Parsing Ollie: How Conservatives and the Military Viewed Honor, Loyalty and Duty in the Prism of Lt.

Col. Oliver North s !ole in "ran#Contra
“I want to make it clear beyond any question that absolute integrity of an officer’s word, deed and signature is a matter that permits no compromise.” -- Gen. illiam !. estmoreland" “#he greatest dangers to liberty lurk as insidious encroachments by men of $eal, well-meaning but without understanding.” -- %ustice &ouis 'randeis “(e presumed to sa)e his country without the consent of the emperor.” -- *dward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, !hapter +&,

By Martin Edwin Andersen #he boyish, ramrod straight -arine !orps officer emerged in %uly "./0 in full dress uniform to face a 1oint !ongressional committee in)estigating the Iran-!ontra scandal, in a 2enate !aucus 3oom where prior inquiries into the sinking of the #itanic, #eapot 4ome, %oseph -c!arthy’s libels against the 5rmy, and atergate had been held. 5s he later recalled it, he had first entered the 2enate chamber thinking, “ ho are these people and what am I doing here6” 7 5 lieutenant colonel who had operated out of the basement of the 8ld *9ecuti)e 8ffice building as “a sort of underground 2ecretary of 2tate”: and who was about to become a media sensation-cum-5merican icon, 8li)er &. ;orth was stepping out front and center in the middle of a constitutional crisis that was arguably largely of his own making. ith a stern and, at first, “insolent” <the word is his= > demeanor, for the ne9t se)eral days ;orth parried the queries of solons and committee lawyers, ducking into the ?ifth 5mendment when counseled by his lawyers to do so. (e was, he told his accusers and the rest of the country ri)eted by tele)ised co)erage of the e)ent, a soldier who would take a spear for God, country and @resident 3onald 3eagan. #oday, nearly two decades after ;orth’s appearance before !ongress, the role he played in the Iran-!ontra affair, one of the most important political scandals in the Anited 2tates in the latter half of the 7Bth !entury, offers critical insights into contemporary debates about foreign policy

3ichard (alloran, “ ashington #alkC #he 5rmed 2er)icesD 8fficers and Gentlemen and 2ituational &ying,” The New York Times, 5ugust E, "./0, p. 57>. 7 8li)er ;orth, Under Fire An American !tory, p. :F". : #he description of ;orth in @hilip eiss, “8li)er ;orth’s ;e9t ar,” The New York Times, %uly >, "..:, p. 5. "7. > ;orth, op. cit, p. :E7.

mechanisms and the role of the military. ;orth’s responsibility as an indi)idual, combined with certain institutional enablers that flourished within the 3eagan 5dministration’s conduct of foreign policy, resulted in an ine9orable bifurcation between the traditional ethos of the A.2. armed forcesGincluding such )alues as leadership, discipline and integrity that remain the bedrock training for the -arine !orpsHand the foreign policy aims and practices of a conser)ati)e administration, despite their sometimes conflation in the popular mind. (ow ;orth interpreted and applied the !orps’ official motto, !emper Fidelis, <“5lways ?aithful” in &atin= while working at the ;2! reflected the conflicting demands for loyalty and ethical beha)ior placed on the ;ational 2ecurity !ouncil <;2!= military aide and, in doing so, shed light on the profound differences in philosophy and interests among conser)ati)es and within the armed forces as they picked their way through the origins of, the responsibilities for, and, later, the significance of Iran-!ontra. In parsing the story of 8li)er ;orth, a comple9 and often ambiguous portrait emerges of a conser)ati)e, anti-communist administration, torn between orthodo9 and political conser)atism, and between loyalty to its goals of promoting democracy abroad and to a band of co)ert operators who skirted the rule of law at home while proclaiming their fealty to those same goals. #he story of Iran-!ontra and the role played by ;orth is a reminder of the truths plumbed by historian 3ichard Gid @owers on the nature of 5merican anti-communism, “a comple9, pluralistic mo)ement” made up of “5mericans of )ery different beliefs and goals who disagreed among themsel)es almost as much as they disagreed with communism.” In the case of 3eagan’s conser)ati)e foreign policy, an anti-communism held aloft by high ideals li)ed side-by-side with e9tremists unencumbered by scruple, whoGlike those of other times, such as ?'I director %. *dgar (oo)er and 2enator %oseph -c!arthyGwhile “far from being representati)e of the 5merican anti-communist mo)ement, were for the most part digressions and distractions,” ne)ertheless often ga)e anticommunists the same mal odor that equating the history of medical malpractice to that of medicine would gi)e to the latter. F #o facilitate understanding of two )ariants of a single political philosophy, in this study political conser)atism is equated with what historian %erry I. -uller has called “ideological conser)atism,” that is, that which “arises from the an9iety that )aluable institutions are endangered by contemporary de)elopments or by proposed reforms.” E -uller’s definition of

@owers, Not "itho#t $onor% The $istory of American Anticomm#nism, ;ew JorkC #he ?ree @ress, pp. >7E->70, FB:. -uller <ed.=, &onser'atism, An Antholo(y of !ocial and )olitical Tho#(ht from Da'id $#me to the )resent, @rincetonC @rinceton Ani)ersity @ress, "..0, p. :. #he basic thrust of -uller’s argument obtains e)en though, writing in at the end of the 3eagan 5dministration, former domestic policy chief -artin 5nderson heralded the conser)ati)e


ideological conser)atism is particularly appropriate in the conte9t of the 3eagan 5dministration’s willingness to up the ante in the !old ar against the 2o)iet empireD its particular brand of anticommunism synonymous not with the “managing” of the status quo of his predecessors, but rather “winning” the twilight struggle against the 2o)iets. 0 5lthough sharing 3eagan’s tough anti-communism, the military’s institutional conser)atism, especially during the "./Bs, was more akin to what -uller calls “orthodo9y,” whose defense of institutions “depends on belief in their correspondence to some ultimate truth. K #he positi)e )alue ascribed to institutions by conser)atism contributes to its natural affinity for the stat#s *#o, in contrast to liberalism’s innate hostility towards authority and establishments.” In this way, the military can been seen as a bulwark of “unbending )alues.” / 8r, as an institution that shares the assumption, as 3ussell Lirk posed it, that “there e9ists a transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.” . 4uring the period under study, howe)er, there were also indications that the military’s orthodo9 conser)atism was itself in the process of morphing into a more ideological brand. 5s one defense commentator noted, the military appeared to be “both more conser)ati)e than their predecessors, and more politically acti)e. #he e)idence is skimpy, and the definitions of Mconser)ati)e’ are unstated but almost certainly shifting. K #he military increasingly appears to lean toward partisan conser)atism.” "B #he centrality of the role played in Iran-!ontra by ;orth, who had limited foreign affairs or intelligence e9perience, is without question, as was his meteoric ascent within the national security bureaucracy. <5s one of three military officers secunded to the 3ichard 5llen, in briefings.= "" hite (ouse, in "./" ;orth was still making and holding charts used by 3eagan’s first national security ad)isor, riting si9 years after the scandal broke, one military obser)er noted that if only the decorated combat officer had remained a -arine !orps leaderGstaying at the margins of high politicsGthe -arines would ha)e retained “a highly competent senior
intellectual and political “re)olution” as “in many ways K profoundly nonconser)ati)e K its true characterGradical and re)olutionaryGfor it was aimed at sweeping out the status quo K because its aim was fundamental change in the e9isting political, economic and social order.” 5nderson, Re'ol#tion+ The Rea(an ,e(acy, ;ew JorkC (arcourt 'race %o)ano)ich, ".//, pp. E-0. 0 8n this point see, for e9ample, Ronald Rea(an -ral $istory )ro.ect, NInter)iew with 3ichard ,. 5llen,N -iller !enter of @ublic 5ffairs, p. 7E. Geostrategist 5llen, 3eagan’s first national security ad)isor, related his sense of thrill when 3eagan confided in him that he wanted to “win” the !old arD he said he felt as if he had been hit with “a ton of bricks. I couldn’t belie)e it. #he hair went up on the back of my neck.” / 2te)en &ee -yers, “2candal Lept in -ilitary @erspecti)e,” The New York Times, 4ec. ", "../, 570. . -uller, op. cit, pp. >, ""D 3ussell Lirk <ed.=, The )orta/le &onser'ati'e Reader, ;ew JorkC @enguin, "./7, p. 9). #ellingly, the inde9 in -uller’s anthology lists neither “military” nor “armed forces” despite ubiquitous popular reference to both as “conser)ati)e” institutions in the A.2. conte9t. "B 3icks, Makin( the &orps, ;ew JorkC 2cribner, "..0, pp. 70.-7/7. "" Ronald Rea(an -ral $istory )ro.ect, op. cit., p. FB.


officer” and the country likely spared the trauma of Iran-!ontra. “?or make no mistake, without 8li)er ;orth the Iran initiati)e would certainly ha)e de)eloped differently and the profits from the arms sales to Iran most probably would not ha)e been di)erted to support the !ontra resistance in ;icaragua.”"7 hile the unorthodo9, off-the-books actions taken by ;orth and his superiors ha)e been 1udged by often partisan and leftwing critics to be illegal and setting a dangerous precedent, others might contend that they were only an e9treme byproduct of the shifting sands of responsibility for national security and defense between the *9ecuti)e and &egislati)e branches, where bureaucratic maneu)ering outside public scrutiny allowed for both questionable inno)ation and unbridled personal protagonism. 2uch an e9amination is particularly useful gi)en the preference of another conser)ati)e 5dministrationGthat of @resident George . 'ushGfor an operational ;2! to deal with an e)en larger issue, the conduct of the war in Iraq, despite the cautions a)ailable from the e9ample of the 3eagan presidency. ": It is within that conte9t that this paper will e9plore the tensions between institutional )ersus political conser)atismGas well as those institutional practicesGthat facilitated ;orth’s shift away from the instincts and training of the military sphere to a lone wolf conser)ati)e acti)ism, at the same time becoming, in the words of one obser)er, “the most powerful lieutenant colonel in the world.”"> ;83#( 2*3,*4 52 4*@A#J 4I3*!#83 of political-military affairs at the ;2! under two ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isors, 3obert “'ud” -c?arlane and 5dm. %ohn @oinde9ter. 4uring that time, they and se)eral other members of the 5dministration of 3onald 3eagan helped sell arms to a)owed enemy IranD implausibly reaching out to Iranian “moderates,” and using the proceeds to fund, against !ongressional prohibitions for doing so <the 'oland 5mendment= "F, the !ontra rebels in the ;icaraguan ci)il war. It was ;orth who promoted a secret mission to #ehran for the purpose of directly negotiating with the Iranians, and it was the -arine who directly disobeyed an order from ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isor 5dm. %ohn @oinde9ter not to release any arms to the Iranians until all 5merican hostages were released. "E #he Iran and !ontra endgames also pro)ed

5nthony *. (artle, “#he *thical 8dyssey of 8li)er ;orth,” )arameters, 2ummer "..:, pp. 7/-::. 5t the time he wrote the article, (artle was director of the philosophy program at the A.2. -ilitary 5cademy at est @oint. ": ?or e9ample, an assessment of the role of acti)ist ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isor !ondolee$$a 3ice, whose “ardent support for the in)asion” rendered her unable to play the traditional role of K impartial broker in the rough-and-tumble of interagency go)ernment,” is contained in !hitra 3aga)an, “ ho &ost Iraq6” U+!+ News and "orld Report, ;o). 70, 7BBE. "> (artle, op. cit. "F #he 'oland 5mendment was enacted due to concerns of widespread human rights abuses by the !ontras, who recei)ed their initial military training from “dirty warriors” sent by 5rgentina’s brutal defacto regime. "E &ou !annon, )resident Rea(an, The Role of a ,ifetime, ;ew JorkC 2imon O 2chuster, "..", p. E>:D %ust how far ;orth could stray from official policy underlies the fiction of “following orders” was reflected in the comments of


to be largely at cross purposes. ?or e9ample, ;orth’s delight in o)ercharging the Iranians for arms and spare parts, generating more funds for the !entral 5mericans, ended up alienating a #ehran already sensiti)e to being cheated by the Anited 2tates. 5fter the partial deli)ery of (5 L missiles from Israel it was ;orth himself who relayed to @oinde9ter his feeling that the Iranians were unlikely to liberate all of the hostages in a “single transaction” because they felt that had been “scammed.”"0 hile ;orth’s role in the arms sales to Iran was important, it was his role in the !ontra operation that made the lieutenant colonel “a big time operator,” becoming “the person who kept the Panti2andinistaQ !ontra resistance ali)e though financing, political support, and his own in)enti)e determination.”"/ In an article whose title, “Is the mysterious colonel a saint or a sinner6’ captured the debate about ;orth in the aftermath of the public disclosure of Iran-!ontra machinations, Newsweek noted that ;orth was “hardly the M1ust- following-orders’ political naRf he sometimes appears to be. In addition to the co)ert foreign policy he was running out of the hite (ouse basement, ;orth was deeply in)ol)ed in domestic policy to win financial and political support for the contras from wealthy conser)ati)es.” ". @art of that effort was establishing a non-go)ernmental co)ert entity known as “#he *nterprise” to run the !entral 5merican war effort. In that endea)or ;orth’s helpmates included far-right acti)ists and, according to sources not unsympathetic to larger administration goals, conni)ance with known criminals. 7B ;orth was also a central figure in the 3eagan 5dministration’s e9tensi)e subterfuge for keeping !ongress in the dark about the A.2. role in !entral 5merica’s pro9y wars. ?or e9ample, although 3eagan assured !ongress in %une "./F that his 5dministration was committed to “political, not military solutions in !entral 5merica” and that “we do not seek the military o)erthrow of the 2andinista P;icaraguanQ go)ernment,” that 4ecember he reported to his boss at the ;2! that, following his directions, ;orth had assured allies in !entral 5merica that the Anited 2tates
former ;2! chief -c?arlane, who said that the negotiations in #ehran amounted to a “hostage ba$aar. I think ;orth knew when we went there that they hadn’t agreed to release the hostages.” p. EF". "0 !annon, op. cit., p. EF0. "/ (artle, op. cit. ". Newsweek, 4ecember 77, "./E, p. 7E. 7B ?ebruary "B, "./E memo from 3ob 8wen, ;orth’s !entral 5merican point person, to ;orth noted that a !ontra supply plane “used at one time to run drugs, and part of the crew had criminal records. ;ice group the 'oys <!I5= chose.” 8ther witnesses mentioning a drug connection to the 1oint (ouse-2enate committee in)estigating Iran-!ontra included 5lan ?iers <head of the !I5 !ontra task force, and %ose ?ernande$, !I5 station chief in !osta 3ica. 5ccording to The "ashin(ton )ost <“!ontra 5id ?igure 2ays (e 5lmost SuitD 5t 2pymaster’s #rial, 3odrigue$ tells of 4isgust ith @rofiteering,” 5ugust F, "..7=, !I5 operati)e ?eli9 3odrigue$ “said he became upset by the price gouging of the contras and the presence in the operation of indi)iduals he considered unsa)ory.” 5ccording to !hristopher (itchens, key ;orth associates included a long-time member of the %ohn 'irch 2ociety and a retired general who once headed “essentially a #hird 3eich re)i)alist organi$ation,” the orld 5nti-!ommunist &eague. (itchens, “#he 3eagan 4octrine and the 2ecret 2tate,” MER0) Middle East Report, ;o. ">/, 2ept.-8ct. "./0, pp. E-/.


“intendPedQ to pursue )ictory” so that these would “not be forced to seek a political accommodation with the 2andinistas.”7" hen the arms sales to Iran were re)ealed in ;o)ember "./E, 3eagan at first appeared on national tele)ision to deny that they had occurred. 5 week later, howe)er, he again took to the airwa)es to admit that weapons had been sent to Iran, but still denied that they were part of a hostage e9change.77 In the meantime, ;orth and @oinde9ter began hectically shredding documents to keep them from reaching the public, after the former had applied “do not log” procedures to those which ended up being destroyed. #he dealings with Iran stripped 3eagan of his public stance as being “a resolute foe of international terrorism.” 7: #he secret parleys did not achie)e their intended purpose of releasing A.2. hostages held in &ebanon. 3ather a)ailable e)idence suggests that once ashington was seen as willing to betray its own public policy on non-negotiation with hostage takers, pro-Iranian militants kidnapped additional A.2. citi$ens, which allowed the Iranians to e9tort more arms and intelligence from the 5mericans. ;ews of the botched deal also created a political firestorm in the Anited 2tates while embarrassing the country internationally. hen the affair “e9ploded” in the fall of "./E, one former senior 3eagan ad)isor noted, the administration “effecti)ely came to a dead halt. ?or o)er a year, time stood still for 3eagan” as he fought a scandal that “nearly felled” him.7> @ublic demands for a full accounting of what happened led 3eagan to appoint a 2pecial 3e)iew 'oard, popularly known as the #ower !ommission after its chairman, 2en. %ohn #ower <3#e9as=7F, to inquire into Nthe circumstances surrounding the Iran-!ontra matter, other case studies that might re)eal strengths and weaknesses in the operation of the ;ational 2ecurity !ouncil system under stress, and the manner in which that system has ser)ed eight different @residents since its inception in ".>0.N #he #ower !ommission 3eport, which was deli)ered to the @resident on ?ebruary 7E, "./0, critici$ed the actions of ;orthD his boss, @oinde9terD 2ecretary of 4efense !aspar

einberger and

2cott, “Interbranch 3i)alry and the 3eagan 4octrine in ;icaragua,” )olitical !cience 1#arterly, ,ol. ""7, ;o. 7 <2ummer "..0=, pp. 7FB-7F". 77 N8ur go)ernment has a firm policy not to capitulate to terrorist demands.... e did notGrepeat, did notGtrade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we,N he said. 7: !annon, op. cit., p. EF7. 7> 5nderson, op. cit., pp. 9)ii-99i. 7F Its other members were former 2ecretary of 2tate *dmund -uskie and former ;ational 2ecurity 5d)iser 'rent 2crowcroft.


others. In part due to the confusing testimony that was gi)en by 3eagan himself, who claimed faulty memory of key e)ents, the presidential commission did not determine the e9tent of the president’s knowledge of the program. 7E It found, howe)er, that 3eagan should ha)e e9ercised better control of the ;2! staff and, instead, had only weakly super)ised his subordinates and their actions.70 In -arch ".//, ;orth and @oinde9ter were indicted on multiple charges. 8f the "7 counts with which he was charged, ;orth was found guilty of three lesser felony countsGobstructing !ongress, destroying documents and accepting an illegal gratuity. (e was acquitted of nine other countsGincluding lying to !ongressGafter con)incing the 1ury that he carried out policies he belie)ed had been appro)ed by 3eagan. ;orth’s con)iction was later o)erturned on appeal on the grounds that the former ;2! aide’s ?ifth 5mendment rights may ha)e been )iolated by indirect use of his !ongressional testimony, for which he had been gi)en use immunity, not because he was wrongly con)icted on the facts of the case. 7/ “Jou’re here now because of your own conduct when the truth was coming out,” %udge Gerhard Gesell told ;orth at his sentencing hearing. “5pparently you could not face disclosure and decided to protect yourself and others. Jou destroyed e)idence, altered and remo)ed official documents, created false papers after the e)ents to keep !ongress and others from finding out what was happening. K I belie)e that you knew this was morally wrong. K It was against all your training. Ander the stress of the moment it was easier to choose the role of a martyr but that wasn’t a heroic, patriotic act nor was it in the public interest.” 7. 5 G354A5#* 8? #(* A.2. ;5,5& 5!54*-J, ;orth was a decorated combat )eteran of ,ietnam known for his gritty determination, fierce loyalty and personal charisma. 3eagan biographer &ou !annon called ;orth “a $ealot and an ad)enturer,” someone who was “fond of


5lthough key aides reported that 3eagan had a “literal, photographic memory” <5nderson, op. cit. pF0=, 3eagan’s inability to remember with precision key e)ents may ha)e had to do with the early onset of 5l$heimer’s disease as well as political e9pediency. 70 5 !ongressional report issued in ;o)ember of the same year noted thatC NIf the president did not know what his national security ad)isers were doing, he should ha)e.N It added that 3eagan was ultimately responsible for his aides’ misconduct and that his 5dministration e9hibited Nsecrecy, deception and disdain for the law.N 7/ #he charges against @oinde9ter included conspiracy, lying to !ongress, obstruction of 1ustice, and altering and destroying documents pertinent to the in)estigation. In "..B, @oinde9ter’s con)iction on se)eral felony counts was also o)erturned on appeal on similar grounds. 7. Gesell, ;orth 2entencing (earing, %uly F, "./., p. :E.


assigning himself such code names as M'lood and Guts’ and M2teelhammer.’” :B 5s one military obser)er noted of ;orthC “5s he frequently said with pride, 8li)er ;orth made things happen.” :" In his autobiography, Under Fire, An American !tory, ;orth says that the criminal proceedings against him boiled down to “two fundamental issues. #he first was that e)erything I had done was known about and appro)ed by those I had worked for. K #he other K was that I hadn’t acted with criminal intent. In other words, I had no intention of breaking any laws. In fact, those of us in)ol)ed in helping the P;icaraguanQ resistance went to great lengths to a)oid )iolating the 'oland 5mendment or any other statute.”:7 ;orth’s legal defense operated on theory that his superiors knew almost e)erything that he had done, and that 3eaganGwho “did not always know what he knew” but was aware of e)erything concerning the scandalGhad sought to shield himself through plausible deniability. :: -ost obser)ers agree that ;orth’s “goals of freeing the hostages and helping the contras were also the president’s ob1ecti)es.”:> 5lthough 3eagan was apparently ne)er briefed about the di)ersion of the Iran monies to the !ontras before the operation was about to implode, ;orth’s ad)ocacy of the idea met with appro)al from his ;2! boss, @oinde9ter, and !I5 director

illiam !asey, who “at times seemed

to treat ;orth K as a son.” ;orth reported that !asey greeted the proposal with enthusiasm, calling it “the ultimate irony, the ultimate co)ert operation.” :E 5nd contemporaries clearly remember ;orth regaling in what he thought was the president’s direction. ?or e9ample, a !I5 official who ser)ed as a liaison between the !ontra supply operation and the go)ernment of *l 2al)ador recalled sitting in ;orth’s office in "./E, as the tele)ision showed !ongress debating
:B :"

!annon, op. cit., p. EFED (artle, op. cit.D ;orth’s self-propagated image of derring-do, together with his cloak of clandestinity, lent itself, ready made, in the )ernacular press to )ariants of accusations of a “4r. 2trangelo)e” kind, that ;orth himself was a member in good standing of a pathological and lunatic fringe. 8r as conser)ati)e essayist 3. *mmett #yrell, %r., wrote, a member of one of “two distinct species of true belie)ers at large in ashington,” the first, “about whom all learned sociologists warn, to witC the anticommunist military goon, the straight-arrow right-winger, the propounder of oldfashioned )irtues.” #yrrell, “'orne 5loft on (ot 5ir,” The "ashin(ton )ost, %uly 7", "./0, p. 57". In fact, ;orth did risk being stereotyped in the redoubtable fashion of A.2. academia and the 5merican &eft, which cast anti-communism in its more e9treme and disreputable form, stereotyping all as -c!arthyites and militarists. In Not "itho#t $onor, @owers noted that during the %uly "./0 congressional hearings, “#hose alarmed by 3eagan’s anti-communist rhetoric had been appalled by the spectacle of the bemedaled K ;orth facing down congressmen with attacks on their patriotism ...” <p. i9= :7 ;orth, op. cit., p. :.B. :: 8li)er ;orth, op. cit., p. ">. :> !annon, op. cit., p. EFE. :F 5nderson, op. cit., p.:./D :E Takin( the !tand The Testimony of ,ie#tenant &olonel -li'er ,+ North, ;ew JorkC @ocket 'ooks, "./0, p. ".F.


renewing official aid to the ;icaraguan insurgents. “#hose people want me, but they can’t touch me,” ;orth said, pointing to the tele)ision, because he was in fa)or with “the old man.” :0 In the ;orth trial, Independent !ounsel &awrence *. alsh noted, the -arine’s defense “centered

on his claims that all of his actions were known to and appro)ed by his superiors, that although he knew certain of his actions were wrong, they were 1ustifiable in light of the need for co)ert action in a dangerous world, and that he ne)er belie)ed that any of his actions were unlawful.” ?or e9ample, ;orth admitted to helping the !ontras while the 'oland 5mendment was in effect, saying that in "./> he was instructed by !I5 4irector !asey and ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isor -c?arlane “)ery clearly K that I would be the one to replace the !I5 for each of these acti)ities. K I was told not to tell other people, not to talk about it, keep my operational role )ery, )ery secret, that it should not be something that others came to know about.” :/ In response to a question from the prosecutor during the !ongressional Iran-!ontra hearings about whether the go)ernment kept secrets from the 5merican people, ;orth respondedC “'y their )ery nature, co)ert operations, or special acti)ities are a lie. #here is great deceit-deception practiced in the conduct of co)ert operations. #hey are at essence, a lie.” :. 2imilarly, concerning the charge that he had lied to !ongress, alsh noted that ;orth

characteri$ed those actions “as part of a political dispute that had nothing to do with lawbreaking.”>B In his autobiography, ;orth claimed that there was “enormous contro)ersy as to the meaning and scope of the )arious 'oland 5mendments K common sense tells me that if a !ongress that was known to be deeply di)ided on this issue ne)ertheless )oted for 'oland 8ne >" /y a mar(in of 233 to 4ero, there’s no way on earth that this amendment could ha)e been understood as forbidding all aid to the !ontras.”>7 5lthough comedians would later lampoon 3eagan’s difficulty in recalling key aspects of the Iran!ontra affaire by the questionG“ hat did he know, and when did he forget it”G;orth also found members of !ongress striking a disingenuous pose, one that could ha)e similarly been framed asC “ hat did they know and when did they forget it.” 2ometimes a matter of looking the

?o9 'utterfield, “!olonel 3ecounts (ow ;orth 3an !ontra 8peration,” The New York Times, -ay 7/, "./0D see also ;orth, Under Fire, p. :F:. :/ alsh IranT!ontra 3eport, !hapter 7C Anited 2tates ). 8li)er ;orth, pp. "B, "7. :. Suoted in -ichael &ynch and 4a)id 'ogen, The !pectacle of $istory !peech, Te5t and Memory at the 0ran6&ontra $earin(s, 4urham, ;.!.C 4uke Ani)ersity @ress, "..E, p. ""F. >B alsh IranT!ontra 3eport, !hapter 7, op. cit, p. "7. >" In the period "./7 and "./E, fi)e separate 'oland 5mendments, named for the chair of the (ouse intelligence committee, passed the (ouse of 3epresentati)es. >7 ;orth, Under Fire, p. 7:/.


other way, on other occasions legislators appeared to “play dumb”Gto look stricken upon supposedly hearing about contro)ersial information for the first time, while in truth, they or their staffs had known about it beforehand. In the contro)ersial case of the sowing of ;icaraguan harbors with loud but )irtually non-lethal “firecracker mines,” ;orth said, !ongressional opponents roared their outrage at the “clandestine” effort, e)en though 2enate and (ouse intelligence committees had been briefed about the operation. “;ot all the members of the intelligence committees knew all the facts,” ;orth wrote of his own in)ol)ement in !entral 5merica, “but there weren’t many people in ashington with an interest in the ;icaraguan situation who didn’t know, at least in general, that 8li)er ;orth was up to his ears in aiding the !ontras.” 5t the same time, ;orth admitted that, he has misled members of the (ouse Intelligence !ommittee when, in ;o)ember "./E, he denied a role in supporting the !ontras. “I look back on that meeting today knowing that what I did was wrong. I didn’t gi)e straight answers to the questions that I was asked.”>: #(* I35;-!8;#35 5??5I3 JI*&4*4 a unique look at conser)ati)e national security practice and responsibility. (istory, custom, laws, constitutional intent, and the intentions of the framers ha)e long shaped and informed A.2. national security policies, within a framework of constitutionally mandated checks and balances, and shared powers. “5nalysts who speak of foreign policy as the product of the e9ecuti)e branch alone ignore the shifting balance of power built into the 5merican system by the ?ramers,” noted political scientist %ames -. 2cott. “#he document itself is ambiguous on the di)ision of their powers, so the precise role and responsibility of each branch is also unclear, creating an in)itation to struggle.” >> 5s the !old ar raged, howe)er, there emerged in ashington a foreign policy bias for a non-

elected bureaucratic elite to control decision-making, in which a marked predisposition for *9ecuti)e 'ranch pre-eminence emerged. >F 5t the core of this shift, and a necessary emphasis on secrecy, was what one obser)er called the “colossal bluff” in)ol)ed in the policy of nuclear deterrence, in which, as 2ecretary of 2tate %ohn ?oster 4ulles admitted to ,ice @resident 3ichard ;i9onC “one cannot e9plain e)erything to our own people, as it also e9plains things to the enemy.” >E

>: >>

;orth, Under Fire, pp. 7:F-7:E, :77, :0B. 2cott, op. cit. p. 7:/. >F 2ee, for e9ample, (arold (ong1u Loh, The National !ec#rity &onstit#tion !harin( )ower After the 0ran6&ontra Affair, ;ew (a)enC Jale Ani)ersity @ress, "..B. >E ?rank ;inko)itch, The "ilsonian &ent#ry, !hicagoC Ani)ersity of !hicago @ress, "..., pp. 7BB, :BE..


In addition, the Iran-!ontra affair represented one of the first times a sustained clandestine warmaking operation>0 was conducted since ,ietnam, atergate and the congressional hearings in the mid-".0Bs that e9posed plots to assassinate !uban dictator ?idel !astro and other foreign leaders, as well as the A.2. role in the o)erthrow of democratically elected -ar9ist president 2al)ador 5llende Gossens in !hile. “ ith the media and the public less tolerant of such acti)ities,” wrote one )eteran 5merican foreign correspondent, “the hearings made it more difficult for the actions ashington to 1ustify and wage secret wars.” >/ of ;orth et. al, being #he subsequent lack of elite post facto, by many consensus about the boundaries for the legitimate e9ercise of 5merican force o)erseas resulted in denounced, 3epublicansTconser)ati)es, while at the same time heralded by others who chaffed at !ongressional restrictions in what they saw a undue interference in a twilight struggle with 2o)iet communism a stoneUs throw from 5mericaUs borders. Ley to understanding Iran-!ontra in the conte9t of related co)ert operations that were carried out simultaneously on two continents comes from the le9icon of intelligence tradecraft. 5s the !hurch !ommittee, otherwise known as the Anited 2tates 2enate 2elect !ommittee to 2tudy Go)ernmental 8perations with 3espect to Intelligence 5cti)ities, chaired by 2enator ?rank !hurch <4-Id.= in ".0F, noted in offering an “authoritati)e definition” of “plausible deniability”C M@lausible denial’ has shaped the processes for appro)ing and e)aluating co)ert actions. K M@lausible denial’ can also lead to the use of euphemisms and circumlocution, which are designed to allow the @resident and other senior officials to deny knowledge of an operation should it be disclosed. #he con)erse may also occurD a @resident could communicate his desires for a sensiti)e operation in an indirect, circumlocutious manner. 5n additional possibility is that the @resident may, in fact, not be fully and accurately informed about a sensiti)e operation because he failed to recei)e the Mcircumlocutious’ message. #he e)idence K re)eals that serious problems of assessing intent and ensuring both control and accountability may result from the use of Mplausible denial.’>. 3eagan’s )i)id personal interest in both the ;icaraguans he called “?reedom ?ighters” and those 5mericans held hostage in &ebanon were beyond doubt, as was his frustration with !ongressional limitations on what he could do in !entral 5merica. (owe)er, crucial e)idence

5 second, contemporaneous !I5- run operation, assisting 5fghan rebels fight occupying 2o)iet troops, en1oyed widespread bipartisan !ongressional support, in large part because the A223 had in)aded a so)ereign nation. 2ee George !rile, &harlie "ilson7s "ar The E5traordinary !tory of the ,ar(est &o'ert -peration in $istory, 5tlantic -onthly @ress, 7BB:. @olls showed that the !ontras ne)er en1oyed the ma1ority support of the 5merican people. >/ 4on 'ohning, The &astro -/session, p. 7. >. Alle(ed Assassination )lots 0n'ol'in( Forei(n ,eaders+ An 0nterim Report of the United !tates !enate !elect &ommittee to !t#dy 8o'ernment -perations, <;ew JorkC . . ;orton, ".0E=, p. ..


shredded by ;orth and an assistant and 3eagan’s own faulty memory about key e)ents make conclusi)e statements about how “plausible denial” worked in the case of Iran-!ontra difficult. #his is particularly true concerning the problems of assessing intent and ensuring control and accountability and it is that gray area that ser)ed as the background to the role encumbered by ;orth, both as a military man and as a conser)ati)e acti)ist. Ironically, the acti)ist role of ;ational 2ecurity !ouncilGoriginally created by !ongress to ser)e as the president’s primary forum for resolution of military and foreign policy issuesGand the place military officers might play within the ;2! in a conser)ati)e administration were not articles of consensus at the beginnings of the 3eagan 5dministration. 3ichard 5llen, a foreign affairs scholar who became 3eagan’s first ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isor in "./", had written a line into a 3eagan speech in 8ctober "./B that signaled the cutting back of the post from the operational, policymaking role its occupant had en1oyed since the Lissinger eraC “ hen @resident, I will reduce the conflict between the ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isor and the 2ecretary of 2tate, and the ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isor once again will become a staff person.” !oncerning ;orth, 5llen told an inter)iewer in 7BB7, “If I hadn’t left, he would ha)e been gone. I would ne)er keep a military man more than si9 or eight months. ;e)er. K #he military always has its own agenda. #hey’re the guys you want to fight the war, they’re terrific people, but I don’t want them anywhere near the hite (ouse for more than a year at a time.” FB

Apon taking office in %anuary, "./0, @oinde9ter’s replacement, ?rank !arlucci, “immediately abolished the political-military affairs unit that had ser)ed as ;orth’s launching pad within the ;2! staff.” !arlucci was quoted as sayingC “I could ne)er figure out what it did. K It made not sense to me because almost e)erything we do in)ol)es political and military affairs. #he way it was set up simply in)ited trouble, and, of course, trouble came along.” 'y taking the ;2! out of operations, and gi)ing it back its “honest broker role,” he said, “ e set out to restore the credibility of the institution, to restore it to its proper role as an interagency body. “ F" #he “compulsion” for secrecy and compartimentali$ation of information that characteri$ed Iran!ontra also predated the affair and were not, when 3onald ilson 3eagan was inaugurated president for the first time, necessarily a preordained policy preference for the conser)ati)e administration. 3eagan’s first secretary of state and former Lissinger trusted ad)isor, 5le9ander (aig, whose 5chille’s heel pro)ed to be his own tenuous standing among 3eagan’s confidants,

Ronald Rea(an -ral $istory )ro.ect, 5llen inter)iew, op. cit., pp. >0->/, E: &ou !annon, op. cit., p. 0:7.


ran his own “initiati)es with little

hite (ouse input or clearance” in the first months of the

administration.F7 (aig’s 2tate 4epartment counselor was 3obert -c?arlane, who later at the head of the ;2! used ;orth as a prime conduit for back-channel intrigue, and enough protVgVs of (aigGforced out of office in mid-"./7Gwere so closely identified with Iran-!ontra that one ;2! colleague referred to them as “(aig’s re)enge.” F: 5ccording to one authoritati)e account, “internal critics” inside the 5dministration charged that “long before” the Iran-!ontra affair, “senior ;2! staff officials often o)errode or refused to consult their own e9perts inside the go)ernment and took action outside con)entional channels.” 5 small clique of ;2! staff, including ;orth, was used “to accomplish co)ertly what they could not do through regular policymaking channels.” F> -ost of the ;2!’s statutory members knew little, if anything, about ;orth’s role. 5nd ;orth often lied to colleagues from ;2!, 2tate, etc. FF Ironically, despite the operational role assumed by the ;2!, the body lacked a strong leader in either -c?arlane <who later claimed he “did not ha)e the guts” to tell 3eagan his !entral 5merican policy would not work as he was afraid that !asey, einberger or A.;. 5mbassador %eane Lirkpatrick “would ha)e said I was some kind of commie”= or @oinde9ter, who had no e9perience in a policymaking slot requiring political skills. 5s "ashin(ton )ost reporters !harles 3. 'abcock and 4on 8berdorfer notedC (a)ing a strong ;2! was important because 3eagan refused to choose between opposing )iews of his !abinet officers or to enforce his decisions if he was able to make them. Anable to establish and maintain clear lines of policy in disputed areas, -c?arlane and @oinde9ter took some key issues underground, cutting out the rest of the go)ernment, including many officials of the ;2! itself.”FE #he yawning institutional dysfunction permitted ;orth’s meteoric ascent within the national security bureaucracy, where he “)ery soon found himself in a determinati)e role concerning the most sensiti)e affairs of state, including highly classified weapons sales, go)ernment-togo)ernment negotiations, contingency plans for go)ernmental disruption, and, e)entually, of course, in tasks for which he seems to ha)e been uniquely unsuitedC negotiating weapons for


!harles 'abcock, 4on 8berdorfer, “#he ;2! !abalC (ow 5rrogance and 2ecrecy 'rought on a 2candal,” The "ashin(ton )ost, %une 7", "./0. F: 5s deputy national security ad)isor -c?arlane wrote a draft of 3eagan’s e9traordinarily closely held strategic missile defense statement using “the ultimate means of secrecy, his own typewriter.” 5nderson, op. cit., p. ./. F> 'abcock and 8berdorfer, op. cit. FF !annon, op. cit., p. E7". ?or e9ample, he lied to the 2tate 4epartment director of counterterrorism, 3obert 8akley, about the pro)enance of (5 L missiles that were to be shipped to Iran, FE 'abcock and 8berdorfer, op. cit. (aig protVgVs in)ol)ed in Iran-!ontra also included 4onald ?ortier, (oward 3. #eicher and consultant -ichael 5. &edeen.


hostages and running a secret army alongside skilled profiteers.” F0 -c?arlane, who like ;orth ser)ed in the -arine !orps in ,ietnam and made him a protVgV, “turned ;orth loose in a big way, and @oinde9ter had neither the skill nor the sense to rein him in.” F/ ?or his part, ;orth “understood the e9tent to which the hite (ouse had become hostage to the hostages,” F. a point that not only underscored their rescue as a presidential priority, but also allowed him to le)erage his action-oriented ideas, howe)er implausible and un-)etted, into a principal role for himself. ;or was there any doubt about 3eagan’s commitment to the ;icaraguan rebels, who he lioni$ed as “freedom fighters” and about whose pro9y battle against the 2o)iet-backed -ar9ist regime, (aig had assured the president, “#his is one you can win.” EB #(* A.2. -I&I#53J ,I* of ;orth’s role in Iran-!ontra reflected its own traditions and

codes of conduct, and brought to the fore questions about both the lieutenant colonel’s personal ethics and his internali$ation of institutional )alues. ;orth’s truthfulness and discipline became key standards upon which he was 1udged, as was the in)ersion of military discipline that occurred when ;orth claimed to ha)e a better, more comprehensi)e )iew of matters of state than his superiors because he was closer to them “on the ground.” #he way ;orth pushed generals around during meeting by walking in and saying that he spoke for the president became the stuff of legend, his personal foible nonetheless underscoring how often senior military officers could be intimidated by political power. (e was, recalled an 5ir ?orce colonel who worked with him on &atin 5merica policy from the %oint 2taff at the @entagon, “a brash, upstart lieutenant colonel who ignored military protocol and called general officers by their first name” E" #he armed forces’ strict subordination to elected authority and respect for the rule of law are cornerstones of 5merican democracy. #hroughout its history, the A.2. military has been a nondeliberati)e institution of distinctly conser)ati)e culture, maintaining and stri)ing to impro)e )alues such as leadership, high moral standards and )alues, and discipline, a standard far higher
F0 F/

&arry 'ensky, “8llie ;orthC 5 2oldier for MGod’s 5merica,’” ,os An(eles Times, ;o). :, "..". !annon, op. cit., p. E70. @oinde9ter lacked ties to 3eagan, political e9perience and knowledge of international relations. “3arely has such an intelligent and unassuming man been so poorly suited for the high position he inherited as @oinde9ter was as 3eagan’s national security ad)iser,” 3eagan biographer &ou !annon wrote. “Intro)erted and reclusi)e in his habits K @oinde9ter was a remote figure e)en within the ;2! K hen I mentioned K during an inter)iew that e)en some 3epublican congressmen had complained about his inaccessibility, he told me that he had no responsibility for dealing with !ongress and ga)e the impression he also had no interest.” -ore ad)erse to political process than other of his military peers, “#his a)ersion would enable @oinde9ter to carry out what he belie)ed to be the wishes of his commander in chief without troubling himself about the legality of his conduct.” (is reticence “would enable the )enturesome and temperamentally opposite 8li)er ;orth to gain lock-stock-and-barrel control o)er the many-sided Iran initiati)e.” !annon, pp. E7F-E7E. F. !annon, op. cit., pp. E70-E7/. EB @owers, op. cit, p. :.E. E" 5uthor inter)iew, name withheld by request.


than that of mere citi$enship e9pected of all 5mericans. “#he )alues necessary to defend the society are often at odds with the )alues of society itself,” noted General <ret.= alter “4utch” Lerwin, former 5rmy )ice chief of staff. “#o be an effecti)e ser)ant of the people, the military must concentrate not on the )alues of our liberal society, but on the hard )alues of the battlefield.”E7 #wo political scientists recently warnedC “#he military culture is rightly conser)ati)e, obser)ing high standards, morals, and )alues, any further trend to make the military more like ci)ilian culture would be detrimental to the institution’s )ery e9istence.” E: N-artial )aluesN include boldness, integrity, honor, courage, commitment, responsibility, and intrepidity, as well as loyalty, work ethic, sacrifice, toughness, tradition, e9ample and teamwork. #he Aniformed !ode of -ilitary %ustice, which applies to all uniformed personnel within the armed ser)ices, says that all orders of a superior officer must be obeyed by subordinatesGunless the order is unlawful. #he honor code of the A.2. -ilitary 5cademy at cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.” ;orth’s bo9ing ri)al in the 5nnapolis class of ’E/.EF #he integrity of an officer’s word, deed and signature were considered paramount and rested on a pragmatic understandingC that if senior officers were allowed to lie to their men about the dangers they faced, )ital missions might fail and the men could be condemned to pointless death. 2ome obser)ers point to a deterioration of these ethical )alues occurring during the war in ,ietnam, when pressure to inflate statistics on enemy dead and false reports meant to win decorations and promotions caused, in the words of a former officer, “the erosion of trust upon which professional relationships, lifelong friendships and loyalties of comrades in arms and the honorable perception of military ser)ice ha)e been based.”EE

est @oint statesC “5 ebb,

“&oyalty, fairness, accountabilityG

that’s what makes the military work,” noted former 3eagan 2ecretary of the ;a)y %ames


Suoted in %ohn -eroney, “Is the ;a)al 5cademy 8ff !ourse6” #he 5merican *nterprise 8nline W httpCTTwww.taemag.comTissuesTarticeid."0B7/TarticleXdetail.asp E: Lrista *. eigand and 4a)id &. @alet$, “#he *lite -edia and the -ilitary-!i)ilian !ulture Gap,” Armed Forces 9 !ociety, ,ol. 70, ;o. 7, inter 7BB", pp. ".:, ".E. E> 8ne critical cadet in the ".0Bs obser)ed thatC “#he central, ironic parado9 of 5cademy life is that the institution attempts to build leaders by denying them room for indi)idual choice, through and initiati)e.” Suoted in 'ill Lauffman, “#he est @oint 2tory,” #he 5merican *nterprise 8nline W httpCTTwww.taemag.comTissuesTartcileid."0B70TarticleXdetail.asp EF Y“#radition in the -ilitary,” #he 5merican *nterprise 8nline W httpCTTwww.taemag.comTissuesTarticleid."E7"BTarticleXdetail.asp EE (alloran, The New York Times, op. cit. #he officer quoted was &ewis 2. 2orley III, a ".FE graduate of the A.2. -ilitary 5cademy at est @oint.


#he testimony of ;orth and @oinde9ter at the Iran-!ontra hearings, long-time New York Times @entagon correspondent 3ichard (alloran noted, “raised a fundamental question of military ethicsC -ay an officer lie6” Is it permissible for a military officer to lie6 If so, under what circumstances, to whom and about what6 If not, why not6 5fter considerable deliberation, the nation’s top military officers declined to reply to the query, thus underscoring the ambi)alence that runs through the officer corps of all ser)ices on a critical issue of military ethics and integrity. K in recent years, the practice of what military officers refer to as Msituational ethics’ has become per)asi)e. #hat )iew K says that a higher end, such as national security, 1ustifies such means as lying and deception. E0 (alloran obser)ed that the importance of trust as a military )alue was underscored by the feeling thatC “an officer lying through the press to the people he has sworn to defend soils his uniform and )iolates the time-honored code dictating that officers do not lie, cheat, or steal.” *)en deception, (alloran said, “a basic principle of war” used to decei)e the enemy, “is not permissible when it K decei)es 5merican citi$ens. #he lie would not only be dishonorable but would erode the credibility of the military ser)ice once the lie has been disco)ered.” E/ 5s ;orth catapulted into national headlines, the head of the -arine !orps, Gen. @aul +. Lelly, whose many detractors critici$ed his leadership style and the type of role model he himself offered, a)oided commenting directly on the case. Lelly was asked whether he considered ;orth “a hero or a bum,” or if he ob1ected to the lieutenant colonel wearing his uniform while taking the ?ifth 5mendment. (e noted that ;orth had an “outstanding combat record” before he left the !orps for duty at the hite (ouse in "./", after which “he hasn’t belonged to me” and therefore could not 1udge his performance. It was ;orth’s “call,” he said, whether to wear his uniform while testifying before !ongress.E. <5lthough the public did not know it at the time, ;orth had been directed not to wear his uniform in his appearance before !ongress as none of his acti)ities under in)estigation had been done as a -arine. #he !orps stood down on its position, howe)er, when the 5dministration o)errode the order and Lelly acquiesced.= 0B 8ther military officers and ci)ilian e9perts on national security issues were less forgi)ing in public than Lelly, taking issue with not only what ;orth said, or did not say, and did or did not do, regarding Iran-!ontra, but e)en challenging the personal story that he had spun for himself
E0 E/

(alloran, The New York Times, op. cit. (alloran, “2oldiers and 2crtibblers 3e)isitedC orking with the -edia,” )arameters, 2ummer "..F. E. George !. ilson, “#op -arine 2ees A.2. &osing -oral ?iberD orking -others a ?actor,” The "ashin(ton )ost, %une 7E, "./0. 0B 5uthor’s communication with long-time military analyst who worked with the -arine !orps.


and for the public. In his study of the -arine !orps, Makin( the &orps, military 1ournalist #homas *. 3icks obser)ed that the ser)ice’s orientation on the front line combatant and its small si$e “seems to ha)e encouraged both a sense of brotherhood and a culture of candor within the !orps that the other ser)ices lack.” #o which he addedC “#o be sure, there are liars, kna)es, and cheats within the !orps, as there are anywhereGand the !orps’ liars can be whoppers, as &t. !ol. 8li)er ;orth demonstrated.”0" &t. Gen. ,ictor (. Lrulak, the legendary “paramarineN during orld ar II, challenged the )eracity of ;orth’s tales about his derring-do in ,ietnam, sayingC “(is combat e9ploits in ,ietnam are romantici$ed, like the 2unday-supplement tale of his )aliant single-handed midnight forays into the <4emilitari$ed Ione= to capture and bring back a ;orth ,ietnamese prisoner. It is an e9citing story, but like many others, it ne)er happened.” 07 Altra-conser)ati)e retired 5rmy -a1or General %ohn 2inglaub, highly-decorated officer, a founding member of the !entral Intelligence 5gency, and a )ocal !ontra supporter also found a chasm between the ;orth people thought they knew and the -arine lieutenant colonel he knewC N#o people all o)er the world 8llie ;orth was a hero. 'ut I knew better. #here was a wide gap between the media image of 8llie ;orth--the honest, loyal -arine--and the sordid reality of his true character and performance.N 0: *)en retired 5ir ?orce Gen. 3ichard 2ecord, a key ;orth ally, said that he had balked at an attempt by -c?arlane and ;orth to create “plausible deniability” for 3eagan on the issue of the arms transfers. @lausible deniability, he said, “is and always will be an important tool for co)ert operations, but it has to be built into the plan. Jou can 1ury-rig something after the fact K I was doubly upset about this now, with !ongressional hearings looming, and really ticked at -c?arlane and disappointed in 8llie for going along with him because we were no longer fussing with talking papers, but gi)ing testimony under oath to !ongress. There is a /i( difference /etween peddlin( disinformation as a co'er story and committin( per.#ry.” <italics added=0> 8ther aspects of ;orth’s conduct came into question from )arious quarters within the military. ?or e9ample, although ;orth tried to portray his landing at &ondon’s (eathrow airport, and his subsequent encounters with immigration officials using a false identity, in a humorous )ein, !ol. 5nthony *. (artle, the director of the philosophy program at
0" 07

est @oint wroteC “(owe)er

3icks, op. cit,, p. ".7. U+!+ News and "orld Report, “#he 2tory of &ieutenant !olonel 8li)er ;orth”, :3;<=> p. "7., quoted in !annon, op. cit., p. E70D -ichael &edeen, an ;2! consultant who worked closely with ;orth tallied the stories ;orth told him and wondered if ;orth “had a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between truth and fantasy. K (e had an enormous capacity to belie)e in his own stories. -y question is whether it was a temporary phenomenon, because he was so burdened, or is it in his nature6” Suoted in eiss, The New York Times, op. cit. 0: 4a)id (ackworth, “4rugstore -arine,” )lay/oy, %une "..> ,ol. >", ;o. E. 0> 3ichard 2ecord, $onored and Betrayed, ;ew JorkC %ohn iley and 2ons, "..7, p. :>".


standard such an e9change may be for an espionage agent, it may be questionable for a -arine officer, whose professional ethic places great emphasis on honesty and truth-telling to lie purposefully and substanti)ely to officials of a friendly nation.” ;orth’s efforts to backdate checks and to hide the fact that a third party paid for an e9pensi)e security system installed at his ,irginia home were )iewed by (artle as suggesting that ;orth “might ha)e set aside the moral discrimination between truth and falsehood that ser)ed him well as a midshipman at the ;a)al 5cademy and as a young -arine officer.” hile it is not unethical for an officer to mislead the enemy, he wrote, ;orth’s treatment of !ongress, ?'I and ;2! security staff agents, and those directed by 3eagan to in)estigate the scandal, all suggested that they could “be decei)ed in the name of a greater good known only to ;orth and other members of the co)ert operations group. K hen the inefficiency and lack of responsi)eness of democratic procedures become to great a lu9ury or danger, and persons other than the people’s elected representati)es conclude that, because they understand the real priorities, democratic procedures must be set aside, then the republic is perhaps most endangered.”0F #he -arine !orps adage about “no man being left behind” is a point of pride. (owe)er, in Iran!ontra one palpable casuality was ;orth’s secretary ?awn (all, the sometimes model who was pilloried in the press for her role and her continuing loyalty to ;orth. Ander oath, (all testified that ;orth was an “inspirational boss,” who was “ne)er la$y or self-ser)ing.” 0E ?or years after the scandal broke, howe)er, ;orth did not bother to e)en contact her. “8llie used me,” (all later complained. I was like a piece of Lleene9 to him.” 00 ;oted ;2! consultant -ichael &edeen, one of ;orth’s key allies in Iran-!ontra. “&oyalty means not 1ust loyalty up, but loyalty down. (e did not show it to her.”0/ In assaying ;orth’s conduct as a military officer in the Iran-!ontra scandal, it is important to note what may ha)e been institutional enablers within the -arines itself, ideas and practices that help e9plain, although not e9cuse, his beha)ior. In the -arine !orps, military writer #homas 3icks tells us, culture, “that is, the )alues and assumptions that shape its membersGis all the -arines ha)e. K #heirs is the richest cultureD formalistic, insular, elitist, with a deep anchor in their own history and mythology. -uch more than the other branches, they place pride and responsibility at the lowest le)els of the organi$ation.” In addition, a sense of being different and better than the
0F 0E

(artle, op. cit. (all, ;orth #rial #estimony, -arch 77, "./., p. F>".. 00 Suoted in 3o9anne 3oberts, “8llie ;orth, 5ction (eroD "B Jears 5fter Iran-!ontra, ?reedom 5lliance (onors Its -r. 3ight,” The "ashin(ton )ost, %uly ., "..0. 0/ eiss, op. cit.


ci)ilian society it is sworn to defend is deeply engrained within the -arines, and makes ;orth’s distain for ci)ilian rules and procedures only an e9treme case noteworthy for the power and influence he came to hold. In the past three decades, 3icks wrote, “as 5merican culture has grown more fragmented, indi)idualistic, and consumerist, the -arines ha)e become more withdrawnD they feel that they simply cannot afford to reflect the broader society. #oday’s -arines gi)e off a strong sense of disdain for the )ery society they protect.” 0. ;orth’s hubris, and thus much of the Iran-!ontra action, may ha)e been midwifed by that disdain. !8;2*3,5#I,*2 *3* 2@&I# 5&8;G 2*,*35& lines in the aftermath of the disclosure

of the Iran-!ontra affair. #he first fault line di)ided those who sought to isolate 3eagan and the hite (ouse from embarrassment, political eclipse and e)en impeachment, against those who rallied to defend ;orth from attack. #he second di)ided ;orth supporters into those who 1ustified his actions and those who chose not to address his deeds but rather sought to deflect blame by pointing out the alleged perfidity or callowness of ;orth’s critics. ?urther nuances in the conser)ati)e camp drew distinctions between conser)ati)es and anti-communists, those who wanted to protect 3eagan and those who sought to protect the presidency, and proponents of limited go)ernment <worried about ends being used to 1ustify means= )ersus those fa)oring a strong presidency. #he )arying )iews of ;orth and Iran-!ontra among conser)ati)es appeared in part to reflect 3ichard Gid @owers’ obser)ation that 5merican anti-communism was “a comple9, pluralistic mo)ement,” in which )arious strains of opposition to the -ar9ist left were united only by “their hatred of communism.” /B Apon public re)elation of Iran-!ontra, the 3eagan hite (ouse mo)ed to a strategy of damage

control meant to keep the president from being impeached and restoring his tattered authority for the rest of his second term. Institutionally, that strategy necessarily in)ol)ed distancing the president from prior knowledge of the scandal and to make underlings such as ;orth and @oinde9ter scapegoats./" 5s 3eagan biographer !annon noted, the president “was able to a)ert the impeachment that -eese and others had considered a serious possibility because the !ontra di)ersion could not be pinned on him.”/7

0. /B

3icks, op. cit., p. ".. 3ichard Gid @owers, ;ot ithout (onor, #he (istory of 5merican 5nti-communism, ;ew JorkC #he ?ree @ress, "..F, p. >7E. /" 2ee 3obert 'usby, Rea(an and the 0ran6&ontra Affair The )olitics of )residential Reco'ery, 'asingstokeC @algra)e -ac-illan @ress, "... /7 !annon, op. cit, p. 0"/.


2ome conser)ati)es, e)en within the 5dministration, refused to go along.

hite (ouse

!ommunications 4irector @atrick 'uchanan, who in -arch "./E, wrote that “with the !ontra )ote, the 4emocratic @arty will re)eal whether it stands with 3onald 3eagan and the resistanceG or <;icaraguan strongman= 4aniel 8rtega and the communists,” /: stood firmly in ;orth’s corner. In 4ecember of that year, 'uchanan told The New York Times that ;orth was “a patriot and a gallant -arine. If 8llie made a mistake, then 8llie will pay for it and he’ll do it like a -arine. It’s outrageous to treat him as if he were guilty when he hasn’t been con)icted or charged with anything. 5nd it is simply wrong to describe him as a rogue and a cowboy and a soldier of fortune when in my 1udgment he’s a splendid 5merican.” *arlier, 'uchanan had told a !uban 5merican audience in -iami that @oinde9ter and ;orth had “put their careers on the line to protect our country. K I say, if !olonel ;orth ripped off the 5yatollah and took some Z:B million to gi)e to the !ontras, God bless !olonel ;orth.” 'uchanan’s comments were considered to be politically damaging by senior 3eagan aides, and by -arch ", "./0, he resigned. !olumnist George ?. ill found politicians still 5 8& from the process, and thereby democratic

accountability, e)en during the Iran-!ontra hearings on the (ill, with the !ongressional committee focusing on the least important issueGassembling e)idence of lawbreaking such as technical questions about whether profits from weapons sales were A.2. go)ernment assetsG rather than focusing on clarifying the president’s constitutional role, or “elucidat<ing= the procedures that produced the blunders.” hat would make the hearings worthy of the description “historic,” he wrote, “are political questions. #hey concern the distincti)e functions of the go)ernment’s branches, the different ethics of public and pri)ate actions, the compatibility of democracy and secrecy.” #he contribution of liberalism “to the current climate,” “the attempt to criminali$e policy differences.” /> 2ome conser)ati)es sought to minimi$e the historical significance of the Iran-!ontra affair by focusing on the <meager= outcome of the legal process against those charged with wrongdoing. illiam ?. 'uckley, one of the country’s most important and influential, found the mortifying <“appalling and humiliating”= prospect of presidential pardons by 3eagan for those con)icted for their roles in the Iran-!ontra affair part of a “fascinating <but historically tri)ial= legal carni)al.” /F riting in 'uckley’s National Re'iew,
/: />

ill added, was

illiam -cGurn found in 2pecial @rosecutor

alsh an

@at 'uchanan, “#he !ontras ;eed 8ur (elp,” "ashin(ton )ost, -arch F, "./E. George ?. ill, “@oliticians, ;ot &awyers and 2oldiers,” The "ashin(ton )ost, %uly "B, "./0. !onser)ati)es’ argument about criminali$ing policy differences appeared to recei)e some support, from a due process )iew, when federal 1udges o)erturned ;orth’s con)iction. /F 'uckley, “’%ustice’ and the Iran-!ontra #rial,” National Re'iew, 5pril 7., ".//.


“uncanny resemblance” to the Grinch that stole !hristmas.

alsh was someone who has

“indicted and intimidated a score of former 3eagan officials on the basis of Mcrimes’ that no other prosecutor would e)er ha)e recogni$ed. K #he ;orth and @oinde9ter dismissals were particularly tough on alsh, lea)ing him with no stolen presents to show for his ZFB million e9pense account.” (a)ing failed to “come up with anything substanti)e,” -cGurn complained, “does not that effecti)ely call into question the wisdom of his own employment6 #he ?ounding ?athers, after all, thought e9ecuti)e malfeasance would best be corrected by either the impeachment power granted !ongress or by the )oters at the election booth.” #he “e9traconstitutional office” held by which they disagree.”/E #he implications of the national security state 1ustification that ends 1ustified means clearly bothered some conser)ati)e thinkers. -artin 5nderson, 3eagan’s domestic policy guru, saw in Iran-!ontra “the mischie)ous philosophy that the ends sometimes 1ustify the means, the idea that it is 8L to bend and stretch the law, to slyly circum)ent it and, if really necessary, to )iolate the law, to break it if your cause is 1ust and grand enough.” In this )iew, although 3eagan “ne)er broke the law,” he made his frustration with the 'oland 5mendment “plain and clear” but failed to ha)e the law changed. “5nd when he failed, some of his aides took it upon themsel)es to achie)e what they thought he wanted. In the process they bent the law, they twisted it, they went under it and around it and, e)ery now and then, they 1ust said the hell with it and broke the law.” /0 In Iran-!ontra, ideological conser)atism, represented by the 3eagan 5dministration’s foreign policy agenda, had trumped conser)ati)e orthodo9y, represented by the armed forces, as ends were held up as 1ustification for means. #he elite bureaucratic decision-making that characteri$ed the !old arD the imperati)es of sustained clandestine war-making in the post-,ietnam, postatergate eraD the e9aggerated secrecy and compartimentali$ation of ;2! acti)ities and the operational cast that body was gi)en by acolytes of former 2ecretary of 2tate (aig, all these played contributing roles as institutional enablers to the affair. eak super)ision and ;orth’s own personal ideological agenda also contributed to the sub)erting of not only the established foreign policy chain of command, but also of those military )alues the lieutenant colonel seemed, at a distance, to embody.
/E /0

alsh, “has now become a weapon with which a 4emocratic-

controlled !ongress can embarrass 3epublican 5dministrations by criminali$ing policy with

-cGurn, “-r. alsh’s ;orth 2tar,C National Re'iew, %an. 7B, "..7. 5nderson, op.cit, pp. :.F-:.E, >77->7:. 'oth 5nderson and 3ichard 5llen, 3eagan’s first ;ational 2ecurity 5d)isor, noted that ;orth’s history of hospitali$ation for emotional problems in the mid-".0Bs, had they not been co)ered up by the military brass, would ha)e pre)ented him from 1oining the ;2! staff.


#he issue is rele)ant today as the question is being asked, “ ho lost Iraq6” 5gain the ;2!’s role as an operational bureaucratic actor is once more at center stage and under criticism. #his time, @resident George . 'ush’s national security ad)isor, !ondolee$$a 3ice, is cast as a true belie)er in a war who found herself “unable to play the traditional role” of ;2! chief, that is, to be “an impartial broker in the rough-and-tumble of interagency go)ernment.” Instead, the ;2! once again became “)ery operational,” micromanaging Iraqi reconstruction efforts, while senior military officials put “a big spin” on their briefings, reporting the numbers “but downplay<ing= the significance of the trends.” // In a real sense, central problems found in the conduct of both the ,ietnam ar and Iran-!ontra were being again played out in -esopotamia.

4**@ 4I??*3*;!*2 I; #(* !8;2*3,5#I,*2’ camp about the origins of, responsibilities for and the significance to be gi)en to the Iran-!ontra debacle were e)idence of the di)ersity of interests and thought within the 3eagan 5dministration and its allies. ith time, howe)er, these differences seemed to fade under the gau$y big tent of memory, a halcyon place where a unified conser)ati)e mo)ement led by the 3eagan team brought communism to its knees and won the !old ar.

#en years after ;orth testified before !ongress about Iran-!ontra, he and >FB of his admirers held an anni)ersary party “in celebration of ;icaraguan freedom and ultimate )ictory in the !old ar” at the (yatt 3egency hotel in ashington, 4.!. 2en. %esse (elms <3.-;.!.=, the bane of liberals and then chairman of the 2enate ?oreign 3elations !ommittee, led the @ledge of 5llegiance, and cheered ;orth as “an authentic 5merican hero.” ,ideo tributes included remarks from @oinde9ter, 'uchanan and conser)ati)e columnist 3obert ;o)ak. “!elebrating 8li)er ;orth and his role in history,” declared Gro)er ;orquist, president of 5mericans for #a9 3eform, “reminds the world that 3eagan was right about ;icaragua and !entral 5merica. #oo often, conser)ati)es focus on today’s battles and we allow the left to capture the past.”

#he gathering came 1ust three years after 3eagan had weighed in during ;orth’s failed bid to win a 2enate seat in ,irginia, where, as one political scientist noted, “(is election would represent the steppingstone to national prominence as the spokesperson for ideological, mo)ement conser)atism, a more in-your-race conser)atism than ,irginia is used to.” .B #he Gipper told
// /.

3aga)an, U+!+ News and "orld Report, op. cit. 3oberts, The "ashin(ton )ost, op. cit. .B eiss, The New York Times, op. cit. #he academician quoted was 3obert 4. (olsworth, chair of the political science department at ,irginia !ommonwealth Ani)ersity.


;orth’s 3epublican opponents that he was “getting pretty steamed about the statements coming from 8li)er ;orth.” 3eagan, mindful of his legacy, remembered why he was getting so angry. “I ne)er instructed him or anyone in my 5dministration to mislead !ongress on Iran-!ontra matters or anything else. I certainly did not know anything about the Iran-!ontra di)ersion. 5nd the pri)ate meetings he said he had with me 1ust didn’t happen.” ."


“3eagan Getting M2teamed’ at ;orth 8)er 3eported Iran-!ontra 3emarks,” The ,os An(eles Times, -arch "/, "..>.