DARKNESS AT NOON
I agreed to sell TOWs to Iran.
RONALD REAGAN, DIARY ENTRY, JANUARY 17, 19861
THE BITBURG CONTROVERSY WAS barely behind Reagan when he plunged into the clandestine foreign policy initiative that would over- shadow much of his second term and tarnish the credibility he had nurtured and preserved as actor and politician. Operating first in cooperation with the Israelis and then through a covert U.S. initiative managed by Oliver North, the Reagan administration from the late summer of 1985 to mid-autumn of 1986 supplied antitank and antiaircraft weapons to Iran in violation of its proclaimed policy of withholding weapons from nations that sponsored terrorism and of a specific embargo on arms sales to Iran. Reagan sought by his actions to use Iran's influence to free U.S. hostages in Lebanon, the scene of the most costly foreign policy calamity of his first term. The Iranians were overcharged for the weapons they received, and some of the proceeds from the arms sales were diverted to rebel forces in Nicaragua--the contras, or "freedom fighters," as Reagan called them--in defiance of congressional restrictions specifically designed to prevent such assistance. In combination, the Iran initiative and the diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan rebels became known as "the Iran-contra affair." It is to an examination of these events in the Reagan presidency that this chapter and the next are devoted.
When this book was first published in 1991, significant issues raised by the Iran-contra affair remained unresolved. The answer to the key question of whether President Reagan authorized diversion of Iran arms-sales proceeds to the contras was a mystery then and now. Lawrence E. Walsh, appointed as independent counsel by a federal court on December 19, 1986, conducted an extensive criminal investigation without ever determining if Reagan had approved the diversion. By the time Walsh's final report was made public on January 18, 1994, Reagan's successor, George Bush, had