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The new Washington morality

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PAT BUCHANAN is trying to make the point that national interest explained the United States arms shipments to Iran, and that national interest could well excuse the routing of funds from the deal with Iran to the contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. Indeed, Mr. Buchanan spent much time at a luncheon with reporters the other day in defending President Reagan's and his own description of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North as a ``hero'' for his alleged role in diverting these profits to the guerrillas.

The President and his communications director are convinced that history will vindicate them. They believe that such well-considered hindsight, in later years, will conclude that it was right to try to seek out a tie with those who might take over after the Ayatollah and that it was right to support those who were fighting to overthrow an emerging communist stronghold in Nicaragua - even though Congress had forbidden such support.

Buchanan concedes that if Colonel North or anyone else broke a law, he should take his punishment. He thinks, too, that this administration should lay all the facts on the table. And he says this is being done. So, he adds, ``I don't know what's driving this story anymore. I think it will begin to fade away.''

Well, the drumbeat of testimony, divulgences, and accusations continues. And while the driving force may be political, sparked in part by opportunism, there is what might best be described as a post-Watergate moral standard being applied in Washington these days. It calls for a purity in ethical conduct by public servants that would, indeed, pass a hard judgment on presidential actions in the past. It is particularly resistant to the excuse that the end justifies the means.

Thus, when Buchanan recites ``illegal'' actions of the past taken by, among others, Franklin Roosevelt and Billy Mitchell, which now are looked upon as heroic, his examples are not at all persuasive with this multitude of those upset over what they call ``Iranscam.'' The past - and past performance - of presidents and other US leaders, they contend, is irrelevant. They vehemently assert that those were different days when different standards and different judgments applied.


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