Category Archives: Noonan

Iran-Contra Was a Better Class of Scandal

As good a summary of Iran-Contra as I have heard in a long time.

WSJ  12/7/2019

During presidential scandals, members of the media often speak of the Iran-Contra affair. I’m not sure they really understand it.

In retrospect that scandal was distinguished by two central, shaping characteristics. First, it was different from other scandals in that its genesis wasn’t low or brutish. It wasn’t about money, or partisan advantage, or sex; it was about trying to free American hostages in the Mideast, and attempting to pursue a possible, if unlikely, foreign-policy advance. It had to do with serious things. Second, when the story blew it eventually yielded a model of how to handle a scandal, though it didn’t look that way at the time. In July 1985 President Reagan was in Bethesda Naval Hospital recovering from colon-cancer surgery when his national security adviser, Bud McFarlane, told him of a potential opening in efforts to free the seven American hostages the Iranian-dominated terrorist group Hezbollah had taken in Beirut. Among them were the Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson; Father Lawrence Jenco, the head of Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon; and William Buckley, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Beirut station chief. Buckley, who’d seen action in the U.S. Army in Korea and Vietnam and been much decorated, had been held since March 1984 and endured more than a year of torture. Reagan knew this, and he’d met with the families of other hostages.

Mr. McFarlane said Israeli contacts had told him that a group of moderate, politically connected Iranians wanted to establish a channel to the U.S. With the Iran-Iraq war raging and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in his 80s, Iran’s political leadership might soon be in play. The moderates would show their sincerity by persuading Hezbollah to give up the hostages. Mr. McFarlane wanted to talk. Reagan approved.

Thus commenced an initiative that its participants thought farsighted, its critics called almost criminally naive, and Secretary of State George Shultz later called “crazy.”

The moderates wanted the U.S. to permit Israel to sell them some TOW antitank missiles. They would pay, and the U.S. would replenish the Israeli stock. This would enhance their position in Iran by proving they had connections to high officials in Washington.

Reagan should have shut everything down at the mention of weapons. He didn’t. He later wrote, “The truth is, once we had information from Israel that we could trust the people in Iran, I didn’t have to think thirty seconds about saying yes.” It was only a one-shipment deal, he reasoned, and the moderates had agreed to his insistence that they get the hostages out. A shipment was made, and hostage Benjamin Weir was released.

In October 1985 the terrorist group Islamic Jihad announced it had killed William Buckley. (The White House National Security Council concluded he’d probably already died of a heart attack.) Reagan stayed hopeful, although when word got around of what was happening, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Mr. Shultz opposed it. Mr. Shultz told Reagan that while it might not technically be an arms-for hostages deal, it would certainly look like one—and it would blow sky-high as soon as it leaked, as it would leak.

By winter it was clear some of the Iranian go-betweens were dubious. No more hostages were being released. Mr. McFarlane resigned. His successor, John Poindexter, pressed for another shipment of missiles, to be followed by talks with Iranian moderates. CIA Director William Casey agreed it was worth the risk if there’s a chance they could deliver. Mr. Shultz and Weinberger pushed back. Reagan later said, “I just put my foot down.” In the spring, Mr. McFarlane returned for a secret trip to Iran, which he’d been told would free the last of the hostages. He went home without them.

That July, Jenco was released. Casey and the NSC asked for another missile shipment. Reagan approved.

Then a new terrorist group took three more American hostages in Lebanon.

A channel had been opened to a group that included a nephew of the speaker of the Iranian Parliament, who requested various gifts including a Bible inscribed by the president. Amazingly, he got them. Later, it was reported the Americans even brought

 

It arose out of serious aims, not tawdry ones, and holds lessons in resilience and perseverance a cake shaped like a key.

In November 1986, a Lebanese news outlet broke a story saying America was trading arms for hostages.

It was explosive. Reagan looked like a hypocrite—his administration had long pressed others not to sell arms to the Iranians. His people looked like fools gulled by gangsters.

Mr. Shultz later summed it all up this way: “The U.S. government had violated its own policies on antiterrorism and against arms sales to Iran, was buying our own citizens’ freedom in a manner that could only encourage the taking of others, was working through disreputable international go-betweens . . . and was misleading the American people—all in the guise of furthering some purported regional political transformation, or to obtain in actuality a hostage release.” Mr. McFarlane, Mr. Poindexter and Casey “had sold it to a president all too ready to accept it, given his humanitarian urge to free American hostages.”

Reagan was embarrassed, but once he saw the dimensions of the problem—he believed his motivations were right and the American people would understand once he explained—he took a series of constructive decisions. He kept Mr. Schultz, who’d been public in his criticism, in the administration.

When Reagan’s friend and confidante, Attorney General Ed Meese, announced he’d found evidence that Lt. Col Oliver North of the NSC had diverted part of the money the Iranians paid for the weapons to the anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua, Reagan was originally sympathetic, less so when he was told Col. North was shredding documents. In the end he fired him. Mr. Poindexter resigned.

Reagan appointed a commission to investigate everything that had been done. The three members were sensitively balanced: chairman John Tower, a Republican senator; Edmund Muskie, a Democratic former senator and vice-presidential nominee; and Brent Scowcroft, the cool-headed former and future White House national security adviser. There were 50 witnesses, including the president. A joint congressional committee held public hearings. Reagan waived executive privilege. He accepted an independent counsel.

The Tower Commission’s 200page report was delivered in February 1987, three months after the story broke. It was sharply critical of the president but found he did not know of the Contra angle.

Democrats in Congress and the media had exploited the mess for all it was worth, but on another level some Democrats quietly pitched in. A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Robert Strauss, met with the Reagans and helped steady the ship.

Throughout the drama the president fell into a funk. The public turned on him; his poll numbers plummeted.

But he wasn’t over. There were great triumphs ahead—the Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 and ratified in 1988; “Tear down this wall” in 1987, and its fall in 1989, less than 10 months after Reagan left the presidency.

Our allies were offended by the scandal but impressed by its aftermath. Mikhail Gorbachev noticed too: The old lion didn’t die.

Iran-Contra was a big mistake, a real mess. But its deeper lessons have to do with how to admit and repair mistakes, how to work with the other side, and how to forge through and survive to the betterment of the country.

DECLARATIONS

By Peggy Noonan

Share

What Trump Might be doing Right – Letters

Some very good responses to Peggy Noonan’s editorial of 12/29/2018, where she tried to encourage “Trump insiders” to “speak up – on the record”.

=======
Peggy Noonan asks “Trump insiders” to speak candidly about how the administration conducts the people’s business (“Trump Insiders, Come Out of the Shadows,” Declarations, Dec. 29). Two years are indeed enough time to evaluate the conduct of our government—including the duplicity in Congress and the vigilante style of the Justice Department and the IRS. Yet Ms. Noonan focuses her ire on President Trump while overlooking these and other malefactors.

When the press stretches facts about events on Capitol Hill and in the bureaucracy, when the Justice Department decides to obfuscate facts and ignore subpoenas, when we learn that Congress has a secret slush fund to silence sexual-harassment accusers, these scandals often are made public by Trump insiders willing to speak honestly about what Americans have long suspected.

When Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned his post, we heard his message. The former general is in the fight to win, as is expected of a fine career officer. Yet others in the administration argue candidly that it is futile to fight a war for 18 years without rules of engagement sufficient to defeat our enemy. Experience tells us that peace does not come through empty promises and plane loads of cash.

There are indeed many books about the chaos in the Trump administration. But there also are many others authored by supporters of the president, willing to put their reputations on the line in defense of the president’s accomplishments and his right to govern.

Ms. Noonan suggests that honest Trump insiders are cowed by the president’s operatives, becoming “figures of “obloquy.” I am not a Trump insider but I am not afraid to speak up on the president’s behalf. I voted for him to expose the inner sanctum we call our government and shed light on the corruption we all know exists. He has persevered to the point of friction and beyond, and that is where true leaders go.

CONNIE LOVELL
Pinehurst, N.C.

Ms. Noonan wants to learn more about the inner dealings of the Trump presidency. Specifically, she wants to see those working with President Trump to share their experiences, and to “put their name on it.”

Might I ask Ms. Noonan what she expects this to accomplish? All positive accounts from individuals “in the know” at the White House will be ridiculed and dismissed by the mainstream media—that’s a certainty. Any unflattering portraits of the president will be embraced by the same media outlets and featured in lead news stories, followed by endless panel discussion about a possible Trump impeachment.

Rather than waste time on such an exercise, why not challenge the mainstream media to do something radical: Report on the president’s policy failures and accomplishments. That is what matters most.

PHIL RULAND
Newport Beach, Calif.

Ms. Noonan worries about the rumors swirling around President Trump’s behavior and how he spends his time. She ponders, among other things, whether the president actually spends hours watching television each day. Her concern reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s response when advised that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was a drunkard and should be fired. Reportedly, Lincoln wistfully replied, “I wish I knew what brand of whiskey he drank so I could send a barrel to my other generals.”

To paraphrase President Lincoln regarding the concerns about President Trump’s TV viewing habits, I wish I had a list of the TV shows he watches so I could send it to Republican members of Congress. Ms. Noonan mistakenly considers it a problem that President Trump is keeping his campaign promises, albeit in a heavy-handed, erratic and graceless manner. The real problem is a refined and oh-so-polite Republican establishment too timid and clueless to convey its message effectively or keep its political promises.

LARRY JENKINS
Madison, Wis.

Share

Calling Alabama Women

She always makes me think.
====
WSJ 11/18/2017
Peggy Noonan

Alabama has its back up, or at least its Republicans and conservatives do, and it’s understandable. They don’t like when Northerners and liberals and people in Washington tell them who their senator should be. They don’t like when reporters from outside come down and ask questions and turn over rocks looking for what’s crawling on the underside. There’s always an underside. Man is made from crooked timber. People from the Deep South feel culturally patronized. This is because they are. Reporters from outside don’t admire or relate to them; when a Washington Post journalist presented as fact, in a 1993 news report, that evangelical Christians are “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command,” you know he was thinking of Southern evangelicals. Hollywood has long cast Southerners as witless and brutish in films from “Inherit the Wind” to “Deliverance” and “Mississippi Burning.”

Politically, Southern conservatives have long decried a double standard. Ted Kennedy spent much of his life as a somewhat inebriated roué whose actions caused the death of a young woman, but now we’re instructed to call him the Lion of the Senate. Bill Clinton was worse than Roy Moore. Mr. Clinton was accused of rape, harassment and exposing himself, but his party backed him and he kept the presidency. Democratic Sen. Al Franken was credibly accused Thursday, by an anchor at KABC radio in Los Angeles, of groping and harassing her on a USO tour in 2006. When she resisted him, Leeann Tweeden wrote, “Franken repaid me with petty insults,” and took an obscene photo of her on the way home, as she slept. Will the liberal media dig into Mr. Franken as they have dug into Mr. Moore? Or is he too good a source and friend?

Alabama Republicans are accused of mere tribalism in sticking with Mr. Moore, who has been accused of repeated sexual predation on teenage girls. But serious policy issues are at play in the December election, including ones that have to do with our character as a nation. Here is one. Alabama is one of the most pro-life states in the nation. Alabamans take abortion seriously and are profoundly opposed to partial-birth abortion, the aborting of a child so late in gestation that it could survive outside the womb, with or without medical assistance.

Most of Europe outlaws late-term abortion. They see the very idea of it as barbaric. As it is.

Roy Moore is against partial-birth abortion. His Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, was asked his position by Chuck Todd, in an interview in September on MSNBC. Mr. Todd: “What are the limitations that you believe should be in the law when it comes to abortion?”

Mr. Jones replied: “I am a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body.”

Mr. Todd: “You wouldn’t be in favor of legislation that said ban abortion after 20 weeks or something like that?”

Mr. Jones: “I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose.”

If you care about late-term abortion, that is enough reason to oppose Mr. Jones. It is not surprising that Mr. Moore’s supporters would stick with him when seen through that light.

But still: It won’t do. All the above having been said, Alabamans who continue to back Mr. Moore are making a terrible mistake.

Just because something is understandable doesn’t mean it’s right. The charges against Mr. Moore are not only serious; they are completely credible.

If you read the original Washington Post story, you know it was rigorously reported, with great care and professionalism. Four women who did not seek out the press, who did not know each other, and who surely guessed going public would bring them nothing but grief, came forward and provided first-person details that established a pattern. Thirty people corroborated details. This is not attack journalism. It is great journalism.

If Roy Moore had a long and demonstrated history of randomly attacking children with a baseball bat, or if the FBI announced it had found in his possession a stash of child porn, Moore supporters would

never back him. But that, in a way, figuratively, is what he stands accused of doing. His “porn,” his addiction, was cruising malls for young women, often teenagers. His “attacking children” was moving sexually on those young women and leaving them damaged.

Women around the world are moving against predators, harassers, bullies, rapists. It is inspiring. The legalities of the Alabama race may be at an impasse, but it would be good to see Republican women in the state lead a charge and insist on someone else. Find another conservative. There are plenty in Alabama.

I put it on the women because Republican men there right now are lost. They are busy playing to every stereotype every bigot ever held about them. They are busy comparing Roy Moore and his victims to St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary. They are busy leaving phone messages falsely claiming to be Washington Post reporter “Bernie Bernstein,” offering big cash for dirt on Mr. Moore. They are busy saying they’d vote for any Republican over a Democrat. Gotta be loyal to your own.

They have been busy making themselves look like fools.

There is another reason Republican and conservative women should rise up. It has to do with the victims Moore chose.

Who were the girls he targeted? Interestingly, this tribune of the common folk and their earnest, believing ways allegedly preyed mostly on the unprotected. He chose young women he could push around. Some came to him at his law office, bringing with them all the problems of broken America—child-custody fights, violent divorces, bounced checks. They worked at Red Lobster, at a mill, on the night shift at Sears.

A thing about predators, from the men of the Catholic Church sex scandals to the man cruising the mall, is that they never prey on the protected. They don’t prey on the daughter of the biggest family in town, the child of the man who owns the factory or the local newspaper. They tend to prey on kids with no father in the home.

Tina Johnson “was 28 years old, in a difficult marriage headed toward divorce, and unemployed,” AL.com reported of the latest accuser, Wednesday. “She was at the office to sign over custody of her 12-year-old son to her mother.”

As they left the office, she said, Mr. Moore molested her. She told no one, not even her mother.

That is a tell, that she didn’t tell her mother. They almost never tell the mother. She’s got enough going on. Maybe she can’t handle more. Maybe she’s not interested in handling more.

Often the victims had had brushes with the law. Predators can smell that: It means no one will believe them if they talk.

Roy Moore targeted the deplorables. They were people with no sway, no pull. Some of them, in the presidential election, voted for Donald Trump.

There are better conservatives in Alabama than Roy Moore. Republican women, rise up and raise hell. That would be real loyalty, and to those who are really your own.

Share

Noonan: On Democracy and Trump

Another thoughtful piece by Peggy Noonan.
==========
By Peggy Noonan. WSJ 5/20/2017

This will be unpleasantly earnest, but having witnessed the atmospherics the past 10 days it’s what I think needs saying: Everyone, get serious.

Democracy is not your plaything.  This is not a game.

The president of the United States has produced a building crisis that is unprecedented in our history. The question, at bottom, is whether Donald Trump has demonstrated, in his first four months, that he is unfit for the presidency—wholly unsuited in terms of judgment, knowledge, mental capacity, personal stability. That epic question is then broken down into discrete and specific questions: Did he improperly attempt to interfere with an FBI criminal investigation, did his presidential campaign collude with a foreign government, etc.

But the epic question underlies all. It couldn’t be more consequential and will take time to resolve. The sheer gravity of the drama will demand the best from all of us. Are we up to it?

Mr. Trump’s longtime foes, especially Democrats and progressives, are in the throes of a kind of obsessive delight. Every new blunder, every suggestion of an illegality, gives them pleasure. “He’ll be gone by autumn.”

But he was duly and legally elected by tens of millions of Americans who had legitimate reasons to support him, who knew they were throwing the long ball, and who, polls suggest, continue to support him. They believe the press is trying to kill him. “He’s new, not a politician, give him a chance.” What would it do to them, what would it say to them, to have him brusquely removed by his enemies after so little time? Would it tell them democracy is a con, the swamp always wins, you nobodies can make your little choices but we’re in control? What will that do to their faith in our institutions, in democracy itself?

These are wrenching questions.

But if Mr. Trump is truly unfit—if he has demonstrated already, so quickly, that he cannot competently perform the role, and that his drama will only get more dangerous and chaotic, how much time should pass to let him prove it? And how dangerous will the proving get?

Again, wrenching questions. So this is no time for blood lust and delight. Because democracy is not your plaything.

The president’s staffers seem to spend most of their time on the phone, leaking and seeking advantage, trying not to be named in the next White House Shake-Up story. A reliable anonymous source who gives good quote will be protected—for a while. The president spends his time tweeting his inane, bizarre messages— he’s the victim of a “witch hunt”—from his bed, with his iPad. And giving speeches, as he did this week at the Coast Guard Academy: “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.” Actually Lincoln got secession, civil war and a daily pounding from an abolitionist press that thought he didn’t go far enough and moderates who slammed his brutalist pursuit of victory. Then someone shot him in the head. So he had his challenges.

Journalists on fire with the great story of their lives—the most bizarre presidency in U.S. history and the breaking news of its daily missteps— cheer when their scoop that could bring down a president gets more hits then the previous record holder, the scoop that could bring down the candidate.

Stop leaking, tweeting, cheering. Democracy is not your plaything.

There’s a sense nobody’s in charge, that there’s no power center that’s holding, that in Washington they’re all randomly slamming into each other.

Which is not good in a crisis.

For Capitol Hill Democrats the crisis appears to be primarily a chance to showboat. Republicans are evolving, some starting to use the word “unfit” and some, as a congressman told me, “talking like they’re in a shelter for abused women. ‘He didn’t mean to throw me down the stairs.’ ‘He promised not to punch me again.’ ” We’re chasing so many rabbits, we can’t keep track—Comey, FBI, memoranda; Russia, Flynn, the Trump campaign; Lavrov, indiscretions with intelligence. It’s become a blur.

But there’s an emerging sense of tragedy, isn’t there? Crucially needed reforms in taxing, regulation and infrastructure— changes the country needs!—are thwarted, all momentum killed. Markets are nervous.

The world sees the U.S. political system once again as a circus. Once the circus comes to town, it consumes everything, absorbs all energy.

I asked the ambassador to the U.S. from one of our greatest allies: “What does Europe say now when America leaves the room?” You’re still great, he said, but “we think you’re having a nervous breakdown.”

It is absurd to think the president can solve his problems by firing his staff. They are not the problem. He is the problem. They’re not the ATeam, they’re not the counselors you’d want, experienced and wise. They’re the island of misfit toys. But they could function adequately if he could lead adequately. For months he’s told friends he’s about to make big changes, and doesn’t. Why? Maybe because talented people on the outside don’t want to enter a poisonous staff environment just for the joy of committing career suicide. So he’s stuck, surrounded by people who increasingly resent him, who fear his unpredictability and pique and will surely one day begin to speak on the record.

A mystery: Why is the president never careful? He doesn’t act as if he’s picking his way through a minefield every day, which he is. He acts like he’s gamboling through safe terrain. Thus he indulges himself with strange claims, statements, tweets. He comports himself as if he has a buffer of deep support. He doesn’t. Nationally his approval numbers are in the mid to high 30s.

His position is not secure. And yet he gambols on, both paranoid and oblivious.

History is going to judge us by how we comported ourselves in this murky time. It will see who cared first for the country and who didn’t, who kept his head and did not, who remained true and calm and played it straight.

Now there will be a special prosecutor. In the short term this buys the White House time.

Here’s an idea.

It would be good if top Hill Republicans went en masse to the president and said: “Stop it. Clean up your act. Shut your mouth. Do your job. Stop tweeting. Stop seething. Stop wasting time. You lost the thread and don’t even know what you were elected to do anymore. Get a grip. Grow up and look at the terrain, see it for what it is. We have limited time. Every day you undercut yourself, you undercut us. More important, you keep from happening the good policy things we could have done together. If you don’t grow up fast, you’ll wind up abandoned and alone. Act like a president or leave the presidency.”

Could it help? For a minute. But it would be constructive—not just carping, leaking, posing, cheering and tweeting but actually trying to lead.

The president needs to be told: Democracy is not your plaything

Share