October 30th, 2012

Carter/Obama, Tehran/Benghazi, 1980/2012

A comment by “RickZ” about the failed Iran hostage rescue attempt in the waning days of the Carter administration prompted this reply from me, referring to a post I wrote several years ago on the anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw (the name of the doomed rescue effort).

In that post of mine I discussed an article from The Atlantic about the rescue, and now I’m going to quote a portion of that article that I think especially relevant to what happened (or failed to happen) on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi. The Iran rescue mission was famous for a series of disasters that aborted it before the rescuers ever got to Tehran, but reading the following information about it makes me wonder whether things might actually have gone worse (although it’s hard to believe that could be possible) if the forces had had a chance to fulfill the mission as planned—and limited—by then-President Carter.

Compare and contrast to Benghazi:

Another presidential directive concerned the use of nonlethal riot-control agents. Given that the shah’s occasionally violent riot control during the revolution was now Exhibit A in Iran’s human-rights case against the former regime and America, Carter wanted to avoid killing Iranians, so he had insisted that if a hostile crowd formed during the raid, Delta should attempt to control it without shooting people. Burruss considered this ridiculous. He and his men were going to assault a guarded compound in the middle of a city of more than 5 million people, most of them presumed to be aggressively hostile. It was unbelievably risky; everyone on the mission knew there was a very good chance they would not get home alive. Wade Ishmoto, a Delta captain who worked with the unit’s intelligence division, had joked, “The only difference between this and the Alamo is that Davy Crockett didn’t have to fight his way in.” And Carter had the idea that this vastly outnumbered force was first going to try holding off the city with nonviolent crowd control? Burruss understood the president’s thinking on this, but with their hides so nakedly on the line, shouldn’t they be free to decide how best to defend themselves? He had complained about the directive to General Jones, who had said he would look into it, but the answer had come back “No, the president insists.” So Burruss had made his own peace with it. He had with him one tear-gas grenade—one—which he intended to throw as soon as necessary; he would then use its smoke as a marker to call in devastatingly lethal 40 mm AC-130 gunship fire.

Both incidents involved violence against American diplomats in a country that had recently seen a revolution against forces previously friendly to the US and now Islamicist and hostile. The Iranian hostages had been in captivity for quite some time when the rescue was attempted; in Benghazi the incident happened in a single less-than-24-hour period, and involved a firefight and deaths. The Benghazi violence was apparently viewed in real time by the administration; Carter had no such capabilities. Carter approved a rescue mission; Obama failed to do so.

But the similarity—at least as far as I can determine, trying to fill in the blanks—was that the motivation to appear peaceful and friendly resulted in a decision to not fire on the citizens of the host country, even if the situation warranted it, and even at the risk of American lives. The idée fixe remains.

17 Responses to “Carter/Obama, Tehran/Benghazi, 1980/2012”

  1. J.L. Says:

    One bit of often forgotten information is that the hostages were taken November 4, 1979. The importance of this is that election day 1980 fell on the one year anniversary of the hostage taking (November 4, 1980), so it was hard not to notice the Carter presidency’s failure when on election day itself the media was reporting that American diplomats had been held one full year.

    Today, I guess, they would ingore the anniversary entirely. Hostages, what hostages? Benghazi attack, what Benghazi attack?

  2. Mark Says:

    Maybe this is a stretch, but isn’t there also a parallel between our current administration’s intentional misrepresentation of the Benghazi attack and the Spain’s 2004 national election?

  3. Occam's Beard Says:

    Carter wanted to avoid killing Iranians, so he had insisted that if a hostile crowd formed during the raid, Delta should attempt to control it without shooting people

    Proof positive that Carter was a bedwetter. Most Americans wanted to shoot the place up.

    Coexist, indeed.

  4. parker Says:

    I have nothing positive to say about Carter’s presidency, but he now looks magnanimous and competent when compared to BHO’s pettiness and ineptitude.

    “Most Americans wanted to shoot the place up.”

    I favored extracting the hostages and bombing until the rubble jumped.

  5. Curtis Says:


    Obama: We leave nobody behind.

  6. Occam's Beard Says:

    I have nothing positive to say about Carter’s presidency, but he now looks magnanimous and competent when compared to BHO’s pettiness and ineptitude.

    Carter was a bumbling fool, but no one ever doubted his patriotism. His competence, and his judgment, sure, but not his patriotism.

    I’d take Carter in a heartbeat over Obama.

  7. waltj Says:

    “I’d take Carter in a heartbeat over 0bama”.

    As would I. I even voted for the putz once, in 1976, before I knew what an assclown he was. First and last time I voted for a Democrat for prez, incidentally.

    What Carter, 0bama, et al. don’t grasp, as Chamberlain didn’t before, is that our enemies will hate us regardless of how much we may try to appease them. If we try to spare their lives or feelings, they’ll despise us as well. Far better that they fear us, and live in dread that the next moment may be their last. But that’s not happening right now.

  8. Ken Mitchell Says:

    Occam’s Beard writes, “Most Americans wanted to shoot the place up.” That isn’t entirely correct.

    After the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran, a large poster appeared in the Ready Room for VT-10, the US Navy’s NFO aviation training squadron at Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL.


    I think that the sentiment was very common among both the students and the instructors.

  9. RDG Says:

    Carter turned me from a liberal to a conservative. He was living proof, the classroom demonstration, the prima facie evidence, the QED that liberal ideas are failed ideas. For that I thank Carter endlessly. Without him I might have been a fool my whole life. So despite being an assclown, fool and bedwetter himself, he still did some good for somebody. I am pondering what Obama is teaching me now and it’s really scary.

  10. Shannon Love Says:

    The basic problem here is that the post-1968 Democrats have bought almost entirely to the view of America as having been a brutal oppressor in the 3rd world. They believe we can only change that image by rolling over and showing our bellies. The believe that any use of force will always be worse than not using it even if that means Americans must die.

    The problem with this is that our enemies don’t think like leftwing liberal-arts college professors. Our enemies rise to power by killing and oppressing their own and they develop a brutal morality to justify their actions. Since they only back down and show compassion when they are weak, they assume that we do as well. They interpret any hesitation to kill the innocent as signs of degeneration, internal division, cowardice and overall weakness.

    Carter and Obama simply cannot understand or relate to anyone not of their own Western subculture. They can’t understand cultures, ideologies or movements that venerate ruthlessness so when confronted by them, they don’t know what to do.

  11. newscaper Says:

    I heard one rumor many years ago that one of the options presented for Teheran involved daisy cuttersto isolate tharea around the embassy and open LZs in a bit of a protos shock and awe, with fullscale air assault into the city.

  12. Mike H. Says:

    No argument with any of the points raised. Point of history though, the hostages were held for 444 days.

  13. Roy Says:

    “Point of history though, the hostages were held for 444 days.”

    This is true. The hostages were released on the day of Reagan’s inauguration – January 20, 1981.

  14. LAG Says:

    neo, another reason to think this might have turned out badly had they made it to Tehran is that this mission’s failure is one of the reasons we have our current Special Ops organizational structure. We can do thing now, thirty some years later, because it is thirty years later, and there have been many, many lessons well learned in that tme.

  15. parker Says:

    “Obama not Anapples man like Carter.”

    ?Habla usted inglés?

  16. W Krebs Says:

    If you haven’t seen it, you might wish to take a look at this article from the American Spectator:
    It’s a review of the Desert 1 debacle written in July 1980.

  17. Kent Says:

    I knew one of those who died in the desert leaving one son and his wife pregnant with twins. It was all so political and wrong.

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