There are two great risks in writing about a scandal unfolding as rapidly as the Iranian-contra connection. First, what I write today may be quickly outdated. I am reminded of the Civil War soldier sentenced to hang for desertion. The night before his execution, he wrote his fiancée with the sad news. The next day he was unexpectedly pardoned, and immediately posted a letter to his love—but alas, between the arrival of the first and second epistles, she married another man.
The second risk is not having all the facts. During Watergate, I discovered a vast gulf between reality and news reports. TV cameras may never blink, but they’re often selective.
Some things, however, are safely predictable. Replete with shadowy arms dealers, secret Swiss bank accounts, and “safe” houses, “contragate” will be around a while. We can expect months of pontificating by pundits and politicians, while those with aspirations for ’88 will either lick their wounds or lick their chops, depending on their party.
Some people may go to jail; some will write books. The Reagan revolution will be slowed; and not incidentally, a lot of newspapers will be sold.
But beyond its titillating tidbits, the scandal raises a host of serious issues, including who is running our foreign policy, and is it legitimate to deal with terrorists. The public seems especially outraged that all this was done in secret, misleading Congress, the press, and our allies.
Americans have always idealistically assumed that the business of democracy is conducted publicly, fondly remembering such assurances as Woodrow Wilson’s “open covenants … openly arrived at.” When we discover secret dealings, our confidence is ...1
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