He blames the press and worries about the fate of the hostages.
In the years following the Lebanese Civil War, the systematic hostage taking of foreigners became an all too common event in Lebanon. It was under the shadow of these events that the largest U.S. political scandal of the 1980s, the Iran-Contra Affair, occurred. In the mid-1980s, a civil war raged in Nicaragua,...
In the years following the Lebanese Civil War, the systematic hostage taking of foreigners became an all too common event in Lebanon. It was under the shadow of these events that the largest U.S. political scandal of the 1980s, the Iran-Contra Affair, occurred. In the mid-1980s, a civil war raged in Nicaragua, pitting the left-wing Sandinista elected government against the CIA-financed Contra rebel groups. After the CIA carried out a series of acts of sabotage without Congressional intelligence committees being made aware beforehand, Congress passed a law cutting off funding for the Contras. Many in the Reagan administration deemed this unacceptable, and they sought a way to funnel arms to the Contras regardless. At this time, Iran was in a war against Iraq, and needed arms. However, the U.S. had no relations with Iran, and because it was considered a state sponsor of terrorism, arms sales by the U.S. to Iran were embargoed.
The scandal began as an operation to free seven American hostages being held by the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, a group in Lebanon with Iranian ties. A scheme was developed whereby the United States would secretly facilitate the sale of arms to Iran, which in turn would secure the release of the hostages in Lebanon. As for the mechanics, It was planned that Israel would secretly ship weapons to Iran, and then the U.S. would resupply Israel and receive the Israeli payment. The proceeds from the arms sale would then be secretly used to fund the Contras. This was essentially an arms-for-hostages swap, and unlawful under two Congressional mandates.
In November 1986, a Lebanese magazine exposed the arrangement, which inspired a public outcry and quickly became the focus of a highly publicized governmental investigation. Pres. Reagan appointed a body (the Tower Commission) to look into the matter, and in December he himself appeared before the commission to testify about whether he was involved. He was put on the hot seat when asked if he knew about selling arms to Iran, first saying that he had known, then appearing to contradict himself by stating that he had no recollection of knowing. On February 26, 1987, the Tower Commission issued a report, in which it determined that President Reagan may not have had knowledge of the extent of the program, especially about the diversion of funds to the Contras, but heavily criticized the President for not properly supervising his subordinates or being aware of their actions. On March 4, Reagan spoke to the American people expressing his regret, and saying on the one hand that he took responsibility and on the other that he had not been aware of the scheme. To this day, it is uncertain the extent to which Reagan may or may not have known of the operation. The Iran-Contra affair was, however, the low point of his administration. Regardless of the legal/moral implications of Iran-Contra, the plan proved a failure; only three hostages were released as a result of the arms transactions before the arrangement became world news and had to be ended.
In the wake of his speech, Reagan was still unsettled by the criticism, was grateful for a show of support, and apparently resented that the story had become public knowledge in the first place. Typed letter signed as President, on White House letterhead, Washington, March 23, 1987, to J.F. Fowls of Port Washington, New York, lamenting that the Iran Contra story has gotten out to the public. "Thank you very much for your letter and your generous words. It was kind of you to write as you did and I'm most grateful. You are right that it was unfortunate that the story broke in the press. That dashed any hope of getting additional hostages released. The leak came from an Iranian official hostile to those we were dealing with and by way of a radical weekly paper in Beirut. I urged our press to hold off because of possible danger to the people we were dealing with, but they pressed ahead. There has been no word from some of those I mentioned and I fear the worst. Again, my heartfelt thanks to you." This letter appears in the book "Reagan: A Life in Letters."
Authentically signed letters of Reagan as President are quite uncommon. This one, expressing what is clearly a very personal opinion about the greatest crisis he faced in office, is one of the best political letters of his we have seen.
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