Led by neoconservative officials within the Reagan administration like National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane in the early 1980s, the U.S. endorsed a third-party deal to send weapons to Iran just six months after the hostage crisis ended there. The move—meant to align American policy with Israel’s desires to sell weapons to Iran while it was at war with Iraq—ultimately helped plant the seeds for the later Iran-Contra scandal, newly released documents from the National Archives reveal.
The documents – declassified by National Archives personnel at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California – suggest that the Iran-Contra machinations were an outgrowth of these earlier U.S. contacts with Israel regarding arms sales to Iran dating back to 1980-81.
… In November 1986, the convoluted Iran-Contra scandal exploded into public view, forcing the dismissal of North and National Security Advisor John Poindexter and prompting both criminal and congressional investigations. Embarrassed by the catastrophe that he helped create, McFarlane attempted suicide by taking an overdose of valium on Feb. 9, 1987, but survived.
In 1988, McFarlane pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of concealing information from Congress, but he was pardoned – along with five other Iran-Contra defendants – on Christmas Eve 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, who himself had come under investigation for his role in the secret operations and the cover-up.
Ultimately, the investigations into Iran-Contra and related scandals – including the October Surprise allegations of a secret Reagan-Iran deal in 1980, to stop Carter from resolving that earlier hostage crisis, and Iraqgate, the secret arms sales to Iraq – failed to get to the bottom of the secret policies. Republican cover-ups largely succeeded.
Robert McFarlane, far left, is sworn in during congressional hearings on Iran-Contra in 1987.