No Bull, No Fluff, No Smudges
Your news source for
Flagler, Florida and Beyond

Ransom Rubbish

| August 28, 2016

iran ransom obama

Trying to figure out reactionaries’ alternate universe. (White House)

The morning of May 25, 1986, an Israeli plane painted over to look like it belonged to another country and whose flight plan had been fabricated landed at Tehran Airport with a cargo of four Americans traveling on bogus Irish passports and bearing gifts for Ayatollah Khomeini: two handguns, a cake in the shape of a key they’d picked up in Tel Aviv, where the plane had taken off, and a Bible inscribed by Ronald Reagan himself. The Americans included Bud McFarlane, who had been Reagan’s national Security Adviser until a few months before, and Oliver North, then a lowly member of the National Security Staff (literally: his office was in the basement of the Executive Office Building near the White House, as he’d proudly tell a Senate committee in his break-out performance 14 months later).

pierre tristam column flaglerlive The four amigos were in Iran to continue secret and illegal negotiations with the Iranian government. McFarlane wanted the Iranians to release American hostages held in Beirut. North wanted to sell weapons to the Iranians and send the profits to Central America to help the Contras, a band of right-wing terrorists bent on overthrowing the left-wing Sandinista regime. The Contras were so despicable that Congress passed a law in the form of the Boland Amendment banning American support for them. The law specified that the Contras were to gain no help from “any nation, group, organization, movement or individual.”

But Reagan loved those terrorists. He famously called them freedom fighters, and North always thought he and the president were above the law. (North was among the 138 members of the administration convicted, indicted or investigated for misconduct or criminal acts in the most corrupt administration since Ulysses Grant. Reagan played up his senility to avoid what would have been almost certain impeachment.) North figured he’d get around Congress and send weapons to the Contras anyway, and use the Iranians to do it, along with the help of a notorious Saudi playboy-arms dealer.

Reagan had told the American people in his best actor’s voice how “America will never make concessions to terrorists,” especially terrorists who hold hostages. But the Reagan administration had been in secret negotiations with Iran for a year before Reagan made that statement, and for two by the time North had landed in Tehran. In December 1985, Reagan had signed an authorization for three arms shipments to Iran. The background summary on the document justified the deal as the only way to “obtain the release of Americans held hostage in the Middle East.”

As historian Sean Wilentz documented in “The Age of Reagan,” his 2008 book, demolishing any post-mortem invention that the president had been clueless, Reagan not only knew that “only a few of us” were “in on it,” in Reagan’s words, but he knew that the cover-up was essential. “I won’t even write in the diary what we’re up to,” Reagan wrote in his diary. It was not his brightest moment. But by then he was honing his best lies despite his best adviser’s warnings. Secretary George Schultz had opposed the deal all along. “You cannot spend funds that Congress doesn’t either authorize you to obtain or appropriate,” he told the congressional panel investigating the scandal, words he’d presumably told Reagan. “That is what the Constitution says, and we have to stick to it.” Reagan ignored him, and violated the Constitution.

iran-contra report

The mastermind.

As for North’s cake-and-Bible-bearing excursion to Tehran, Reagan had approved the trip 10 days earlier, even though he was officially supporting Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s war against Iran. Remember that lovely sideshow only four years before Saddam invaded Kuwait and triggered America’s miserable 20-year and latest of lost crusades in the Middle East? Of course the Iran-Contra deal collapsed and the secrecy was blown, triggering a constitutional crisis bigger than Watergate. Fourteen Reagan Administration staffers were criminally charged in that particular affair, 11 of them convicted, including North and Caspar Weinberger, the former defense secretary, though somehow Reagan escaped and technicalities or the first George Bush, who’d been Reagan’s vice president and had approved of Iran-Contra all along, pulled a Ford-servicing-Nixon act and pardoned him and five others.

So goes the construction of mythology, the transformation of criminals, the president chief among them, into heroes. That’s the kind of America somebody wants to grate us over with again. It was a different kind of weird when this week North, speaking on the Fox Fiction network of course, first boasted of being a better negotiator with Iran than John Kerry—never mentioning that Kerry was negotiating legally, whereas North was doing so as the future felon he was—then accused President Obama of “giving Iran everything.” This from the man who went to Iran bearing gifts and TOW missiles. It wasn’t his first “boiling hot piece of right-wing performance art,” as Wilentz described North’s 1987 congressional testimony.

North is among the latest rhetorical Contras recruited to spread the bogus story of a $400 million ransom the Obama administration paid Iran in exchange for three Americans detained there. But a ransom is a payment like North was promising the Iranians in 1986: weapons they’re not owed, in exchange for money and the favor of releasing hostages. Obama was paying back money legally owed Iran since 1979. The timing may have looked suspicious. It was at most opportunistic. It got three Americans home, and it settled a debt that the United States had illegally held over Iran’s head for nearly four decades. That’s more than can be said for North’s amateur hour in Tehran on behalf of Contras half a world away: compounding illegality with immorality, he was just channeling arms-sale profits to murderers.

We can disagree about whether the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran is a good one or not, or whether we should be negotiating with Iran at all (though if we’re willing to call Saudi Arabia a friend—a more criminal, more repressive, more terrorist-financing nation than Iran has been—ignoring Iran is the juvenile-diplomacy equivalent of what the Cuban embargo had been). We can also disagree about the timing of the payments due, even the method of those payments. We can’t disagree about the deal’s legality and the debt owed.

But somehow in the alternate universe of reactionary inventions the United States would be better off staying above the law and sticking it to Iran, debt or no debt, presumably so we can prove a point, though I’m not sure what that would be at this point. Howling ransom has the distant ring of scandal, but only as a reminder of the only scandal there really was. Thanks to Reagan’s lies and the first Bush’s whitewash, the criminals got away. They’re still rewriting history to the blinkers of their North star.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

17 Responses for “Ransom Rubbish”

  1. JimB says:

    Flaglerlive is a great asset to our community. I truly appreciate the fact I can get the latest in our local news and information.
    There is only one drawback… Flaglerlive’s editor. A very biased and one-sided S.O.B. Oh I try not to click on his articles but it’s like passing a bad car wreck and you tell yourself not to look but you do and get sick to your stomach. Tristam’s articles make me sick to my stomach.
    I like an analogy that was made a while back, Tristam is like a drunken uncle you put up with at the family reunion just to see the rest of the family you care about.
    I will continue to try not to look at the car wrecks that Tristam spews forth in the future. Help me Lord.

  2. Rick G says:

    Isn’t it a bit strange that the misconduct and criminal acts under Reagan have hardly been mentioned by the media… the so called liberal media. The Republican Party… the world’s biggest proponent of projectionism.

  3. My2Cents says:

    Well said!!!

  4. Veteran says:

    Obama said in front of God and everybody that we had to make a $400 million cash payment because we couldn’t transfer or wire funds to Iran. Then later we WIRED $1.2 billion to them. The hostages weren’t released until the plane with cash arrived. Doesn’t pass the smell test folks!

  5. Andy says:

    Awesome article- food for thought – thanks, PT!

  6. Coyote says:

    How dare you bring facts to a rhetorical, emotional, and political history rewrite! Why, next thing you’ll be saying is that Reaganomics doesn’t work, and we should stop giving money back to the rich so they can spend it on improving the country – after all, if it hasn’t worked yet – it will, sometime – just keep trying (and above all, keep yelling that it works – sooner or later those fact-demanding naysayers will give in).

  7. biasedmedia says:

    The virtual empty chair! 400m OF 1.6 B … would of been nice to build some roads or BUY BOOKS or Hire Teachers (or maybe pay them a living wage) But O didn’t want a Carter repeat.

    And swallow that fluoride which is this article.., I wonder what a world would be like with an actual FREE and UNBIASED media?

    Think… we could actually solve problems and have a bright future … if only the prostitutes who push the agenda would seek the light instead of darkness.

  8. Sherry says:

    Ahhhh , dear Pierre, yet again here you are writing an excellent historical comparison of decisions made during different presidential tenures. You’ve, again, pointed out FACTUAL information to an audience that contains many who live only in a fearful, negative, emotional , conspiracy driven world. While many of us find your well written analytical articles enlightening and thought provoking. . . there will always be those who are simply so entrenched in their tiny world prejudices that they will “shoot the messenger” rather than open their minds to any truths. . . especially from a larger context. We most definitely applaud you for your valiant efforts to pry open the minds of your readers and create a little historical perspective.

    The FACT to keep in mind is that the cash delivered to Iran was legally THEIR OWN MONEY and this administration did not trust the other side to release the prisoners, as promised:

    OK. . . which is it folks? If the administration does NOT try to negotiate the release of Americans held by foreign regimes/terrorists. . . you cry FOUL! BUT. . . If they ARE SUCCESSFUL is obtaining the release of hostages. . . you cry FOUL!

    President Obama is certainly NOT the FIRST president to be successful in these kinds of delicate, complex negotiations, and hopefully he will not be the last!

  9. footballen says:

    History created by the left to confuse the masses as the left ruins us all.

  10. Mark says:

    Why didn’t you just say it’s Bush’s fault!? Lame.

  11. Geezer says:


    Please contact the owner of Flaglerlive and ask that the editor be suspended for
    a specified period. The squeaky wheel always gets the grease.

    But I think that the owner and editor are very close.
    They even look alike.

  12. J Michael Kelley says:

    I have a question for management at Flagler Live. After reading any of your articles, which I may or may not agree with, I notice the comment section. Why do you allow people to use fictitious names? I remember your days at the News Journal, and letters to the editor used actual names. Just my opinion, but when you allow those commenting the ability to hide their identity, it begs the question of authenticity. It would seem those commenting, if they truly believed the position they were espousing, would be transparent.

  13. Jose Girbel says:

    Attention all you Pierre ass kisser……….There is NO PALESTINE….there never was a PALESTINE and President Donald Trump is going to build a wall so freaking tall the only illegals getting over it will be the ones flying on the back of Black Eagles !!!!!

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      There’s a Lebanese expression, likely common in Palestine (or at least in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon), that’s impossible to translate with the aromatic poetry of the original, that goes something like: what’s ass got to do with hello (“shou jeb toz 3a marhaba,” or شو جيب الحمار مرحبا for Flagler’s countless arabophiles), meaning (to translate for Trumpists, who need all the help they can get), what on earth has one thing to do with the other. I owe you a couple of kisses for reminding me of that expression, so apt these days of–pardon my Palestinian–dunces upon asses.

  14. jasonb says:

    How dare you use facts, and besmirch the holy name of Saint Ron?

  15. Geezer says:

    J Michael Kelley:

    I can answer that question.

    The comments section would essentially dry up, how would you enforce such a requirement?
    A copy of a utility bill, & driver’s license as proof?

    And, I recall the News-Urinal the very day they shut down the comments section because of
    how outlandish and vulgar the comments were. The NJ was continually embarrassed by readers
    pointing out the newspaper’s numerous spelling and grammatical errors. Readers were attacking
    each other and sometimes revealing commentator’s addresses. Never do I recall “real names”
    as handles. Some of the N.J.’s regular commentators came to Flaglerlive.
    I used the same handle there too. I ridiculed their paper daily because it was so dumbed down.

    As far as letters to the editor–that’s another matter.

    Filtering through comments is a monumental task for Flaglerlive as it is.
    Anonymity allows people to speak their minds without reservation.


  16. Sherry says:

    I personally stopped using my full name for my comments because we NOW have way too many people armed to the teeth and extremely passionate about their particular political and societal beliefs. My impression and concern . . . it is no longer completely safe to do so.

Leave a Reply

FlaglerLive's forum, as noted in our comment policy, is for debate and conversation that adds light and perspective to articles. Please be courteous, don't attack fellow-commenters or make personal attacks against individuals in stories, and try to stick to the subject. All comments are moderated.

Read FlaglerLive's Comment Policy | Subscribe to the Comment Feed rss flaglerlive comment feed rss

More stories on FlaglerLive

FlaglerLive Email Alerts

Enter your email address to get alerts.


suppert flaglerlive flagler live palm coast flagler county news pierre tristam florida
news service of florida
FlaglerLive is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization | P.O. Box 254263, Palm Coast, FL 32135 | Contact the Editor by email | (386) 586-0257 | Sitemap | Log in