Saving the Reagan Presidency: Trust Is the Coin of the Realm

Saving the Reagan Presidency: Trust Is the Coin of the Realm

Saving the Reagan Presidency: Trust Is the Coin of the Realm

Saving the Reagan Presidency: Trust Is the Coin of the Realm


"... required reading for all presidents and White House aides to come... "-from the foreword by Richard E. Neustadt

What did the president know, and when did he know it? Once again, only a dozen years after Watergate, the nation faced these troubling questions. Would we see another president forced to resign or be impeached? Could our democracy survive another presidential scandal so soon? As the Iran-Contra affair unfolded, the nation waited tensely for answers.

At this crucial moment, advisors to President Ronald Reagan called home the Ambassador to NATO, David Abshire, to serve in the cabinet as Special Counselor. His charge: to assure that a full investigation of the sale of arms to Iran in exchange for freeing American hostages and the subsequent channeling of those funds to Nicaraguan rebels be conducted expeditiously and transparently, to restore the confidence of the nation in the shaken Reagan presidency.

Two decades later, David Abshire for the first time reveals the full behind-the-scenes story of his private meetings with the president, how he and his team conducted this crucial process, his alliance with Nancy Reagan, the role of the Tower Board, and how the Reagan presidency was saved. Abshire's efforts helped Reagan fill the credibility gap created by revelation of the Iran-Contra scandal and thus restored the president's power to lead the nation and its allies toward the end of the Cold War. His unique recollections show the inner workings of the Reagan White House in this critical period: the conflicts with the powerful Chief of Staff Donald Regan, the politically astute First Lady, the involvement of CIA Director William Casey, and Reagan's triumph of personal character to overcome his indiscretion, a feat unmatched by Clinton or Nixon. Abshire's story casts new light on the episode and draws important lessons about how presidents should respond to unfolding scandals to limit the threat not only to their own reputations but also to national confidence in democratic institutions.


As president of the United States, Ronald Reagan is likely to be well remembered by historians for at least two successes. One of those is tugging his country in a conservative direction. This he achieved initially by rhetoric and tax cuts, then by tolerating substantial federal deficits, which had the effect of limiting congressional appetites for costly social welfare measures. That cause-and-effect relationship Reagan discovered pragmatically. the discovery was not lost on his party and has been applied again, it seems, by his current successor, George W. Bush. the other thing historians are almost sure to recall is Reagan’s set of measures in defense and diplomacy that contributed to the retrenchment and then collapse of the Soviet Union, hence to the end of the Cold War in 1989, after more than forty years. the Soviets’ belief in American technological prowess (which Reagan brandished, without convincing much of his own side) seems to have been a key factor in causing Moscow to quit.

Reagan is likely to be remembered also for one extraordinary failure in the conduct of foreign relations, the so-called Iran-contra affair of 1985–1986. This caused a public uproar at the time, and, while it left few traces in diplomacy, its impact in America ensured that it has been extensively researched and discussed in both scholarly and popular publications.

Up to now, however, what has not been described or discussed in any depth is Reagan’s remarkable recovery from that misadventure, filling the credibility gap that its discovery imposed upon him and thus freeing him to pursue with Soviet leaders, notably President Gorbachev, the détente facilitating their climb-down from the Cold War.

Reagan’s recovery is no less important a piece of presidential history than was Iran-contra itself, so a detailed exposition of it has been troubling by its absence from the literature and also from our understanding of what presidents can do to help themselves conduct their office successfully. For Reagan succeeded precisely where . . .

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