The Iran-Contra Secrets

Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State

by George P. Shultz
Scribner’s, 1,184 pp., $30.00

Undue Process: A Story of How Political Differences Are Turned into Crimes

by Elliott Abrams
Free Press, 243 pp., $22.95

Fourth Interim Report to Congress

by Lawrence E. Walsh Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters.

With Reagan: The Inside Story

by Edwin Meese III
Regnery Gateway, 362 pp., $24.95

The Iran-contra affairs refuse to go away. New information forces us to revisit them again and again. In the recent past, five new sources stand out—a book, Turmoil and Triumph, by former Secretary of State George Shultz; another book, Undue Process, by former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams; the fourth interim report by Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel, containing voluminous notes by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger; forty-five pages of extracts from the diary of then Vice-President George Bush from November 4, 1986, to January 2, 1987; and still another book, With Reagan, by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III.

The new material is self-revelatory about its authors. But it does more. It casts new light on a sixth figure in the story and enables us to answer the question: Who was finally responsible for the arms-for-hostages deals?

These sources do not come without problems. They need to be read critically and often reveal more than their authors intended. They raise questions of what is credible in them, what is consistent with everything else that we know, and what the same authors have said elsewhere. Typical of the problems is the section on the Iran affair in Shultz’s book.

Turmoil and Triumph is in large part an apologia pro vita sua. It seeks to establish that George Shultz was an indefatigable, intrepid warrior against the arms-for-hostages deals from beginning to end. If he had not tried to claim so much, his account would raise fewer questions.

Yet it needs to be said at the outset that of all the leading figures in these events, Shultz was the least responsible for them, and, in the end, played the most honorable role. He was one of the two cabinet members—Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was the other—who at an early stage protested against the arms-for-hostages deals and tried to stop them.

The finest moments of both Shultz and Weinberger came early on. A first arms-for-hostages deal had occurred in August—September 1985 through the delivery of missiles to Iran from Israel. The deal was approved by Reagan’s national security adviser Robert McFarlane and, as we now know, by Reagan himself. The Israelis attempted to deliver more missiles to Iran in November 1985 with the knowledge and implicit approval of McFarlane and Reagan, but this one misfired. On December 7, 1985, at a meeting called by President Ronald Reagan of his top-level advisers, Shultz and Weinberger, who had already made their opposition known in August, came out strongly against any arms-for-hostages deals with Iran. At another meeting on January 7, 1986, Shultz and Weinberger again made clear their opposition.

Yet Shultz is not content to take credit for these two occasions and lays claim to “three major battles” and on a later page to a “fourth time.” In the reference to three battles, he says that “each time I felt—or had been assured—that my view had prevailed.” Curiously, his own account …

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Letters

What Shultz Knew July 15, 1993