Democrats May Beat Trump in November and Still not Learn the Most Important Lesson from his PresidencyRoundup
tags: Iraq, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, foreign policy, Richard Nixon, Watergate, Democratic Party, Donald Trump, Iran Contra, 2020 Election
Daniel Bessner is the Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Associate Professor in American Foreign Policy in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Daniel is an intellectual historian of US foreign relations and author of Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual.
But Ford's pardon of Nixon was different: For the first time in US history, a president resigned because he had broken the law, and his successor absolved him.
In dramatic fashion, Ford's pardon revealed that the US was not a country in which, as the Declaration of Independence declared, "all men are created equal." Clearly, some men were more equal than others; some men would face no consequences for flouting the law.
Over the next several decades, elite-level policymakers routinely escaped accountability for their crimes.
In the 1980s, a number of high-ranking government officials — including National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, Lt. Col. Oliver North, and Elliot Abrams — were embroiled in a scandal that centered on selling arms to Iran in part to fund right-wing contras in Nicaragua.
This was twice illegal: Iran was under an arms embargo and Congress had forbidden funding the Contras. The scandal roiled the nation, demonstrating that even after the Watergate disaster, national security officials believed they could disregard the law.
A number of the officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal suffered consequences.
Poindexter was convicted of conspiracy, obstructing Congress, and issuing false statements and sentenced to six months in prison. North was found guilty of accepting a bribe, obstructing Congress, and destroying documents; he received a three-year suspended prison sentence. Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress and was given two years probation.
While not especially punitive, these convictions seemed to indicate that when officials broke the law, there would be consequences. However, events soon demonstrated that elite decision-makers would not be held wholly accountable for their crimes.
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