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Riding the Tiger > Category: Iran

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

This Day in History: Reagan Addresses the Nation on Iran-Contra

President Ronald Reagan Addresses the Nation on Iran-Contra, March 4, 1987

In a March 4, 1987 broadcast, President Ronald Reagan addressed the American people from the Oval Office, promising to tell the nation the truth regarding the Iran-Contra scandal, and admitting he had made mistakes. Reagan told the nation:

A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.

In the address, Regan also promised to go beyond the recommendations of the Tower Commission’s recommendations by taking action in three basic areas: personnel, national security policy, and the process for making sure that the system works. Various inquiries into the affair had revealed lax management and enormous detachment on Reagan's part, as well as appalling conduct by members of the National Security Council staff. The president announced new national security personnel, including former Senator Howard Baker as Chief of Staff, Frank Carlucci as national security adviser, and William Webster as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He also announced a comprehensive review of covert operations and new processes to ensure the integrity of future national security decisions.

The Iran-Contra Affair actually involved two separate initiatives. The first was the clandestine sale of U.S. military equipment to Iran, which had the support of the Israeli government, in contradiction of the Reagan administration's public policy of remaining neutral in the Iran-Iraq War. In exchange for the arms sales, American hostages being held by terrorists in Lebanon were released. The second was the attempt by a small group of National Security Council staff members and former military men to funnel proceeds from the sale of these weapons to the Contra rebels opposing the Nicaraguan government. While President Reagan attached great importance during this period to the success of the contra effort, he insisted he had no knowledge of the diversion of funds to the Contras. However, he wrote in his diary and eventually acknowledged to the American people that he authorized the Iran arms sales.

Missile Defense Systems

Excerpt of 1984 Presidential Debate

On this day in 1983, President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" program to protect the U.S. from enemy nuclear missiles.

Yesterday NPR featured a story from the Associated Press about Russia’s concern over a missile defense plan that NATO has proposed, designed to deflect potential nuclear attacks from Iran. Russia’s president argued that plan broke existing nuclear parity between the United States and Russia.

NATO has said it wants to cooperate with Russia on the missile shield, but has rejected Moscow's proposal to run it jointly. Without a NATO-Russia cooperation deal, the Kremlin has sought guarantees from the U.S. that any future missile defense is not aimed at Russia and threatened to retaliate if no such deal is negotiated.

"I will say honestly that no matter how warm relations between me and my colleagues are, no matter how advanced relations between Russia and NATO member states are, we will have to take that into account and, under certain circumstances, respond," [President Dmitry] Medvedev said.

The idea of a missile defense system, and Russia's role in U.S. National Security, was a hotly debated topic in the 1984 presidential election between President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Party nominee, Walter Mondale. In this excerpt from a presidential debate in 1984, President Reagan advocates sharing the technology of the so-called Star Wars plan with the Soviet Union, while Mondale strongly disagrees.

Click to watch the whole debate. 

Making the Case for History: Using Historical Analogies in Policy Analysis

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a January 2012 visit to Ecuador. Photo by Miguel Ángel Romero/Presidencia de la República del Ecuador.

The conflict between Iran and Israel, which has escalated steeply in recent weeks, is likely to be a critical campaign issue for both President Obama and the Republican candidates. What can history tell us about this conflict? How useful is history as a tool for understanding the present?