The gruesome murder of American reporter James Foley was horrific enough, but now right-wing bloggers and conservative commentators seem determined to make it more grotesque still. With word from ABC News that the Obama White House was aware that ISIS was threatening to kill Foley and fellow journalist Steven Sotloff in retaliation for American air strikes against its fighters in Iraq, the Republican amen corner is blaming the president for what it deems a "preventable atrocity." Obama, they seem to suggest, should have freed the hostages by kowtowing to or negotiating with terrorists—just like Ronald Reagan.
In her time of grief, James Foley's mother implored the kidnappers to "spare the lives of the remaining hostages" who are innocents with "no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world." But the right-wing noise machine had a different message. Conveniently ignoring the killings of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg during President Bush's tenure, Israel Matsav declared "This is the result of the world perceiving a weak America," adding, "Thank you Hussein Obama." The oxymoronically-named Independent Journal Review proclaimed that "bringing these terrorists to justice transcends partisan politics," only to declare in the next sentence, "We can only hope that President Obama weighs his decisions [about further air strikes against ISIS] carefully and thoughtfully." And the always execrable Hot Air offered the most obscene assessment of all:
The revelation that the White House was aware of the threats to Foley's life and was unable to provide for his safety will prompt administration critics to sharpen their attacks on Obama's approach to the crisis in the Middle East. In the wake of what may have been a preventable atrocity, some of that criticism will be quite valid.Valid criticism? Not from anyone now suggesting the U.S. "strike a deal with the Islamic State" or ever accused President Obama of "negotiating with terrorists." After all, that was Ronald Reagan's approach.
Continue reading about Reagan negotiated with terrorists below.
Iran-Contra, 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 (who, of course, was backed by the United States). 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.As his diaries published in 2005 show, President Ronald Reagan was under no illusions about either the illegality of the scheme or that it constituted anything other than a swap of arms for hostages. On Thursday, December 5, 1985, Reagan wrote in his diary:
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.
N.S.C. briefing--probably Bud's last. Subject was our undercover effort to free our 5 hostages held by terrorists in Lebanon. It is a complex undertaking with only a few of us in on it. I won't even write in the diary what we're up to.Nevertheless, just two days later the Gipper wrote about that very topic. On Saturday, December 7, Reagan noted in his diary:
Day opened with "Rex" (our new dog) on our bed. I then had a meeting with Don R., Cap W. and Bud M., John P., Geo. Schultz and Mahan of C.I.A. This had to do with the complex plan which could return our 5 hostages & help some officials in Iran who want to turn that country from its present course & on to a better relationship with us. It calls for Israel selling some weapons to Iran. As they are delivered in installments by air our hostages will be released. The weapons will go to the moderate leaders in the army who are essential if there is to be a change to a more stable govt. We then sell Israel replacements for the delivered weapons. None of this is a gift--the Iranians pay cash for the weapons--so does Israel.In case there was any doubt that Ronald Reagan blessed the delivery of hundreds of advanced anti-tank weapons to Tehran, the president himself removed it with his January 17, 1986, diary entry, "I agreed to sell TOWs to Iran."
George S. Cap and Don are opposed--Cong. has imposed a law that we can't sell Iran weapons or sell any other country weapons for resale to Iran. Geo. also thinks this violates our policy of not paying off terrorists. I claim the weapons are for those who want to change the govt of Iran & no ransom is being pd. for the hostages. No direct sale would be made by us to Iran but we would be replacing the weapons sold by Israel.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or more accurately, rewritten history. As President Reagan told the American people in a nationally televised address on March 4, 1987:
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.And when Reagan wasn't trying to buy the release of American hostages from Iranian-backed terrorists, he happily accepted the help of others in freeing U.S. captives from the Assad regime in Syria.
On December 4, 1983, President Reagan ordered carrier-based jets to strike targets in Lebanon after reconnaissance aircraft protecting U.S. peacekeeping forces there were fired on. The raid was a disaster. Syrian anti-aircraft batteries downed two jets, killing one pilot and capturing another. As Reagan wrote in his diary that night, "We're trying to get a confirmation & will open negotiations for their return." (That same night, Reagan wrote in his diary that he attended a Hanukah ceremony and went to a reception honoring Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Elia Kazan, Katherine Dunham and Virgil Thompson at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts. "A posse of our Hollywood friends will be at the W.H. for the reception," President Reagan noted, adding later, "It turned out to be a wonderful evening & a great show.")
"The United States, said Reagan, was ready to approach the problems of the Middle East "with a renewed spirit."Thirty-one years later, Reagan's 21st century acolytes happily ignore that history. As long as President Obama is blamed for the murder of James Foley, they couldn't be happier.
Reagan also applauded Democratic rival Jesse Jackson for the personal unofficial mission which gained the release of Navy Lt. Robert O. Goodman, Jr...To Jackson, the president said "it is a great day here in Washington. All Americans thank you. There have been a lot of prayers here in Washington. I have been praying for you. I couldn't be happier."
UPDATE: The White House has announced that a special operations mission to rescue James Foley and other hostages was mounted earlier this summer. " Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present."