Thursday, February 1, 2007

Moyers documentary on the Iran-Contra affair

Via Jonathan Schwarz at Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World blog, I came across this remarkable documentary by Bill Moyers from 20 years ago (1987) about the Iran-Contra affair called "The Secret Government ... The Constitution in Crisis" at Google Video. (Darn if I can make the embed work.)

Apparently this is the first time the full 1hr. 26 min. version has been publicly available, with only a 22-min. version previously available. (For some reason, my Norton Security software decided to warn me about 30 minutes into the film that it was a "suspicious" Web site that might be used for "phishing". But it doesn't require any user input to view the film.)

The Iran-Contra operation in many ways was the template for the entire foreign policy of the Cheney-Bush administration. That is the way Dick Cheney thinks the government ought to be run - under a Republican Executive, of course.

This is an excellent summary of the Iran-Contra affair, its Constitutional implications and its relationship to Cold War espionage practices. He covers the overthrow of Mossadegh's government in Iran in 1953; the overthrow of the Jacobo Arbenz government in Guatamala in 1954; the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961; the assasination plots against Fidel Castro, some in league with the Mafia; covert war in Indochina; the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964; Operation Phoenix; the subversion of the Allende government in Chile; domestic spying; "the White House crimes known as Watergate" (Moyers).

Moyers says in the documentary (after 18:45), "The secret government has no constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up". That's a good, brief statement of the Dick Cheney philosophy of government.

After 41:40, he says "once we dicide that anything goes, anything can come home to haunt us".

One valuable thing that Moyers' documentary does is to show the particular connection between Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair. Both have come back to bite us again through officials like Dick Cheney and Rummy and the Iran-Contra miscreants like Elliot Abrams who have played significant roles in the Cheney-Bush administration.

While Watergate is remembered as a big scandal. But Edwin Firmage argues in the documentary (1:03) that the Constitutional violations and dangers were signficantly greater in the Iran-Contra affair.

Seymour Hersh has said elsewhere that he believes that the Iran-Contra affair has still never been adequately investigated and explained.

This sequence is a grim, grim sign for the future. Watergate degenerated to Iran-Contra, and Iran-Contra became in large part a mode of operation for the entire Cheney-Bush administration.

And unless the public, the Congress and the Republican Party in particular is not alert to the danger and actually concerned to avoid it, the liklihood is that veterans of the Cheney-Bush administration and some of today's true believers influenced by the Cheney method of government will come to power again. And, like Cheney and Rummy intended to restore the Watergate/Iran-Contra mode of operation, those future zealots will try to make the Cheney method work to an even greater degree than in has during the first six years of the current administration.

It's sad to hear people talk in the 1987 documentary about how anti-Communist zealotry led people to do foolish, reckless, immoral and illegal things. And to realize how very, very similar it sounds to today's Republican warnings about the threat of The Terrorists.

"Just salute and follow orders" (1:08) is how Moyers characterizes the mentality of the Iran-Contra conspirators. And that's been the general mentality of hardline Bush followers since 9/11.

It's not a democratic attitude. Democracy cannot survive too much of it.

set of quotations from Dick Cheney gives a good picture of how Cheney viewed the Iran-Contra affair in the context of his theory of unlimited Executive power.

Cheney was responsible for shaping the minority report of the Congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair. According to Lou Dubose and and Jake Bernstein in Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency (2006), Cheney's current chief of staff David Addington was the primary author of the text on Executive power in that report.


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