Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What about Bob? Why Iran-Contra isn't Gates' only skeleton

Iran-Contra. Sure...*eyeroll*...bring that up again, GDK. [and again, and again, and again, and again] Yes, I admit: I'm a bit obsessed with all the Iran-Contra cobras that keep slithering back out of their baskets to hold positions of power. Why shouldn't we be worried?

In case you don't know what I'm a-blatherin aboot: Former CIA director Robert Gates has been nominated to replace Donald "stuff happens" Rumsfeld as Sec. Def. Here's what the new Democratic Senate Armed Services Cmte. should ask him at his confirmation hearing:

[A] When did you know that Reagan's National Security Council was working to resupply the Contras [the armed opponents of Nicaragua's leftist Sandanista government--lead by erstwhile & very recently resurrected Daniel Ortega]? Did you know that the source of the money used to supply the Contras was from selling arms to Iran?

[B] About Iran...what can you tell us about your role in manoeuvering to delay the release of the 52 American hostages in 1980, so that Carter wouldn't get any credit before the presidential election? Did the twin headlines, "Reagan inaugurated President" and "Hostages Released" not strain credulity? Let's clarify some foggy memories:
"William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership," the report said. "The meetings took place in Madrid and Paris."
At the Paris meeting in October 1980, "R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter and former CIA Director George Bush also took part," the Russian report said. "In Madrid and Paris, the representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52 hostages from the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran."
Both the Reagan-Bush Republicans and the Carter Democrats "started from the proposition that Imam Khomeini, having announced a policy of 'neither the West nor the East,' and cursing the 'American devil,' imperialism and Zionism, was forced to acquire American weapons, spares and military supplies by any and all possible means," the Russian report said. The Republicans just won the bidding war.
[C] Still with the subject of Iran, but adding a twist of Iraq: What role did you play in arming Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq war? If you agreed with Reagan's policy of supporting Hussein, then why not drum up support from Congress? Why didn't you at least tell them? From the New York Times, Nov 4, 1991 (during the Senate confirmation hearings for Gates as George HW Bush's CIA director):
The hearings left another question dangling: did Mr. Gates play a role in suspected intelligence-sharing and arms transfers with Iraq? The C.I.A., the committee concludes, shared vital intelligence with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and failed to report it to Congressional intelligence committees, as required by law.
How did Gates arm Iraq? This makes my head hurt: think Chile. Then think Egypt. Then think Iran. Then think....uhh...Florida? Ok, nevermind. Just read Robert Parry:
According to a 1995 deposition by Reagan national security aide Howard Teicher, Gates joined in a secret operation in the 1980s to funnel sophisticated military equipment to Iraq via Carlos Cardoen, an arms dealer in Chile with close ties to Gen. Pinochet.
Teicher stated, too, that to help Iraq in its war with Iran, Bush conveyed secret tactical recommendations to Saddam through Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Gates and Bush have denied a secret program to enlist third-country support for arming Iraq in the 1980s, although Reagan-Bush officials acknowledge passing along sensitive battlefield intelligence to help Saddam in his eight-year-long war against Iran.
But Teicher’s affidavit depicted a much more active role in which U.S. officials assured Saddam that he would get the military hardware he needed.
"Under CIA director Casey and deputy director Gates, the CIA authorized, approved and assisted Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq," Teicher wrote in the affidavit submitted as part of an arms-smuggling case in federal court in Florida.
So how much of this will see the light (umm...again?) in the confirmation hearings? One can only hope. Here's how the Dems kicked it back in '91: {an excerpt from former Sen. Bill Bradley's opening statement at that confirmation hearing, September 1991}:
In the mid-80s even as the Iran-Contra operation was playing out, the U.S. tilted more and more forcefully toward Iraq. The following are things that are publicly known: First, the Reagan and Bush Administration approved export licenses for $1.5 billion worth of dual-use items--i.e. items that had a military application such as helicopters (not very much unlike the ones used in the invasion of Kuwait) and equipment that could help the Iraqi nuclear program.
Second, they muffled criticism of Iraqi's gassing of Kurds;
Third, they extended hundreds of millions of dollars in Ex-Im and agricultural loan guarantees; and
Fourth, in 1989, the Bush Administration opposed naming Iraq a terrorist state and when Congress did so anyhow, the President waived it's restrictions on agriculture and Ex-Im credits to Iraq.
In this atmosphere of cozying up to Iraq and remaining fixated by the Soviet specter, Mr. Gates did not refocus sufficient intelligence resources on the emerging Iraqi threat. Specifically, after Iraq routed Iran unexpectedly in 1988, it clearly increased its military advantage over all its neighbors and intensified its pursuit of technology for strategic and nuclear weapons. Notwithstanding these danger signs, Mr. Gates did far too little to ensure that U.S. policy would be well informed of Iraqi strategic activities, including ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
As a result, when Saddam Hussein began making more belligerent and specific threats against Kuwait in 1990, the Administration had no good alternative to the unreliable reassurances of Arab officials whose interests differed from ours. Fortunately, this failure of intelligence was not catastrophic for the U.S., but only because Saddam had provoked the U.S. prematurely, before he had acquired an effective chemical or nuclear deterrent. Enemy stupidity is not a reliable substitute for astute guidance.
Pretty damning, eh? So they prolly didn't confirm him, right? Right? Wrong. Even then they wimped out. Gates won confirmation in 1991 and the public barely batted an eye. In fact, the WaPo wrote a whole piece about how boring Iran-Contra was and how it didn't hold a candle to the glam/sleaze of Watergate...and how the Democrats blew it {Sept 19, 1991}:
We never decided what Iran-contra was, or why it mattered; whether it was a national disgrace, a set of discreet crimes, a policy struggle or a constitutional crisis. "There is no official reality of Iran-contra," in the sardonic words of one Democratic hill aide, "other than, 'the Democrats screwed it up.' "
Above all, the men running the investigation failed to appreciate the importance of creating their own narrative. Sam Dash, former chief counsel to the Senate Watergate committee, commented soon after the Iran-contra hearings closed, "These hearings were predestined to fail -- to provoke no public outrage -- because the hearings had no strategy. They never told a story, never explained to the people what happened."
"It enabled Ollie North to walk away with it, because he had a story -- he had a narrative," says [Sociology Professor, Todd] Gitlin.
and my favourite quote of all:
How poorly Iran-contra stacks up. "I forget who came up with the metaphor, but I've plagiarized it left and right," says Tom Blanton, deputy director of the National Security Archive. "Watergate was the great tragedy. The high and mighty were brought low, and so on; it was Shakespeare. Iran-contra is like Samuel Beckett: Everyone keeps wandering on and off stage, but you don't know what to make of it."
h/t to Radar for the 1991 NYT article and Senate confirmation links.

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