Iran-Contra: The Mystery Solved

Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State

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

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


Like Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger strongly opposed the policy of trading arms for hostages when that policy came up for discussion on December 7, 1985, and January 7, 1986. Afterward, however, Weinberger took a different path. As in the case of Shultz, but in his own way, Weinberger raises a peculiarly American problem.

What should a leading member of an administration do if he opposes a policy which he considers to be disastrous to the interests of the country? After January 7, 1986, Weinberger starkly faced this question.

Much attention has been paid to the charges of Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel, about what Weinberger knew but did not reveal to Congress. This claim about Weinberger’s behavior was made possible by the discovery of his voluminous notes and diaries in the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, former President George Bush’s pardon of Weinberger cut short the legal process whereby Walsh’s evidence could have been presented in court and Weinberger could have had the opportunity to explain his words and actions.

My main interest is not the same as that of the independent counsel. He was interested in establishing conflicts between what Weinberger knew and what he said he knew, and for this purpose he produced those notes and diaries. I am more interested in what they tell us about the events themselves and Weinberger’s part in them.

We already had one version from Weinberger. In 1990, he published a book, Fighting for Peace, in which he has a chapter on “Iran and the Hostages.” These pages can only be described as a travesty of the events. Weinberger made former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane almost wholly responsible for all that went wrong. But McFarlane had resigned in December 1985. Most of the deals and the “diversion” to the contras had taken place in 1986 under his successor, Admiral John Poindexter, who barely gets mentioned. According to Weinberger, President Reagan was merely an innocent victim of McFarlane’s machinations, whereas Shultz in his book Turmoil and Triumph had made him a victim of Poindexter’s. As for his own role, after telling about his opposition on December 7, 1985, and January 7, 1986, Weinberger has little to say about himself—with one notable exception.

In January 1986, the Defense Department was told to provide arms to Iran. Weinberger objected on the ground that a direct transfer violated the Arms Export Control Act and he insisted that the arms had to go through the CIA. When he had his way, he cooperated in the slightly more roundabout route. In his book, he revealed that he had “seriously contemplated resignation” when Admiral Poindexter informed him that President Reagan had approved the transfer through the CIA. But he did not resign, ostensibly because the transaction was secret, and he could not “have been able to make any kind of a statement that would be effective in stopping the operation.”1

Both Weinberger and Shultz basically opposed the operation for much…

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