Iran-Contra Affair Historical Background of


Security about the location of the hostages and the kidnappers was tight and prevented rescue. Public pressure and pressure from families was keen, eventually leading to a deterioration of the practice of not negotiating and not giving concessions to terrorists to which the Americans and the French held themselves. The Reagan administration violated official Congressional policy to negotiate secret arms-for-hostage exchange with the Iranians, who were believed to have sufficient influence over Hezbollah to achieve release of the hostages.

Literature Review

When is a Story a Lie is a Story? Boynton (1991) describes a theory of politics as conversation. He might not have had the testimonies given at the Walsh trial of the Iran-Contra affair in mind, but it seems to be a good fit for a practical application of the theory. Bogen and Lynch (1989, in their examination of Oliver North's testimony to a Joint Congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair, describe how a narrative can be constructed by one party and simultaneously deconstructed by another. The interrogator strives to assimilate the various stories provided by North and, in doing so, to bring the North's narrative from one of chronology and biography to one of history. North skillfully sidesteps this process by embedding his story in local entitlements. North was a public official carrying out his public duties under supervisors of whom he assumed consulted with the President about his mission.

Bok (1999), in her seminal book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, says unequivocally that a good man does not lie. But, she then asks, why we are categorically harsh on a liar when not all lies are bad, in that, not all lies result in bad things happening. In fact, some lies bring about good. Many lies are associated with only trivial consequences and some are associated with substantive good.

When the means is just a lie, we might ask, doesn't it easily justify the end? Clearly, this was a gauge against which some members of Reagan's Cabinet measured their engagement in deceitful practices. It took the White House and Congress four years of discussion and debate to formulate the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act. A Kennedy School case study in ethical problems in public careers highlights an innate tension that has always been part of the undercurrents of the Central Intelligence Agency since its creation just after World War II: "How should clandestine operations, whose effectiveness is based in secrecy, be treated in a democracy?" (Kennedy School Case Study No. 548.0). In their article written for the Belfer Center for International Affairs, Rosenbach and Peritz (2009) discuss covert action and how the Iran-Contra affair led to substantive changes in the laws dealing with covert actions of the United States government.

Congress Has More Important Things to Talk About. Beer and Boynton (1999) present a framework for examining Senatorial conversation. They contrast realist rhetoric and Senatorial rhetoric. Realist rhetoric, they suggest, has to do with the "immutable laws of international politics" while Senatorial rhetoric is much more plastic and accommodates agent-actions. Senatorial rhetoric is pragmatic. Senators "want to know what will is likely to work in the specific context and what is not" (Beer & Boynton, 1999). The nation state is showcased in realist rhetoric while, according to Beer and Boynton, Senatorial rhetoric focuses on individual agents and political groups and factions at home. These domestic or local actors are weighted differently by Senatorial rhetoric also, as the "power of actors depends heavily on local, rather than global calculations" (Beer & Boynton, 1999). In the purest application of their theoretical construct to the topic of the Iran-Contra affair, the authors describe the projection of rhetoric constructs into the "world in the instrumental terms of ends and means" while Senatorial rhetoric choose other dimensions of the political action of individuals. The interest of individual agents may be defined by Senatorial rhetoric "in terms of power is a motivation that drives the actors, national and sub-national. But other dimensions -- memory, emotions such as hatred and fear, guilt, responsibility, morality -- are important as well' (Beers & Boynton, 1999).

Rhetorical conversations are intrinsically related to the culture within which the individual agent or groups exist. A look at culture, particularly strategic culture, can facilitate an analysis of the how the Iran-Contra decisions were made to carry out an arms-to-hostage transaction with Iran. Cruz suggested that elites people in a culture have more latitude than might be surmised, and others have argued that strategic culture can be characterized as a reality that is negotiated among the elites of the foreign policy arena (2005). Cruz suggests that while leaders honor the deepest convictions embedded in their strategic culture, they are still apt to seek a degree of legitimization "for preferred policy courses that may, or may not, conform to traditional cultural boundaries" (Cruz, 2005). In these efforts to legitimize their preferences, a talent robustly demonstrated by the Reagan administration during the Iran-Contra affair, these elite agents "recast a particular agenda as most appropriate to a given collective reality or…recast reality itself by establishing a (new) credible balance between the known and the unknown" (Cruz, 2005). Cruz's words aptly describe the policy practices of the Reagan administration and the Congressional testimony as witness after witness sought to "redefine the limits of the possible, both descriptively and prescriptively" (Cruz, 2005).

Contemporary theory in international relations would have it that the decision making unit of analysis is the state or nation. From this perspective, the state or nation is susceptible to "black boxing" and is considered to be equivalent to or approximate to a "unitary rational actor" (Hudson, 2005). Or the interactions between nations may be perceived as moving pieces in a "billiard ball model" which is more commonly known as actor-general theory (Hudson, 2005). Further, Hudson suggests that, as a subfield of international relations, foreign policy analysis (FBA) takes the next rational step to actor-specific theory due to the recognition that human decision makers are the hub (the theoretical grounding) of international relations. As that pivotal hub, human decision makers are not best thought of as "unitary rational actors" that stand in for, or approximate, the state.

Foreign policy analysis is characterized (Hudson, 2005) as having a wholly integrative theoretical basis. It is multidisciplinary, in that, it borrows as needed and appropriate from the fields of psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, organizational behavior, and military behavior, and so on. Hudson further suggests that foreign policy analysis is multifactorial and multilevel in orientation as it considers many variables from many different levels of analysis. With all the lenses and combinations of an optometrist's refractometer, the most relevant attribute for the purposes of this paper is that foreign policy analysis is agent-oriented and actor-specific (Hudson, 2005). In a 1993 seminal work analyzing the Cuban Missile Crisis, Alexander George (George, 1964) was unwilling to represent the humans in the crisis as "rational utility maximizers" who were equivalent to their nations. George coined the term actor-specific as a way of underscoring that analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis could not proceed without concrete, specific information about the individual decision makers from the U.S., Cuba, and the Soviet Union (George, 1964).

Actor-specific theory permits the policy analyst to gather the determinants of state behavior, which Hudson (2005) has described as intangible "material and ideational factors" (p. 3) at their tangible intersection: A decision maker. In their seminal work, Snyder, Bruck, and Sapin (1962) explained that, "Decision makers are viewed as operating in dual-aspect setting so that apparently unrelated internal and external factors become related in the actions of the decision-makers" (1962: 74, p.85).

Within the actor-specific theory of foreign policy analysis, an important consideration, particularly when analyzing a specific policy decision rather than a policy outcome, is the construction of meaning by the actor-agents, and the framing of situations that act as scaffolding to the generated meaning. In a backward looking analysis of either policy process or policy outcomes, an "extended narrative reconstruction" may be a useful reasoning device. Boynton (1991) provides a strong example of how this meaning-making facilitates or hinders decision-making. Using the official records of Congressional committee hearings, Boynton examined how members make sense of policies and current events. Boynton charted the crystallization at meaning points when interpretation took shape, and charted how committee members attempted to convey to other committee members the meaning they generated for themselves (Boynton, 1991). Using the term "interpretive triple" as a construct, Boynton sets out a framework that shows how connections are made between facts and how the plausibility is ascribed to those facts. An interpretive triple can turn a list of facts or a chronology into a narrative by establishing between two events a plausible connection (Paletz, 1996). Interpretive triples can be used for predicting what might happen if certain actions are taken, or not taken, and for counterfactual arguments (Paletz, 1996).

Although the committee members weigh the plausibility of their interpretations within the context of the hearings in Boynton's study, the relation of…