November 13, 2000
Who Should Concede?
On to Watergate
The Democratic silence about Nixon's sabotage of the Paris peace talks did not bring them political peace, either.
In the years that followed his 1968 victory, Nixon continued his high-handed strategies. He began building a clandestine apparatus for combating his political enemies and ensuring his reelection in 1972.
Nixon’s “plumbers unit,” employing former CIA operatives, spied on individuals who caused Nixon difficulty – the likes of Daniel Ellsberg who exposed the Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War – and on the Democrats.
The plumbers were searching for intelligence about the Democrats when they were caught bugging the phones of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington in June 1972.
Even earlier, other Nixon operatives had worked to sabotage the campaigns of Democratic candidates that Nixon considered formidable threats to his reelection, which Nixon won in a landslide in November 1972.
Ultimately, the Watergate scandal was exposed and Nixon was forced to resign in 1974. But the Republicans never changed their tactics.
The Iranian Hostages
In 1980, the Reagan-Bush campaign saw the lingering hostage crisis in Iran as a powerful vulnerability for President Carter.
Again, the evidence is now overwhelming that the Republicans contacted senior Iranians behind Carter's back to assure that Carter failed to secure the release of 52 American hostages before the election.
Over the past two decades, more than a score of witnesses – including senior Iranian officials, top French intelligence officers, Israeli intelligence operatives and even Palestine leader Yasir Arafat – have confirmed the existence of a Republican initiative to interfere with Carter’s efforts to free the hostages.
In 1996, during a meeting in Gaza, Arafat personally told former President Carter that senior Republican emissaries approached the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1980 with a request that Arafat help broker a delay in the hostage release.
“You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the elections,” Arafat told Carter. [For details, see Diplomatic History, Fall 1996]
Arafat’s spokesman Bassam Abu Sharif has said the GOP gambit pursued other channels, too. In an interview with me in Tunis in 1990, Bassam indicated that Arafat learned upon reaching Iran in 1980 that the Republicans and the Iranians had made other arrangements for a delay in the hostage release.
“The offer [to Arafat] was, ‘if you block the release of hostages, then the White House would be open for the PLO’,” Bassam said. “I guess the same offer was given to others, and I believe that some accepted to do it and managed to block the release of hostages.”
In a little-noticed letter to the U.S. Congress, dated Dec. 17, 1992, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr said he first learned of the Republican hostage initiative in July 1980 when a nephew of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from a meeting with an Iranian banker, Cyrus Hashemi, who had close ties to Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey and to Casey’s business associate, John Shaheen.
Bani-Sadr said the message from the Khomeini emissary was clear: the Republicans were in league with the CIA in an effort to undermine Carter and were demanding Iran’s help.
Bani-Sadr said the emissary “told me that if I do not accept this proposal they [the Republicans] would make the same offer to my rivals.” The emissary added that the Republicans “have enormous influence in the CIA,” Bani-Sadr wrote. “Lastly, he told me my refusal of their offer would result in my elimination.”
Bani-Sadr said he resisted the GOP scheme, but the plan was accepted by the hard-line Khomeini faction.
[For more details about the evidence of a Republican-Iranian deal in 1980, see The October Surprise X-Files series in the archives at this Web site or Robert Parry's book, Trick or Treason, available at Amazon.com]
Though some Carter advisers held suspicions about Republican hostage shenanigans at the time, the Democrats again kept silent. Only after the Iran-contra scandal broke in 1986 and witnesses began surfacing was the 1980 story fleshed out enough to compel Congress to take a closer look.
Again, though, the Democrats feared that the evidence could endanger the fragile relationships in Washington that enable governing to go forward. Once more, they chose to ignore the machinations of the Republicans and, in some cases, literally hid the evidence. [See History on the Ballot or the October Surprise X-Files series.]