A Modern Day Iran-Contra Affair? The $400 Million Question

Thirty years ago, the Reagan administration faced a maelstrom of criticism from the media as reports of the United States’ clandestine relations with Iran and the Contra rebels in Nicaragua proliferated in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra affair. In 1984, Congress had passed the Boland Amendment, preventing the CIA and Department of Defense from giving military aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. However, the United States surreptitiously delivered approximately 1,500 missiles to Iran through Israel during the Iran-Iraq War in an effort to strengthen U.S.-Iran relations in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, in which the American backed Shah of Iran was replaced by the radical Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In return, the United States secured the release of seven American hostages and $30 million; yet, the majority of the money was redirected to support the Contra rebels in their struggle against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The incident taints the Reagan presidency and serves as an embarrassment for the United States as whole, a nation with a longstanding policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists and hostage takers. In fact, the scandal was so humiliating that National Security Council adviser Oliver North was fired and ultimately convicted of three felonies for his role in orchestrating what he thought was a loophole around the Boland Amendment.

Yet, only seven months ago, an equally worrisome action took place. On the weekend of January 16, 2016, the historic Iran nuclear deal was implemented and four American hostages were freed in a prisoner swap negotiated between the United States and Iran. However, on August 3, the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States secretly delivered $400 million in foreign currency stashed in wooden pallets to Iran on the same weekend. The State Department claims that it was the first of a series of payments to resolve a failed 1979 arms deal, not a quid pro quo involving the American hostages.

The coinciding liberation of the American hostages and covert payment to Iran is profoundly troubling and embarrassing despite claims that they are unrelated. Iranian defense officials, on the other hand, report that the cash was, indeed, a ransom payment for the American hostages. Let us not forget that President Ronald Reagan initially claimed that he did not trade arms for hostages in Iran thirty years ago. It seems as though one of the only differences between today and thirty years ago is that Swiss Francs were exchanged for American captives in Iran rather than anti-tank missiles.

Nevertheless, the liberal media refuses to press for details in the way that Reagan was pushed during the Iran-Contra controversy in 1986. For the most part, the media has largely ignored the story despite its severity. It seems that there will be no “Tower Commission” investigating the State Department’s actions, no “Oliver North” bearing the brunt of the embarrassment, and no national outrage. Instead, the media prefers to redirect the nation’s attention to the latest controversies on the campaign trail. In fact, when the story broke on August 3, “New Day,” CNN’s morning news program, devoted only 27 seconds to the Iran story and 84 minutes to the GOP nominee.

The lack of media attention is even more disturbing when one considers the effects of departing from the well-established U.S. policy of not negotiating with the captors of American hostages. In its payment to Iran, the United States has effectively put a price on the lives of Americans and created a market for American hostages. It should not come as a surprise, then, that since the four hostages were freed in January two more Americans have been captured. This is actually quite similar to what happened in Iran under the Reagan administration: after the United States secured the freedom of three hostages, another three Americans were taken captive. We should learn from our nation’s diplomatic history, not repeat the same mistakes.

The media’s lack of due diligence has prevented anyone from being held accountable. Americans should be perplexed as to why $400 million of their hard-earned cash not only went to Iran, the number one state-sponsor of terrorism, but coincided with the release of American hostages. Iranian-backed terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Kata’ib Hizballah continue to threaten not only the United States, but also some of our most important allies in the region, like Israel. Iran is a nation with principles and values at odds with America’s, a nation with a twisted ideology determined to “wipe [Israel] off of the face of the Earth” and develop nuclear weapons. It is shameful that what appears to be a $400 million ransom payment to a nation whose Supreme Leader chants “Death to America” is largely ignored by the media despite its striking similarities to the Iran-Contra Affair only three decades ago.

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