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Blitz Backfires

November 18, 1986

Its deception exposed and its initial explanations answered with disbelief, the Reagan Administration has turned to one of its favorite devices, the media blitz, to try to sell its version of what the arms deal with Iran was all about. Its story hasn't improved in the retelling. If anything, the statements by various officials have succeeded only in underscoring the muddleheadedness that underlay the Iran initiative and the high-level disarray that grew from it. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, trying to play the good soldier in his role as chief foreign-policy spokesman, has been hard put to hide his distaste for an action he opposed from the onset. Even those in the White House who were committed fully to the scheme have floundered in trying to make what they did appear intelligible.

It remains shocking, even astounding, that the basic foreign-policy implications of what the Administration got itself involved in went unexamined before the venture was launched and are still not understood after its collapse. No one in the White House seems to have given the least thought to how American credibility would be wounded as soon as it came out that the United States, while vigorously urging others to do one thing about Iran and terrorism, was covertly doing something else entirely itself. No one seems to have cared how America's allies would respond to the revelation of this hypocrisy. No one bothered to ask how friendly Arab regimes would react when they found out that the United States was arming the nation they fear most.

Blame that on the White House's obsession with secrecy, and on a smug and unmerited faith in its own higher wisdom. No experts on Iran seem to have been consulted before the effort was launched to open a pipeline to Iranian "moderates." Had they been, the White House might well have been told that the Iranian leadership contains no moderates. In disregard of the law, no timely notification was given the congressional leadership about what was afoot. Instead, a small group of men, responding to the President's daily questions of what could be done to get our hostages out of Lebanon, concocted a geopolitical rationale whose real purpose, in the end, was to pay ransom to Tehran. With unfathomable naivete, they trusted Iran to keep this deal secret, but they refused to extend that trust to others in their own government. For its troubles, the United States got back three hostages, though three others have since been seized in Lebanon to take their place. Iran's ayatollahs got a quarter-million pounds of arms from the United States and, with American approval, more yet from Israel. They also probably got the best laugh they've had in years.

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