the Sandinistas. On November 3, a Lebanese weekly magazine carried the story of United States dealings with Iran. With this revelation, it did not appear ordinary that the United States government was involved in either operation. However, the truth of the matter was that the United States was directly involved in both the events. It cannot be denied that the common characteristic of the Iran and Contra policies were deception, secrecy and contempt of the law.
There existed a small clique of senior officials who believed that they were the only individuals who knew what was right. They conceived knowledge of their actions by other individuals in the government as a threat to their objectives. The American people, the Congress and the Secretary of State were not enlightened on the actions of these people. The official documents were destroyed when there was a threat to expose their plans. Cabinet officials, elected representatives in congress and the public were told lies. Key facts were also hidden to the president.
The United States constitution is particular on the process by which laws and policy are to be made and executed. The essence of the American democracy is the constitutional process, which is also the foundation of its strength. Experience and common sense have shown that flawed process leads to bad results. The departure of Reagan’s administration from democratic process established the conditions for policy failure which resulted in contradictions that undermined United State’s credibility. United States went after two contradictory foreign policies simultaneously, a public and a secret one.
The public policy was opposed to making any concessions for the release of hostages for fear of such concessions encouraging more hostage taking. At the same time, the United states was secretly trading weapons to secure the release of the hostages. The public policy was meant to ban the shipment of arms to Iran and to exhort other governments to observe this embargo. At the same time, the United States was secretly selling sophisticated missiles to Iran. The public policy was also meant to improve relations with Iraq. The United States was on the other hand shared intelligence on Iraq with Iran secretly.
The public policy was also to encourage all governments to punish terrorism and to support the refusal of Kuwait to set free the Da’wa prisoners convicted of terrorist acts. Senior officials at the same time secretly endorsed a Second-Hakim plan to allow Iran to secure the release of the prisoners. The letter and spirit of the Boland Amendment that barred military and paramilitary assistance to the contras was to be observed by the public policy. The NSC staff was secretly directed and funded the military efforts of contra.
The administration was also meant to consult with the Congressional oversight committee with regard to covert activities in a “a new spirit of frankness and cooperation” . The CIA and the White House were on the other hand secretly withheld all information about the Iran initiative and contra support network from the committees. Covert operations were to be conducted mainly through the CIA or other organs of the intelligence community authorized by the president. However, even though the NSC was not authorized, its staff secretly became operational and employed private, non-accountable agents to account in covert activities.
All these contradictions in policy resulted in policy failure. Iran was armed by the United States, together with its most radical elements. However, the United States neither attained a new relationship with Iran nor reduced the number of American hostages in Lebanon. The sale of the arms did not result in the moderation of Iranian policies. Iran up to the present moment still sponsors actions that are directed against the United States in the Persian Gulf. The United states made itself vulnerable to blackmail by adversaries who were likely to reveal the secret arms sale.
The credibility of the United States with allies and friends was undermined by its position of opposing arms sale to Iran while doing the same herself in secret. An illicit funding was sought by the United States for the contras through profits from secret arms sale with the considerable amount ending up in the personal bank accounts of the private individuals who executed the sales. The Iran-Contra Affair also indicates a serious flaw in policymaking process. The highest level of the United States government was marked by confusion and disarray.
Under total misapprehension, McFarlane set on a dangerous trip to Tehran . He assumed that the Iranians had promised to secure the release of the American hostages before the delivery of arms while on the contrary, they had only promised to seek the release of the hostages after the arms had arrived. Initially, the president told the Tower Board that he had approved the first Israeli shipments. He then denied then finally said that he did not know whether he had approved the arms shipment as his top advisors were not in agreement on the issue.
He also claimed that he did not recall signing a Finding approving the shipment to Iran. However, Poindexter’s testimony was on the contrary. The American public was incorrectly assured by the president that the NSC staff was adhering to the law and that there was no connection between the government of the United States and the Hasenfus airplane. His staff was on the other hand conducting a covert operation to support the Contras. Another striking feature of the Iran-Contra Affair was that it was marked by pervasive dishonesty and excessive secrecy.
The Congress and the American people were constantly and repeatedly told lies about the contra covert action and Iran arms sales. North admitted to altering and destroying official documents. Conclusion Any public official must work on behalf of the state and thus, any action must be directed towards furthering the ideals of the state. As such, the public must be informed of the whatever is going on. Democracy dictates that the representatives of the people must be involved in the decision making process. The nation’s foreign policy makers act on behalf of the state.
Even then, the citizens must be made known the implications and goals of certain actions that are being taken by the state. The Iran-Contra affair, in the contrary, operated against this principle. The affair would have fallen under the broad foreign policy, which was however not the case as it was carried out in secret. As much as policy makers have an interest in maintaining and advancing their domestic political positions, they must also seek to advance the interest of the state internationally. However, the Reagan administration locked policy makers out of the affair which may have led to its failure.
The fact is that the administration well knew the consequences of their action and went ahead to carry it out secretly. The administration knew it would lose favor among the citizens if they went ahead and carried out the operations even after Congress was opposed to it. Given the desire for political survival, the administration pretended to be concerned with the domestic impact of the various options that it had. Behind the scenes, it went ahead with its initial plans with no regard for the congress and the public. This in itself was a mockery of democracy.