Legacy of a Leader (3)
Reagan aspired to restore traditional federalism as intended by our constitutional founders. A fervent federalist, Reagan sought balanced limited government that supported separation of powers.
Essentially, all three branches of government operate in separate spheres, performing solely their own respective responsibilities. Stringent constitutional restrictions on government authority apply as enumerated in the Articles of Federal power. According to Reagan, like our constitutional founders preceding him, our Legislative branch only constructs laws, Judiciaries, through executive nomination, remain solely responsible for interpreting it, while the President, as executive, in its jurisdiction exclusively implements such statutes established by these former branches. Reagan’s contemporary conservatism remained consistent with those lofty democratic values established by our constitutional founders.
On Monday, July 19, 1982, Reagan announced in his newly publicized personal diary the priority to, “…address several thousand enthusiastic supporters of Constitutional Amendment requiring balanced budget…,” which he sincerely believed complied with our founders’ intent for balancing federal power and expenditure (Reagan, Brinkley, 93, “Reagan Diaries”). After all, our Constitutional framers condemned, “No taxation without representation,” and sought independence due to the oppressive economic measures and general tyranny imposed by an authoritarian British monarch.
Hence, they established a sovereign democratic republic that sought political, social, and economic balance, one moderated by federal limitations enumerated in the Constitution. Understanding the totality of his circumstances, Reagan recognized that society necessitated political, economic, and social reform. Therefore, he sought to restore federalism by acquiring legislative sanction of the federal budget, and an auxiliary constitutional amendment which buttressed it. On August 4th of 82, Reagan successfully managed to sanction a constitutional amendment that reorganized the federal budget, winning, “69-31” (Reagan, Brinkley, 96).
During his earlier political crusades as governor, Reagan proved a prolific writer, expressing the grandiloquent philosophies promulgated by our forefathers, “taking it on himself to define liberty,” particularly, “our founders’ intent,” concerning constitutional interpretation (Noonan, 39, “When Character Was King”). The autonomous exchange of his prose flowed with succinct “smoothness” and simplicity.
Later, Reagan eventually translated these lofty rationalizations into incandescent words of wisdom, when he later identified the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution as, “covenants…made not only with ourselves but with all mankind,” (D’Souza, 161, How An Extraordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader). Thus, most importantly, Reagan recognized the purpose of these monumental documents, as a social contract, to promote democratic equality and reciprocation among Americans. Its principles, as Reagan believed, facilitated the fundamental framework and foundation of democratic freedom.
Moreover, like Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and Adams, Reagan favored a strong central government, that authorized separate equal powers for states, to operate within their own jurisdiction. Reagan championed federalism. Encouraging development within the private sector, Reagan pursued federalism, transferring some federal government responsibilities to states (Reagan Library, The Reagan Presidency, 1). He completely consolidated and reorganized the separation of powers to suit transitioning trends. However, unlike traditional federalism, Reagan renovated this originalist constitutional concept to correspond with contemporary standards, another profound innovation of the Reagan presidency.
New federalism models seek to, “reverse centralizing tendencies in American government,” thereby restoring separate, “balance of power between nations and states,” as intended by our constitutional framers (Dye, Thomas, 13). Hence, Reagan introduced the paradigm of new federalism, which sought to increase, “power and program authority for states plus localities,” (Bowman, Kearney, State and Local Government, 38). For example, under Reagan’s new federalism initiative, states individually regulated their own statutes regarding “welfare and food stamps,” (Palmer, Sawhill, 12).
While many political scientists accord Richard Nixon with this innovation, only Reagan’s brand of “new federalism” succeeded to heighten state authority, and restore balanced, separate powers as intended by our constitutional framers. Essentially, Reagan elaborated upon such policies introduced by Nixon, integrating his own uniquely innovative administrative style, “broadening even further,” as new federalism adapted to the “legitimate scope” which defines, “the public sector,” (Conlan, 5).
Thus, through new federalism, Reagan believed autonomous communities possess the self-sovereign capability to resolve moral conflicts, “governing themselves at a local level (D’Souza, 263). Hence, President Ronald W. Reagan revolutionized the conventional American constitutional concept of federalism, tailoring its originalist philosophy to more suitably accommodate contemporary challenges.
This pattern of administering greater power to states not only ameliorated intergovernmental interaction, but minimized federal bureaucracy as Reagan intended. President Reagan managed to incorporate new federalism in the following ways. First, he forced states to assume greater responsibility regarding state issues, or any legal controversies not presenting a federal challenge. Reagan achieved congressional approval to consolidate “57 categorical grants into nine blocks,” and thereby obliterate an additional, “60 categorical grants,” (Bowman, Kearney, State and Local Government, 38).
For political expedience, Reagan delegated greater authority to states, yet compromised block grants, decreasing its funds by almost “25%” from its previous allocation for the separate categorical grants (Conlan, “Federalism and Competing Values…, 29-47). Hence, Reagan proposed that the federal government eliminate, “most highway programs,” while terminating, “federal gasoline taxes” supporting them (Edwards, Federalism and Separation of Powers, 4). Hence, Reagan restored the sound fiscal policy intended by our constitutional founders through his own innovative modern brand of federalism.
When Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency, “checking court tendencies ranked high on his agenda,” (Mc Donald, The American Presidency, 304). He executed this judicial initiative through his punctilious appointment of federal judges, “scrupulously screening prospective nominees for ability, integrity and most importantly judicial philosophy,” unlike other Presidents before Reagan who self-centeredly, “appointed cronies or minorities, seeking to enhance their presidential reputation,” (Mc Donald – The American Presidency, 304). His avaricious predecessors sought only to accommodate their own partisan propagandist platforms, provincial lobbyist agendas, and personal interests, exploiting their pernicious initiatives at the virulent expense of society.
While others employed demagoguery and demoralized American democracy, Reagan remained consummately committed to his independent conservative values, never nominating a judge for reasons concerning political prestige. Reagan only cared about the utilitarian welfare of America. However, as Reagan himself professed, that politics overall, specifically the Democratic Party, “…In 1984…became a conglomeration of blocs and special-interest groups, each with narrow special agendas directed at grabbing more of the national wealth for their own interests,” (Reagan, Ronald, “Reagan, An American Life”, 325).
Judicial appointment ranks among the most significant aspects of executive power, because it determines national policy for subsequent years. For Reagan, it signified the restoration of conservative libertarian constitutional values to American society. Regarding judicial philosophy, Reagan nominated strict constructionist judges, restoring federalism to constitutional interpretation. His nominations comprised four Supreme Court appointments, including former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in addition to associate justices Sandra Day O’ Conor, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy (American National Biography, 13). On July 7, 1981, Sandra Day O’ Connor became, “the first woman” in American history to serve on the nation’s highest court (CNN Interactive, Video Almanac, 1).
Antonin Scalia emerged to become the Supreme Court’s, “principal defender of presidential power against Congressional or Judicial encroachment,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 658). Since Supreme Court Judges serve lifetime tenure, Reagan’s judicial appointments exercise profound permanent impact on constitutional interpretation, signaling a general conservative transition for years to follow.
Ronald Reagan castigated the cruel nature of partisan politics in a manner analogous to how George Washington criticized partisanship during his time. In Washington’s time, inflammatory rivalries fomented hostility between the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans. Much like Washington, Reagan found it sophomoric. Today, Reagan witnessed the same rhetoric between Republicans and Democrats. However, the founders never anticipated, nor conceived this intense level of scathing, acrimonious dispute in contemporary America. Yet, Reagan overcame this frivolous partisan nonsense, concentrating upon the more mature, practical matters affecting America.
Since his inauguration, Ronald Reagan restored moral providence to its national consciousness in American society. A vehement patriotic American himself, Reagan understood in totality, the value of national presence. Yet, like our constitutional founders, enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke, including natural law advocates who preceded them, particularly St. Thomas Aquinas, Reagan also recognized a moral duty to acknowledge, with gratitude, the gift of such freedom bestowed by God. For example, on March 19, 1981, Reagan acknowledged a “National Day of Prayer” in Proclamation 4826, verbatim promulgating that,
“…In God We Trust” — was not chosen lightly. It reflects a basic recognition that there is a divine authority in the universe to which this Nation owes homage… Throughout our history Americans have put their faith in God and no one can doubt that we have been blessed for it. The earliest settlers of this land came in search of religious freedom. Landing on a desolate shoreline, they established a spiritual foundation that has served us ever since…It was the hard work of our people, the freedom they enjoyed and their faith in God that built this country and made it the envy of the world…
While never willing to bow to a tyrant, our forefathers were always willing to get to their knees before God. When catastrophe threatened, they turned to God for deliverance. When the harvest was bountiful the first thought was thanksgiving to God… Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Thursday, May 7, 1981, National Day of Prayer. On that day I ask all who believe to join with me in giving thanks to Almighty God for the blessings He has bestowed on this land and the protection He affords us as a people.
Let us as a Nation join together before God, fully aware of the trials that lie ahead and the need, yes, the necessity, for divine guidance. With unshakeable faith in God and the liberty which is heritage, we as a free Nation will surely survive and prosper… In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this nineteenth day of March, in year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fifth. Ronald Reagan,” (Reagan Library, 1, Proclamation 4826).
Reagan’s pronouncement of God, maintained a uniquely secular, spiritual element. It served solely to trigger national response and inspire faith in the American people. Ironically, Reagan’s religious fervor and national sentiment reflect a personal spiritual nature not cemented in the context of any particular religion. After all, Reagan seldom attended church services during his presidency, perhaps consumed with tremendous responsibilities, serving the nation, which asserted precedence (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 637). Still, Reagan sustained irrevocable faith in God. As Ron Jr. revealed at Reagan’s funeral in 2004,
“Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians of wearing his faith in his sleeve to gain political advantage,” (Coulter, “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)”).
Rather, Reagan remained inexorably true to his venerable virtue, unlike others who engaged in demagoguery and utilized religion for subversive purposes.
Reagan sought to preserve the strong Judeo-Christian tradition, an indispensable element of our constitutional foundation. Yet, this glorious Day of Prayer only reinforces nationalism, moral servitude, and democratic values, in a consistent constitutional manner that avoids indoctrinating any particular religious establishment. Hence, he restored moral providence and patriotic presence to American society. While, “not a conventionally religious man,” as D’Souza succinctly stipulates, he possessed, “providential understanding of destiny,” the intuitive prudence, prescience, sagacity, and vision to effect history (D’Souza, 28).
With unadulterated optimism, an incessant positive demeanor, the president never abandoned his faith. Such faith provided unsurpassed strength. He always stood steadfast in the face of adversity. Reagan encountered tremendous tribulations. Yet, no challenge ever appeared insurmountable. Why? He understood, better than his contemporary predecessors, the profound significance of personal faith. It gave him a sense of purpose and direction. Reagan’s confidence, conviction, countenance and character, remained unassailable. Consequently, his formidable foundation of faith proved an invaluable ideological commitment that facilitated subsequent American success. Ultimately, Reagan translated his inexorable moral faith into action, because he truly believed in the inevitability of, “good prevailing over evil,” (D’Souza, 28).
Reagan also invigorated presidential authority domestically, managing an unwarranted strike imposed by PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. Reagan aggressively confronted the arrogant and avaricious labor organization evoking, “a sense of public drama,” (Gould, 198). Ironically, PATCO represented, “one of the few unions that supported his candidacy,” (D’Souza, 230). Recognizing their rather reasonable complaint, President Reagan initially promised to compensate strikers, offering an, “11%” pay raise, but because the belligerent ungrateful union unjustifiably demanded “100%” increase, intervention proved imperative (Noonan, 222).
Pure unadulterated ‘Boulwarism’ in action Reagan assumed an aggressive position to deter the intransigent labor union, who refused his command. In a forceful ultimatum, Reagan exhorted their return to work within “48 hours” (Evans, 204). Reagan followed his words and fired the insubordinate unionists who refused to return.
By establishing his powerful authoritative presence, Reagan’s stature increased because the nation utterly appreciated a chief executive “who supervised unwaveringly, unlike his incompetent liberal predecessor Jimmy Carter on numerous occasions,” (Gould, 198). Carter usually vacillated when confronted with similar challenge. He lacked the indispensable, “political wisdom” and volitional capability to efficiently adjudicate, or render, “political judgments about policy decisions,” (Sloan, John, 41). What a refreshing change! Through painstaking punctilious precision, stringently regulating PATCO, meticulously monitoring its program to ensure public safety, Reagan once again exhibited formidable leadership qualities as president. Hence, through his inexorably rigorous, resolute administrative demeanor, Reagan restored power, presence, and prestige to the presidency, proving himself a preeminent political leader. He exuded superior statesmanship. Likewise, Reagan retained this same tough-minded tenacity and robust resolution regarding foreign policy, as in his domestic interactions. He never once surrendered in submission nor acquiesced to the dictates of others.
Consequently, such technological advancement catalyzed societal transformations, which simultaneously encouraged terrorism, cultivating an atmosphere most conducive to its proliferation. Disparity between Western and Middle Eastern culture fomented in widespread terror. Islamic extremists, barbarous Jihadist organizations who despised American values, began unleashing their belligerent contempt for the U.S and its Judeo-Christian founded democratic lifestyle.
These psychotic fundamentalists, synonymous with terrorism, consumed by their bigotry, attempt to justify mass murder, violence, and genocide in the name of God, or Allah. Hence, in recent years, Middle Eastern terrorism subsequently became the new nefarious nemesis pervading American policy. Strangely, such latent sentiments, which manifested and began to materialize, initiated in its preliminary phase during the Reagan presidency. Nonetheless, notwithstanding these dramatic institutional and societal transformations sweeping over society, Reagan persevered, pursuing a rigorously aggressive foreign policy, to ravage the ruthless enemy.
As technological innovation accelerated, irrevocably altering the global landscape, terrorists discovered increasingly insidious methods to infiltrate attack. Unfortunately, globalization, the process by which political, social, and cultural institutions become internationally interdependent, simplifies transportation, thus fostering dissemination of terrorism. With globalization expanding and ultimately reaching the forefront of technological development, terrorism became a fundamental theme for 21st Century international policy. Essentially, the increased prevalence of terrorism targeting America proved an unparalleled challenge for Reagan and subsequent presidents.
Still, Reagan never acquiesced to adversity. He proceeded without trepidation. From the beginning, Reagan demanded, “swift retribution against international terrorism,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 654). Again, despite relentless resistance, the U.S. in no manner managed to prevent or exempt itself from its inexorable susceptibility toward terrorism. As its precursor, this period inevitably foreshadows the present situation surrounding post 9/11/2001 America. Inversely analogous to the concluding U.S.-Soviet Cold War communism era, which Reagan conquered, America today commences a different international cultural war, its confrontation with terrorism, or as contemporarily known, “The War Against Terror”. Yet, modern terrorism emerged in its infancy during Reagan’s presidency.
Reagan became president during an era characterized by heightened, regional crisis circulating throughout the Middle East. Along with Soviet imperialistic occupation of Afghanistan and the belligerent Iranian regime, Iraq attacked Iran, attempting to overthrow Ayatollah Khomeini, a virulent terrorist (Smith, Charles, 365). Hence, by 1982, the U.S. pursued a policy of military intervention to mediate acrimonious dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. Again Reagan sought to resolve the recalcitrant dispute primarily between two diametrically opposed reactionary regimes, Israel and Egypt. Moreover, Reagan aspired to establish compromise between the two principal nefarious nemeses, Israelis and Palestinians, in Middle Eastern geopolitics. As usual, Reagan pursued a foreign policy strategy of political realism, principally idealistic in its ultimate aspirations, securing peace for the area.
In April 1983, Iranian terrorists infiltrated, “an explosion at the U.S. embassy in Beirut which killed 16 Americans and dozens of other troops,” (Gould – The Modern American Presidency, 200). Reagan stood steadfast. America endorsed Israel’s objective to eradicate PLO influence from peace negotiations. However, the U.S. became disgusted with Israel’s perfunctory disregard toward civilian lives. Its imperialist international position not only insulted American foreign policy, but instigated suspicion.
President Reagan assumed a preemptive strategy against Israel. Intervention remained the only solution. Recognizing its political usurpation, Reagan introduced the Reagan Plan, which revitalized Camp David Accords, thwarting Israeli claims to settlements extending along the West Bank, refusing Israeli possession and sovereignty of any area, including Gaza (Smith, 380). Still, Reagan repudiated establishment of an autonomous Palestinian state. He objected on the grounds that Resolution 242, promulgated in 1967, which sought equal coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, withdrawal of occupied territories, applied inclusively to both groups.
Many modern historians consider such oscillation in foreign policy between defending Israelis yet Palestinians naturally contradictory. Such an observation neglects the forceful diplomatic dexterity employed by Reagan to carefully counteract crisis and simultaneously appease both groups, endorsing collective interests, thereby exploiting U.S. policy toward American advantage. Both Reagan and his Secretary of State George Shultz empathized with both groups recognizing, “the legitimate needs and problems of Palestinians,” necessitated resolution “urgently” in its entirety (Spiegel, Steven, 419). However, Reagan’s bold attempt obviously failed because it neglected, never intended to consider the PLO extremists. Reagan deemed this group intransigent and ideologically impenetrable, thereby overlooking their radical recalcitrant concerns.
Again, modern terrorism emerged and became rampant throughout the Middle East. For example, the 1982 stationing of U.S. Marines in Lebanon, attempting to resolve Middle Eastern tension, triggered an October 1983 terrorist bombing that killed 241 barricaded troops (Gould – The Modern American Presidency, 200). Reagan substantiated that stationing the marines in Lebanon proved, “central to U.S. credibility on a global scale,” flexing its military muscle against Communism, as a preventative measure, securing Lebanon from becoming subsumed by Soviet control (Smith, Charles, 384).
By conducting this military assault, “Iranian radicals drove trucks loaded with explosives into the U.S. Marine headquarters at Beirut airport, which annihilated a French compound nearby, additionally killing another 50 located there,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 654). When civil war resurged nearly 4 months later between, “Lebanese Moslems and Christians,” Reagan evacuated Marines to ships offshore the Mediterranean. (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 654). These attacks signify the “first major incidences of terrorism directed against the U.S., and after recognizing America’s vulnerability, Muslim Fundamentalists, who sincerely hate American hegemony, terrorism thus proved a persisting problem,” (Gould – The Modern American Presidency, 200).
Around June 1985, conflict resumed as an entourage of, “Shiite Moslem extremists hijacked a TWA jetliner flight heading to Rome from Athens, with 153 passengers aboard, including 104 Americans,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 653). This resulted in the assassination of one U.S. Navy diver. While they surprisingly released all remaining hostages, this however, occurred only after finally, “winning freedom for the Shiite prisoners held hostage in Israel,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 653).
Then in October 1985, Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) members hijacked the Achille Lauro, an Italian ship traveling to Egypt, and murdered one elderly, paralyzed American. They thereafter threw him, Leon Linghoffer, a “helpless wheelchair-bound” into the Mediterranean Sea (Noonan, 267). Consequently, the U.S. retaliated. Upon their surrender, after Egyptian authorities guaranteed safe departure from Egypt, audacious U.S. Navy F-14 fighters arrived and bravely performed their own hijacking, exhorting the Egyptian plane to land in Sicily, where Italian authorities then incarcerated PLO members (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 653). Two months later, another isolated incident followed when, “Palestinian terrorists opened fire in the Rome and Vienna Airport terminals, killing 20, including an 11year old girl plus 4 other Americans,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 653). In April 1986, a West Berlin Discotheque exploded, killing one American serviceman and additionally injuring 60 other Americans. In retaliation, “U.S. F-111 fighter planes bombed Tripoli, annihilating Muammar Qaddafi’s home, military targets, civilian homes and the French embassy,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 653).
Again, as time progressed proportionately with technological advancement, terrorists increasingly discovered more insidious methods to perpetrate attack. For instance, On Dec. 21, 1988, a Pan Am passenger jet exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, slaughtering all “259 aboard” and “11” of its the ground. Police later discovered the concealed bomb attached to an audiocassette player, (PBS – The American Experience Timeline, 5). The Reagan administration directly associated five nations, “Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, and Nicaragua – with international terrorism,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 653). Reagan isolated Libyan Muammar Qaddafi, “as the world’s principal terrorist,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents 653). After recognizing the source, he immediately tackled it.
In May 1981, the Reagan administration “expelled all Libyan diplomats, terminating their mission assigned at Washington,” upon discovering charges of attempted murder directed against Libyan dissidents who resided in the U.S (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 653). Both in 1981 and 89 U.S. Navy Jets intercepted Libyan fighter planes, which posed a perceptible danger along the Libyan coast. Despite these seemingly marginal, “minor military operations,” they favorably projected, “the impression of a [powerful] President prepared to use force,” in defending American interests (Mandelbaum, 133). In January 1986, Reagan prohibited all international activities with Libya, exhorted complete American departure from the country to preserve public safety, and threatened military intervention against Libya if it continued to endorse terrorism (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 653). Though many countries condemned the 1986 West Berlin Discotheque retaliation, as a supposed act of terrorism within itself Reagan persisted without hesitation.
The Reagan administration adopted a propaganda campaign that deliberately encouraged dissent within Libya, and professed imminent attack. Of course, after posting fabricated stories, featuring decorated distortions, “in the Wall Street Journal among other reputable newspapers, such media exposure exploded with inflammatory leftist criticism. Furthermore, Reagan also intimated the probability of targeting Libya with additional assault, in attempt to eradicate what America perceived a potentially threatening, chemical warfare plant (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 653).
The invasion of Grenada in 1983 also exhibited striking success. On October 1983, U.S. forces invaded West Indies Island, Grenada, “the smallest Western Hemisphere nation”, to rescue hundreds of Americans threatened by a leftist military regime,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 657). After dismantling the communist government, rescuing American medical students, this event signified notable triumph, inevitably foreshadowing re-election for Reagan. Americans overwhelmingly approved of the invasion. The Reagan administration exercised its military muscle, dispatching “5,000” U.S. troops, and ultimately, prevailed (PBS – The American Experience Timeline, 4). Deterring a relatively feeble adversary, “the achievement appeared more gratifying from a public relations perspective,” (Gould, 201). The U.S. affirmed its formidable military prowess, which stimulated a sense of public security, positive sentiment, and awareness among Americans. Cognizant citizens praised the victory. Consequently, it proved a win-win situation. The inexpensive conflict, “bolstered presidential prestige at minimal expense to American interest, and Ronald Reagan,” (Gould, 201).
Other aspects of foreign policy proved slightly less than successful for the Reagan administration. The modern presidency began to reveal its constitutional limitations. Circumstances like the 1985 Iran Contra Affair elucidate such limitations. Nevertheless, Reagan overcame presidential blunder, whereby he eventually succeeded in securing the hostages, escaping fallacious indictments, and through complete convalescence, revived his popularity, which skyrocketed to an unparalleled “86 percent among young Americans, eight days after renewing contra aid,” (Morris – Dutch, A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, 577). Still, the Iran Contra scandal proved a critical setback of drastic proportions for Reagan.
In Iran, problems relentlessly persisted with government sequestration of Americans. Throughout the 1980s, Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian terrorist organization, captured and sadistically tortured American hostages (Noonan, 265). The secretive sale of arms to Iran emanated with Israel (Schlesinger, 252-53). Government intelligence conducted clandestine operations to secure American hostages sequestered by Iranian terrorists under the direct supervision of CIA Director William Casey. Casey arranged the delivery of weapons to Iran (Spartacus, 1). However, to this day, Casey’s actual association with Iran Contra remains elusive and mysterious, since he suffered a severe stroke shortly after the scandal became public, and died one year thereafter, in 1987, before any opportunity of ever disclosing any details of his involvement (Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 1). Nevertheless, the “Iran-Contra Final Report” concluded that Casey, “played a role…in [organizing] the covert networks to supply contras…and promoting secret arms sales to Iran…,” (FAS, “Iran-Contra Report”, 1).
The President responded diplomatically, even resorting to desperate measures. He negotiated a compromise with Iran, “agreeing to sell them arms surreptitiously, in exchange for the release of American hostages,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 655). Exasperated by his inability to rescue Americans, Reagan vociferously declared, “I don’t care if I have to go to Leavenworth; I want the hostages out,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 655). Even so, the kidnapping of Americans unabatedly continued. Unfortunately, his compassionate attempt backfired. Circumstances culminated in controversy when a Lebanese periodical exposed the entire weapon deal.
The situation grew so abominably disarrayed that thoughts of, “impeachment reverberated throughout Capitol Hill,” (Morris – Dutch, A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, 616). Meanwhile, Reagan utterly oblivious as to what occurred possessed no, “prior knowledge of the Iran-Contra connection,” (Neustadt – Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, 283). The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that he knew nothing about it. Reagan admitted in his personal diary that neither Oliver North nor John Poindexter informed him of the scandal. On November 24, 1986, Ronald Reagan privately confessed in the diary,
“On one of the arms shipments the Iranians paid Israel a higher purchase price than we were getting…Then our North giving the contras money without an authorization by Congress. North didn’t tell me anything about this. Worst of all John Poindexter found out about it & didn’t tell me. This may call for resignations.” (Brinkley, Reagan, 453).
This message substantially suggests the scandal occurred without his consent, exonerating him of culpability. The illicit weapons deal occurred unbeknownst to him. Thus, Reagan remained innocent. He only intended to save the seven American citizens held hostage by reactionary Islamic militias associated with Iran. Instead, North engaged in an unlawful covert operation that inadvertently framed the President.
Private middlemen who manufactured these armaments, exorbitantly overcharged Iran, dispatching approximately “one-fourth” of all its profits to the contras, “anti-Sandinistas fighting in Nicaragua” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 655). The contras, counterrevolutionaries, or reactionaries, sought to dismantle an oppressive communist regime, and establish their national sovereignty. As mentioned earlier, the President pledged never to sanction any agreements with terrorists. Reagan denied trading arms for hostages, insisting that he instead, “exchanged to renew ties with Iranian moderates,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 655).
Inundated with seemingly contrary evidence, Reagan conceded that the U.S. projected the appearance of engaging directly in “an arms–for –hostages swap”. President Reagan appointed former Texas Senator, “John Tower to investigate the matter,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 655). After several agonizing televised hearings, Security Adviser John Poindexter confessed his sanctioning of contra profit diversions without presidential consent, because he wanted to provide ‘plausible deniability’ in any case it became exposed (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 655). Poindexter additionally “destroyed the document” authorized by Reagan to avoid any possibility of causing him “political embarrassment,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 655-6).
The plot coagulated when Colonel Oliver North publicly admitted that he fabricated and exterminated documents to clandestinely conceal information concerning administrative involvement in contra aid, but claimed that, “his superiors supposedly authorized every action, whom he thoroughly informed,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 656). All along, North sold weapons to the contras, an overt breach of military conduct. He committed a felony. Federal law forbade any sale, manufacture, or lucrative exchange of arms to terrorists, no matter the circumstances. It prohibited any such profit diversion. Bottom line, regardless of the situation, laws remain unconditional unless authorized by Congress. Thus, without receiving legislative sanctioning, Oliver North violated federal law.
By receiving consent from high ranking personnel, North thought nothing wrong of it. To avoid any denied authority for utilization of funds, the men collected private money, which when construed, “not only meant private citizens, but also other governments,” (Neustadt – Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, 284). Accordingly, both men, including National Security Advisor Robert Mc Farlane , “conspired to privatizing contra aid by soliciting funds from friendly foreign governments, like Brunei, and affluent American conservatives such as Adolph Coors in supporting the guerrillas,” (American National Biography, 12).
However, this scandal took a bizarre turn for the worst. The following events reference an intricate clandestine conspiracy characterized by chicanery, deception, plausible lies and untruths. North conceived what he considered a “neat idea: overcharging Iranians for American weapons, and using its profits to support Nicaraguan contras,” (American National Biography Online, 12). Finally, “a 690-page report obtained by the committee confirmed Reagan’s innocence, as he knew nothing about these illicit contra diversions, but blamed Reagan’s laissez faire management style,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 656). Walking away from
mistaken indictments, Reagan appointed special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh in March 1988, who “secured indictments for conspiracy, fraud, and theft of government funds,” (De Gregario – The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, 656).
Though Reagan successfully survived The Iran Contra Affair, it most definitely demonstrates the dubious political and psychological challenges facing modern presidents, concerning executive limitations during their second terms. After all, 8 years as President of the United States proves an arduous process, imposing severe burden upon anyone who sustains such an extended tenure. However, to a certain extent, this incident diminished Reagan’s public reputation, “reducing his great accomplishments,” even if it inflicted marginal damage (Schlesinger, 259). Presidents become inexorably susceptible to limitations if they, “serve during a period that stimulates responsiveness in Congress toward perceived misconduct witnessed by recent, preceding presidents, exemplify illicit conduct, evade established channels of democratic accountability, and/or rely upon people who lack political competence,” (Malcolm Shaw – The Modern Presidency,304). In addition, vulnerability to limitation also applies if, “certain aspects of foreign policy depict indefensibility,” (Malcolm Shaw – The Modern Presidency, 304).
Evidently, Reagan corresponds to most, if not all of these categories. For example, with Nixon’s Watergate scandal still reminiscent, congressional leaders, “during their joint investigation of the events wrote a section referring to ‘Iran-gate’,” which evoked numerous responses, questioning how much Reagan actually knew (Malcolm Shaw – The Modern Presidency, 304). As mentioned earlier, the affair violated Federal law on numerous accounts, and reflected poorly on Reagan. After all, the legal definition of negligence expects individuals, particularly individuals in esteemed executive positions, to possess knowledge and awareness regarding certain activities.
If unlawful activities occur under the oversight of a corporation, complicity typically applies, holding executives vicariously liable for resulting actions. Both Federal and State law considers executives as primarily responsible for the administrative management of their corporation, and thereby, requires their awareness regarding employee activity. This identical aforementioned principle applies analogously to public office, politicians, and executive management.
Yet, one must consider the entire circumstances. The profit diversion proved imperative, a venerable sacrifice to protect American lives. Frankly, Oliver North among others acted heroically to preserve the lives of his fellow Americans. Military law, through executive power, guarantees extra-constitutional power during circumstances related to war. Hence, our government relinquishes certain fundamental constitutional powers to preserve the general welfare of Americans. Yet, by preserving the general welfare, in this case, rescuing American hostages, these men uphold our constitutional values. The U.S. Constitutional Preamble reflects this principle. As promulgated by Article I, Section 8, which incorporates the General Welfare Clause, specifically enumerates government power to accommodate, “the general welfare” of Americans, a “duty” which holds consistent, “throughout the U.S.,” (Ducat, Craig, D3).
Additionally, the Constitutional ‘Supremacy Clause’, Article VI, Section 2 acknowledges our U.S. Constitution as “the Supreme Law of the land,” with all other statutes inferior and subordinate in jurisdiction to its command (Ducat, Craig, D7). Hence, since our U.S. Constitution, empowered superior authority, serves the utilitarian welfare of its citizens, America possesses a legal duty to protect collective liberties. We defend the collective liberties by rescuing our endangered American hostages. Therefore, the attempt to save hostages proved not only worthy, but a necessary cause. The “Necessary and Proper Clause” promulgated by Article I, Section 18, reinforces this indispensable duty to our threatened hostages.
However, the entire staff failed to provide President Reagan fair notice, and conducted these unlawful diversions in such a secretive manner that casts suspicion. Again, the clandestine confidential nature of this operation, covertly conducted, causes reasonable doubt. They pursued an illegal act without executive consent, failing to inform the president beforehand of their objective and report any underground conspiratorial activities. If Reagan instead knew about it, and administered approval to engage in the profit diversions, with Congressional consent, then circumstances change. Rather, he may not even need legislative sanction.
The U.S. Constitution accords additional presidential power during wartime, not permitted under ordinary circumstances. Obviously, a lingering hostage crisis constitutes extraordinary circumstances. Consider Article II, Sec. 2 which guarantees special powers to execute the laws as “Commander in Chief of the Army…Navy…and [state] militias…,” (Ducat, Craig, D5). Various presidents throughout U.S. history interpret this clause to temporarily suspend certain constitutional liberties for the general welfare during wartime. During an extremely vulnerable, tempestuous period in American history, threatened by war, 2nd U.S. President, John Adams instituted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which prohibited pernicious infiltration of immigrants, and any subversive conduct deemed dangerous toward American interests.
President Woodrow Wilson resurrected this same Alien and Seditions acts measure during World War I, for similar reasons. In the Civil War, a period characterized by civil rebellion, President Abraham Lincoln temporarily suspended Habeas Corpus, denying a fundamental right of court appearance, without congressional approval. Hence, given such imminent threat, with Americans held hostage, the Constitution empowers Reagan an executive duty to secure them as deemed necessary and proper.
Moreover, even if Reagan knew the illicit acts committed by his staff, the crimes still surpass presidential scope. After all, the president, like any executive, delegates partial responsibility to his inferiors, who scrupulously scrutinize employee activities. A balanced separation of powers, which reflects American federalism, applies even within the three governmental subdivisions. The President appoints a staff, assigning specialized responsibilities to his closest advisors, removing such burdens which supersede administrative control. Thus, these individuals maintain a fiduciary trust and obligation to fulfill their task as expected of them.
Still, recent public records corroborate that Reagan never participated or associated in any way with the scandal which occurred. The whole scandal went completely unnoticed. Whether or not Reagan actually conspired in the scandal, his presidential position in no manner exonerates him from potential criminal liabilities incurred as a result of complicit activities committed by others. Presidential scope of influence requires that he develop utter awareness involving the unlawful underground activities resulting from conspirators within his own administration. Such scope entails knowledge concerning the following activities; “failure to notify Congress of covert U.S. operations, tampering with and destroying official documents, and illegally assisting the contras,” (DeGregario, 656).
Hence, presidential negligence still applies. Reagan’s presidential duty prescribes a knowledge and cognizance of staff activities. Reagan lacked this indispensable legal requirement. Transferrable intent perhaps applies through vicarious liability, transporting intent under the scope of executive authority. Unquestionably, the incompetent staff surrounding Reagan also exacerbated his presidential restrictions. Reagan promoted former Secretary of the Treasury, Donald Regan to White House Chief of Staff. An irresponsible official, Donald Regan and his contributory negligence, as principle supervisor of inside executive operations, condoned such clandestine activities, allowing them to go unnoticed.
As aforementioned, Reagan felt naturally compelled to rescue the American hostages by whatever means necessary. To him, rescuing the hostages represented a moral obligation. With willingness to commit the ultimate sacrifice for those hostages, Reagan considered them as one of his children. He actually compared the hostages to his own children. The following analogy shows Reagan’s sincere highest regard for human life. He follows the consummate compassion, benevolence, and altruistic sentiments emanating his soul to render a very challenging crucial decision. To Reagan, human life meant the highest sacrifice. Nothing compares to the generosity of this man, how he truly values human life.
Reagan follows utilitarianism as a moral philosophy to rescue the hostages. Indeed, ‘the end justifies the means’ as 19th Century Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill proposed, sacrificing to preserve human life and protect against violations of individual liberty. Reagan remained willing by whatever means necessary, regardless of consequences, to secure the hostages, because he most truly valued human life. As Reagan verbatim explained in an argument directed to Secretary of State George Schultz,
“’Look I said, we all agree we can’t pay ransom to the Hizballah to get the hostages. But we are not dealing with the Hizballah, we are not doing a thing for them. We are trying to help some people who are looking forward to becoming the next government of Iran, and they are getting the weapons in return…to free our hostages. It’s the same as if one of my children was kidnapped and there was a demand for ransom; sure, I don’t believe in ransom because it leads to more kidnapping. But if I find out there’s somebody who has access to the kidnapper and can get my child back without doing anything for the kidnapper, I’d sure do that. And it would be perfectly fitting for me to reward that individual if he got my child back. That’s not paying ransom to the kidnappers,’ ” (Noonan, 268).
A truly venerable, virtuous individual, Reagan believed in the prevalence of justice. However, to accomplish this end, he transcended his own presidential power authorized by the Constitution. By manipulating, “those aspects of the Constitution which interfered with his foreign policy agendas,” he endured some troubling consequences (DeGregario, 656). However, from a different perspective, Reagan exercised his executive Constitutional duty, by attempting to rescue those hostages, securing their lives. Again, the Constitution extends presidential authority during wartime. Therefore, though technically considered unlawful, Ronal Reagan acted in a scrupulous manner, rendering the right decision, protecting American lives by whatever means necessary. So, in this regard, his actions not only prove consistent with the Constitution, but reflect a reasonable and respectable decision.
Furthermore, serving more than two terms also predisposes limitations, as plausibly evidenced from many presidential incumbents including Wilson, FDR, Nixon, Johnson, Clinton, and George W. Bush. Reagan proved no exception, as his popularity temporarily plummeted to record lows. Again, 8 years lasts a long time when serving as Chief Executive. The probability for blunder proves extremely likely if not inevitable. Nevertheless, Reagan not only survived this debauched scandal, after experiencing public humiliation, but thrived shortly thereafter. “The striking improvement in Soviet-American relations,” vanquished all notoriety and ultimately, “salvaged Reagan’s presidency,” (American National Biography Online, 13).
Moreover, and most importantly, many modern historians neglect a crucial specific fact of circumstance when analyzing Ronald Reagan in regard to Iran Contra. They often instinctively assign culpability to President Reagan, without evaluating the evidence in its entirety. For example, consider the legal application of mitigating factors to reduce liability. Perhaps the most necessary mitigating factor to truly exonerate Reagan of total blameworthiness in Iran-Contra involves his illness. During the occurrence of Iran Contra, Reagan underwent hospitalization for colon cancer surgery.
For example, on July 18, 1985, as the scandal occurred, “from his hospital bed,” Reagan approved National Security Advisor William McFarlane’s aspiration to negotiate with Iran, because he wanted the hostages held in Beirut, released (PBS – The American Experience Timeline, 4). Peggy Noonan corroborates this fact. She documents Reagan’s convalescence at Betheseda Naval Hospital, which occurred in July 1985, “from surgery for colon cancer,” (Noonan, 265). Illness represents an indispensable mitigating factor. Hence, even if Reagan accepted the unlawful documents, his diminished capacity resulting from illness, and perhaps mind-altering medication, further impairing sensible judgment, rendered him mentally incompetent to authorize them. The law requires sufficient capacity to approve any political action.
Since Reagan obviously lacked sufficient mental capacity, given his debilitating circumstances, necessary for political sanctioning, the law guarantees exemption from criminal culpability. Therefore, mental incapacity invalidates Reagan’s approval, rendering his authorization legally void, thereby exonerating criminal liability. Ultimately, Reagan remains innocent.