As the chaos and unrest escalates in Iran, Republicans have predictably exhumed Ronald Reagan to club President Obama. Confusing Soviet domination of Eastern Europe with an Iranian election among candidates all blessed by the ruling theocrats in Tehran, John McCain blasted the President, recalling that Reagan "stood up for Polish workers in Gdansk." Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) wasn't content to declare to Gipper "always knew" to "be vocally supportive of all those people who are oppressed," he denounced Obama as a "cream puff." Sadly for the grandstanding Republicans, it was cream puff Ronald Reagan whose policy consisted of giving the mullahs in Iran a cake, a Bible - and U.S. arms.
The Iran-Contra scandal, as you'll recall, almost laid waste to the Reagan presidency. Desperate to free U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, President Reagan provided weapons Tehran badly needed in its long war with Saddam Hussein. In a clumsy and illegal attempt to skirt U.S. law, the proceeds of those sales were then funneled to the contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And as the New York Times recalled, Reagan's fiasco started with an emissary bearing gifts from the Gipper himself:
A retired Central Intelligence Agency official has confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee that on the secret mission to Teheran last May, Robert C. McFarlane and his party carried a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan for Iranian leaders.
According to a person who has read the committee's draft report, the retired C.I.A. official, George W. Cave, an Iran expert who was part of the mission, said the group had 10 falsified passports, believed to be Irish, and a key-shaped cake to symbolize the anticipated ''opening'' to Iran.
The rest, as they say, is history. After the revelations regarding his trip to Tehran and the Iran-Contra scheme, a disgraced McFarlane attempted suicide. After his initial denials, President Reagan was forced to address the nation on March 4, 1987 and acknowledge he indeed swapped arms for hostages (video here):
"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages."
Of course, the sad saga didn't end there. Then Lt. Colonel and now Fox News commentator Oliver North saw his Iran-Contra conviction overturned by an appellate court led by faithful Republican partisan and later Iraq WMD commissioner Laurence Silberman. And in December 1992, outgoing President George H.W. Bush offered Christmas pardons to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other Iran-Contra scandal figures. Among them were Elliot Abrams and John Poindexter, men who eight years later reprised their roles in the administration of George W. Bush.
Given the stakes and the complexity of the crisis in Iran, it is a blessing indeed that Bush is no longer the occupant of White House. But thanks to John McCain, Americans have a good sense what Bush's third term response would have looked like. The same McCain who in 2007 sang in jest "bomb bomb Iran" and four times mistakenly proclaimed Al Qaeda and Iran allies now insists, "I hope we will act."
Like Ronald Reagan.
UPDATE: Here's the video of Reagan's nationally televised March 4, 1987 admission that he traded arms for hostages with Iran.