Top Reagan aides from the National Security Council and the CIA fly secretly to Iran atop crates of missiles, Bible in one hand and cake in the other. The image aptly captures the bizarre and dangerous character of Washington’s policies in the Middle East and Central America. Two of the men on the Tehran mission — Robert McFarlane and Oliver North — played central roles in earlier military interventions in both regions. McFarlane was the chief strategist on the ground in Beirut in September 1983, calling in the big guns of the USS New Jersey to save the beleaguered Phalange regime of Amin Gemayel Some 241 US Marines paid for McFarlane’s swagger with their lives a month later when a Lebanese suicide attack demolished their barracks. Fellow Marine Lt.Col. Oliver North struck back a few days later when he orchestrated the US invasion of Grenada. North’s subsequent planning exploits include the bombing of Libya last April, just weeks before he took off for Tehran.

When one Iranian faction first leaked word of the US arms deal to a Beirut magazine, it was with the apparent purpose of sharpening dissent and divisions within Iranian ruling circles. It seems to have had greater impact in Washington. “If this were happening in a Third World country,” said one French official, “we would be talking about a power struggle.” The reasons are not entirely clear. Reagan’s illegal support for the contras has long been a public secret His lies and “misstatements” have lost their power to shock. But the deals with Iran, using Israel as a sort of “safe house,” have exposed serious splits within the US government.

The Iran antics have seriously compromised two high-profile policies. First, it has fatally shredded the hypocritical “war on terrorism” line used to intimidate critics of American military intervention. Second, it contradicts US policy in the Gulf war — both the official policy of neutrality and the real policy of propping up Iraq. There is now a third, secret policy: to provide material assistance to Iran. Do the colonels in the White House assume that the arms and spare parts will really make no difference in the war? Here we must consider not only the American weapons but all the other arms sellers who now know what to make of the US-led embargo of the last six years. Or do the colonels assume that Iraq has already lost the war and that the “Great Satan” had better accommodate itself to life in the Gulf with “Murder, Inc.”? Either way, they do not seem to have convinced some key players such as George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger.

While we can take some satisfaction in seeing Reagan and company stuck up to their kneecaps in muck of their own making, there is a much larger scandal which remains obscured. This is the set of US policies which helped create the hostage situation in the first place. For instance, earlier this fall, Washington accepted General Amos Yaron as the new Israeli military attache in Washington. Yawn commanded Israeli troops in Beirut in September 1982. He allowed Phalangist killers to enter Sabra and Shatila. His troops fired illumination rounds for the Phalangists and blocked the exits to prevent residents from escaping the massacre. He was censured by the Kahan Commission of Inquiry set up by the Israeli government. Now he has been promoted to Brigadier General and appointed to oversee the transfer of some $2 billion in US military aid and weapons to Israel each year.

All the billions in ransom dollars and guns for hostages would count for nothing against a simple statement from any high US official that a war criminal is not welcome in Washington as a foreign emissary. The real scandal is Washington’s phony “peace process” and the policy of imposed solutions.


Elsewhere on this page we publish a letter detailing aspects of political repression in Bahrain. Along with Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan and a few other Arab states, Bahrain consistently earns the adjective “moderate” in the US media. The meaning of this term derives solely from the government’s friendly and/or subservient relationship to Washington. All manner of fierce repression against its own citizens, including torture and murder, is permissible to a “moderate” regime provided it welcomes US military advisors and understands the correct meaning of phrases like “peace process.” Readers wishing information about the human rights situation in the Arabian Peninsula in particular can contact the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula at BM Box 1128, London WC1N 3XX. They publish a newsletter in Arabic.


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How to cite this article:

The Editors "From the Editors (November/December 1986)," Middle East Report 143 (November/December 1986).

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