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This is an analytical paper on the subject covered in the book A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs by Theodore Draper. Draper’s investigation is based on approximately 50,000 pages of papers. He searched through depositions which were made by some individuals who had testified openly, as well as by many people who had not. The depositions turned out to be as crucial as what had become known at public hearings. Thousands of pages were revealed at the court hearings of Colonel North and Admiral Poindexter, and about 2,500 pages of Colonel North’s notebooks were released last year. Iran-contra fans will discover novel details from the records.

It is clear that the author is most upset with President Reagan’s chief cabinet officers. It is their apathetic participation sufficiently documented in A Very Thin Line that obviously made the Iran-Contra affair possible. The most crucial issue concerning the Iran-Contra affair was the collapse of law-making policies by several strategically placed insiders obsessed with personal incorruptibility and superiority. Thus, in his book, the author is trying to find out how this could happen.

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When Theodore Draper made a decision to write a book on the basis of all articles he had written on the Iran-Contra affair, he allocated three months to this task. After he had researched more than 27 volumes of depositions and private hearings, Tower Board reports, and thousands of pages of the testimony from Oliver North and John Poindexter trials, in addition to 12 volumes of congressional hearings he utilized for the initial articles, he understood he was in for years, not months, of hard labor. Finally, A Very Thin Line was created. It is an essential guide to the complex and significant “Enterprise” for years to come.

In A Very Thin Line, the author returns to the topic he raised during the Vietnam War in Abuse of Power (1967) (Small 270-275). According to the author, throughout the Iran-Contra affair, the executive branch of the administration worked in a way that obviously violated the Constitution. “Everybody knew that we were walking a very thin line,” (Draper 50) admitted North’s assistant, Robert W. Owen, on the secret mission to Central America, which may have violated the Boland Amendment. Some other conspirators referred to that thin line while depicting the unparalleled activities of the tiny, “junta-like cabal”, which manipulated the rest of the administration. Draper proves that this line was crossed many times.

A step-by-step clarification of the complex scandal, which frightened the Reagan administration, reflected the crushing force of the prosecutor’s 650-page brief (Bernstein). Sifting through an overwhelming amount of information – approximately fifty thousand pages of Congressional testimony and court papers—veteran journalist and historian Draper thoroughly traces the twists of two divided secret activities performed and later linked by National Security Council staffer North.

For all its self-delusions about the opening to Iranian moderates, Draper demonstrates that the Reagan Administration was engaged in an arms-for-hostages treaty typified by stubborn unwariness and incompetence, including blind dependence on the Iranian mediator who failed nearly 14 questions on the polygraph test. The author additionally spotlights other major issues in this scandal, for example, an effort to make Israel the scapegoat for the Iran fiasco; the resignation of accountability by the hostage deal’s two major Cabinet foes, Shultz and Weinberger; the apprehension of impeachment, which seized the government; and the roles of CIA director Casey and Vice-President Bush. In particular, Draper claims that even if President Reagan did not know anything about the diversion of funds from Iranian arm sales to contras, he bears responsibility for all the affairs due to his obsession with liberating the hostages and keeping the Nicaraguan freedom fighters together.

The most crucial issue concerning the Iran-Contra interaction was the downfall of law-making policies by several strategically positioned insiders obsessed with their own superiority and blamelessness. How could this happen? A part of the answer is in the essence of the secret operations. Since the National Security Council staff took over the Iran-Contra affair from the Central Intelligence Agency, it applied the same regulations of secret activities. The national security adviser did not have to be appointed by Congress and did not have to present evidence to intelligence committees. The implementation of both affairs was focused on one person, Oliver L. North, who was subordinate only to John M. Poindexter. With the help of outside accomplices, Secord and Hakim, who did not have to report to any authorized agency, North’s operations were not under control of the administration. North’s approaches resembled a private rather than public manner of doing business, as Hakim and Secord were beholden to him. As Secretary of Defense Weinberger noticed, any attempts to control private operations are entirely wrong.

In the unbiased presentation, Draper follows President Reagan’s altering replies concerning his knowledge and responsibility. Initially, his chief defense was a vacant memory, as Draper asserts, but finally, he wavered between assuming more accountability and falling back on his own ignorance. Draper concludes that the major question is whether Reagan made the critical decisions, not whether he accepted full responsibility for the critical decisions, as there is no doubt about it.


A Very Thin Line is a thorough and well-documented story about the Iran-Contra affair. Beginning with the Reagan Administration’s intention to depose the Sandinista administration in Nicaragua and liberate the US hostages in Lebanon, the author follows a chain of intrigues and incompetence through the 80s. The author discovers several heroes, villains, and criminal activities that, if unresolved, could have led to numerous malfeasances in the future.

Draper’s A Very Thin Line is a revealing and shocking story about people and actions behind the Iran-contra affair. In the chain of secret actions, there were two affairs: the attempt on behalf of the contras and weapons for hostage deals with Iran. The participants of the Iran-contra affair understood the secret actions were almost against the law. However, they went ahead anyway, since they thought they were acting for President Reagan and for the good of the USA. Behind the backs of Congress and nation, the US foreign policy worked in private in the administration-by-presidential-wink form.

Theodore Draper declares that the Iran-contra affair was different from some previous scandals by self-seeking public officials. He is afraid that a similar usurpation of power by a small, deliberately-placed group of civilian and military officials could take place again. His proof brings to mind an ironic image of a home-grown dictatorial conquest of the US administration. Draper’s approach – offering the story in chronological order through approximately 2,000 citations taken from print resources—provides an astonishingly clear and logical description. Simultaneously, it reflects the major barrier to A Very Thin Line being an ultimate book on the subject.

Undoubtedly, documents are essential resources for a historical investigation into events whose protagonists are deceased, but it is no good relying upon them solely, as the author does. His work looks like a report about a library that collapsed while being full of people that tells only about what happened to the books. Furthermore, Draper applies the Washington-centric approach, which has been used in all major researches on Iran-Contra so far. Though he contributes invaluable information and new readings of already identified papers, there is still a huge field to be investigated through written and interview resources in such places as El Salvador, Israel, Iran, Poland, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Portugal, Argentina, Taiwan, and Brunei.

At the same time, the book makes a precious input to the increasing post-facto horror records of Reagan’s leading misfortune. The author asserts that the Iran-Contra affair was caused by some higher officials. Though it was operationally arranged by martial officers who increased their own roles in the National Security Council (Poindexter, McFarlane, North), it was defended by supposedly higher cabinet officers who could not exercise supervision or act on their own doubts.

It is obvious that the author is most upset with President Reagan’s higher cabinet officers. Their apathetic complicity, sufficiently documented in A Very Thin Line, obviously made the Iran-Contra affair possible. However, above all, at the core of the Iran-Contra chaos is the astonishingly unskilled President, whom the affair turned into a fake leader who was finally reduced to a shaky speechmaker reluctantly taking the responsibility for the events.

According to Draper, mislead by the electoral success and isolated by his own associates, Reagan delegated responsibility to a few strategically-put insiders obsessed with their own feeling of honesty and superiority. They were eager to realize what they believed were the President’s foreign-policy desires.

The research adds thinly to what we already know about Reagan and then-vice-president Bush’s contribution to the arms-for-hostages treaty and the diversion of funds. However, Draper’s story deepens the readers’ understanding of other major aspects of the affair, for instance, the elimination of secretaries Weinberger and Schultz after January 1986, the participation of CIA director Casey, and the government’s efforts to shift the blame for the Iran policy onto the populace of Israel. This is the most complete and authoritative story of the usurpation of power by a tiny, strategically-positioned group of North, Poindexter, and other participants. It is also an informative examination of the line which divides legitimate and illegitimate exercise of authority.


On the basis of congressional testimony and individual depositions, Draper recreates the Iran-Contra affair, demonstrating how a group of little-known officials violated regulations and took the entire control of American foreign policy.

The author criticizes most President Reagan’s chief cabinet officers. Thanks to their apathetic participation, the Iran-Contra turned out to be possible. The most vital issue about the Iran-Contra affair was the collapse of law-making policies by several strategically-placed insiders obsessed with personal incorruptibility and superiority. Thus, the author finds out what caused the affair. He supports his own opinion asserting that the answer lies in the essence of the covert operations. Additionally, according to Draper, throughout the Iran-contra affair, Reagan made policy decisions without Congress or the National Security Council. In fact, he was not prepared for the role of the Secretary of State. The re-election to the second term in 1984 and the adoration of supporters appear to have instilled in him mild illusions of grandeur, which made him determined to listen to only what he wished to hear and do only what he wished to do.

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