Ronald Reagan on Iran

Tonight, the three dozen or so Republican contenders for the presidential nomination will come together for their second televised debate. All of them will lambast the Iran deal, will say that the end of the world is near and will fail to mention that Iran already has nuclear power (also thanks to the support of American companies and previous US administrations). They won’t say how the US pulling out of a deal agreed on by six other nations would stop that deal or what they want instead. They won’t notice that the agreement doesn’t deny any of the military options some of them cherish so much.

Except for Ted Cruz, whose hero is Egyptian dictator al-Sisi, the Republican hopefuls will then all say something along the lines of “I would do what Ronald Reagan would do” or “Ronald Reagan never would have signed such a deal”. Which is not only weird, given that it’s 2015 and Reagan has been dead for a while, but which also displays a shocking lack of knowledge of recent history.

Here’s a brief refresher on Ronald Reagan’s policy towards Iran:

The Reagan administration sold weapons to Iran, breaking US laws and an arms embargo. The goal was to secure the release of US hostages (“we don’t negotiate with terrorists”). Hundreds of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles were sold to Iran.

Reagan secret deals Iran

Interestingly, because some Republicans accuse anyone supporting the Iran deal of being soft on Israel’s security, the weapons to Iran were provided via Israel. Earlier in the Iran-Iraq war, Israel had already helped Iran considerably by destroying Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak. (To my big surprise, I discovered on both my trips to Iran that many Iranians actually have fond memories of the cooperation between Iran and Israel, that a number of Iranians have a much more favorable view of Israel than of the Palestinians, and that nothing happened to me when I disclosed – during an interrogation by the Iranian Intelligence Service – that I had been to Israel before.)

Ronald Reagan lied to the American people in a televised speech and had to admit later that he had knowledge of the Iran-Contra dealings. His administration destroyed evidence.

So, could the candidates tonight please specify which part of President Reagan’s Iran policy they want to emulate?

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in History, Iran, Israel, Military, Politics, USA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Ronald Reagan on Iran

  1. David Rosenbaum says:

    Andreas, that’s a bit simplistic. Times are different so comparisons are tough. I agree that they’re invoking Reagan just for points, but the basic idea is correct – the Republicans in general have a less compromising approach to foreign affairs than the Democrats do, or you could say that the Democrats are stronger on diplomacy. Either way there is a legitimate disagreement.No point in hiding it .

    • Of course there is a huge disagreement and I would be the last one to hide that or to gloss over it. I would also be the last one to say that this is a simple matter (although I am generally more optimistic on diplomacy, particularly because the US doesn’t lose any military options while pursuing diplomacy).

      But if someone invokes Reagan on Iran, I have the feeling they were born after the 1980s (in which case they are awfully young to be President) or they think that voters are forgetful or stupid (which some may be, but I personally don’t like it). As tonight’s debate will be held at the Ronald Reagan Library, I am sure we can hear more of that.
      I wonder if any of the Republicans will mention hat President Reagan negotiated arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union (admittedly while continuing the arms race in other areas, thus forcing the Soviet Union into bankruptcy – definitely not a bad ending to the Cold War).

    • David Rosenbaum says:

      Fine, all well and true. But the nature of the way elections work is that the candidates stress their differences with the opposing party, not areas of agreement. Dems would likewise focus on their viewpoint when running vs incumbent republicans, as indeed Obama did in 2008. The fact that he continued drones is irrelevant.

      I would also add that Iran of the 80’s was not Iran of today (in terms of their danger). And Israel bombed osirak for their own goals, though it indirectly helped Iran by weakening saddam Hussein. Iraq was perceived then as a bigger threat. The west’s joint activities with the soviets during ww2 was not because they didn’t view soviets as a threat but because nazi Germany was perceived as a larger and more immediate one, and that in spite of Molotov-Ribbentrop which has just been trashed.

      Lastly, I will just add that I enjoy your posts. They are unlike any blog I’ve seen before!

    • Thank you!

      Curiously, something similar (indirectly helping Iran) happened after Saddam Hussein was deposed.

      Before I went to Iran, I never had an idea how strong the memory of the 1980-88 war is and how much it influences contemporary thinking and strategy. The fear of being attacked by Iraq (again) was only removed by the US-led coalition in 2003. Most Iranians are deeply thankful for that. At the bazaar in Tehran, I saw Iranian guys sport camouflage jackets with “US Army” patches. One of the families who invited me to stay at their home showed me a video in which they had recorded the most memorable moments of Gulf War II. Tommy Franks was their hero.

      I was also in Iran in January 2009, during another war in Gaza, so naturally we spoke a lot about that. My experience was that not many people knew that Israel had already withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 (like many people in Europe forget that fact) and many just felt “sorry for the children” (the prevailing sentiment in Europe as well). Most people were uninformed about the details and the cause and effect of that war, but not worse so than in Europe or the rest of the world. I also repeatedly heard from Iranians “Our government wants us to support the Palestinians, but we will never forget that they supported Saddam Hussein” (again going back to the 1980-88 war, in which Yasser Arafat supported Iraq). And many Iranians also told me “We are not Arabs, why should we care? We always had good relations with Israel,” launching into stories of how they received Israeli business people or went to Israel for complicated medical operations until 1979.

      Obviously, in an autocracy/dictatorship, the opinion of the people accounts for less than it does in democracies, but after all my traveling in the Middle East I actually think that Persians and Israelis are quite similar people.

  2. david says:

    You’re correct re your observations. Till 79, there were quite close relations. I had an Israeli great-aunt whose husband was an engineer, and who fondly recalled their 4 year stint in Iran in the 60’s.

    And there’s no doubt in my mind that the current regime acts as it does not out of sympathy for Palestinians but out of hate for Israel.

    • On the last point, I am not even sure it’s genuine hate for Israel that motivates Iran’s government. It’s an oppressive regime, so it needs outside enemies on whom it can blame things like sanctions. And Iran has also been trying very hard to become the leading Shia power, with (at least) a soft-power reach far beyond its own borders. The Iranian government seems to think that anti-Israel and anti-US rhetoric help, although the treatment of Shia in majority-Sunni countries probably helps their cause more.

  3. Pingback: Vor hundert Jahren legten Deutschland und Russland den Grundstein für den Zweiten Weltkrieg – April 1922: Rapallo | Der reisende Reporter

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