Seasoned journalist Robert Parry offers a thoroughly researched account of how the Republican Party and neocons have conspired to create a false narrative about America’s political and constitutional history. In particular, Parry tenaciously documents the accusations that he has pursued for years: that the Nixon campaign undermined peace talks that likely would have ended the Vietnam War in 1968 or 1969 in order to win the presidency; and that the Reagan campaign conspired with the revolutionary Iranian government to ensure that the US embassy hostages were not released before the 1980 election in order to seal Jimmy Carter’s defeat.
Furthermore, Parry ties together calamitous US foreign policy decisions with the “stolen narrative” that has suppressed the true account of how the neocons and right wing rose to power in the US. Indeed, Parry connects the dots from the sabotaged Lyndon Johnson Vietnam peace talks to the deceptions that led to the Iraq War and beyond.
At the end of Chapter Eight of America’s Stolen Narrative, Robert Parry writes: “But the end result of the failed investigations into the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush meant something else for the American people. They were left wandering in a wilderness of false narratives, trying to chart their future on a map drawn by liars.”
Mark Karlin: I would wager that most Americans believe that the US Constitution was promulgated contemporaneously with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. But, as you point out to those who need a brush-up on US history, the Articles of Confederation served as the legal document establishing this nation until the Constitution replaced the Articles in 1789. How would you describe the relationship of the colonies (states) to the central government under the Articles of Confederation?
Robert Parry: The Articles of Confederation were what many of today’s tea partiers seem to think the Constitution is: a structure of government in which the states were “sovereign” and “independent” and the central government was weak, deemed a “league of friendship” among the states. The Articles had governed the early nation from 1777 to 1787, but they were leading toward national disaster.
Even during the Revolution, the Continental Army depended on voluntary contributions from the states, which often reneged on their commitments. General George Washington was particularly disgusted with the idea of state sovereignty because he saw the harm that it did to his soldiers. After the war was over, Washington worried that the weak central government was inviting the European powers to play off one state or region against others. Then, in 1786, the Shays’ Rebellion – led by a disgruntled former Continental Army officer – erupted in western Massachusetts and the central government could not provide an army to restore order. Washington feared that European monarchies would be proven right, that the new nation with its ideals of freedom and self-governance would disintegrate. Shays’ Rebellion was finally put down in early 1787 by an ad hoc militia financed by wealthy Bostonians, but the event sealed Washington’s willingness to preside over the Constitutional Convention.
Mark Karlin: You contend that the replacement of the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution has been falsely portrayed by, among others, the self-described patriotic states’ rights advocates. In fact, you argue that the Constitution was an effort to create a strong federal government, replacing a loose confederation of colonies. What was the impetus for replacing the Articles of Confederation?
Robert Parry: Even before Shays’ Rebellion, General Washington was supporting proposals from fellow Virginian James Madison to reform the Articles by giving much more power to the central government. However, when those initiatives failed, Washington agreed to preside over a convention in Philadelphia in spring 1787 with the mandate of proposing changes to the Articles, which would then be considered by the state legislatures. But the convention instead turned to a far more radical plan crafted by Madison and backed by Washington: a new Constitution that threw out the Articles; transferred national sovereignty to “We the People of the United States;” made federal law supreme over the states; and gave the central government sweeping powers, including over national commerce.
Instead of seeking approval by the state legislatures, the convention deemed that approval by special state conventions in nine of the 13 states would suffice to put the new system in place. The Constitution was so radical that it sparked strong resistance from opponents, known as the Anti-Federalists. However, Madison and the Federalists succeeded in pushing the transformation through enough state conventions to make it the law of the land – and agreed to pass the Bill of Rights as a concession to some constituencies that had been on the fence.
The other key point of the Constitution was that it created a political system that – while clearly an imperfect result of compromises, including over the issue of slavery – created a republic so the young country could make changes peacefully. Contrary to some modern gun enthusiasts, who think the Framers wanted to arm the people so that they could do battle with the federal republic, the Constitution specifically empowers the national government to put down armed rebellion, which the Constitution defines as treason against the United States.
Mark Karlin: You have for years contended that there is a false narrative in more recent years that has allowed Republican misdeeds, particularly presidential election manipulation, to go unpunished. Can you briefly explain what happened with Richard Nixon and his campaign’s successful efforts to torpedo the Vietnam peace talks during the 1968 election?
Robert Parry: The evidence from the National Archives is now clear that Nixon’s campaign sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968, when Nixon recognized that they were on the cusp of bringing the war to a conclusion. If Johnson could negotiate an end to the war before the 1968 election, Vice President Hubert Humphrey would almost surely have won. So, Nixon’s campaign dispatched emissaries to the South Vietnamese leaders promising them a better deal if they boycotted the Paris peace talks, which they did.
Johnson learned about what he termed Nixon’s “treason” first from a leak out of a Wall Street meeting in which a Nixon financial backer was placing bets on stocks and bonds based on inside knowledge that Nixon would “block” a peace deal. Johnson then confirmed the conspiracy via FBI and NSA wiretaps and confronted Nixon in a phone conversation just days before the election. Nixon denied the facts as presented by Johnson, but Johnson didn’t believe him. On the day before the election, Johnson met with three senior advisers to discuss whether to go public with the evidence, but LBJ was dissuaded from doing so for “the good of the country.” Johnson hoped Nixon and the South Vietnamese might relent after the election, but they didn’t and the war continued for more than four additional years before being settled on roughly the terms available in 1968.
Mark Karlin: President Lyndon Johnson knew, you describe, what Nixon’s campaign was up to, but he chose not to reveal what was basically a treasonous act to the public. As a result, Nixon won a fairly close election and the Republicans, you contend, figured that they could play dirty electoral politics and conduct covert foreign policy with impunity. How did this affect the 1980 election in relationship to the US embassy hostages in Iran?
Robert Parry: Having escaped disclosure of their peace-talk sabotage in 1968, the Republicans faced a similar opportunity in 1980 when President Carter’s re-election depended on resolving an extended standoff with Iran over 52 American hostages held after the US Embassy takeover. Key Republicans, including some associated with the Nixon campaign of 1968, feared that Carter might overtake Ronald Reagan in the campaign’s final days if Carter could work out a deal to bring the hostages home. The Republicans also saw a Reagan victory as an historic opportunity to transform US politics by shifting the country dramatically to the Right. It was a temptation hard to resist.
The evidence is now overwhelming that people involved in Reagan’s campaign contacted Iranians behind Carter’s back with an offer of a better deal, much as Nixon’s people had offered promises to the South Vietnamese. According to various witnesses on all sides of those secret meetings, the contacts ensured that the hostage crisis would not be resolved until after Reagan’s victory. As it turned out, the hostages were held until Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, giving the new president the added political impetus of a major foreign policy victory in his first seconds in office.
Mark Karlin: Can you elaborate on the connection between the 1980 Reagan campaign relationship with Iran to the Iran-Contra scandal that emerged years later?
Robert Parry: I was involved in writing many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. And the conventional wisdom was that Reagan’s secret arms deals to Iran began in 1985 and continued into 1986. However, as the investigation progressed, we learned that Reagan’s arms sales to Iran via Israel began almost immediately after he took office in 1981.
One of the Israeli-contracted supply planes crashed inside the Soviet Union in July 1981 and an internal State Department inquiry by Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Veliotes determined that the origins of these US-approved arms shipments could be traced back to contacts made during the 1980 presidential campaign. In other words, the Iran-Contra shipments of 1985-86 were, more or less, an extension of arms deliveries that had begun years earlier with Israel acting as the middleman.
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Mark Karlin: Hovering around all this duplicitous activity is George Herbert Walker Bush. He comes across as the Zelig of the GOP in terms of the use of political subterfuge. Is that a surprise, considering that the CIA headquarters is named after him?
Robert Parry: The current conventional wisdom about George H.W. Bush is that he was an upright and decent fellow who was perhaps insufficiently political to be regarded as a very successful president. However, the real George H.W. Bush was a cynical, indeed ruthless, operative who would do or say pretty much anything to achieve his goals. He was part of the elite ruling class that emerged from World War II.
As Republican National Chairman in 1973, he tried to help Richard Nixon slip away from the Watergate scandal. And in 1976, Bush fit easily into the sinister world of the CIA. As CIA director, he oversaw one of the bloodiest years in the CIA-backed repression across South America, including the infamous Condor assassination program, which even reached into Washington with the car-bombing death of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier. Bush also used that year at the CIA’s helm to build contacts with intelligence operatives who would reappear at Bush’s side in 1980, when they had common interests in easing President Carter out of the way.
Those CIA colleagues also assisted Bush as vice president when he was handling secretive operations such as the off-the-books support for the Nicaraguan Contras and clandestine weapons shipments into the Middle East. After the Iran-Contra scandal broke, Bush hid his diaries so they could not be used in any investigations and then when Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was finally closing in on the criminal cover-up in late 1992, then-President Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra defendants, insuring that the trail of crimes would never reach his door. So, no, it’s not surprising that CIA headquarters would be named after him.
Mark Karlin: One of the sacred DC names you criticize is Colin Powell. You begin by questioning his conduct investigating alleged US massacres in Vietnam. In what ways do you argue he represents political opportunism in DC?
Robert Parry: Colin Powell is a classic creation of Washington’s misguided conventional wisdom. He is – or at least was – regarded as one of the most trusted public servants in the United States. The mainstream press corps just loved him, an African-American military man who worked his way up the ladder of success based on his skills, hard work and intelligence. However, the real Colin Powell was always an opportunist who never had the integrity to do the right thing or put his career in danger.
In 1968, as a young Army major in Vietnam, he was asked by his American Division superiors to investigate complaints about the mistreatment of Vietnamese, allegations that encompassed the My Lai massacre. Instead of a serious inquiry, Powell blew off the allegations as unfounded. He later came to the defense of a superior officer who was accused of going on hunting expeditions by helicopter during which the officer would murder peasants as they worked in the fields.
Powell was always looking for how to advance his career by sucking up to superiors. His work for the Reagan administration, including his deep involvement in the Iran-Contra operations, fit into this pattern. He was a master of working the system so that he would always end up impressing the power brokers of DC, including the press. This misguided trust in Colin Powell ultimately contributed to the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 after Powell delivered one of the most mendacious speeches ever given before the United Nations – but he was hailed by the major US news organizations, which almost unanimously agreed that Powell’s presentation “proved” that Iraq was hiding WMD. After all, would the estimable Colin Powell lie?
Mark Karlin: You make a strong case against Robert Gates as a credible CIA executive and as secretary of defense. How did he become a figure that helped entrap Obama into accepting a false history of US national security policy?
Robert Parry: Robert Gates is another one of those Washington creatures who is hailed by the mainstream press as a “wise man” when he is anything but. Not only was Gates implicated in the 1980 hostage chicanery, working behind the backs of his CIA boss and President Carter, he then saw his CIA career skyrocket as he served as CIA Director William Casey’s henchman for “politicizing” the CIA’s analysis to exaggerate the Soviet menace and thus justify a massive US military buildup.
Gates also was implicated in the Iran-Contra cover-up, which stopped his first nomination to be CIA director. Yet, as deputy director and as a national security aide in George H.W. Bush’s White House, Gates continued to wreak havoc. He insisted right to the end that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a phony who would never withdraw from Afghanistan. After the Soviets did withdraw, Gates then sabotaged a Gorbachev peace plan for the country.
Gates preferred triumphalism, but his chest-thumping only contributed to the rise of the Taliban and their tolerance of al-Qaeda bases. Yet, despite getting pretty much everything wrong, the boyish Gates insinuated himself into the good graces of key Democrats, such as Sen. David Boren, who then shepherded Gates’ 1991 nomination to head the CIA through to confirmation.
Gates left government after Bill Clinton became president but was recycled by George W. Bush when he needed a new defense secretary who would provide political cover for escalating the Iraq War in 2007. Somehow, Gates was welcomed back to Washington as a new “”wise man,” a reputation that ensured his continuation in the Pentagon job even after Barack Obama became president. Gates then proceeded to trap Obama into a major escalation in Afghanistan, a costly and bloody move that is considered by some to be Obama’s biggest foreign policy mistake.
Mark Karlin: Would the recent Obama nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA indicate that President Obama is continuing to follow the George W. Bush military posture and intelligence-gathering narrative?
Robert Parry: It appears that Obama has finally learned some lessons from his retention of Bush’s military command in 2009, including Gates at defense and Gen. David Petraeus at CentCom. It took several years, but Gates was finally eased back into retirement and Petraeus – after being moved to the CIA – was given no White House protection when he flamed out over a sex scandal last November. Also, Hillary Clinton at state was generally allied with the old Bush-era hawks.
So, Obama may finally be asserting his own foreign policy views with Chuck Hagel at defense, John Kerry at state and even John Brennan at CIA. This group shares a consensus against major military operations, like the Iraq and Afghan wars, although they favor more targeted counterterrorism strikes through the lethal drone program. Though many progressives find Obama’s approach unacceptable, he has marginalized the neocons and their hunger for a major military intervention in Syria and another war with Iran.
Mark Karlin: You interview a senior CIA operative from the pro-Shah “CIA within the CIA.” He is very critical of President Carter, even though he admits that Carter is extremely bright and thorough. His chilling stinging criticism of Carter is that “He was a principled man.” What does that reveal to you about American foreign policy as conducted within the “stolen narrative?”
Robert Parry: My interview with legendary CIA officer Miles Copeland was one of the most remarkable of my journalistic career. Copeland displayed a cynicism so pure that it could have been distilled. His concept of “the CIA within the CIA” was that there was this elite corps that knew what was right for US interests even if these operatives had to operate far outside all principles of justice and decency.
According to Copeland, in 1980, this “CIA within the CIA” concluded that Carter had to be removed from the presidency for the good of the country, that Carter was operating in an unsound manner because he “actually believed” all the things we say in America. Sadly, my videotaped interview with Copeland, who was then living in a small village in the English countryside, was cut short by his wife. Before I could resume the interview at the next possible date, Copeland had passed away.
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