Professors Offer Grim Assessment
Assessing the growing conflict over the Reagan Administration's sale of arms to Iran, Harvard professors in a variety of fields said that the affair would severely undermine U.S. interests abroad.
They also questioned whether the president will be able to regain his influence with Congress or restore his standing with the American people.
Experts in foreign relations said revelations about the Iranian connection dealt a crushing blow to the credibility of U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, Europe, Central America and the Soviet Union.
Regarding the impact of the crisis on relations in the Middle East:
Scholars said the international crisis threatens to destabilize moderate regimes in the Middle East. The involvement of prominent Saudi Arabians andpossibly members of the Saudi government in thearms transactions may cause a backlash againstSaudi Arabia in the more radical Arab world,scholars said.
Professor of Social Anthropology and MiddleEastern Studies Nur O. Yalman called the situation"very dangerous." Yalman said that Saudi Arabia is"isolated and vulnerable to attack from extremistfactions" as a result of its cooperation withIsrael and the U.S. in the sale of arms to Iran.
The governments of other Middle Easterncountries may also be in jeopardy, he said. Yalmansaid the "effect on the moderate governments inthe Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Jordanand Egypt is the worst aspect of the arms sale."
Yalman criticized what he called a lack ofcontinuity in American foreign policy by saying,"United States foreign policy toward the MiddleEast has been conducted on a day-to-day basis."
Professors also challenged the Administration'smain justification for the Iranian arms deal.
President Reagan said his aim was to establishties with moderate elements in Iran, but oneMiddle East expert said there are no such elementsthere.
Laurie Mylroie, a government instructor andassistant director of the Center for MiddleEastern Studies, said that what is left in Iran is"a revolutionary core" and that the Americangovernment was "working with the Khomeini regimeand not a moderate faction."
"It's pretty absurd to think that there aremoderates in Iran," Mylroie said.
Regarding the impact of the crisis onrelations with Europe:
"Along with the failure of the ReaganAdministration at Iceland, this crisis deals ahideous body blow to European enthusiasm forAmerican leadership," said Dillon Professor of theCivilization of France Stanley H. Hoffmann.
Hoffman said the European reaction will be oneof "general dismay."
Europeans must be "totally confused" as to thestatus of American foreign policy in dealing withterrorists, he added.
President Reagan's stature in the Europeancommunity seems to have been damaged by hisapparent lack of control over the situation.
The international scandal "will make what theReagan Administration says to European nationshave a lot less weight," according to AssociateProfessor of History Bradford A. Lee. "This willmake the Europeans jumpier on arms controlissues," he added.
Kennedy School Academic Dean Albert Carnesale,an expert on arms control, said that the actionsof the American government "will serve toundermine relations with our NATO allies."
Regarding the impact of the crisis on policyin Central America:
Bliss Professor of Latin American History andEconomics John Womack Jr. said the recentrevelations did not come as a shock.
Womack said that "anyone who has seriouslystudied and thought about United States activitiesin Central America in the last six years shouldnot be very surprised by the current, so farlimited, revelations."
"The scandal couldn't happen to a moredeserving crew. For the moment, the strongesttemptation is simply to watch them shooting eachother where they sit," Womack added.
The secret plan to finance the Contras throughthe Iranian arms sales seems to have backfired,leaving the future of U.S. support for the Contrasin jeopardy, professors said.
"The unpredictability of the president willlead to future political problems in obtaining aidto the Contras," said Richard N. Haass, a KennedySchool lecturer who served in the State Departmentduring the first five years of the ReaganAdministration.
Regarding the impact of the crisis onrelations with the Soviet Union:
The Soviets will likely be "sitting back andwatching" as the crisis unfolds, Carnesale said.Carnesale suggested that Soviet leader MikhailGorbachev may look for "an arms control deal thePresident cannot refuse," given his weakenedpolitical position.
And on the home front:
Observers of the domestic situation said thatReagan has indeed sustained heavy damage to hisprestige.
"Reagan's last real hold over Congress was hisstanding with the public. Now that has beenthreatened, I can't see anything that will allowhim to resume control," said Government instructorMark A. Peterson.
"This crisis goes right to the core ofchallenging Reagan's linkage to the public. Lossof public opinion may have the added impact ofweakening President Reagan's relationship withCongress," Peterson explained.
Commenting on Reagan's precipitous decline inpopularity polls, Assistant Professor ofGovernment Henry E. Brady, an expert on thepolling of American political opinion, said,"There's never been as great a drop in publicopinion...not even during the Nixon years."
Brady said another less scientific index--"theJohnny Carson indicator"--also offered evidence ofthe president's slide. "When Johnny Carson startsmaking jokes and the people are laughing atReagan, you know he's in trouble," Brady said.
Regarding possible criminal action withinthe Administration:
Bennis Professor of International Law Detlev F.Vagts said at least two separate legal violationsmay have occurred in the Iran-Contra connection.
"The transfer of United States government moneyto a Swiss bank account instead of the U.S.Treasury and its appropriation to Central Americawithout Congressional approval constitute a veryserious legal matter," Vagts said.
That transfer could constitute amisappropriation of money that apparently belongedin the U.S. Treasury, a crime that can carry ajail sentence, Vagts said.
That offense might be in addition to aviolation of the Boland Act, which enjoined thegovernment from forwarding military aid to theContras for a period of time, Vagts said.
Assistant Professor of History Alan Brinkleysaid he perceived a certain level of criminalityin the entire affair which he felt was "a verysobering reminder of how routine it has become ingovernment to operate fast and loose with thelaws.