The More Things Change
by dj moonbat
Steve's recent entry detailing recent off-the-books meetings betwen Rumsfeld's posse and an expatriate Iranian arms merchant named Manucher Ghorbanifar really sparked an intense personal reaction for me. So when Steve asked whether I had a moment to expand on my original comment, I interrupted my Left Coaster hiatus despite a critical lack of free time.
The Iran-Contra scandal marks the moment when, as a sixteen-year-old, I lost all faith in the American people. I know it's fashionable these days to decry the So-Called-Liberal-Media™, and many lefties think that if the media leveled with the public, these bastards in the Bush administration would pay dearly for their sins. But I distinctly remember the media following huge numbers of incriminating leads during that whole scandal--and not only did the public at large not howl with outrage, they decided that Oliver North was a hero for having the courage to lie to Congress and destroy evidence of multiple crimes.
Ollie North ascended to iconic status among the nation's wingnuts (he worked his way up through the talk-radio ranks to his current gig with Fox News), and nobody else among the Iran-Contra rogues' gallery suffered much, either. Indeed, many of the names involved in the scandal should sound eerily familiar to anyone who follows the news these days.
Most famously, of course, Admiral John Poindexter got busted for his role in the destruction of evidence, and for lying to Congress. But he was ultimately turned loose on appeal, because Congress had given him immunity in order to secure his testimony (oops). Many of us would assume that a conviction--even one that was overturned on a technicality--would blemish one's resume such that future high-level public service was out of the question. Hah! Think again. Poindexter became the director of DARPA's Information Awareness Office, spearheading a plan to data-mine everything about everybody--supposedly to unearth terrorist plots amid a sea of receipts. This Orwellian task was progressing just fine through the government procurement process, until Poindexter finally did something that was just flat-out silly: creating a "futures market" in terrorism with the goal of predicting future attacks. Finally, somebody involved in the Iran-Contra scandal did something that seems to have gotten him permanently fired.
Elliot Abrams worked the Latin-American end of the Iran-Contra transaction at the time. After Bush 41 pardoned Abrams, he didn't resurface in government for a while, but now he's working the Middle East end of things; he's the NSC's Senior Director for Middle East Policy Initiatives.
Colin Powell played a little-known role in the Iran-Contra transaction as well. He was Caspar Weinberger's liaison to the project, and he was responsible for circumventing the usual procurement process, freeing up the TOW missiles for shipment through Israel(!) to Iran.
Donald Rumsfeld was out of government at the time, so he didn't have the opportunity to participate in the arms-for-hostages deal, but most of you are probably aware that Reagan sent Rumsfeld as an emissary to Saddam Hussein during the early 80s as part of the Reagan administration's multi-front efforts to damage the Iranian regime.
Last, but by no means least, Dick Cheney, in his role as head of the committee investigating the scandal, played a critical role in suppressing details from the investigation, including the all-important testimony of George Herbert Walker Bush, then Vice-President. Cheney received his reward after Bush 41 took office, taking over the very Pentagon that Cheney so ably protected. Now, of course, Cheney occupies the very Office of the Vice President that he also ably protected, and scraps to this day to maintain secrecy over the records from the 80s that were due to become public.
While unraveling some of these threads during the course of writing this piece, the thing I find most shocking--aside from the fact that this cabal can maintain continuity in high office, despite obvious misdeeds--is the wide-ranging participation across the hawk/realist divide that we always hear about. Ostensibly, the GOP foreign policy team is divided between the Bakers, Bush 41s, Scowcrofts, and Powells on one side; and the Rumsfelds, Cheneys, and Wolfowitzes on the other.
But it should be clear from the names in this administration, and from their roles in committing or covering up the Iran-Contra crimes, that this supposed divide is little more than a convenient fiction. Colin Powell, supposedly the reluctant warrior, was in the deal up to the eyeballs, and to a lesser extent, so was Richard Armitage. The only thing that separates the hawks from the realists, it appears to me, is their willingness to let their motivations be known.
The original Newsday article, cited in Steve's original post, would have us believe that this division is real, and that it is alive and well--that Powell's people are furious about Rumsfeld and his posse-run-amok privately countervening official policy:
[A senior administration official] confirmed that Secretary of State Colin Powell complained directly to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld several days ago about Feith's policy shop conducting missions that countered U.S. policy.
Doubtless, Powell complained to Rumsfeld about the Ghorbanifar meetings. But given the persistent record of both hawks and realists participating in an unofficial Iran policy that spans two decades, I find it very difficult to believe that Powell's objection constituted anything more than a defensive action in the ongoing Powell/Rumsfeld bureaucratic battles. The kind of behind-the-scenes negotiations that Rumsfeld just got caught having are probably far more widely practiced than the realists would have us believe.