Reagan's Legacy Not Unblemished

The most serious crisis of Ronald Reagan's two terms - and the lowest point in his popularity - came after the revelation that his administration had secretly sold arms to Iran and turned over the profits to rebels fighting the Marxist government of Nicaragua.

At the time he was asked if he'd made a mistake in sending arms to Tehran.
His response: "No and I'm not taking any more questions."

Reagan's national security staff approached Iran in an effort to free American hostages being held in Lebanon, despite a vow that the administration would never negotiate with terrorists.

At first, CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante reports, Reagan denied that it had happened.

"We did not, repeat not, trade arms or anything else for hostages," said Reagan, on Nov. 13, 1986.

But two investigations showed that Reagan had in fact signed off on the weapons shipments, and in early 1987, he reversed his denial.

"It was without question a crisis brought on through his own fault, and the public perceived him therefore as somebody who couldn't see his own actions in a negative light," says Edmund Morris, the authorized Reagan biographer.

The fallout was severe, softened only by the president's willingness to accept personal responsibility.

"President Reagan understood that this had happened in his administration," says National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. "He was straightforward in having it investigated by the Tower commission. They made changes and that's the way that we have to deal with any difficulties."

The president's full disclosure at home, however, didn't salvage U.S. policy in the Middle East. Relations with Iran deteriorated. Iraq, which the Reagan administration had backed in its war against Iran, used chemical weapons in 1988 with little protest from America.

It took an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union to rejuvenate Reagan's image, but U.S. efforts to deal with the tough issues in the middle east went on hold, helping to set the stage for the first iraq war and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
  • Jaime Holguin

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