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Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
Alan Fiers, the head of the CIA’s Central America task force, testifies to Congress that neither he nor any of his superiors in the agency knew of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Fiers is lying. He was ordered by his superior, Deputy Director of Operations Clair George, to conceal his knowledge of the fund diversions (see Summer 1986). Fiers will admit to lying five years later, and plead guilty to misdemeanor charges arising from his false testimony (see July 17, 1991). [Time, 7/22/1991]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has already lied repeatedly under oath to Congress about third-party funding of the Contras (see October 10-14, 1986), lies again to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of any such funding (see August 9-19, 1986). Appearing before the committee with senior CIA official Alan Fiers, who has himself lied to Congress about the same activities, Abrams tells the committee: “Well, we—after the Hasenfus shootdown (see October 5, 1986) we were asked about, you know, what did you know about the funding of Hasenfus and his operation. And the answer here is the same answer. That is, that we knew there were private contributions coming in, because they sure weren’t surviving on the money that we were giving them, which at one time was nothing and then the 27 million came along (see August 1985). So there was money coming in. But there was no reason to think it was coming from foreign governments, and I certainly did not inquire as to which individuals it was coming from.” Abrams denies ever discussing third-party funding with anyone on the National Security Council staff, which would include Oliver North, Abrams’s partner in the $10 million Brunei deal (see June 11, 1986). A frankly disbelieving Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) says: “Well, you would say gee, they got a lot of problems, they don’t have any money. Then you would just sit there and say, what are we going to do? They don’t have any money. You never said, you know, maybe we could get the money this way?” Abrams replies: “No.… We’re not—you know, we’re not in the fundraising business.” Two weeks later, Abrams will “correct” his testimony, but will still insist that he knows nothing of any such third-party funding. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
After Oliver North is fired by President Reagan over his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair (see November 25, 1986), North’s secretary Fawn Hall (who was also fired) recalls that she has not finished shredding documents that North had ordered destroyed (see November 21-23, 1986). She also realizes that other documents relating to the Iran arms sales and the Contra funding have not yet been destroyed. Hall is not allowed to remove any documents from the suite of offices used by North and other NSC officers. To avoid detection, Hall conceals documents in her clothing, inserting some inside her boots and others inside the back of her skirt. She receives the assistance of another NSC officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl, who helps her sneak documents out of the office suite. Earl also helps her adjust the documents so they cannot be seen under her clothes. During the process, Hall telephones North, who is not in the office; fearful of being overheard, she whispers to him that there is a problem with the documents and he needs to come in. He agrees, and says that he will be joined by his lawyer, Thomas Green. After Green and North arrive, the two men help shield Hall as she leaves the building with the documents hidden on her person. After the three get into Green’s car, Hall gives North the documents, and tells him that other potentially incriminating materials are still in the offices. Green drops Hall and North off in a parking lot, and, as Hall is leaving the vehicle, Green asks her what she will say if asked about the shredding. Hall replies that she will say, “We shred every day.” Green responds, “Good.” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” [Time, 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).
Two days after sneaking classified documents out of the National Security Council (see November 25, 1986), Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, downplays the significance of the “shredding party” she and North engaged in days before, when they had worked to destroy evidence of North’s criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986). When asked by Jay Stephens of the White House counsel’s office about reports of her and North shredding documents in North’s office, Hall replies as she has been coached to respond by North’s lawyer, Thomas Green. Hall later testifies, “I told him that we shred every day, and I led him to believe that there was nothing unusual about what had occurred.” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
Shortly after the Iran-Contra scandal is first revealed in the press, CIA Director William J. Casey meets with Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Nizar Hamdoon, a second time (see October 1986) and assures him that the new Washington-Baghdad intelligence link (see August 1986) will remain open. [Washington Post, 12/15/1986]
David Durenberger. [Source: NNDB.com]According to his 1988 campaign biography Looking Forward, Vice President Bush is briefed on the Iran-Contra operation by Senator David Durenberger (D-MN), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Until this briefing, Bush will claim, he knew nothing of the substance of the operation. He leaves the briefing feeling that he had “been deliberately excluded from key meetings involving details of the Iran operation” and “not in the loop.” He also denies playing any role in arming Iraq, in the murky, little-understood operation commonly known as “Iraqgate.” Evidence disproves Bush’s claims of ignorance (see July 23, 1986). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
John Tower. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]President Reagan appoints former Senator John Tower (R-TX) to head a commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. The so-called “Tower Commission” will issue its final report three months later (see February 26, 1987). [PBS, 2000] Tower left the Senate in 1985 and attempted to win the position of defense secretary for Reagan’s second term. Instead, Reagan appointed him to lead the US team of arms reduction negotiators in Geneva. Tower also became very rich very quickly lobbying for a variety of defense contractors. Between his overt lobbying for the defense industry and his notoriously libertine lifestyle—even consorting with prostitutes known to be KGB agents—Tower was unable to secure the position of defense secretary. But he is a Reagan loyalist, and well-known to the White House from their thorough vetting of his background and private life; perhaps this makes Tower a good administration choice to lead the investigative commission. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 85-86]
Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. [New York Times, 3/17/1987; Nation, 3/28/1987]
A day before he is slated to testify before the Senate on the US’s secret arms sales to Iran and the diversion of profits from those sales to the Nicaraguan Contras, CIA Director William Casey suffers two seizures and is hospitalized. The 73-year old Casey is diagnosed with brain cancer. [New York Times, 12/24/1986] He will undergo surgery three days later (see December 18, 1986) and, unable to continue his duties as CIA director, will resign shortly thereafter (see February 2, 1987). He will die six months after the surgery (see May 6, 1987).
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that before the Iran-Contra revelations of October 1986 (see October 5, 1986, October 10-15, 1986, and October 11-14, 1986) he had never even heard of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985). As he has done so many times before, Abrams is lying. When he took his position in July 1985 (see April 19, 1985 and After), Rodriguez was already working out of the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, indicate that Abrams knew of Rodriguez by September 1985 at the latest (see September 4, 1985). During that month, Abrams and Corr discussed Rodriguez in at least one meeting. (Corr will later say he cannot recall any such meeting.) Rodriguez was also a frequent topic of discussion in meetings held in late 1985 by the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) chaired by Abrams. And Abrams was aware of concerns within the government about Rodriguez’s involvement in disbursing humanitarian funds allocated by the US Congress to the Contras (see October 1985). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
CIA Director William Casey, one of the key figures in the Iran-Contra affair, undergoes surgery for a brain tumor (see December 15, 1986). [PBS, 2000] The lymphoma tumor will be removed and proven to be malignant. Doctors will refuse to give details about the size and placement of the tumor, any possible cognitive or physical loss caused by the tumor, or any prognosis for possible recovery. The particular cancer is a “B-cell lymphoma of the large cell type,” a quite rare and extraordinarily aggressive form of cancer. Experts say that most cancers of this type occur in people whose immune systems have been compromised, often by treatment for other cancers or people who suffer from AIDS. Casey may have undergone treatment for cancer at an earlier date [New York Times, 12/24/1986] ; it will later be learned that Casey had undergone treatment for prostate cancer. [New York Times, 5/7/1987] Casey will resign as CIA director shortly after his cancer treatments begin (see February 2, 1987). He will die six months after the surgery (see May 6, 1987).
Congress announces the creation of a special counsel to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. Lawrence Walsh is named the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Walsh, a retired federal judge, later says that he is worried from the outset about the potential for what he calls a “carnival atmosphere” surrounding the hearings. In creating the special counsel and the concurrent Congressional investigation (see January 6-7, 1987), Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) want to head off any possibility of impeachment. “That is the last thing I wanted to do,” Wright later recalls. “Ronald Reagan had only two years left in his [second and final] term. I was not going to allow a procedure that would lead to his impeachment in his final year in office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 67-68]
Warren Rudman and Daniel Inouye. [Source: Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images]Both the House and Senate name special committees to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Avoiding Impeachment - The two investigations will quickly merge into one joint, unwieldy committee. Neither Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) have any intention of allowing the investigations to become impeachment hearings against President Reagan (see December 19, 1986). They decide to combine the House and Senate investigations in the hopes that the investigation will move more quickly and limit the damage to the presidency. They envision a bipartisan committee made up of wise, sober lawmakers able to prevent the investigation from becoming a witch hunt. Wright will remember telling the Republican minority leadership, “You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control.”
Choosing Chairmen, Members - Byrd chooses Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a decorated World War II veteran who had served on the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In turn, Inouye names Warren Rudman (R-NH), a former federal prosecutor, as his vice chairman, promising to share all the powers and responsibilities of the chairmanship with him. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Rudman “would overshadow” the self-effacing Inouye. For the House side, Wright names conservative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) to chair that portion of the committee. Both Hamilton and Inouye have a deep conviction that to accomplish anything of lasting import, decisions must be arrived at in a bipartisan fashion. Wright names several powerful Democratic committee chairmen to the House committee; their responsibilities as committee chairmen will interfere with their ability to devote the proper time and effort to the investigation. House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IN) chooses his members with a very different agenda in mind. Michel, himself a relatively moderate Republican, chooses Dick Cheney (R-WY) as the ranking member of the House investigation. Cheney is well-informed about intelligence and foreign affairs, and, in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, “ruthlessly partisan.” In addition, Cheney will function as the White House “mole” on the committee, alerting White House officials as to the thrust and direction of the investigation and allowing them time to prepare accordingly. Michel salts the House committee with right-wing ideologues, including Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Bill McCollum (R-FL). Few of Michel’s House committee members have any intention of pursuing the facts behind Iran-Contra; instead, they are bent on undermining the Democrats on the committee and ensuring that the committee achieves few, if any, of its goals.
Loss of Leverage - From the outset, Wright and Byrd’s opposition to any consideration of presidential impeachment, no matter what evidence is unearthed, loses them their biggest advantage in the proceedings. Not only will committee Republicans feel more confident in pulling the investigation away from sensitive and potentially embarrassing matters, the committee will ignore important evidence of Reagan’s own involvement in the Iran-Contra decision-making process, including recordings of telephone conversations showing Reagan discussing financing the Contras with foreign leaders. Hamilton in particular will be an easy mark for the ideologues in the Republican group of committee members; his biggest worry is whether Reagan “would be able to govern” after the investigation, and his relentless bipartisanship makes him easy for the committee Republicans to manipulate and sway. As for the Republicans, even fellow GOP committee member Rudman will become disgusted with their naked partisanship and their refusal to pursue the facts. “It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened,” Rudman will later recall. Dubose and Bernstein add that Cheney has another agenda as well: preserving the powers of the presidency against Congressional encroachment.
Cheney's Influence - Cheney has always succeeded in lulling his opposition with his unruffled demeanor. He is able to do the same thing on the investigative committee. “We totally misread the guy,” a Democratic staffer later recalls. “We thought he was more philosophical than political.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 68-69]
Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., Jake Bernstein, Henry Hyde, Daniel Inouye, Contras, Bill McCollum, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lee Hamilton, Ronald Reagan, Robert Michel, Warren Rudman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Alann Steen and his wife on their honeymoon in 1986. [Source: Evelyn Floret / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Four teachers at Beirut University College—Americans Alann Steen, Jesse Turner, and Robert Polhill, and Indian-born US resident Mithileshwar Singh—are kidnapped by Hezbollah militants. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
President Reagan testifies before the Tower Commission. His chief of staff, Donald Regan, had previously told the commission that the US had not given its approval for the August 1985 sale of TOW missiles to Iran via Israel (see August 6, 1985 and August 20, 1985), but Reagan shocks both Regan and White House counsel Peter Wallison by admitting that he had indeed approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks. Reagan uses the previous testimony of former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane as a guide. After Reagan’s testimony, Regan attempts to refocus Reagan’s memories of events, going through the chain of events with Reagan and asking questions like, “Were you surprised” when you learned about the TOW sales? Reagan responds, “Yes, I guess I was surprised.” Regan hammers the point home: “That’s what I remember. I remember you being angry and saying something like, ‘Well, what’s done is done.’” Reagan turns to Wallison and says, “You know, I think he’s right.” [Cannon, 1991, pp. 630-631]
President Reagan testifies for a second time to the Tower Commission (see January 26, 1987). His testimony is incoherent and confused; some observers outside the White House begin speculating that Reagan suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Commission investigators note that while the Meese investigation claimed Reagan did not know of the August 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran (see August 20, 1985 and November 21-25, 1986), Reagan himself claimed in his previous testimony he did know of the shipments. When asked to clarify the inconsistency, Reagan shocks onlookers by picking up a briefing memo he had been given and reading aloud, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.” [PBS, 2000] White House counsel Peter Wallison is stunned. “I was horrified, just horrified,” he later recalls. “I didn’t expect him to go and get the paper. The purpose of it was just to recall to his mind before he goes into the meeting” what he, Wallison, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan had agreed was the proper chain of events—that Reagan had not known of the shipments beforehand, and had been surprised to learn of them. [Cannon, 1991, pp. 631-632]
CIA Director William Casey abruptly resigns due to terminal brain cancer (see December 18, 1986). Casey’s illness makes him unavailable to testify before the Congressional Iran-Contra investigation, a huge boon for committee Republicans who are determined to keep the truth of Iran-Contra from being revealed (see January 6-7, 1987). Casey had been one of the prime movers behind the Iran arms sales, and was National Security Council staffer Oliver North’s prime supervisor in what insiders call “the Enterprise”—the ad hoc organization run by North and retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) that trained, supplied, and even at times fought for Nicaragua’s Contras. North and Secord’s organization managed to evade Congressional oversight and ignore laws passed to limit US involvement in the Nicaraguan insurgency (see October 10, 1984). According to upcoming testimony from North, Casey saw “the Enterprise” as such a success that it should serve as a model for other US covert operations around the globe. It was Casey’s idea to have foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia (see July, 1984) and Brunei (see June 11, 1986) supply money to the Contras, over the objections of White House officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz, who told Casey in reference to the phrase “quid pro quo” that he should remember that “every quid had a quo.” As one Democratic congressmen later puts it, Casey was the “godfather” of the entire Iran-Contra operation, and his unavailability to the committee is a tremendous blow to its ability to find the truth. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
President Reagan sends a memo to the Tower Commission in an attempt to clarify his previous rambling and incoherent testimony (see January 26, 1987 and February 2, 1987). The memo does not improve matters. It reads in part: “I don’t remember, period.… I’m trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own.… The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985 (see August 20, 1985). My answer therefore and the simple truth is, ‘I don’t remember, period.’” [PBS, 2000]
The Tower Commission issues its final report about the Iran-Contra affair. Among its conclusions, it finds that President Reagan’s top advisers were responsible for creating the “chaos” that led to the affair. It also finds that Reagan was largely out of touch and unaware of the operations conducted by his National Security Council (NSC) staff, and allowed himself to be misled by his closest advisers (see February 20, 1987). Reagan had failed to “insist upon accountability and performance review,” thus allowing the NSC process to collapse. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; PBS, 2000]
Fawn Hall, who was NSC official Oliver North’s secretary and who helped North destroy critical documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986), admits lying to the FBI about the removal and destruction of documents. In January, Hall told FBI investigators that she had indeed secretly removed documents from the NSC offices by hiding them in her clothes (see November 25, 1986), but had only taken out computer printouts of North’s notes. Now she admits that she secretly removed some of the original documents that North had ordered her to alter to conceal his criminal activities. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
The United Nations dispatches experts to the conflict zone on a mission that documents Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76]
President Reagan tells a national television audience that he has made mistakes on Iran-Contra, and claims he has had massive memory failures. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” he says (see February 2, 1987 and February 20, 1987). “My heart and my best intentions tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported (see February 26, 1987), what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.” Reagan’s sympathetic message resonates with US viewers; his popularity rebounds to over 50 percent in national polls. [White House, 3/4/1987; White House, 3/4/1987; PBS, 2000]
The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70-72, 77]
Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jake Bernstein, David S. Addington, Bruce Fein, Brendan Sullivan, Arthur Liman, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Poindexter, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lawrence E. Walsh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Warren Rudman, Lee Hamilton, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Iran-Contra investigative committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) tells a reporter that former CIA Director William Casey, who recently resigned due to terminal brain cancer (see February 2, 1987), was “one of the best CIA directors the agency had ever had.” Referring to Casey’s inability to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings, Cheney says, “I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the man based on speculation and innuendo (see May 5, 1987), and to do so at a time when he is incapable of defending himself strikes me as in extremely poor taste.” As for Iran-Contra itself, Cheney says, “I think there’s a very real possibility that it’s going to be at best a footnote in the history books.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
Neoconservative academics and authors Laurie Mylroie and Daniel Pipes write an article for the New Republic entitled “Back Iraq: Time for a US Tilt in the Mideast.” Mylroie and Pipes argue that the US must publicly embrace Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship as a bulwark against the Islamic fundamentalism of Iran. Backing Iraq “could lay the basis for a fruitful relationship” that would benefit US and Israeli interests, they write. They believe Washington should move to a closer relationship with Hussein because Iraq holds a more moderate view of Israel and the US than other countries in the Middle East. “The American weapons that Iraq could make good use of include remotely scatterable and anti-personnel mines and counterartillery radar.” Mylroie and Pipes argue not just for weapons sales to Iraq, but for the US to share intelligence with that nation: “The United States might also consider upgrading intelligence it is supplying Baghdad.” Mylroie and Pipes are apparently uninterested in the stories of Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against both Iranians and his own citizens (see March 5, 1984, March 1988, and August 25, 1988). After the 9/11 attacks, Mylroie will change her opinion and join the call for Hussein’s overthrow, blaming him for a raft of terror attacks going back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see 1990, October 2000, and September 12, 2001). [New Republic, 4/27/1987 ; CounterPunch, 8/13/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 68]
Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]
Entity Tags: Richard Secord, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Arthur Liman, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Reagan administration, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steven Spielberg, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
In the first day of testimony before the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see May 5, 1987), General Richard Secord (see September 19, 1986) testifies that CIA Director William Casey was one of the driving forces behind the illegal sales of arms to Iran, and the equally illegal diversion of profits from those arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. Secord, the leadoff witness, testifies that in addition to Casey, CIA and State Department officials aided in the efforts to provide the Contras with weapons and funds. Secord says he spoke with Casey about arming the Contras three times. He does not go into detail about what specific information he received from Casey during these conversations, but says the quality and amount of information was disappointing: “I was never able to get the professional intelligence I was accustomed to having.” Secord testifies that under Casey, high-ranking CIA agents in Honduras and Costa Rica gave him intelligence and other assistance. [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
Former CIA Director William Casey (see February 2, 1987) dies as a result of his inoperable brain cancer. Casey was a key figure in the Iran-Contra machinations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “In death he would become a helpful scapegoat for Oliver North and a resting place for missing information that would have filled out the contours of the scandal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70] Casey had been named as one of the architects of the scheme to use profits from illegal arms sales to Iran to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 5, 1987). He had been hospitalized since April 25, and unable to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings. The immediate cause of death is what doctors call “aspiration pneumonia,” which may mean that Casey inhaled food or food particles in his lungs that set up a toxic chemical reaction. A physician not involved in Casey’s treatment says that Casey may have had trouble swallowing properly. The hospital in Glen Cove, Long Island refuses to give any more details. Despite the swirling Iran-Contra controversy, President Reagan says of his longtime colleague and friend: “His nation and all those who love freedom honor today the name and memory of Bill Casey. In addition to crediting him with rebuilding America’s intelligence capability, history will note the brilliance of his mind and strategic vision, his passionate commitment to the cause of freedom and his unhesitating willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of that cause and his country.” [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
USS ‘Stark’ after being struck by Iraqi missile. [Source: US Department of Defense]Two missiles from an Iraqi F-1 Mirage warplane strike the USS Stark, killing 37 of the sailors aboard. The frigate is a member of a US naval task force sent to the Persian Gulf to keep the Gulf open for shipping during the Iran-Iraq War. The Iraqi fighter locks weapons on the Stark three minutes before firing; the commander of the ship refuses to issue the standard “back off” warning to the Iraqi pilot. The first missile bores deep into the ship but fails to explode; the second missile explodes, incinerating the crew’s quarters, the radar room, and the combat information center. The ship burns for two days. [PBS, 2000; Peniston, 2006, pp. 61-63]
Diverting Blame onto Iran - The Pentagon later claims that the Stark indeed warned the fighter pilot not to approach. Iraq quickly apologizes for the attack. The US continues to patrol the Gulf, and continues its program of re-registering Kuwaiti oil tankers under the American flag in order to protect them from Iranian attacks. A diplomat says that given the scale of casualties in the incident, the American public is going to start asking “what the hell is the US doing in the Gulf?” Iran calls the attack on the Stark a “divine blessing.” US officials quickly divert blame for the attack on Iran, accepting an Iraqi explanation that the fighter pilot must have mistaken the US warship for an Iranian vessel. [Guardian, 5/19/1987]
Excusing Iraq, Punishing 'Stark' Commander - “We’ve never considered them hostile at all,” says President Reagan in regards to Iraq’s military. “They’ve never been in any way hostile.… And the villain in the piece is Iran.” Senator John Warner (R-VA), a former secretary of the Navy, denounces Iran as “a belligerent that knows no rules, no morals.” Fellow senator John Glenn (D-OH) calls Iran “the sponsor of terrorism and the hijacker of airliners.” Iraq later determines that the Stark was in its so-called “forbidden zone,” and refuses to produce the pilot for any disciplinary action. The only punishment for the attack is suffered by the captain of the Stark, Glenn Brindel, who is relieved of his command, and his executive officer, who is punished for “dereliction of duty.” [TomDispatch (.com), 5/3/2007]
Lawsuits Dismissed - Two wrongful death lawsuits arising from the attacks will later be dismissed due to the “state secrets” privilege (see June 13, 1991 and September 16, 1992).
Felix Rodriguez, in US Army uniform. [Source: Cuba Informazione]CIA operative Felix Rodriguez testifies before the Iran-Contra committee (see May 5, 1987). Rodriguez, a Cuban exile and former US Army officer, is notorious for his involvement in the execution of South American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1967. Rodriguez also ran covert assassination operations for the CIA during the Vietnam War. Rodriguez’s connection to the White House was through Donald Gregg, the national security adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). Gregg had helped station Rodriguez at an airport in El Salvador, where Rodriguez could, under the pseudonym “Max Gomez,” manage the Contra resupply operation for Oliver North and Richard Secord (see Mid-September 1985 and November 19, 1985). CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus (see October 5, 1986) told his Sandinista captors that “Max Gomez” was his contact with the CIA. Rodriguez’s testimony is potentially explosive, but committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) has no interest in eliciting any such infomation. Instead, he invites Rodriguez to launch a well-scripted diatribe against allowing the Soviet Union to establish a Communist foothold in Latin America. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 73-74]
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in testimony before the Iran-Contra committee, admits he previously lied under oath when he denied the existence of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras. In fact, Abrams himself had facilitated the funding of the Contras by the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). Abrams will eventually plead guilty to lying to Congress, but will never see the inside of a jail cell, as President George H. W. Bush will pardon him (see December 25, 1992). During questioning, Republican committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) praises Abrams’s service, saying, “I do personally believe you have an extremely bright future in the public arena in the United States.” When Cheney becomes vice president in the Bush-Cheney White House, he will name Abrams as deputy national security adviser (see June 2001). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 74-75]
President Reagan speaking before the Brandenberg Gate. [Source: Public domain]In one of the most iconic moments in modern history, President Reagan, in a speech before the Brandenberg Gate in the Berlin Wall, challenges Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to raze the wall and allow East and West Berlin to become one city again. Reagan says: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s speech is widely, if perhaps simplistically, credited for bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. [PBS, 2000]
Testimony in the Iran-Contra investigations turns to the possibility that NSC aide Michael Ledeen may have profited from the US sales of arms to Iran through Israel (see January 24, 1986). Ledeen’s former supervisor at the Department of Defense, Noel Koch, who has long suspected Ledeen of spying for Israel (see 1983 and 1986), says that he first became suspicious of Ledeen when he learned that the price Ledeen had negotiated for the sale to the Israeli government of basic TOW missiles was $2,500 each. Koch found that no TOW missile had ever been sold to any foreign government for less than $6,800 per unit. Under orders from his superiors in the department, Koch renegotiated the deal with an Israeli official, eventually raising the price to $4,500 per missile, almost twice what Ledeen had “negotiated” in Israel. Author Stephen Green, who will write two books on US-Israeli relations, will comment, “There are two possibilities here—one would be a kickback, as suspected by his NSC colleagues, and the other would be that Michael Ledeen was effectively negotiating for Israel, not the US.” [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter listens with horrified fascination as Oliver North testifies to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987) about the 1985 apprehension of the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro. North accuses unnamed members of Congress of being untrustworthy by leaking the military details of the hijackers’ capture to the press. Alter is fully aware that North is lying—in fact, North himself leaked the information about the capture to reporters. Alter is sure that North believes he will not be exposed because reporters do not, as a rule, reveal their sources. Though North did not speak to Alter himself about the Achille Lauro capture operation, Alter exposes North as the leaker. Alter will later write: “This didn’t exactly make me Mr. Popularity with my colleagues or with North, who threatened to sue. But I would do it all over again.” [Newsweek, 10/13/2003]
Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).
Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987] Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Andrew Kohut, ABC News, Dan Rather, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Tom Brokaw, USA Today, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see November 25, 1986) testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. Poindexter says that he never told President Reagan of the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). He says he never told Reagan in order to preserve the president’s “plausible deniability.” [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who has attended some of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings (see Late 1985 and After and July 1986 and After), testifies before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating Iran-Contra (see May 5, 1987). Armitage is asked about RIG meetings in which North recited a list of his activities in coordinating the Contras, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded item-by-item approval from group members: “[D]o you recall, regardless of what dates, regardless of where it was, regardless of whether it had exactly the players he said—because he could have gotten all that wrong—do you recall any meeting at which he did anything close to what his testimony suggests?” Armitage replies, “I do not.” [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] It is not until RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
The Iran-Contra hearings come to an end after over 250 hours of testimony from 28 witnesses. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The hearings have been unsatisfactory at best, with the committee saying in a final statement, “We may never know with precision or truth why [the Iran-Contra affair] ever happened.” [PBS, 2000] The biggest wrangle left for the committee is the status of the final report. The committee’s Democratic leaders want a unanimous report. The Republicans demand numerous concessions for such a unanimous report, including the exclusion of critical evidence of an administration cover-up and evidence implicating President Reagan in the Iran-Contra policy decision-making. The committee produces dozens of drafts of the final report, each more watered-down than the previous one, to accommodate Republican demands. The Republicans will get a report almost completely to their liking, but will then pull away and issue their own minority report anyway (see November 16-17, 1987). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Faced with revelations of his possible involvement in the Iran-US arms-for-hostage deals (see November 3, 1986), Vice President George Bush, who has been heavily involved in the deals both with Iran and with its enemy Iraq (see July 23, 1986), denies knowing anything about anything. He tells the press that he knew nothing about any administration officials objecting to selling arms to Iran: “If I had sat there, and heard George Shultz and Cap [Caspar Weinberger] express it strongly, maybe I would have had a stronger view. But when you don’t know something it’s hard to react…. We were not in the loop.” Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, telephones Shultz, the Secretary of State, and snaps, “He was on the other side [supporting the arms deals with Iran]. It’s on the record! Why did he say that?” Former National Security Council aide Howard Teicher, who was deeply involved in the arms-for-hostage deals with Iran, will say in 1992, “Bush definitely knew almost everything about the Iranian arms-sales initiative. I personally briefed him in great detail many times. Like so many others, he got premature Alzheimer’s after the arms sales became public.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
One batch each of salmonella and E coli is sent to the Iraqi State Company for Drug Industries with the approval of the US Department of
Commerce. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) physically assaults a Nicaraguan official during a diplomatic mission by US lawmakers to Managua. According to a witness, fellow senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), McCain is the co-chair, with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), of the bipartisan Central American Negotiations Observer Group; Cochran is a member of the group. They are in a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the leader of the ruling Sandinistas, and several Nicaraguan diplomats, discussing tensions between the two countries. A number of armed Nicaraguan soldiers are also in the room. Cochran recalls that tensions in the room are high due to the heavy pressure being brought to bear by the US against the Nicaraguans. The American lawmakers are pressing “pretty hard,” Cochran will recall. During the discussions, “McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don’t know what attracted my attention,” Cochran later says. “But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever. I don’t know what he was telling him but I thought, good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission. I don’t know what had happened to provoke John but he obviously got mad at the guy and he just reached over there and snatched him.” McCain does not actually strike the Nicaraguan, and the two eventually retake their seats. Cochran will recall that the Nicaraguan appears “ruffled” after the incident. [Biloxi Sun-Herald, 6/30/2008; Biloxi Sun-Herald, 7/1/2008; Associated Press, 7/2/2008] In 2008, McCain will call Cochran’s story “simply untrue.” [Time, 7/2/2008] “I had many, many meetings with the Sandinistas,” McCain will say. “I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas much. But there was never anything of that nature. It just didn’t happen.” [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
Claiborne Pell. [Source: Brown University]The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports that the US faces a dire choice if Iran is victorious in its war with Iraq. The choice, the committee reports, is “between permitting Iran to dominate the West’s oil supply in the Persian Gulf, and direct US military intervention… .” The report warns that the US, having agreed to protect Kuwaiti shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attacks, “seriously risks being drawn into war” against Iran, and notes that Gulf nations believe the US is siding with Iraq in the war, “and the expanded US naval presence is likely to invite more Iranian attacks of increasing severity.… American naval forces in the Gulf are now, in effect, hostage to Iraqi war policy.” The Senate is debating whether to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress to either declare war in the region or withdraw funding for the US military presence in the Gulf. The Reagan administration opposes the move, and it is doubtful a majority in Congress will vote to invoke the resolution. The report calls the US policy of escorting Kuwaiti tankers “dangerously nebulous.” The Reagan administration agreed to protect the tankers after Kuwait threatened to turn to the Soviets for help if the United States refused. Most Gulf nations believe Kuwait’s threat to ask for Soviet help is nothing more than a “feint” to involve the US in the war; few believe Kuwait is serious about turning to the Soviets for assistance. The report says that although “the flow of oil is not in serious jeopardy,” “shipping in the gulf now appears less safe than before the US naval buildup began.” Iran has recently sown Gulf waters with mines, posing a threat to Kuwaiti and other shipping in the area. Interestingly, though the report is critical of Reagan administration policy in the Gulf, it does not recommend reversing course. The US cannot retreat from its promise to protect Kuwaiti shipping without risking “great cost to US credibility in the region.” Claiborne Pell (D-RI) says, “This report shows that the danger of a possible Iraqi collapse is greater than commonly understood, and that the perils for us in the Gulf are certain to increase.” The report notes that because of the White House’s secret arming of Iran (see 1981), Iraq faces the real possibility of defeat in the war, with potentially catastrophic results for the US. “US policy in the Persian Gulf has been shaped as much by a short-term desire to restore credibility lost in the Iran-Contra affair as by any careful assessment of US interests and objectives.” [Boston Globe, 10/19/1987; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
The congressional Iran-Contra committee has finally produced a final report, which committee Democrats thought would be unanimous. But committee Republicans fought successfully to water down the report, including the exclusion of evidence proving President Reagan’s involvement in the policy decisions (see August 3, 1987 and After), and then at the last minute broke away and announced their intention to issue a minority report—which was their intention all along. “From the get-go they wanted a minority report,” Republican staffer Bruce Fein will later recall. The official majority report is due to come out on November 17, but a printing error forces it to be delayed a day (see November 18, 1987). The committee Republicans, headed by Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) and Senator Henry Hyde (R-IL) leak their minority report to the New York Times on November 16, thus stealing a march on the majority. On November 17, all of the committee Republicans save three—Senators Warren Rudman (R-NH), Paul Trible (R-VA), and William Cohen (R-ME)—hold a press conference in which they accuse the majority of staging a “witch hunt” against the president and the administration. The minority report asserts: “There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for the ‘rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up.… In our view the administration did proceed legally in pursuing both its Contra policy and the Iran arms initiative.” Rudman calls the minority report “pathetic,” and says his Republican colleagues have “separated the wheat from the chaff and sowed the chaff.” The press focuses on the conflict between the two reports. The Democrats largely ignore the minority report: “This was ‘87,” one Democratic staff member will recall. “We had a substantial majority and the Republicans were trained to be what we thought was a permanent minority party. When they would yap and yell, we would let them yap. It just didn’t matter.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigative committee issues its final majority report. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The Republican minority has largely refused to join the majority report, which was watered down time and again to entice the Republicans to join in the issuance of a unanimous report (see November 16-17, 1987). Still, the watered-down report finds that the “clandestine financing operation undermined the powers of Congress as a coequal branch and subverted the Constitution.” The Reagan administration had violated a key belief of the Constitution’s framers: “the purse and the sword should never be in the same hands.” Regardless of the majority report’s findings, no significant reforms will come from the Iran-Contra investigation. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 81-82]
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 142-145]
Although the US is already aware that the Soviet Union intends to withdraw from Afghanistan (see November 1986-November 1987) and a formal agreement on the Soviet withdrawal will be signed in four months (see April 1988), the US Congress approves aid of $480 million for Pakistan, despite its nuclear weapons program. Legislation has been passed that automatically cuts off aid to countries with illicit nuclear weapons programs (see August 1985 and August 1985), but this legislation is not invoked. Despite apparently knowing of the Pakistani program, Congress decides that supporting the war in Afghanistan is more important (see July 1987 or Shortly After and Late 1980s). Some lawmakers and officials will later say that at this time “everybody in Congress” knows that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program (see Late 1980s), and anti-proliferation Senator John Glenn (D-OH) will later say the threat of nuclear proliferation “is a far greater danger to the world than being afraid to cut off the flow of aid to Afghanistan,” adding, “It’s the short-term versus the long-term.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
The US increases the amount of military intelligence it provides Iraq, a significant portion of which is channeled to the Iraqis through the CIA’s Baghdad office. [Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
Near the end of the Soviet-Afghan war in the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, the radical mujaheddin heavily funded by the CIA and Saudi Arabia kill moderate Afghans by the thousands. By doing so, they manage to eliminate rivals to power when the war is over. The US does not object or limit funding because of this. Cheryl Benard, a RAND Corporation expert on Islam and the wife of future US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, will later comment: “At first, everyone thought, There’s no way to beat the Soviets. So what we have to do is throw the worst crazies at them that we can find, and there was a lot of collateral damage. We knew exactly who these people were, and what their organizations were like, and we didn’t care. Then, we allowed them to get rid of, just kill all the moderate leaders. The reason we don’t have moderate leaders in Afghanistan today is because we let the nuts kill them all. They killed the leftists, the moderates, the middle-of-the-roaders. They were just eliminated, during the 1980s and afterward.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 291]
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-145]
Iraq purchases enriched uranium from South Africa, with a “green light” from the US, according to a later claim by the BBC. South Africa has had a covert nuclear weapons program since 1973, and will continue working on nuclear devices, and perhaps supplying Iraq and other nations with uranium, until 1989, when it will dismantle its nuclear weapons program and decommission its nuclear enrichment plants. The BBC television news program Correspondent will claim in 2001 that according to Iraqi defectors, including a nuclear engineer and an assistant to Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein, South Africa quietly shipped some 50 kilograms of uranium to Iraq for its nuclear weapons program. The BBC program will cite an anonymous South African intelligence official as one of its sources. “The story is true,” he will say. “About 50 kilograms were sold to the Iraqis. The Americans gave the green light for the deal.” [BBC, 9/24/2002]
Conservative Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) says, “Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has gotten into the wrong hands.” Presumably Helms is referring to countries which have used democratic elections to choose leaders unfriendly to US interests. [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 10]
Iraq uses chemical weapons to retake the Fao Peninsula. After the attacks, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, an American defense intelligence officer, is dispatched to the battlefield where he meets with Iraqi officers. According to a New York Times report, Francona “reported that Iraq had used chemical weapons to cinch its victory…. [He] saw zones marked off for chemical contamination, and containers for the drug atropine scattered around, indicating that Iraqi soldiers had taken injections to protect themselves from the effects of gas that might blow back over their positions.” [New York Times, 8/18/2002]
President Ronald Reagan invokes the Solarz amendment (see August 1985), cutting off aid to Pakistan due to its illicit nuclear weapons program. This is in response to the arrest of a Pakistani agent attempting to purchase technology for the program in the US six months previously (see Before July 1987). However, Reagan then waives the provisions of the amendment, allowing US aid to Pakistan to continue. Journalist Seymour Hersh will comment, “The president was telling Pakistan that it could have its money—and its bomb.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
The US Commerce Department allows the export of equipment to Iraq for its SCUD missile program, allowing the Iraqis to increase the range of its SCUD missiles. [US Congress, 7/2/1991]
According to several accounts, Iraq uses US-supplied Bell helicopters to deploy chemical weapons during its campaign to recapture lost territories in its war with Iran. One of the towns that is within the conflict zone is the Kurdish village of Halabja, with a population of about 70,000. Between 3,200 and 5,000 Halabja civilians are reportedly killed by poison gas (see August 25, 1988). Other accounts, however, suggest that Iranian gas is responsible for the attack on Halabja, a version that is promoted by the Reagan administration in order to divert the blame away from Iraq. Some believe the US version of the Halabja massacre is “cooked up in the Pentagon.” A declassified State Department document “demonstrate[s] that US diplomats received instructions to press this line with US allies, and to decline to discuss the details.” [US Department of the Navy, 12/10/1990; Los Angeles Times, 2/13/1991; Washington Post, 3/11/1991; International Herald Tribune, 1/17/2003; New York Times, 1/31/2003]
The United Nations sends experts to the Iraq-Iran war conflict zone to document Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76]
During a symposium hosted by the US-Iraq Business Forum, Assistant Secretary of State Peter Burleigh encourages US companies to do business in Iraq. The business forum reportedly has strong ties to Baghdad. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 84-85]
Dr. Stephen Bryen, a neoconservative serving in the Defense Department who dodged espionage charges a decade before (see March 1978 and April 1979), helps Israel obtain secret US weapons information. Israel is in the final stages of building its “Arrow” anti-ballistic missile. It does not have “klystrons,” small microwave amplifiers needed for the missile’s target acquisition system to function. Klystrons are among the most secret of American weapons research products. Bryen is the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), which itself is contained within the Pentagon’s Office of International Security Policy, headed by fellow neoconservative Richard Perle. Bryen attempts to secure the authority to allow four klystrons to be exported to Israel via Varian Associates, a private defense manufacturing firm, without consulting with tech transfer officials from the Army, the Air Force, or other agencies. Navy tech transfer official Richard Levine refuses the request, and holds a meeting with officials from the above agencies. All the officials agree that the transfer should not be approved. Bryen responds by suggesting that he go back to the Israelis to ask why they needed the klystrons. After the Israelis provide what one Defense Department official later calls “a little bullsh_t answer,” Bryen tells the participants that he had received an acceptable response. Varien is granted a license, he says, and the klystrons will be sent to Israel. The license is withdrawn after Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Richard Armitage, objects to Bryen’s maneuvering. Two senior Defense Department officials later say that the attempt to provide Israel with classified weapons materials is “standard operating procedure” for Bryen, who has often ignored Defense and State Department refusals to provide sensitive information and materials to Israel. Later in the year, Bryen will leave the government and work as a consultant for a number of defense technology firms. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
A US delegation travels to Turkey at the request of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and confirms that Iraq is “using chemical weapons on its Kurdish population.” [US Congress, 10/1988]
The United Nations dispatches two delegations of experts to the conflict zone on a mission that documents Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76]
Crew members monitor radar screens in the combat information center aboard the Vincennes. This photo was taken by a crew member in January 1988. [Source: Public domain]The USS Vincennes, a state-of-the-art Aegis guided missile cruiser patrolling the Strait of Hormuz in an effort to keep oil tankers safe from Iranian and Iraqi depredations, detects an Iranian aircraft apparently closing in on its position. The captain and crew of the Vincennes are aware of previous attacks on US ships and Kuwaiti oil tankers by Iranian gunboats, and know of the attack a year before on the USS Stark by an Iraqi fighter (see May 17, 1987 and After). Just a half-hour before, the Vincennes itself had fired on Iranian gunboats. Captain Will Rogers III has seven minutes to decide what to do about the aircraft, which he and his radar operators believe is most likely an Iranian F-14. Although the first transmission from the Iranian aircraft identifies itself as “commair”—commercial aircraft—the radio operator forgets to reset his receiver, and subsequently receives transmissions from Iranian military aircraft which he mistakenly attributes to the incoming aircraft. When the aircraft is nine miles away, Rogers fires two SM-2 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. At least one missile hits the plane, which is not a military fighter, but Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian Boeing 747 carrying 290 passengers. The missile slices the airliner in half; all 290 passengers, including 66 children, die. Though the international community is outraged, the White House and the Pentagon defend the Vincennes’s action. The UN Security Council will not condemn the attack, and President Reagan volunteers to pay compensation to the families. The Navy is embarrassed that in the first real military action from one of its new Aegis cruisers, it had shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft. An investigation proves that the aircraft had been well within a commercially designated flight path, and was not descending in a threatening manner, as was initially claimed by both Vincennes personnel and Pentagon officials. No disciplinary actions against Rogers or any of his crew are ever taken. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Vice President George H. W. Bush will frequently say of the incident: “I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.” [New York Times, 11/9/1988; TomDispatch (.com), 5/3/2007; History (.com), 2008]
The United Nations sends a delegation of experts to the Iraq-Iran War conflict zone to investigate Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76] However, Baghdad refuses to cooperate and the US makes no serious attempt to press Baghdad to comply with the UN Security Council’s decision. US Secretary of State George Shultz downplays the charges against Iraq, arguing that interviews with Kurdish refugees in Turkey and “other sources” do not conclusively support the allegations being made against Saddam Hussein’s government. [Nation, 8/26/2002]
The Iran-Iraq war ends in stalemate after both sides reluctantly accept a UN-brokered peace agreement. The border between the two countries does not change. The war cost at least 1.5 million lives. The major arms supplier for Iraq was the Soviet Union, while France was the biggest supplier to Iran. The US covertly sold arms to both sides during the war, though towards the end of the conflict, the US, after its clandestine arms-for-hostage deals with Iran were exposed in the international press (see November 3, 1986), tilted towards Iraq (see Early October-November, 1986). The Iranian and Iraqi regimes will set about slaughtering their own dissidents after the war—the Iraqis primarily focusing on separatist Kurds and Iran-sympathetic Shi’ites, and the Iranians focusing on its leftist dissident population. [ZMag, 2/1990; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Infoplease, 2007]
Kurds gassed in Halabja. [Source: PersianEye / Corbis]Days after the end of the Iran-Iraq War (see August 20, 1988), Saddam Hussein begins the first of a series of poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages inside Iraq. A September 1988 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee states: “Those who were very close to the bombs died instantly. Those who did not die instantly found it difficult to breathe and began to vomit. The gas stung the eyes, skin, and lungs of the villagers exposed to it. Many suffered temporary blindness… . Those who could not run from the growing smell, mostly the very old and the very young, died.” While the gas attacks are continuing, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead circulates a highly classified memo among senior State Department officials recommending that the US cultivate even closer ties with Iraq, whom it supported over Iran in the last few years of the war (see Early October-November, 1986). Whitehead offers a Cold War rationale: “[Soviet] clout and influence is on a steady rise as the Gulf Arabs gain self-confidence and Soviet diplomacy gains in sophistication. The Soviets have strong cards to play: their border with Iran and their arms-supply relationship with Iraq. They will continue to be major players and we should engage them as fully as possible.” Whitehead adds, “It should be remembered… that we have weathered Irangate” (see January 17, 1986). More must be done to develop closer ties with “the ruthless but pragmatic Saddam Hussein.” (Also see September 8, 1988.) [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Jim Wright. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]A group of Nicaraguan Contra leaders walks unexpectedly into the office of Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and demands a meeting. They want to discuss prisoners being held by the Sandinista government. Wright is perplexed, but agrees to see them.
'Reagan-Wright' Peace Plan - Wright has engineered a peace program between the US and Nicaragua known as “Reagan-Wright,” a program very unpopular with right-wing Republicans both in the White House and in Congress. White House officials such as President Reagan’s national security affairs assistant Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams have attempted to derail the program by trying to persuade other Central American leaders to come out against Nicaragua and thereby undermine the peace talks. But the program has progressed, largely because of Wright’s tireless efforts and the cooperation of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez (who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts). Wright had informed the leaders of the different factions in Nicaragua, Contras and Sandinistas alike, that his door was always open to them.
Enemy in House - Wright does not realize that he has an implacable enemy in powerful House member Dick Cheney (R-WY). Cheney is offended by what he sees as Wright’s encroachment on powers that should be reserved for the executive branch alone, and has devised a campaign to further undermine Wright.
Meeting between Wright and Contras - When the Contra leaders meet with Wright, the speaker has already informed the CIA that its agents who were fomenting civil unrest and provoking the Sandinistas were violating the law. He tells the Contras that they can no longer expect CIA agitators to work on their behalf. When news of the meeting gets back to Cheney and Abrams, they are, in Wright’s recollection, “furious.”
Washington Times Claims Wright Leaked Classified Information - The State Department steers the angry Contra delegation to the offices of the right-wing Washington Times, where they tell the editorial staff what Wright had told them—that the CIA is illegally provoking unrest in Nicaragua. A week later, Wright is floored when a Times reporter confronts him with accusations that he has leaked classified CIA information to foreign nationals.
Security Breach Allegation - Wright’s defense—he had told the Contras nothing they didn’t already know—does not placate Cheney, who immediately calls for a thorough investigation of Wright’s “security breach.” Speaking as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Cheney says Wright has raised serious “institutional questions that go to the integrity of the House, to the integrity of the oversight process in the area of intelligence, and to the operation of the Intelligence Committee.”
Set-Up - An investigative reporter from Newsday, Roy Gutman, learns from State Department sources that Wright had been set up by Cheney and Abrams. State Department officials sent the Contras to the Washington Times with specific instructions to leak the CIA content of their discussion with Wright to the editors. But Gutman’s discovery has little impact on the situation.
Ethics Complaint - Cheney, with House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IL), files a complaint with the House Ethics Committee and demands an investigation by the Intelligence Committee, claiming Wright has compromised US intelligence operations in Central America. Throughout the process, neither Michel nor Cheney give Wright any warning of the complaints before they are filed.
Pressure from Cheney - Looking back, Wright will be more disturbed by Michel’s actions than by Cheney’s. He considered Michel a friend, and was amazed that Michel went along with Cheney in blindsiding him. Michel will later apologize to Wright, and say that Cheney had pressured him so much that he went along with Cheney in filing the ethics complaint without telling Wright. One aspect that Michel does not explain is why, as House minority leader, he would put the stamp of approval of the House leadership on the complaint, raising it to a much higher level than a complaint from a rank-and-file representative like Cheney. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 60-62]
Entity Tags: Washington Times, Roy Gutman, US Department of State, Robert Michel, Elliott Abrams, House Ethics Committee, House Intelligence Committee, Contras, Colin Powell, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Ronald Reagan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr.
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
The US grants 65 licenses for dual-use technology exports for Iraq. On average, the US is now granting 260 such licenses per year, more than double the rate of licenses granted between January and August 1988. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 38]
Veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson arrives in Baghdad to assume the post of Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) under US Ambassador April Glaspie. Wilson has extensive experience throughout sub-Saharan and Central Africa, as well as brief stints on the staffs of Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and Representative Tom Foley (D-WA). Wilson will later write that he and his colleagues share the belief that Iraq is ruled by “a shockingly brutal regime… an ugly totalitarian dictatorship” and its leader, Saddam Hussein, a “sociopath.” For the next three years, Wilson and his colleagues will send harsh reports of Hussein’s systematic violations of the human rights of his subjects to Washington.
Walking a Fine Line between Isolation and Appeasement - Still, most of the embassy staff, including Wilson and Glaspie, are not advocates of totally isolating Hussein with extreme economic and diplomatic sanctions. Wilson will write, “Isolating a regime often results in isolating ourselves, and we then lose any leverage we might have to influence outcomes. On the other hand, when dictators are treated like any other leaders, it’s often interpreted by them as a free pass to continue in their autocratic ways, while critics label it as appeasement.… The merits of ideologically driven diplomacy versus a more pragmatic approach have been a recurring theme of foreign policy debates throughout the history of international relations and America’s own domestic policies.”
'Tread Lightly' - Wilson will note that “Iraq’s Arab neighbors unanimously urged us to tread lightly. They argued that after almost a decade of a grinding war with Iran, Saddam had learned his lesson and that his natural radicalism would now be tempered by the harsh experience.… [I]t was better to tie him to relationships that would be hard for him to jettison than to leave him free to make trouble with no encumbrances. Engaging with him at least kept him in our sights.” Iraq had behaved monstrously during its war with Iran, and had offended the world with its chemical attacks on its own citizens (see August 25, 1988) and its Iranian enemies (see October 1988). But it had emerged from the war as a powerful regional player both militarily and economically. The Bush administration is torn between trying to moderate Hussein’s behavior and treating him as an incorrigible, irredeemable enemy of civilization. And Washington wants Iraq as a balancing force against Iran, which is awash in virulently anti-American sentiment (a sentiment returned in full by many American lawmakers and government officials). No other country in the Gulf region will tolerate the presence of US forces as a counterbalance to Iran. So, as Wilson will write, “All of Iraq’s neighbors continued to argue for a softer approach; and since they clearly had at least as much at stake as we did, the Bush administration was willing to follow their lead.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 78-79, 451]
In a memo regarding the issue of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy writes, “The US-Iraqi relationship
is… important to our long term political and economic objectives. We believe that economic sanctions will be useless or counterproductive to influence the Iraqis.” [Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
The US Senate unanimously passes the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, which makes Iraq ineligible to receive US loans, military and non-military assistance, credits, credit guarantees and items subject to export controls. It also makes it illegal for the US to import Iraqi oil. [US Congress, 9/8/1988; Jentleson, 1994, pp. 78] Immediately after the bill is passed by the Senate, the Reagan administration launches a campaign to prevents its passage in the House. With the help of its allies in the House, the administration succeeds in killing the bill on the last day of the legislative session. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 78; New York Times, 2/13/2003]
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms reports that between 1984 and 1988 “Iraq repeatedly and effectively used poison gas on Iran.” [US Congress, 10/1988]
Yugoslavia’s National Assembly passes amendments allowing Serbia to change its constitution. The changes are based on an endorsement by Serbia’s Assembly of a working group report that found the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution was unconstitutional in allowing the socialist autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina to block amendments to the Serb constitution and that the 1974 constitution was a violation of the Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia’s plan to form a Yugoslavia with six equal republics after World War II. Under the new constitution, Serbian laws have precedence over provincial laws; Serbia controls judicial appointments and firings; provincial economic and educational policies are coordinated with Serbia; and the provinces lose their diplomatic role, their military power, and much of their police power. The amendments to Serbia’s constitution violate the 1974 constitution, which will remain the law of the land until 1992. [Kola, 2003, pp. 178, 183]
Dow Chemical sells $1.5 million of pesticides to Iraq. An Export-Import Bank official says in a memorandum that he can find “no reason” to prevent the sale. Pesticide components can be used to make chemical weapons. [Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
The US learns that the Iraqi research center, Saad 16, is involved in the development of chemical and nuclear weapons. Three years earlier it had been discovered that the facility was developing ballistic missiles (see November 1986). The Commerce Department will continue to ship advanced technology products to the center. [US Congress, 7/2/1991]
Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) publishes an essay for the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), apparently written either by his Iran-Contra commission colleague Michael Malbin or by Cheney and Malbin together, but printed under Cheney’s name. The essay is titled “Congressional Overreaching in Foreign Policy,” and covers what he terms “congressional aggrandizement” of presidential powers.
Congress Has No Place in Determining, Implementing US Foreign Policy - Cheney’s essay bluntly states his belief that Congress has no business interfering in the president’s power to determine and implement the nation’s foreign policy; in general, the essay indicates Cheney’s disdain for the legislative branch of which he has been a member. He writes, in part: “Broadly speaking, the Congress was intended to be a collective, deliberative body. When working at its best, it would slow down decisions, improve their substantive content, subject them to compromise, and help build a consensus behind general rules before they were to be applied to the citizenry. The presidency, in contrast, was designed as a one-person office to ensure that it would be ready for action. Its major characteristics… were to be ‘decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch.‘… [T]he legislative branch is ill equipped to handle many of the foreign policy tasks it has been taking upon itself lately.” He writes that while Congress may take upon itself powers to launch military actions or respond to an attack, it is by nature so slow and deliberative, and its members so focused on getting reelected, that it cannot adequately wield those powers: “[T]he real world effect often turns out… not to be a transfer of power from the president to Congress, but a denial of power to the government as a whole.” The only power Congress should have in involving itself in foreign policy, Cheney argues, is whether or not to fund presidential initiatives. “[T]he nation should not be paralyzed by Congress’s indecision,” he writes. [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 59-61]
Cheney Selected as Secretary of Defense - Shortly after the essay is published, President George H.W. Bush names Cheney as his secretary of defense. Cheney was scheduled to give a talk based on the essay at AEI, but cancels it and goes to Washington to begin preparing for confirmation hearings in the Senate. Reporter Charlie Savage will note that the essay may have caused Cheney some difficulties in his confirmation hearings had it had a larger audience. [Savage, 2007, pp. 61]
Former White House Counsel: Cheney's Proposals Unconstitutional, Unwise - In 2007, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write of the essay: “Cheney seems to be oblivious to the fact that the type of government he advocates is not, in fact, the government our Constitution provides.… His argument also assumes that a more agile, energetic, and fast-acting chief executive is the better system, but history does not support that contention. Presidential leadership has consistently shown itself less wise and less prudent than the slower but more deliberative nature of the system that we have. It was Congress that forced presidents out of no-win wars like Vietnam. The reason the nation’s Founders empowered Congress was because they wisely realized that a president—like heads of governments throughout history—was prone to fighting wars for his own glory, without seeming able to easily bring those wars to an end.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 88-89]
Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-TX) states that in spite of the CIA and the Bush administration’s knowledge that Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization (MIMI) was “involved in Iraq’s clandestine nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and missile programs… the Bush administration [approved] dozens of export licenses that [allowed] United States and foreign firms to ship sophisticated US dual-use equipment to MIMI-controlled weapons factories.” [US Congress, 8/10/1992]
One of George H. W. Bush’s first foreign policy initiatives as president is to increase military and economic aid to Iraq. While a full explanation of this policy decision has never been provided, senior Bush officials will say in 1992 that the reason is, in part, to win back some of the trust between the US and Saddam Hussein that was lost over the US’s arms sales to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War (see January 17, 1986). One official will say, “We had to work doubly hard to recoup the stature we lost with Saddam.” Bush continues his aid to Iraq in the face of several governmental departments’ reports that Iraq is embarking on a massive military buildup, including developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, is guilty of massive human rights violations against Iraqis, and is beginning to allow terrorists to operate from within the country (see March 1989). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Erwin Griswold. [Source: US Department of Justice]Former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, who represented the United States before the Supreme Court in the landmark Pentagon Papers case in 1971 (see March 1971 and June 30, 1971), now writes that he saw nothing in those documents that threatened national security. In 1971, without ever actually reading the documents, Griswold argued that their publication constituted a “grave and immediate danger to the security of the United States.” Griswold writes in a Washington Post op-ed that he relied on the judgment of “three high officials, one each from the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Security Agency” to explain to him why the documents posed such a threat. (In 2006, then-White House counsel John Dean will write that Griswold “did not insist on knowing what was actually contained in the Pentagon Papers, and he never found out, even as he insisted on the importance of their continued secrecy.”) In 1971, Griswold told the Court: “I haven’t the slightest doubt myself that the material which has already been published and the publication of the other materials affects American lives and is a thoroughly serious matter. I think to say that it can only be enjoined if there will be a war tomorrow morning, when there is a war now going on, is much too narrow.” Griswold now writes: “I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication [of the documents]. Indeed, I have never seen it even suggested that there was such an actual threat.… It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but rather with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another.” [Washington Post, 2/15/1989; FindLaw, 6/16/2006; Siegel, 2008, pp. 200]
Although the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989), the CIA continues to support the mujaheddin because the Soviet-allied Communist government stays in power in Kabul. Apparently, the CIA and the Saudi government continue to fund the mujaheddin at least until December 1990, although it could be longer because the Communist government remains in power in Kabul until 1992. The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, reportedly has been working with the CIA in the 1980s to help unite the mujaheddin factions fighting each other (see Late 1980s). The Village Voice will later report that according to a “very high-ranking Egyptian official,” Abdul-Rahman continues to work with the CIA after moving to Brooklyn in July 1990 (see July 1990). He “work[s] closely with the CIA, helping to channel a steady flow of money, men, and guns to mujaheddin bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But despite working with the CIA, Abdul-Rahman still considers the US the “Great Satan” and does not try to hide this. In one radio broadcast, he says that “Americans are descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communism, and colonialism.” Matti Steinberg, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism, says that Abdul-Rahman’s “long-term goal is to weaken US society and to show Arab rulers that the US is not an invulnerable superpower.” The Egyptian official will later complain, “We begged America not to coddle the sheikh.” [Village Voice, 3/30/1993]
Iraq continues to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon as a method of seeking revenge against Syria for refusing to support Iraq in its war with Iran. Syria is in the process of seizing control of Lebanon and imposing military force to quell the fighting between the warring Lebanese factions, and Iraq has tried numerous times to interfere with Syria’s activities in Lebanon. Iraq earns the ire of the US when it tries to ship surface-to-surface missiles into Beirut through the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Such missiles deployed in an urban environment such as Beirut would drastically increase the level of violence throughout Lebanon. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, meets with Iraqi officials daily in the US’s attempt to dissuade the Iraqis from arming Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun and his Maronite Christian faction, in Aoun’s losing struggle against Syria. Glaspie points out that Aoun is a friend of Israel, and by arming Aoun, Iraq is placing itself in a tacit alliance with Israel. Joseph Wilson, Glaspie’s deputy, will later write, “For the Iraqis, of course, it had nothing to do with Israel, or Aoun’s position in Lebanon; it had everything to do with giving Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad a bloody nose and using Beirut as the cudgel with which to bash him. For the Iraqis, the road from Baghdad to Damascus went through Beirut.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 88-89]
CIA director William Webster acknowledges to Congress that Iraq is the largest producer of chemical weapons in the world. [US Congress, 3/1989]
State Department officials warn Secretary of State James Baker that Iraq is building chemical and biological weapons, and they detail a compendium of horrendous human rights violations carried out by the regime of Saddam Hussein against his own citizens (see August 25, 1988). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Secretary of State James Baker tells President Bush that Israel has to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two weeks later, Baker urges Israel to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel must, he says, “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of the greater Israel.” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the right-wing leader of the Likud Party, is furious (see April 6, 1989). [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]
Deputy Secretary of State Designate Lawrence Eagleburger is called to testify in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Yugoslav situation. He tells the senators that Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic’s actions are “very harmful,” creating “the worst [conditions] with regard to the national question since the end of the war,” and says that ethnic Albanians are the victims and the US should speak out. He also says Yugoslavia is “used to reacting adversely to any outside intereference.” [Kola, 2003, pp. 184]
Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. [US Department of Defense, 11/24/2005] Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 87-95]
Entity Tags: Lester Aspin, George Herbert Walker Bush, David S. Addington, Dan Quayle, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Tower, Newt Gingrich, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mickey Edwards, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military
Kosovo’s Assembly, in a highly irregular vote on March 23, approves the new Serbian constitution, already approved by the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on February 3. The Kosovo vote does not meet the three-fourths majority necessary for amendments and is not held with a quorum, people from Belgrade and security personnel vote, and the votes are not actually counted. Assembly members are threatened if they vote no. The vote occurs under “a state of exception,” with disorder in the province and mobilization of the military.
Kosovo's Position under the New Serbian Constitution - Under the new Serbian constitution, the province is again called Kosovo and Metohija, and the autonomous provinces are defined as “a form of territorial autonomy,” regulated by the Serbian constitution. The 1968, 1971, and 1974 constitutional changes opposed by Serbs are nullified and Kosovo is in about the same position as it was under the 1945 and 1963 Yugoslav constitutions. The province loses its Executive Council and Assembly, and autonomy in police, courts, finance, and planning. Kosovo can pass statutes with the approval of Serbia’s Assembly.
Kosovar Demonstrations - Following the vote, hundreds of thousands protest, saying, “Long live the 1974 Constitution!” and “Tito-Party!” resulting in the declaration of martial law. Twenty-four civilians and two police are killed, but Paulin Kola will later put the number at over 100 killed and hundreds injured, while Miranda Vickers will say 28 are killed. Kola will refer to The Times’s March 31 issue, saying 12 police are critically injured and 112 less seriously injured on March 23; Radio Ljubljana says 140 Albanians are killed and 370 wounded through April; Albanian academic Rexhep Qosja will say in 1995 that 37 are killed, hundreds injured, and 245 intellectuals and 13 leaders arrested; The Times of June 2 says 900 are arrested, and on April 22 the Union of Kossovars writes to UN Secretary General Javier Peres de Cuellar, saying over 1,000 were killed and thousands hurt. More than 1,000 are tried in Ferizaj, according to a 1998 book by Noel Malcolm. Kosovo is again placed under a state of emergency. Workers who do not work are fired or arrested.
Slovenian Reaction - About 450,000 Slovenians sign a petition supporting their government’s views and opposing the crackdown in Kosovo.
Serbian Reaction - Hearing of the Slovenian petition, over 100,000 demonstrate the following day around Serbia, Vojvodina, Skopje, and Titograd.
Albania's Reaction - Albania’s relations with Yugoslavia had been deepening in the late 1980s, but Albania reacts more strongly to the March events. Foto Cami condemns Yugoslavia’s “erroneous policies” on the ethnic Albanians and says it will damage regional cooperation. Protests follow throughout Albania. Yugoslavia blames Albania for the violence in Kosovo. Ramiz Alia, now general secretary of the PLA, will say at a Political Bureau session in August 1990 that Western governments told Kosovar Albanians that to solve the problems in Kosovo, Albania had to change its government.
Soviet Reaction - Soviet media support the Serbs and refer to violence by Albanian nationalists, while saying that the majority in Kosovo and Vojvodina support the new Serbian constitution.
Western European Reactions - The UK says nothing. Although Yugoslavia’s Foreign Minister, Budimir Loncar, meets with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in April, the contents of their talks are unknown to the public. Three years in the future a high-ranking official in Germany will regret this inaction.
American Reaction to the Turmoil in Kosovo - On March 9, three US senators proposed Senate Concurrent Resolution 20—Relating to the Conditions of Ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia, which was passed prior to March 23. US policy supports Kosova’s position under the 1974 Constitution and the resolution asked President George H. W. Bush to reiterate this to the Yugoslav leadership. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a hearing on March 15. [Vickers, 1998, pp. 234-238; Kola, 2003, pp. 180-184, 190]
Entity Tags: Yugoslavia, United States of America, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Foto Cami, Germany, Javier Peres de Cuellar, Budimir Loncar, Josip Broz Tito, Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, Albania, 1945 Yugoslav Constitution, 1963 Yugoslav Constitution, 1974 Yugoslav Constitution, Assembly of the Province of Kosovo, United Kingdom, London Times, Miranda Vickers, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Senate, Union of Kossovars, Margaret Thatcher, Rexhep Qosja, Radio Ljubljana, Ramiz Alia, Noel Malcolm, Paulin Kola, Party of Labor of Albania
Timeline Tags: Kosovar Albanian Struggle
Secretary of State James Baker receives a memo from the State Department informing him that Iraq is aggressively developing chemical and biological weapons, as well as new missiles. In spite of this disturbing intelligence, the memo also instructs Baker to express the administration’s “interest in broadening US-Iraqi ties” to Iraqi Undersecretary Kizam Hamdoon. [US Department of State, 3/24/1989]
When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Foer, US Department of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir tells an audience at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute that he would refuse to comply with the Bush administration’s request to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Trading land for peace—i.e. returning the Palestinian lands Israel conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War in return for political recognition and a promise of peace—“is a deception,” Shamir says. “If we leave, there will almost certainly be war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).
President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker decide that the US will cut off foreign aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program. Pakistan was a major recipient of foreign aid during the Soviet Afghan war, when the US channeled support to the mujaheddin through it, but Soviet forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in February (see February 15, 1989). It is decided that aid will be provided for 1989, but not for 1990 (see October 1990). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
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