After that whole Richard Nixon thing, one might think American presidents would think twice about taping conversations, but we now have one more from the Gipper: Recordings of conversations between former President Reagan and world leaders including Margaret Thatcher and Bashar al-Assad's father have finally been released, having been found in the White House Situation Room in 1987 amid the Iran Contra scandal. Author William Doyle, who has a book on Navy SEALs out this week, got his hands on the tapes last week—following a FOIA request he made back in 1996. "The tapes stayed in the White House, classified and unheard by any outsiders, until they were labeled, boxed, and sent to the Reagan Library, where they remained classified," he tells the New York Post.
Reagan apparently made the recordings for accuracy's sake, given poor connections and the involvement of translators, but the tapes were often recorded over or just tossed, notes the Post. But what survives is revealing: In one, Reagan kept the elder Assad, Hafez, cooling his heels on the line while he took 13 minutes to finish up a horse ride. "Damascus is saying hurry up, what’s going on?" says Assad's translator at one point. In another highlighted by the BBC, Reagan apologizes to Margaret Thatcher for not giving her a head's up American troops were invading Grenada. "If I were there, Margaret," he said, "I'd throw my hat in the door before I came in"—meaning, essentially, "don't shoot." Reagan explains the security concerns involved, Thatcher says she understands and eventually excuses herself to go debate in the House of Commons. Quips Reagan: "All right. Go get 'em, eat 'em alive."