Twenty Years, Two Thousand Days

In an Opinion section article (“Smells like Iran-Contra, only 20 years later”) that, inexplicably, isn’t online as of Sunday, Oregonian managing editor Stephen Engelberg marks the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s admission of responsibility for the Iran-contra scandal.

Engelberg covered Iran-contra for the New York Times, and lays out the story succinctly, drawing parallels between National Security Council staffer Oliver North’s operation that sold arms to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran in secret to free American hostages in Lebanon. After receiving a report from a special review board headed by former Sen. John Tower and including former Sec. of State Edmund Muskie and ex-national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, Reagan said in his televised address:

I undertook the original Iran initiative in order to develop relations with those who might assume leadership in a post-Khomeini government. It’s clear from the Board’s report, however, that I let my personal concern for the hostages spill over into the geo-political strategy of reaching out to Iran. I asked so many questions about the hostages’ welfare that I didn’t ask enough about the specifics of the total Iran plan.

Those specifics included enormous markups, some of which went to to Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer with ties to North and Michael Ledeen, one of the architects of the current war in Iraq. Other profits went to another pet project of Reagan’s, which had been specifically banned by an amendment he, himself, had signed: the funding of the contras, who were fighting the Communist government of Nicaragua.

Engelberg notes: “The Iranians, who had ties to the Lebanese groups, astutely played the Americans, arranging the release of only one hostage for each shipment of weapons they bought.” And what did they buy? One month it was 1,000 BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles. One month. Back in November of 1986, Reagan had claimed that all of the weapons sold “could easily fit into a single cargo plane.”

In one of those odd coincidences of historical numerology, today is also the 2,000th day of The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism War on Terror that began with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. In one dozen days, the war in Iraq will have lasted as long as the American Civil War.