Emerging on tv, a figure of the past, Oliver North offers some proposals on the conduct of the war in Ukraine. Given the clandestine nature of much of the U.S. effort, he is worth listening to since he was a leading director of covert activities in the last years of the Cold War – almost too many to count that finally collapsed of their own weight, leading to Iran-Contra, the chief scandal of the Reagan administration.
It began as a herculean effort to combine four secret projects, any one of which would be a full time job: blocking aggressive Soviet moves in the Middle East and aiding the Contra rebels against the Soviet supported Sandinista regime In Nicaragua; rescuing some fifty American hostages seized in the Islamic takeover of Iran in 1979, while at the same time attempting an opening to Iran with the aim of dividing our enemies instead of pushing them together, as the U.S. is doing at present. By any measure it was a superhuman effort, and to be sure, Ollie North was only human.
He enlisted in it with gusto. A proud marine colonel with a record of heroism under fire in Vietnam, he had no qualms about what he was doing and was joined by other equally enthusiastic members of the Reagan Administration. But not all forces were cooperating. The President was intent on bringing the hostages home and conveyed that feeling to North without going into detail. North acquired the services of a go-between, Manucher Ghobifar, full of promise and duplicity. Sell the Iranians the arms they need, he proposed, and they in turn will release the hostages. President Reagan had opposed trading arms for hostages but changed his mind with circumstances. Practicality prevailed over consistency. One of the hostages, a CIA chief in the region, had been brutally tortured and died, not before revealing the names of a number of CIA agents.
The weapons were sent by way of Israel, which then considered Iran less of a danger than Iraq, the reverse of today. But the hostages didn’t appear with the Iranians complaining that some of the weapons were flawed. While making plenty of money from the transactions, Ghobifar reassured North. Don’t worry, be patient, just depend on me. He claimed he spoke for the top leadership of Iran, which remained resolutely hostile to the U.S., regardless of weapons, While North waited, interminably, he thought some of the money from Iran could be put to good use aiding the Contras in their struggle against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The fear was that a communist Nicaragua could become another Cuba, where the nuclear missile crisis of 1963 had been a global scare.
But the U.S. Congress had ruled against any more aid to the Contras. A leak of all this maneuvering was inevitable and occurred to the outrage of Congress and media. How much longer would we have to deal with this communist menace? Not very long at all. Within a couple of years Reagan would meet with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union would collapse with a finality. Exposed and his plans no longer of use, Ollie had turned from hero to anti-hero. Such are the consequences of at least this covert action. The U. S. is now involved in some of the must clandestine activities in its history in Ukraine. Are they altogether workable or could they go the way of Iran-Contra?