Transcript: Thom Hartmann asks Reese Erlich if Ronald Reagan cut an Iran hostage deal and steal the election from Jimmy Carter? 20 Jan '11
Thom Hartmann: This is the 50th anniversary of a whole bunch of things from the inauguration of John Kennedy, I mean it just kind of happens around this time of year. From the inauguration or John Kennedy to the inauguration to Ronald Reagan, which coincided with the so-called students in Iran releasing the hostages in Iran. So let’s take a, let’s step into the way-back machine for a minute and figure out what happened and what the consequences are for us, 30 years on. Reese Erlich is with us. He’s a veteran journalist, author of the book, “The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis.” His website, ReeseErlich.com, R-E-E-S-E-ERLICH.com. Reese, welcome to the program.
Reese Erlich: Thank you so much Thom.
Thom Hartmann: So you write about how, you know, most of these hostages, ten of them have died, most of the rest are retirement age. This was obviously a life-changing 440 days for these 52 people. They, first of all, is it true, I’ve seen commentary that they were taken hostage exactly one year to the date before the US elections?
Reese Erlich: They were taken, that would be accurate, yes. It was in the fall of…
Thom Hartmann: Is the first week in November, the first Tuesday of November in…
Reese Erlich: Yep. To tell you the truth I don’t remember the exact date but it was certainly right around that.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Well I’ve heard it identified as that particular Tuesday and how would they know that one year on would be celebrating the one year anniversary of their being held and that it might influence the US election?
Reese Erlich: Oh I don’t think they did. They had no idea. I’ve interviewed a number of the leaders of the student takeover. It was a planned movement but it was not something done with the knowledge, advanced knowledge of the Khomeini and his, at that time, fledgling revolutionary government. The students were upset that the US had given sanctuary to the Shah, they were worried that, as in 1953, there would be an attempt to restore the Shah to power. And they seized the embassy. They thought they would either be repelled when they first went in or they would be expelled within 24 hours. They had no idea that they were going to be there for a year.
Thom Hartmann: Okay. Then that’s an amazing coincidence. The, if that date is, you know it may well be that that’s, that it was just in that, in the neighborhood of that time. But they were held for actually over a year because they were released at the moment that Ronald Reagan was sworn into office here in the United States. Do I have that right?
Reese Erlich: Yes. That’s correct. They were, the plane left the tarmac in Tehran at something like 1 second after noon or you know, just, in the time that the Reagan administration, that President Reagan took office.
Thom Hartmann: Right. So Barbara Honegger who was in the Reagan administration wrote a book called “October Surprise” in which she suggested that Bill Casey did something very much like what we’ve heard the, I don’t know, you’re a guest right now I don’t want to play the tape for you, but I’ll play it in the next segment. The Johnson Library just released this tape last year and, of Lyndon Johnson talking to Everett Dirksen in, you know, leading up to the election of ’86, or ’68 rather. And he said you know we have proof now, we have the wire taps of the Nixon campaign talking to the South Vietnamese saying don’t make peace with LBJ because that will help Hubert Humphrey get elected. Instead wait until I’m president and I’ll get you a better deal. And Everett Dirksen said yes I know it’s going on and Lyndon Johnson said this is treason, Everett. And Everett said, and Everett Dirksen said I will try to talk to Nixon, but he’s not listening to us. And I mean these tapes are now, they’re public, they’re in the Johnson Library. I’m amazed that when they came out it was like a little one paragraph story in the New York Times that led me to them.
And, Barbara Honegger is alleging that basically the same thing happened in the Reagan campaign. That Bill Casey, who was the campaign manager, contacted the Iranians and said you want spare parts for your US made weapons? Jimmy Carter is never going to give them to you, he’s your enemy. Help Ronald Reagan get elected by holding onto the hostages and we’ll make sure that you get them and…
Reese Erlich: I know it comes as a shock to your listeners, Thom, that aspiring people, aspiring to the most powerful job in the world might engage in some underhanded dirty trick sin order to get themselves into power. But revelation time, what you described, absolutely it did happen. Casey cut a back room deal and if you had told people at the time that this was going on, people would have thought you were crazy. But when you look at what actually happened with the Iran Contra scandal, that’s exactly what they did. Which is that through secret back channels with the Iranian government with Rafsanjani then the president, they cut a deal to provide very, very much needed spare parts for what had been the Shah’s military and was heavily armed by the United states in order to help Iran against it’s then war with Iraq and on the part of the US they used the profits from those sales to arm the contras in Nicaragua illegally. Which because congress had cut off funding for that so they needed an alternative means to arm the contras.
Thom Hartmann: But the, if my recollection is correct, and please if you know, we’re talking with Reese Erlich, the journalist and author of “The Iran Agenda.” When Congress investigated Iran contra they were specifically limited to not look at actions before, was it 81 or 82? There was some specific, you cannot look at things that happened before this point in time, in the authorizing legislation for that committee’s investigation.
Reese Erlich: Yeah. That’s because the way in America, you know in other countries, you doctor reports by never doing them or altering them in the US. You simply constrain the investigators in certain ways so that they can’t fully explore and that’s indeed what happened with Iran contra.
Thom Hartmann: So my recollection, I mean I was, in the ‘80s I was in my 20s as I recall, maybe in my early 30s even by that point. But my recollection of that time was that I was a Jimmy Carter supporter and democrats were pretty certain up until about 4 or 5 weeks out that Carter was going to win, he was way ahead in the polls. And then there was that failed rescue attempt and it just all went downhill from there because he couldn’t get the hostages out and that’s why Ronald Reagan became president. Does that comport with history?
Reese Erlich: Well I think that’s a bit simplification. There’s no question that the hostage crisis weighed heavily on the defeat of Carter but you have to remember there was incredible inflation. 15, 20 % inflation. Serious, serious economic problems. Carter was in charge at the time. And the other thing is that we remember today Jimmy Carter as being this great progressive who helps build houses with his hands. But if you look back at his actual record, the second half of his term, ’78 to ’80, he was foretelling all of the conservative policies that Reagan would later accelerate.
Thom Hartmann: You’re right. He started deregulation.
Reese Erlich: He was a horrible president. Foreign policy and domestic. And so partly it was the Iran, or sorry, the Iran hostage situation. Mostly it was the economy and the fact that for a lot of Americans there was no real choice. It was between a conservative and an ultra conservative.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. And Jimmy Carter, don’t you think that he was pushed in large part as was Reagan to a certain extent, by Thatcher’s election in ’78?
Reese Erlich: That was part of it. I think the fact that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the US had been tremendously weakened by it’s defeat in Vietnam in ’76 and the final collapse of the US effort there and it had faced setbacks in Africa and various other parts. And this was, the turning point was about ’78, ’79 when those rulers in the US said this is it, we’re not going to be the weak military patsy anymore in their minds. That’s how they saw themselves. And they were going to stand up to the civil unions so the US started funding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, the contras in Nicaragua, beefing up its armaments in Europe. It was just a general onslaught by the US empire and that was started by Carter and…
Thom Hartmann: Carried forward by Reagan, yeah. Excellent point. Reese Erlich, how easily and how quickly we forget. Reese Erlich, the journalist, veteran journalist and author of “The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of US Policy in the Middle East Crisis, ReeseErlich.com. Reese, thanks for dropping by today.
Reese Erlich: Thank you for having me.
Thom Hartmann: Good talking with you.
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.