"Battered Wife Syndrome"
Saturday 25 April 2009
Parry | Visit article original @ Consortium
In recent years, the Washington political dynamic
often resembled an abusive marriage, in which the bullying husband (the
Republicans) slaps the wife and kids around, and the battered wife (the
Democrats) makes excuses and hides the ugly bruises from outsiders to
keep the family together.
So, when the
Republicans are in a position
of power, they throw their weight around, break the rules, and taunt:
"Whaddya gonna do 'bout it?"
Then, when the
Republicans do the political
equivalent of passing out on the couch, the Democrats use their time in
control, tiptoeing around, tidying up the house and cringing at every
angry grunt from the snoring figure on the couch.
which now appears to be
repeating itself with President Barack Obama's unwillingness to hold
ex-President George W. Bush and his subordinates accountable for a host
of crimes including torture, may have had its origins 40 years ago in
Campaign 1968 when the Vietnam War was raging.
Johnson felt he was on the
verge of achieving a negotiated peace settlement when he learned in
late October 1968 that operatives working for Republican presidential
candidate Richard Nixon were secretly sabotaging the Paris peace talks.
Nixon, who was
getting classified briefings
on the talks' progress, feared that an imminent peace accord might
catapult Vice President Hubert Humphrey to victory. So, Nixon's team
sent secret messages to South Vietnamese leaders offering them a better
deal if they boycotted Johnson's talks and helped Nixon to victory,
which they agreed to do.
about Nixon's gambit through
wiretaps of the South Vietnamese embassy and he confronted Nixon by
phone (only to get an unconvincing denial). At that point, Johnson knew
his only hope was to expose Nixon's maneuver which Johnson called
"treason" since it endangered the lives of a half million American
soldiers in the war zone.
As a Christian
Science Monitor reporter
sniffed out the story and sought confirmation, Johnson consulted
Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford about
whether to expose Nixon's ploy right before the election. Both Rusk and
Clifford urged Johnson to stay silent.
In what would
become a Democratic refrain in
the years ahead, Clifford said in a Nov. 4, 1968, conference call that
"Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I'm
wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the
story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected. It
could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it
would be inimical to our country's interests."
Johnson stayed silent "for the good
of the country"; Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Humphrey; the
Vietnam War continued for another four years with an additional 20,763
U.S. dead and 111,230 wounded and more than a million more Vietnamese
the years, as bits and pieces of
this story have dribbled out - including confirmation from audiotapes
released by the LBJ Library in December 2008 - the Democrats and the
mainstream news media have never made much out of Nixon's deadly
treachery. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Significance of Nixon's
exception to this pattern of the
Democrats' "battered wife syndrome" may have been the Watergate case in
which Nixon sought to secure his second term, in part, by spying on his
political rivals, including putting bugs on phones at the Democratic
team was caught in a second
break-in - trying to add more bugs - the scandal erupted.
however, key Democrats, such as
Democratic National Chairman Robert Strauss, tried to shut down the
Watergate investigation as it was expanding early in Nixon's second
term. Strauss argued that the inquiries would hurt the country, but
enough other Democrats and an energized Washington press corps overcame
the resistance. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy &
in August 1974, the Republicans were at a crossroads. In one direction,
they could start playing by the rules and seek to be a responsible
political party. Or they could internalize Nixon's pugnacious style and
build an infrastructure to punish anyone who tried to hold them
accountable in the future.
Republicans picked option
two. Under the guidance of Nixon's Treasury Secretary William Simon,
right-wing foundations collaborated to build a powerful new
infrastructure, pooling resources to finance right-wing publications,
think tanks and anti-journalism attack groups. As this infrastructure
took shape in the late 1970s, it imbued the Republicans with more
Election 1980, the Republican
campaign - bolstered by former CIA operatives loyal to former CIA
Director George H.W. Bush - resorted to Nixon-style tactics in
exploiting President Jimmy Carter's failure to free 52 American
hostages then held in Iran.
evidence is now overwhelming that
Republican operatives, including campaign chief Bill Casey and some of
his close associates, had back- channel contacts with Iran's Islamic
regime and other foreign governments to confound Carter's hostage
negotiations. Though much of this evidence has seeped out over the past
29 years, some was known in real time.
instance, Iran's acting foreign
minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh told Agence France Press on Sept. 6, 1980,
that he knew that Republican candidate Ronald Reagan was "trying to
block a solution" to the hostage impasse.
administration officials, such
as National Security Council aide Gary Sick, also were hearing rumors
about Republican interference, and President Carter concluded that
Israel's hard-line Likud leaders had "cast their lot with Reagan,"
according to notes I found of a congressional task force interview with
Carter a dozen years later.
the Israeli opposition to him
to a "lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly
had begun playing a key
middleman role in delivering secret military shipments to Iran, as
Carter knew. But - again for "the good of the country" - Carter and his
White House kept silent.
Since the first
anniversary of the hostage
crisis coincidentally fell on Election Day 1980, Reagan benefited from
the voters' anger over the national humiliation and scored a resounding
victory. [For more details on the 1980 "October Surprise" case, see
Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
Though much of
the public saw Reagan as a
tough guy who had frightened the Iranians into surrendering the
hostages on Inauguration Day 1981, the behind-the-scenes reality was
In secret, the
Reagan administration winked
at Israeli weapons shipments to Iran in the first half of 1981, what
appeared to be a payoff for Iran's cooperation in sabotaging Carter.
Nicholas Veliotes, who was then assistant secretary of state, told a
PBS interviewer that he saw those secret shipments as an outgrowth of
the covert Republican- Iranian contacts from the campaign.
that those early shipments
then became the "germs" of the later Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages
Republicans seemed to have little to
fear from exposure. Their media infrastructure was rapidly expanding -
for instance, the right- wing Washington Times opened in 1982 - and
America's Left didn't see the need to counter this growing media power
on the Right.
attack groups also had
success targeting mainstream journalists who dug up information that
didn't fit with Reagan's propaganda themes - the likes of the New York
Times Raymond Bonner, whose brave reporting about right-wing death
squads in Central America led to his recall from the region and his
resignation from the Times.
right-wing muscle, combined with
Ronald Reagan's political popularity, made Democrats and mainstream
journalists evermore hesitant to pursue negative stories about
Republican policies, including evidence that Reagan's favorite "freedom
fighters," the Nicaraguan contras, were dabbling in cocaine trafficking
and that an illegal contra-aid operation was set up inside the White
when my Associated Press
colleague Brian Barger and I put together a story citing two dozen
sources about the work of NSC official Oliver North, congressional
Democrats were hesitant to follow up on the disclosures.
August 1986, the House
Intelligence Committee, then chaired by Democrat Lee Hamilton and
including Republican Rep. Dick Cheney, met with North and other White
House officials in the Situation Room and were told that the AP story
was untrue. With no further investigation, the Democratic-led committee
accepted the word of North and his superiors.
It was only an
unlikely occurrence on Oct.
5, 1986, the shooting down of one of North's supply planes over
Nicaragua and a confession by the one survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, that
put the House Intelligence Committee's gullibility into focus.
shoot-down - and disclosures from
the Middle East about secret U.S. arms sales to Iran - forced the
Iran-Contra scandal into public view. The congressional Democrats
responded by authorizing a joint House-Senate investigation, with
Hamilton as one of the mild- mannered co-chairs and Cheney again
leading the GOP's tough-guy defense.
Republicans worked to undermine
the investigation, the Democrats looked for a bipartisan solution that
would avoid a messy confrontation with President Reagan and Vice
President Bush. That solution was to put most of the blame on North and
a few of his superiors, such as NSC adviser John Poindexter and the
then-deceased CIA Director Bill Casey.
congressional investigation also made a
hasty decision, supported by Hamilton and the Republicans but opposed
by most Democrats, to give limited immunity to secure the testimony of
to this immunity without
knowing what North would say. Rather than show any contrition, North
used his immunized testimony to rally Republicans and other Americans
in support of Reagan's aggressive, above-the-law tactics.
also crippled later attempts by
special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh to hold North and Poindexter
accountable under the law. Though Walsh won convictions against the
pair in federal court, the judgments were overturned by right-wing
judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals citing the immunity granted by
By the early
1990s, the pattern was set.
Whenever new evidence emerged of Republican wrongdoing - such as
disclosures about contra-drug trafficking, secret military support for
Saddam Hussein's Iraq and those early Republican-Iran contacts of 1980
- the Republicans would lash out in fury and the Democrats would try to
calm things down.
became the Republicans'
favorite Democratic investigator because he exemplified this approach
of conducting "bipartisan" investigations, rather than aggressively
pursuing the facts wherever they might lead. While in position to seek
the truth, Hamilton ignored the contra-drug scandal and swept the
Iraq-gate and October Surprise issues under a very lumpy rug.
In 1992, I
interviewed Spencer Oliver, a
Democratic staffer whose phone at the Watergate building had been
bugged by Nixon's operatives 20 years earlier. Since then, Oliver had
served as the chief counsel on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and
had observed this pattern of Republican abuses and Democratic excuses.
"What [the Republicans] learned
from Watergate was not 'don't do it,' but 'cover it up more
effectively.' They have learned that they have to frustrate
congressional oversight and press scrutiny in a way that will avoid
another major scandal."
The final chance
for exposing the Republican
crimes of the 1980s fell to Bill Clinton after he defeated President
George H.W. Bush in 1992.
office, however, Bush-41
torpedoed the ongoing Iran- Contra criminal investigation by issuing
six pardons, including one to former Defense Secretary Caspar
Weinberger whose cover-up trial was set to begin in early 1993.
prosecutor Walsh - a lifelong
Republican albeit from the old Eisenhower wing of the party - denounced
the pardons as another obstruction of justice. "George Bush's misuse of
the pardon power made the cover-up complete," Walsh later wrote in his
Iran-Contra investigation was
not yet dead. Indeed, Walsh was considering empanelling a new grand
jury. Walsh also had come to suspect that the origins of the scandal
traced back to the October Surprise of 1980, with his investigators
questioning former CIA officer Donald Gregg about his alleged role in
that prequel to Iran- Contra.
Democratic President could have
helped Walsh by declassifying key documents that the Reagan-Bush-41
team had withheld from various investigations. But Clinton followed
advice from Hamilton and other senior Democrats who feared stirring
partisan anger among Republicans.
Later, in a May
1994 conversation with
documentary filmmaker Stuart Sender, Clinton explained that he had
opposed pursuing these Republican scandals because, according to
Sender, "he was going to try to work with these guys, compromise, build
"It seemed even
at the time terribly
naive that these same Republicans were going to work with him if
he backed off on congressional hearings or possible independent
prosecutor investigations." [See Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
Democrats - like the battered wife
who keeps hoping her abusive husband will change - found a different
reality as the decade played out.
thanking Clinton, the
Republicans bullied him with endless investigations about his family
finances, the ethics of his appointees - and his personal morality,
ultimately impeaching him in 1998 for lying about a sexual affair
(though he survived the Senate trial in 1999).
impeachment battle, the
Republicans - joined by both the right-wing and mainstream news media -
kept battering Clinton and his heir apparent, Vice President Al Gore,
who was mocked for his choice of clothing and denounced for his
still managed to win the popular
vote in Election 2000 and apparently would have prevailed if all
legally cast votes had been counted in Florida, the Republicans made
clear that wasn't going to happen, even dispatching rioters from
Washington to disrupt a recount in Miami.
George W. Bush's
bullying victory - which
was finalized by five Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court -
was met with polite acceptance by the Democrats who again seemed to
hope for the best from the newly empowered Republicans. [For details on
Election 2000, see our book, Neck Deep.]
the 9/11 attacks, Bush-43
grabbed unprecedented powers; he authorized torture and warrantless
wiretaps; he pressured Democrats into accepting an unprovoked war in
Iraq; and he sought to damage his critics, such as former Ambassador
Now, after eight
destructive years, the
Democrats have again gained control of the White House and Congress,
but they seem intent on once more not provoking the Republicans, rather
than holding them accountable.
Barack Obama has released
some of the key documents underpinning Bush-43's actions, he opposes
any formal commission of inquiry and has discouraged any prosecutions
for violations of federal law. Obama has said he wants "to look forward
as opposed to looking backward."
the idea of a "truth and
reconciliation commission," Obama also recognizes that the Republicans
would show no remorse for the Bush administration's actions; that they
would insist that there is nothing to "reconcile"; and that they would
stay on the attack, pummeling the Democrats as weak, overly sympathetic
to terrorists, and endangering national security.
White House spokesman Robert
Gibbs admitted as much, saying that Obama rejected the idea of a
bipartisan "truth commission" because it was apparent that there was no
feasible way to get the Republicans to be bipartisan.
determined the concept didn't
seem altogether workable in this case," Gibbs said, citing the partisan
atmosphere that already has surrounded the torture issue. "The last few
days might be evidence of why something like this might just become a
political back and forth."
In other words,
the Republicans are rousing
themselves from the couch and getting angry, while the Democrats are
prancing about, hands out front, trying to calm things down and avoid a
hope against hope that if they
tolerate the latest Republican outrages maybe there will be some
reciprocity, maybe there will be some GOP votes on Democratic policy
But there's no
logical reason to think so.
That isn't how the Republicans and their right-wing media allies do
things; they simply get angrier because belligerence has worked so well
for so long.
On the other
hand, Democratic wishful
thinking is the essence of this political "battered wife syndrome,"
dreaming about a behavioral transformation when all the evidence - and
four decades of experience - tell you that the bullying husband isn't
going to change.
Parry broke many of the
Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek.
His latest book, "Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W.
Bush," was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be
ordered at neckdeepbook.com.
His two previous books, "Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the
Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq" and "Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth'" are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.