The Attorney General's Lawyer: Inside the Meese Justice Department

By Douglas W. Kmiec | Go to book overview
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Freedom: Iran-Contra and the Criminalization of the Separation of Powers

So much has been written about Iran-Contra, it is hard to justify even a single word more. Ronald Reagan viewed the support of the contras, whom he called the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters, as important to the nation's security in this hemisphere. It is fair to say that many Americans viewed neither the contras, nor their Soviet and Cuban-backed antagonists, the Sandinistas, as a matter for serious concern. At heart, Americans are isolationist, not imperial. We expect others around the world to treat us in the same "hands off" manner. Live and let live.

This "live and let live" credo was challenged, however, in an odd confluence of ways in the 1980s. First, American hostages were taken in Iran in late 1979 in the last year of the Carter presidency. After a prolonged period, these hostages were released, but more were taken in seven separate incidents in 1984 and 1985. One of those taken, and later killed, was William Buckley, CIA station chief in Beirut. Americans respond when provoked, but this type of terrorist provocation was difficult to grapple with. No national soil or interest could be identified and reclaimed. The whereabouts of the hostages was unknown, and even the aggressors were shadowy, distant figures. While it was generally thought that the Americans were being held by a Shiite terrorist group, the Hezbollah, no one really fully knew what they wanted. Like random violence on the streets of Washington, D.C., few foreign policy experts, let alone the average American, could understand the deep instability in Iran. For the previous quarter century, until the death of the Shah, Iran had been the steadfast ally of the United States.

Because of its geographic position in the Middle East, American military analysts stressed the strategic importance of Iran. Suspicious that


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The Attorney General's Lawyer: Inside the Meese Justice Department


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