The Iran-Contra Affair 30 Years Later: A Milestone in Post-Truth Politics

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tags: Iran-contra



Exactly thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan announced to the nation – after weeks of denials – that members of his White House staff had engaged in a web of covert intrigue linking illicit U.S. support for a guerrilla war in Central America with a legally and politically explosive arms-for-hostages bargain with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The revelation quickly led to a new phrase – “Iran-Contra” – which became synonymous with political hubris, government incompetence, and dishonesty in the public sphere.

Today, the National Security Archive posts a selection of materials that spotlight the last of the elements above – deceitfulness – whose relevance has sadly become more pronounced after a bruising political season marked by examples and allegations of widespread public contempt for facts, evidence and the truth.

Today’s focus also follows Oxford Dictionaries’ selection earlier this month of the term “post-truth” as its Word of the Year, a choice it traced indirectly to the Reagan-era scandal: “Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.’” (See The Nation, January 6/13, 1992) 

The historical record, including thousands of documents and hundreds of hours of testimony that are not possible to reproduce here, bears out the connection between the attitudes evident during the mid-1980s and what Americans have been witnessing in 2016.




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