I still remember the video footage taken during the live testimony of Lt. Col. Oliver North (Ret.), as Congress sought to unravel interconnected covert operations that revolved around Iran, Israel and Nicaragua. North appeared on television in full military dress, earing the sympathy and admiration of a large segment of American citizens. There were some who felt he should have been incarcerated and that his actions were a dishonor to the very uniform he had on. Regrettably, his testimony did little to help fully understand what had really taken place. And even my father who follows politics and news religiously did not fully understand what had taken place. What was clear, is that the administration of President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) had engaged in questionable and possibly illegal activities that sent shockwaves of panic through Reagan’s cabinet and raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill. As more information came to light, the media began to call it the Iran-Contra scandal and even today, it is still known by that description. It remains one of the darkest moments of Reagan’s time in office. Author Malcolm Byrne revisits the Iran-Contra scandal to tell the full truth about how and why it developed, and the actions of a president abusing the powers of the Oval Office.
If you have decided to read this book, I am sure that there is a good chance that you are already familiar with the Iran-Contra scandal. But even if you are not, the story will still be of interest and easy to follow. The story begins by revisiting the events of October 5, 1986, when a C-123 plane carrying arms for the contras fighting the Sandinista government is shot down while over Nicaraguan airspace. Several days later, a revelation on Iranian television sent Washington in panic mode. Nearly everyone began to question the actions of Reagan and his cabinet. The full story was carefully hidden from the public through omissions and in some cases, deception. Here we have the whole account and Byrne take us on quite a ride as he peels back the layers of obfuscation employed by key officials close to the President.
Although prior knowledge of the events that gave way to the scandal is not necessary, I do believe that it will help if the reader has some prior knowledge of the political climate of Central America and the Middle East during the time period in which the scandal took place. In fact, the histories of Nicaragua, Honduras, Israel, El Salvador an Iran are all relevant to the information that Byrne is presenting to the reader. The fear of a communist expansion under the thumb of the Soviet Union, continued to shape U.S. foreign policy following World War II. The rise of left-leaning and popular figures across Latin America had caused Washington to pay close attention and subvert several governments through the Central Intelligence Agency. Central America became the next battle ground and as Byrne shows, Reagan intended to pull out all of the stops.
There are many acronyms in the book due to the complexity of Washington’s design with regards to intelligence and foreign policy. Several departments play a role in the story and Byrne keeps track of them all, keeping the story flowing smoothly. Chapters one through twelve alternate between Iran and Nicaragua. It was a good decision by the author, for it allows the reader to focus one part of the story before going to the next and then back again. The two tracks eventually merge but not before Byrne provides a ton of staggering and shocking information. When the tracks do merge, the book takes another turn as Reagan’s cabinet goes into damage control and the full weight of Congress comes down on his administration.
The hearings and testimony are summarized here so readers should not expect full transcripts but only snippets of the most critical statements. In fact, the section regarding the hearings and prosecutions by the Department of Justice do not make up a large portion of the book. The majority is devoted to the developments in Central American and the Middle East. But that in no way diminishes the importance of the later chapters and they are just as surprising as the rest of the book.
One section in the book that caught my attention was the discussion about Reagan’s health. Putting aside the attempted assassination in 1981, there were other health issues that arose during his presidency that caused many to question whether he was fit for office. His actions and later testimony provide evidence that the conditions he later suffered from, had began to manifest as early as the 1980s. Byrne does not give Reagan a pass because of this but is equally mystified at how he was able to function. He also makes a compelling point regarding Reagan’s mental state and his interactions with subordinates. It is certainly food for thought about the 40th President of the United States.
America has always said that it does not negotiate with terrorist. On the surface it sounds tough and gives off the impression that the United States can take as hardline of a stance as anyone else. However, the events described in this book, challenge that position and Byrne’s research shows that negotiation became as common as public denials. For many Americans, the scandal is an afterthought. Reagan died in 2004 and the suriving members from his cabinet who are still alive had faded out of the public light, well into their later years in age. However, I do believe that the story is still important in light of the recent events regarding the administration of Donald J. Trump. Impeachment and investigations are two words that give rise to fear and concern but the founding fathers knew early on that such a system of governing was needed if the United States would truly be a democracy. Future presidents may also want to read this book so that they too are never accused of abuse of power.
This account of the Iran-Contra scandal lays it all out for the reader to digest. It is an incredible and unnerving story about the very dark side of United States foreign policy. Highly recommended.