This has always been an intriguing question to me, because I think I would have pursued a targeted military rescue mission, over some sort of overt military invasion. But Carter did try that, with disastrous results (the rescue convoy crashed before completing its mission). What would have been your course of action?
Meanwhile, can someone enlighten me on the straight dope as to how we did secure the hostages release? As the release came minutes after Regan was sworn in, I had long thought it well settled that the new Regan administration had promised payment (money or weapons) in exchange for the release. Recent documentaries on Reagan, though, have left me uncertain - while it is acknowledged that there were guns for hostages between the US and Iran, that apparently came later in the 1980’s, and was the first half of Iran-Contra. So, what deal was made in 1981? (and by whom; did the Carter administration actually secure the release?)
State bluntly that overrunning an embassy is an act of war and that the U.S. has the capacity to casually inflict 1,000 Iranian casualties for every dead hostage, so it’s okay if Iran wants to sever relations but they won’t be forcing the U.S. into any concessions so they may as well free the hostages and call it a day.
And to show I mean business, blockade the Persian Gulf and turn back all Iranian ships.
The rescue operation was doomed from the start. The military hadn’t really trained for such a thing, they had poor coordination at that time between the different branches, and the equipment used hadn’t been tested in those conditions (remember, at that time our military was still reeling from Vietnam, and most of it was geared to large scale war in Europe, not desert operations). It was a total cluster fuck.
What would I have done? I probably would have tried to do more to make sure it didn’t happen in the the first place. However, assuming it did, I most likely would have pressured my ‘allies’ in the ME to allow the US to start staging forces into the area (carriers, troops, logistics…everything that would make large scale military action credible) while putting extreme pressure on the Revolutionary government to give up the hostages. Maybe we could have staged troops in Turkey (though that’s just a WAG based on looking at a map). The idea would have been to have a credible threat that Iran would have to honor, and hopefully by showing them a credible threat they would be willing to negotiate seriously for the release.
Plus offer them some carrots (not sure what they would be, but I’d have advisers so I just need to be the big picture guy). If, by the time the military had staged up and trained in the environment and had it’s logistics in place the Iranians were still fucking around…well then, look at the options and possibly pull the trigger if that’s what it would take. I don’t believe that it would take an actual war, however…just a credible threat backed up by our allies and with some juicy carrots thrown in to sweeten the pot.
Carter was in negotiations with the Iranians even in the literal last hour of his presidency but they waited (possibly for spite) until Reagan took over to announce their willingness to turn over the hostages. There are all sorts of explanations of that, but I think they just disliked Carter and wanted him to look bad. It worked too.
A great way to strengthen the new regime. You doubt it when they call America evil? Look! there are the American bombers coming to kill you! You say you had nothing to do with any hostages? They don’t care! They’re Americans! They just like killing.
Iran suffered a million casualties during the Iraqi invasion without giving in. I doubt a few carpet bombings would’ve phased them. It would just make the US look like impotent bullies and ensure the death of the hostages.
Are you making a general statement about not showing favor to the Shah, or do you have specific ideas in mind that would have avoided the revolution? (I was a baby when this all went down, but I’ve read that the US decision to allow the Shah to seek asylum in the States exacerbated anti-US sentiment in Iran. And I’ve of course read about Western efforts to undermine the democratic Iranian government, but that was in the 50’s, and before Carter could have done something.)
I was actually thinking more along the lines of being more proactive about our own personnel in Iran when things started to come apart. I suppose we could have done more early on to support the Shah actively (and gained concessions from him for future reform), but that wasn’t what I had in mind, no.
I agree with this completely. It might feel good to sit back in your Oval Office chair and tell Brzezinski to “bomb the fuckers until they cry for mercy” in your soft, Georgia accent, but it’s not likely to improve the situation.
I do like the idea of large scale “staging” maneuvers in a neighboring ally country, but I wonder what was given as the behind the scenes consideration in exchange for the hostages lives. Money? Guns?
…And the Islamic Republic was even more cruel and for the sole reason I would not negotiate with hostage-takers I would let the Shah in.
As for what to do once the hostages are taken, the best thing I suppose is to threaten military action unless I can pull an Iran-Contra type of deal and get Iran to help us in Afghanistan or something.
Sent the Shah back to Iran and apologised for organising the coup that put him in power and propping him up for decades and the hostages would have been released. Kill the 1979 revolution with kindness and by now it would have fallen without the Great Satan to propagandise against. Of course this would have at the very least unsettled all the other dictatorships in the region that we prop up and undermined our general regional policy so we didn’t do it.
It was hyperbole, of course not however much they want, but they deserve something for essentially being an oppressed colony of the US. And it is a reflection of what I think is fair and what the US owes them