Vice President George Bush, acknowledging his link to the Iran-Contra scandal as a "great vulnerability" in the White House race, is taking refuge in a plan to counter the Democratic assault that already has begun.
"Fortunately, none of them have had any experience at all in foreign affairs," Bush said in Idaho Thursday night with reference to the remaining Democratic presidential contenders. "I can offset the criticism by talking about the rest of the world."Interviewed before he gave a dinner speech in Boise, the assured Republican nominee said he will stress his opponent's foreign policy inexperience while conceding mistakes in the administration's worst crisis.
"It's a great vulnerability. I certainly can't say it's a plus," Bush said of his involvement, still unexplained fully, in the secret 1985 and 1986 sales of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of profits to Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
Bush said he will continue to tell Americans how he saw the foreign policy fiasco evolve in the hope of laying the issue to rest and focusing on the administration's accomplishments. Both Bush and President Reagan insist the arms dealt to Iran in a bid to free U.S. hostages did not amount to ransom but to an attempt at winning over moderates under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Already the Democrats have used the affair against Bush. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, the major candidates still vying for the party's nomination, have questioned why Bush, a former CIA director and purported foreign policy expert, did not oppose the Iran deals.
"I'll take them back to the genesis," Bush said Thursday. "I'll say, `Do you, Mike Dukakis or Jesse Jackson, think there is anything in Iran, any person there, that might be more moderate than Khomeini to deal with?' I'm convinced the answer to that question is yes, and I'd say this is how (it) began."
Bush noted he went along with the operation despite some reservations partly because of William Buckley, the CIA agent included among the Americans held hostage by pro-Iranian terrorists in Lebanon.
"If I erred, I'd say it was on the side of trying to get that man out before he was tortured to death, and he was tortured to death," Bush said.