These bizarre intrigues breached U.S. law and policy in myriad ways, including repeated violations of the statute forbidding aid to regimes that support terrorism. At first Reagan tried to deny that he had “traded arms for hostages,” then reluctantly confessed many months later while seeking to blame his subordinates.
While there was much more to the scandal that nearly ended Reagan’s Presidency—including the starring role of neoconservatives who have since masterminded another, worse disaster—the basic outline is clear: Terrorists killed our troops, and Reagan responded by retreating from Lebanon, kowtowing to the terrorists’ sponsors, meeting their demand for advanced weapons and pleading for the release of our hostages.
It is easy to imagine how the Republicans would have reacted to this kind of behavior by a Democratic President—and how they would recall such behavior today. Words such as “strong” and “resolute” would not leap to their lips.
With Reagan, however, myth replaces memory. The truth is that he saved his Presidency by ousting the hawks and neoconservatives who had almost destroyed it, and by entering into the unprecedented negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that helped to end the Cold War peacefully. For that momentous decision, he suffered angry public attacks by many of the same conservatives who lionize him today.
The macho posturing in Reagan’s name is comical and demeaning, but not without danger. Let’s hope this is all just campaign bluster—and that none of the pretenders who may someday achieve power believe in their own fakery.