What History Has to Say
Reagan said he was ignorant of what his aides were doing to circumvent the law. After a special investigatory board issued a scathing report, Reagan addressed the nation on March 4, 1987, and took responsibility. "What began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated in its implementation into trading arms for hostages," he admitted. "This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake." He also said he didn't know about the diversion of funds to the contras.
New team. He fired his abrasive chief of staff, Donald Regan, and reached outside his core of loyalists to replace him with former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker. He also hired his first-term congressional liaison Ken Duberstein as deputy chief of staff and brought in other high-profile Republicans from outside his orbit. This gave him fresh thinking and enabled him to benefit from the independent stature and credibility of the "outsiders," all respected veterans of government. It also showed that Reagan was capable of adjusting to changing circumstances.
Americans gradually tired of the convoluted Iran-contra affair. The economy was booming, after all, and the nation's confidence was returning. Then Reagan seized another big opportunity as new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev consolidated his power in the Kremlin.
Convinced that Gorbachev was a reformer, Reagan met with him five times between 1985 and 1988, and they formed a historic partnership that ended the Cold War. On Dec. 8, 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev signed an agreement that limited intermediate-range nuclear weapons and called for the destruction of hundreds of warheads on both sides, a milestone in superpower relations.
With the economy humming and the Cold War ending, Reagan left office with a job approval rating of 70 percent. He was widely considered the first successful two-term president in a generation and has since been judged a historically important one as well.
President Bush has combined Wilson's evangelical fervor for spreading democracy with Truman's resolve to make tough decisions and bear the opprobrium of critics, and he has emulated Reagan's determination to steer a conservative course with sunny optimism. All these presidents "had significant foreign policy accomplishments in their second terms that were not realized at the time," says Frank Donatelli, who was Reagan's second-term political director. Bush believes he and his deeds will eventually be placed in that category.
What is unclear is whether Bush can be flexible enough to change when he has to and whether there will be any more historic moments for him to seize, as Reagan did. These could be the key factors determining whether Bush's presidency rebounds over the next 2