5. Ronald Reagan’s Arms Deal
As is well established, the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. So, what to do when Iranian terrorists have some of your citizens? That’s the dilemma Reagan faced in 1985 and he solved it with a complex series of maneuvers that seemed designed to cast a smokescreen over the whole affair. Iran had asked to buy weapons from the US, but there was an embargo in place at the time which meant that it would be illegal. But the sale of the arms would secure the release of the hostages, and potentially improve relations with hostile Lebanon, so 1,500 missiles were sent over and some of the money secretly diverted to aiding anti-Communist troops in Nicaragua (I told you this was complex). When the deal was revealed, by not-so-friendly-after-all Lebanon, the question was whether Reagan had traded arms-for-hostages (86% of Americans thought he had) and whether he knew about the Nicaragua diversion (there was no evidence that he did). But it left no lasting damage to his career and he left the Presidency as one of the all-time most popular presidents.
4. Tony Blair’s Dossier
While we’re thinking of Middle East troubles, here’s one about the 2003 Iraq War and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Apparently, the reasons to invade Iraq were compelling – they were harboring weapons of mass destruction, which could be deployed within 45 minutes. The dossier of evidence for invasion was released in September 2002, and the invasion actually happened the following spring. But in May 2003 it emerged that the facts in the dossier had been “sexed-up” to exaggerate the reasons that the UK should intervene in Iraq, and the sources they’d come from were unreliable at best (in 2009 it turned out that the “45 minute” claim came from a taxi driver). The person who unveiled the “sexing up” was Andrew Gilligan of the BBC and his source at the Ministry of Defense was civil servant David Kelly, who was found dead in July 2003, unable to cope with the media scrutiny. It was an ugly affair and forever tainted Tony Blair’s reputation.
3. Bill Clinton’s Sexual Relations
Now, here’s a triumph of semantics over sense. In 1998, in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal involving Paula Jones, President Clinton was asked whether he had had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. His response seemed unambiguous -“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”. But Lewinsky’s story didn’t match his, and she had evidence on her side.
Why she kept hold of a semen-stained blue dress, no-one really knew but the stain was proven to be Clinton’s doing. In the following court proceedings, Clinton explained that he didn’t include receiving oral sex as having “sexual relations”, because he was not the “actor” in that scenario. It was a technicality and Clinton was judged to have misled the American people and was consequently impeached- the first president to have been impeached since Andrew Johnson (although Nixon had escaped impeachment only by resigning). Another unpleasant affair for everyone involved.
2. John Profumo’s Lover
A sex scandal is enough to bring any politician down, but add in some Cold War-era tension and a shady Russian naval attaché and you have the makings of a scandal that will go down in history as one of the most embarrassing ever. The year was 1962, the politician was John Profumo, Secretary of State for War and the Russian was Captain Yevgeny Ivanov. Linking the two was call-girl Christine Keeler, who had affairs with both, leading to huge alarm over the potential secrets that might have passed from Profumo to Keeler to Ivanov. Of course, there was denial from Profumo at first and there was a seedy cast of characters that included a suspicious oestopath and the scandal grew to unmanageable proportions, taking down first Profumo, then his Prime Minister Harold MacMillan and finally his party in the elections the following year. A mammoth of a scandal.
1. Richard Nixon’s Cover-Up
But there’s only one scandal which has come to give its name to all other scandals and that is the Watergate Affair of 1972. The break-in at the Watergate Complex (home to the Democratic Party) was apparently done with the permission of President Richard Nixon and it saw him facing criminal charges as he tried to backtrack and cover up the information and wire-tapping. As mentioned above, he was never quite impeached as he resigned before he could be, but it was an effective end to his political career and has ensured that all scandals since have carried the suffix -gate. Momentous indeed.