The Iran Contra Scandal still remains one of the dark episodes of the Ronald Reagan Administration that spanned two Presidential terms between 1980 and 1988. Toward the end of 1986, the biggest political and constitutional scandal since Richard Nixon’s implication in the Watergate scandal unraveled in the United States. To the astonishment of the gathered press corps Ronald Reagan admitted that money earned from covert arms deals with the Islamic Republic of Iran had been used to provide weapons for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua who were essentially agents of Washington. The scandal set off many theories and speculations as to the motives, modus operandi and the legitimacy of such a transaction. It is in this context that this essay compares and contrasts the two different accounts of the event written by Tim Weiner and Christopher, with other secondary sources being perused for determining the credibility of the accounts.
At the outset, it has to be mentioned that Christopher Andrew’s version of the Iran Contra Affair is more extensively researched and documented in detail when compared to Tim Weiner’s. The two striking aspects of Andrew’s text are its portrayals of President Reagan as a weak and confused Commander-in-Chief and the implicating tone with which he describes the hand of National Security Council staffer, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North, who according to Andrew “was working on a plan to divert profits from arms sales to Iran to the Contras,” (Andrew, 482). In the text, we find a whole array of allegations directed at Oliver North including perjury charges, manipulating with documentary evidence and his refusal to obey orders from higher authorities. While not absolving Reagan of his executive deviances in the affair, the reader gets the impression that North has been unfairly condemned by the author. Tim Weiner, on the other hand, centers his attention on the role of the CIA and its intelligence officers for the scandal. Weiner seems to suggest that the White House attempted, by applying political pressure, to attribute major responsibilities for the Iran Contra affair on the CIA (Weiner, 478). The Reagan Administration team also distanced itself from the CIA and its head Robert Casey, claiming that the agency had overstepped its authority. In essence, the Weiner account connects the CIA to the Iran Contra Affair, while the Christopher Andrew account seems to suggest that the CIA had an insignificant role to play. Based on other scholarly sources, we can ascertain which of the versions is closer to the truth. In his scholarly work ‘What Uncle Sam Really Wants?’ Professor Noam Chomsky analyzes some of the foreign policy initiatives under the Ronald Reagan Administration, including the Iran Contra Affair. His understanding of the scandal, based on the following passage taken from the book, is consistent with Tim Weiner’s implication of the CIA:
“A moment came when it was just impossible to suppress it any longer. When Hasenfus was shot down in Nicaragua while flying arms to the contras for the CIA, and the Lebanese press reported that the US National Security Adviser was handing out Bibles and chocolate cakes in Teheran, the story just couldn’t be kept under wraps. After that, the connection between the two well-known stories emerged” (Chomsky, 1992).
The other area of disagreement between the two authors is pertaining to strategic considerations for the United States at the time of the scandal. Christopher Andrew’s version tries to explain the actions of the U.S. government from the stand point of the perceived threat posed by the spread of communist ideology in Latin America. Without mincing words, Andrew points out that “By December 1985 North was working on a plan to divert profits from the arms sales to Iran to the Contras”. He further talks about how Reagan was in privy of this decision right through the episode. In other words, “…led Regan to approve covert operations not by the professionals of the CIA, but by the amateurs of the NSC…” The important word in the above quote is ‘approve’, a clear indicator of the President’s culpability for the scandal. Weiner’s version, on the other hand, centers on the importance of Middle Eastern region for the grand imperial plans of the United States. He also underplays the communist threat in Latin America. Again, secondary references on the topic seem to suggest that the Reagan Administration was too preoccupied with their strategic and material interests in the Middle East to pay attention to the ideological developments to the South. Hence, Christopher Andrew’s mention of radical South American politics being one of the instigators of the Iran Contra affair does not sound persuasive. The following passage from the book ‘Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up’, written by L.E. Walsh in 1997 supports Weiner’s view of events: