«U.S. Foreign Policy and the Iran-Contra Affair: Was Oliver North a Patriot, a Pawn, or an Outlaw? Author: Catherine Holden, Franklin High School, ...»
Educational materials developed through the Baltimore County History Labs Program, a partnership between Baltimore County Public Schools
and the UMBC Center for History Education.
U.S. Foreign Policy and the Iran-Contra Affair: Was Oliver North a Patriot,
a Pawn, or an Outlaw?
Author: Catherine Holden, Franklin High School, Baltimore County Public Schools
Grade Level: High
Duration of the History Lab: 90 Minutes
In 1984 and 1985, Hezbollah, a fundamentalist Shiite organization, with ties to the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, abducted seven American citizens in Beirut, Lebanon. President Ronald Reagan denounced the Iranian government and urged Americans to refrain from selling any arms or goods to Iran. Despite strong rhetoric and a hard-line public stance against negotiating with terrorists, efforts were underway within the Reagan administration to secure the release of the American hostages. At the same time, Reagan was looking for a way to circumvent Congress and assist anti-Sandinista rebels (the Contras) in Nicaragua, in the name of protecting American interests and fighting Communism. In what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair, funds from arms sales to Iran were diverted through third parties to provide aid and military support to the Contras. In exchange, Iran agreed to broker the release of the hostages.
While questions linger about what was authorized and when, and what President Reagan knew, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a member of Reagan’s National Security Council, was an active and polarizing figure in the scandal that followed. In this History Lab, students are challenged to determine if North was a “patriot,” a “pawn,” or an “outlaw” in the Iran-Contra affair. They will examine and analyze hearing testimony, communications, and government reports to assess North’s role and legacy for themselves. In doing so they will gain an understanding of how developments in the Middle East and Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s created the environment in which the Iran-Contra scandal occurred.
History Standards National History Standards Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the present) Standard 1: Recent developments in foreign and domestic politics Standard 1B: The student understands domestic politics in contemporary society Analyze constitutional issues in the Iran-Contra affair Historical Thinking Standards Standard 5: Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision Making Identify issues and problems in the past and analyze the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation Evaluate alternative courses of action, keeping in mind the information available at the time, in terms of ethical considerations, the interests of those affected by the decision, and the longand short-term consequences of each Educational materials developed through the Baltimore County History Labs Program, a partnership between Baltimore County Public Schools and the UMBC Center for History Education.
Evaluate the implementation of a decision by analyzing the interest it served; estimating the position, power, and priority of each player involved; assessing the ethical dimensions of the decision; and evaluating its costs and benefits from a variety of perspectives Common Core State Standards: Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Grades 6-12 Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Grades 11-12 Key Ideas and Details Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Craft and Structure Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
Maryland State Curriculum Standards for United States History Expectation: Students will demonstrate understanding of the cultural, economic, political and social developments from 1981 to the present.
Topic: A. America Impacts the World (1981-Present) Indicator 1. Analyze United States foreign policy from 1981 to the present (5.6.1).
Educational materials developed through the Baltimore County History Labs Program, a partnership between Baltimore County Public Schools and the UMBC Center for History Education.
Purpose In this History Lab, students will consider U.S. foreign policy decisions in the Middle East and Latin America in the late 1970s and 1980s. They will look, in particular, at Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure of the Iran-Contra Affair during the Reagan presidency.
Through analysis of primary sources, students will be able to construct and provide support for an historical interpretation of North’s role in the Iran-Contra Affair.
Students will determine if Oliver North was acting as a patriot, a pawn or an outlaw.
Topic Background Between 1984 and 1985, seven Americans were abducted in Beirut, Lebanon by Hezbollah, a fundamentalist, Shiite terrorist organization with links to the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Khomeini.
President Ronald Reagan denounced the Iranian government and urged Americans to refrain from selling any arms or goods to Iran. In 1985, the United States Congress passed the International Security and Development Cooperation Act (ISDCA), which enabled the president to prohibit trade with any country supporting or harboring terrorists or terrorist organizations. The United States government appeared to take a hard stance publicly on terrorism in the Middle East. In the meantime, however, Reagan’s administration had already begun the process of selling weapons to Iran, using Israel as an intermediary, in an effort to secure the release of the hostages. In 1986, the arms for hostages deal turned into a major scandal in Washington and beyond. At a press conference on November 25, 1986, Reagan claimed he was “deeply troubled that the implementation of a policy aimed at resolving a truly tragic situation in the Middle East has resulted in such controversy.” Reagan said that he believed that his administration’s policy goals had been “well founded.” 1 In order to understand the rationale for the administration’s willingness to exchange weapons for hostages, it is necessary to understand the complexity of the growing tensions in Latin American and the Middle East in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During the Carter and Reagan Administrations, the number of communist-led and supported governments in Latin America and parts of the Middle East had increased. In countries such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, communist governments had gained control. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and supported the communist People’s Democratic Party.
In Iran, meanwhile, a homegrown revolution had overthrown the American-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who fled to the United States. In 1979, Islamic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took total control of the government, with the goal of establishing an Islamic republic and ridding Iran of all Western influence. In an act of deliberate aggression against the United States, the new Islamic government captured and held 52 Americans in Tehran for 444 days.
Many historians agree that the inability of the Carter administration to resolve the crisis was instrumental in the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980. Negotiations were, in fact, secretly underway, but the release of the hostages did not occur until Reagan was sworn into office in January Educational materials developed through the Baltimore County History Labs Program, a partnership between Baltimore County Public Schools and the UMBC Center for History Education.
1981. The United States broke off relations with Iran and instituted a series of economic sanctions in an attempt to weaken the theocratic government.
In Latin America, the Sandinistas, a Marxist-socialist organization, took control of Nicaragua, challenging the Monroe Doctrine that had influenced American foreign policy in the Western hemisphere for decades. By the beginning of the 1980s, it appeared to the United States that communism and the Soviet Union were gaining momentum in the region, posing a threat to the United States.
In the 1984 election, Ronald Reagan won 49 of the 50 states in a landslide. In response to his mandate, Reagan enacted his own “Reagan Doctrine,” in which he proclaimed, “we must not break our faith with those who are risking their lives - on every continent from Afghanistan to Nicaragua - to defy Soviet aggression and secure rights which have been ours since birth…Support for freedom fighters is self defense.”2 Reagan’s defense of freedom fighters was indicative of his staunch anti-communist beliefs.