Miller Center

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.