an-contradiction : the implications of the arms-for-hostages scandal for U.S.-Iranian relations
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The legacy of the Iran-Contra scandal in the United States is irrefutable. Not only did Iran-Contra tarnish the Reagan administration, traumatizing the federal bureaucracy with criminal indictments, but it also exposed “the chronic tension between America’s democratic domestic political system and its nondemocratic national security system.”1 However, its overall repercussions for Iran remain more opaque. This paper seeks to ameliorate this lopsided coverage. This paper will examine the implications of the Iran- Contra affair on U.S.-Iranian relations in response to the following inquiries: Was the ostensible U.S. goal to sustain Iranian moderates merely window dressing? Which factions actually benefited from American military largesse? Was the U.S. responsible for the later political ascendancy of the pragmatists? And how did the conduct of foreign policy proceed afterward?The Iran-Contra Affair first captured the popular imagination through Al-Shiraa’s anecdotal account of the bewildering choice of gifts the May 1986 Tehran delegation sought to woo its Iranian interlocutors with: an autographed bible and allegorical cake. According to Oliver North, the chocolate confection, which was later unceremoniously devoured by Revolutionary Guardsmen (during Ramadan nonetheless), was actually intended for the arms dealer Ghorbanifar’s mother. During the flight, a key had fallen into the icing and North opted to leave it there to conceal the dent with a deliberate looking flourish.2 This purported symbol of reconciliation succinctly describes the actual relegation of détente to an afterthought during this chain of events.To address these queries, this paper will focus solely on the eastern theatre of operations and analyze the significance of the Iran-Contra affair within a trio of contexts: its germination via initial arms transactions under Israeli auspices, the blossoming of the scandal through greater American control over project management, and the aftermath from the end of the Reagan administration through the presidency of Rafsanjani. To conclude, this paper will make suggestions to improve future diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran based on this experience.
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