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date: 03 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

Iran-Contra was a major political scandal in the late 1980s that nearly derailed a popular president and left American society deeply divided about its significance. Although the affair was initially portrayed as a rogue operation run by overzealous White House aides, subsequent evidence showed that the president himself was its driving force with the knowledge of his most senior advisers. Iran-Contra was a foreign policy scandal, but it also gave rise to a significant confrontation between the executive and legislative branches with constitutional implications for their respective roles, especially in foreign policy. The affair exposed significant limits on the ability of all three branches to ferret out and redress official wrongdoing. And the entire episode, a major congressional investigation concluded, was characterized by a remarkable degree of dishonesty and deception, reaching to the highest levels of government. For all these reasons, and in the absence of a clear legal or ethical conclusion (in contrast to Watergate), Iran-Contra left a scar on the American body politic that further eroded the public’s faith in government.

Keywords: Reagan administration, Iran, Contras, Nicaragua, hostages, arms deals, covert action, presidency, Congress, national security

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