Did Democrats Send A Letter To An American Adversary, Undermining A President? Not Quite (IMAGE)


Right wing websites are flipping out over the controversy surrounding the 47 senators who signed the letter to Iran. Why? Because they say the Democrats did it too. But it doesn’t take a lot of scrutiny to see that their outrage is typical butt covering. They have no defense for what these senators did, so they have to say, “So what? The Democrats did it first!”

In question is a letter that was signed by 10 members of the U.S. House Of Representatives, dated March 20, 1984, addressed to Comandante Daniel Ortega. Ortega was, at the time, the leader of the government of Nicaragua. The U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, was running a little covert operation, funding a group known as the “Contras,” in violation of American law. The House had passed a law, known as the “Boland Amendment,” in 1982. That law forbade the U.S. from using any funds in an attempt to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. As students of history know, the Reagan administration spent a good deal of time and energy attempting to circumvent that law, and its successor, known as “Boland II.” Several Reagan administration officials were convicted of various crimes in what is now known as the “Iran-Contra Affair.”

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The very excitable Erick Erickson, writing at RedStatehas this to say about what the right is calling the “Dear Comandante letter”:

I can now report to you that a number of Democrats, including the former Speaker, have engaged in the same behavior. They sent a letter to one of our clear adversaries and declared their opposition to the President’s foreign policy in the country and their opposition to American military action. Further, the Democrats sought assurances from the regime separate from the assurances and demands of the President’s Administration.

Erickson ignores a few small details, such as the fact that, it was American actions in support of the Contras that made Nicaragua an adversary. Unlike Iran, Nicaragua had not taken any hostile action against the United States. And, as noted, the military action Erickson refers to was, at that point illegal under the Boland Amendment.

A difference in degree, and more.

Despite the right’s desperate desire to equate these two events, there is no comparison. Nicaragua was a small country that had thrown off decades of iron fisted rule by the U.S. backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza, and his father, also named Anastasio Somoza. Iran is a major power in the Middle East. The Reagan administration was engaged in a nasty, covert war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, while the Obama administration is engaged in multilateral talks with Iran regarding the Iranian nuclear program.

Republicans made a big deal of the Democrats’ letter at the time. One of the signers, Congressman Anthony Stolarz, said at the time that the congressmen were actually asked to send the letter by the leader of one of the groups that was fighting the Nicaraguan government. Stolarz told the New York Times“The whole thrust of the letter is to encourage the Government of Nicaragua to hold free and fair elections. Presumably, that’s what Newt Gingrich and the Reagan Administration is trying to do themselves.”

What exactly does the “Dear Comandante” letter say? It opens by saying that the signers regret that the United Stated doesn’t have better relations with Nicaragua. It commends the Nicaraguan government for scheduling the country’s first elections in 50 years. It expresses the hope that elections will be the first step in opening up the political process in the country, and mentions that some rebels would be interested in returning to participate in the elections, providing their security and political rights were guaranteed. Basically, the letter encourages the Ortega government to institute reforms that would help improve relations between Nicaragua and the United States. You will find the entire text of the “Dear Comandante” letter below.

As for the letter sent by Republican senators to Iran? It tells the Iranian government that President Obama has no real authority to negotiate with Iran. It is basically an advisory that, because the president is limited to two terms, whereas senators can serve technically forever, that the real power in making American foreign policy lies with the Senate, and not with the president.

Are the two the same? Not even close.

Text of the "Dear Comandante" letter

Letter sent by 10 House Democrats to Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega in 1984

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