Comparable to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, the Bush-Cheney co-presidents came into office with the agenda of expanding the President’s power beyond the Constitution’s limits. They also came to office and stayed there as a result of two highly suspicious elections. Similarly, Mr. Nixon won reelection in 1972 using his infamous “dirty tricks,” and Mr. Reagan was elected in 1980 under very interesting and suspect circumstances. To understand the renegade regime we now have, it might be helpful to recall the Reagan Era. Like Bush-Cheney, Ronald Reagan was a dedicated neoconservative who surrounded himself with like-thinking Nixonian administrators and advisors.
Reagan’s 1980 campaign staff was absolutely terrified of an “October surprise.” The concept of an “October surprise” comes from Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign of 1972. Nixon wanted to win all 50 states. Because the on-going Vietnam War had cost over 30,000 more American lives since he had been in office, the anti-war movement supported Democrat George McGovern. Conveniently, on October 26 National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger announced a deal with North Vietnam: “Peace is at hand.” Surprise! In November Nixon won 49 states, but South Vietnam rejected the deal to end the war.
Iran had held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran since November 1979. Reagan’s campaign director William Casey, V.P. candidate George H. W. Bush, and the campaign staff realized that the Election of 1980 belonged to Reagan unless Jimmy Carter made a deal to get the hostages released. They publicized that if Carter waited until October to get them freed he would be timing it for purposes of reelection. This was in spite of the fact that Carter was very Truman-like in the sense that he only wanted to do the right thing, not what was politically popular.
Iraq attacked Iran in Sept. 1980; and Iran was already hurting from Carter’s freezing its assets in the U.S. and labeling Iran a terrorist nation, which prevented its receiving previously purchased arms. Nevertheless, Iran shut off all hostage negotiations in October and didn’t resume them until days before Reagan’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981. Because of the difference in daylight hours between here and Iran, Carter didn’t sleep for two days before leaving office. The deal to release the hostages was signed at 6:18 A.M. Carter phoned President-Elect Reagan at 6:35 to tell him the good news, but he was told that Gov. Reagan was asleep and was not to be awakened. Carter appropriately responded, “You’re kidding?” An aide finally persuaded Reagan to get out of bed at 9:00 to get ready for his inauguration at noon. Only then was he told.
Did Reagan already know the hostages were about to be released? Representatives of the Reagan-Bush campaign, including Casey and the senior Bush, were alleged to have met with agents of Iran in Madrid in July and again in Paris in October. Supposedly, they worked out a deal to avoid an “October surprise” and prevented the freeing of the 52 American hostages until after the Election of 1980. Ten to twelve years later, two congressional hearings concluded there was insufficient evidence to pursue the issue of whether the Reagan campaign had interfered with U.S. foreign diplomacy to affect the election’s outcome.
Regardless, the hostages were not released by Iran until several minutes after Reagan was sworn in. Within two months, the Reagan Administration secretly began shipping weapons to Iran through a third party, Israel. This represented a pattern of behavior that led to one of the most serious threats to our constitutional system – the Iran-Contra Affair.
Lt. Col. Oliver North and Maj. Gen. Richard Secord had already worked together. In April 1980, Jimmy Carter approved a helicopter mission to rescue our hostages in Tehran. Secord was the chief mission planner, and North was a top staffer at a key helicopter support base. Two of our helicopters crashed into each other killing eight marines. The mission was a disaster, and Carter’s popularity plummeted.
In the Reagan-Bush Era, Oliver North worked under successive national security advisors Robert McFarlane and Adm. John Poindexter. His job was to coordinate the President’s secret war against Nicaragua, where CIA-supported rebel-terrorists (the contras) were fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government. In 1984, reflecting public opinion, Congress passed the Boland Amendment II preventing any U. S. aid to the contras. Anticipating this act, McFarlane got North to secretly “privatize” U.S. support for the rebel-terrorists. Also, then-CIA Director William Casey reunited North with retired Gen. Richard Secord. They conspired to avoid congressional oversight, which subverted the Constitution. The Congress has “the power of the purse” – it funds the actions of the executive branch. From 1984 until they got caught in late 1986, the Reagan bunch deliberately violated the Constitution’s separation of powers.
Secord, with his business partner Albert Hakim, formed the Enterprise, which was essentially a private corporation and slush fund intended to finance this and future presidential wars without congressional appropriations! It combined the funds raised from governments of other countries (including Taiwan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Panama, and Israel) with funds contributed by wealthy individuals who supported Reagan’s foreign policy. Oliver North’s illegal arms-for-hostages operation provided a diversion of funds to the “Enterprise,” as well as a handsome profit for Secord and Hakim. North sold at least 7 secret shipments of weapons and parts to Iran, which was officially being embargoed for supporting terrorism. In return, Iran was to help in the release of 7 American hostages held in Lebanon – only 3 were released.
The entire impeachable, roguish scheme began to unravel around Election Day, November 1986. The Nicaraguans shot down an “Enterprise” cargo plane and captured Eugene Hasenfus, who implicated the CIA. A Lebanese magazine, “Al-Shiraa,” exposed the arms-for-hostages operation that also used “Enterprise” planes. The Democrats, having lost the Senate in 1980, regained control of both houses of Congress. All of this made it possible to stop the imperial Reagan presidency from continuing to trample on the Constitution. The Iran-Contra illegalities had effectively nullified the separation of powers and our system of checks and balances!
Had the Nixonian Bush-Cheney regime also set up a private corporation to fund its agenda, there’s no telling how many wars we would be involved in! For most of six years, we had a Nixonian/Republican Majority in Congress that turned a blind eye or had been a willing participant in allowing co-emperors George W. Bush and Dick Cheney mislead us into war, engage in torture, operate secret prisons, and approve domestic electronic surveillance without a warrant. In January, snubbing the wishes of the American people and Congress, the diabolical Mr. Bush decided to escalate his war in Iraq by putting 21,500 more American troops in harm’s way. This is not how the system is supposed to work. Hopefully, the new Democratic Majority will provide the oversight needed to preserve the Constitution.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published March, 2007,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.