Tag Archives: Iranian hostage crisis

Jimmy Carter: embodiment of public service, humanity

Former President Jimmy Carter is resting tonight in a hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where he collapsed doing the Lord’s work.

He was working on a construction site for Habitat for Humanity, an organization with which he has been associated since leaving the presidency in January 1981.

President Carter, who’s 92 years of age, holds an unusual record as the former president who’s lived more years after leaving the White House than any of his predecessors.

My point here, though, is to make two make comments.

One is that this man has done more for humankind since leaving the pinnacle of power than any of the men who preceded him — or succeeded him.

My second point is to scold those who continue to hold Jimmy Carter up as some sort of model of fecklessness. He deserves nothing of that kind of treatment.

His defeat for re-election was stunning in its scope. Ronald Reagan swept him out of office by winning 44 states in a landslide of historic proportions. How was that possible? Because The Gipper and his campaign team managed to lay all of the nation’s troubles at Carter’s feet.

The Iranian hostage crisis dragged on for 444 days, beginning in November 1979. President Carter’s team worked tirelessly during that entire time to negotiate the release of the individuals held captive by those radicals who passed themselves off as “students.” Yes, we experienced that tragic failed rescue attempt in April 1980 that ended with planes crashing in the desert and eight Air Force Special Forces troops dying in the inferno. Was that the president’s fault? Did he err in attempting such a daring rescue? That debate will continue for as long as human beings are alive to debate it.

The blame is a consequence of failure, fair or not.

The president, though, did manage to broker a Middle East peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. The treaty stands to this day, thanks to the tireless work done at Camp David by Jimmy Carter, who browbeat, cajoled and persuaded Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to sign the deal — and then shake hands in 1978 in that epic White House photo op.

That handshake, though, had its consequences. President Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic extremists who hated him for seeking peace with Israel. Indeed, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would be killed in 1995 by a Zionist extremist who loathed the warrior Rabin for the handshake he had at the White House with PLO leader Yasser Arafat after another deal brokered by President Bill Clinton.

Jimmy Carter, I submit, does not deserve to be scorned the way he has been by Republicans and assorted Democrats over the years.

I’ll concede he won’t be ranked as the greatest of the great U.S. presidents. He had his flaws — as all human beings have them.

However, the humanity this great man has demonstrated over many decades gives him a special place in my own heart.

President Carter has preached to his fellow Habitat for Humanity workers to stay hydrated. He collapsed from, get this, dehydration.

Listen to yourself, Mr. President. And get better. This dangerous and hostile world still needs you.

Was the Carter presidency a failure?

camp david accords

Former presidents aren’t immune from criticism, even when they’re struggling against what might be a terminal illness.

Just ask Jimmy Carter.

Setting that aside, it’s been said many times — usually by Republican politicians — that President Carter’s four years in the White House constituted a “failed presidency.”

Interesting. Let’s look briefly at the record.

Yes, the economy tanked badly during Carter’s term. Why? One reason was the huge spike in oil prices. Lending institutions panicked. They jacked up interest rates way beyond what was normal or acceptable. Inflation took hold. Was all of that the president’s fault? Hardly. But it happened on his watch, so I guess he deserves some of the blame.

The president did a poor job of assuring Americans that they would be all right. He spoke glumly to us, although he never used the word “malaise.”

Foreign policy? Let’s see.

He negotiated a peace treaty in 1979 between ancient enemies Israel and Egypt. He turned them into allies. He took Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Camp David, clunked their heads together and got them to sign the most important Middle East peace accord in, well, the history of the region. It has held firm to this day.

He helped negotiate a treaty that handed over the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. Imagine that: giving to a nation cut in half by a U.S.-built canal territory that belonged rightfully to its people.

The president signed a treaty with the Soviet Union that helped reduce the number of nuclear weapons in both nations’ arsenals.

Were there missteps? Sure. He didn’t handle the Mariel boatlift of Cuban refugees well. He acknowledged just recently that is one of the regrets of his presidency.

Now, the big one: the Iranian hostage crisis. Fifty-two Americans were taken captive in Tehran in November 1979. The Islamic revolution had overthrown the shah and those “students” were angry because the shah had gotten medical attention in the United States. Was that the president’s fault?

Was it his fault that the mission to rescue the hostages in April 1980 ended tragically in the desert? Just as Barack Obama’s critics have said he took too much credit for the successful mission in May 2011 to kill Osama bin Laden, Jimmy Carter took too much blame for the failure of the Desert One mission to bring our hostages home.

Let us remember, too, that they came home safely on Ronald Reagan’s first day in office. The Iranians clearly wanted to stick it to President Carter by waiting until he no longer was president to end the crisis.

Was it a troubled presidency? Certainly. A failed one? In my view, no.


Carter demonstrates — again — his class and grace

**FILE**Former President Jimmy Carter takes a question during a conference at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Tuesday, June 7, 2005. An independent panel Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005 reversed a Pentagon recommendation that the New London submarine base in Connecticut, base be closed. One of the panel members even said a letter from Carter _ the only president to ever serve as a submariner _ pleading the panel to keep the base open was one of the reasons he voted against closure. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

First of all, let me stipulate — as if it’s needed — that I am praying for President Jimmy Carter’s full recovery from cancer.

None of us beyond the former president and his immediate family knows what the doctors told him when they revealed that he had cancer — and that it had spread to his brain.

But to watch the 39th president tell the world about his diagnosis was to get a hint — I believe — in a prognosis that doesn’t appear very hopeful.

“It’s in God’s hands now,’’ he said. My belief is that when someone invokes God, well … you know what I mean.

His absolute devotion to his deep Christian faith brings hope that he truly is at peace with whatever awaits him. The president told us all that he is ready for whatever outcome awaits him. And watching this man for nearly 40 years from afar, but getting a feel for his deeply held religious faith, you get the sense that he really and truly is at peace.

As many have noted, Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency has been far greater than the single term he served in the White House.

Someone asked him this week in Atlanta when he made his stark announcement about any regrets he had about his presidency.

He said he wishes he’d sent “one more helicopter” into the Iranian desert in April 1980 on that tragic mission to rescue the American hostages held captive by Iranian militants. Had he done that, Carter said, the mission likely would have succeeded and he would have been re-elected to a second term.

The reporters gathered in the room to record the event laughed.

President Carter smiled that broad, toothy grin we’ve all come to know.

He remains an optimist that he’ll win this battle. I’m hoping, too, that his inner strength will carry him forward to do more good work.

Peace be with you, Mr. President.


Bibi's speech proves Barack's point

Barack Obama had it pegged. Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech today before a joint congressional session will play well in Israel and because of the proximity to the upcoming election, it was totally inappropriate for the Israeli prime minister to make such a speech in that venue.


But the prime minister today delivered a blistering attack on President Obama’s Iran policy. Was he correct? Is a possible deal to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment program so bad that it puts the Middle East in more danger of an Iranian nuclear weapons development?

Netanyahu says it will. Does he know more than anyone else on the planet? That’s debatable, to say the very least.

Today’s speech was not intended to disrespect the president, Netanyahu had promised. I’m afraid it did what he said it wouldn’t do. He suggested that the United States does not understand the Iranian threat. I would submit that the United States understands all too well how mercurial the Islamic Republic of Iran can be at many levels.

Mr. Prime Minister, surely you recall the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80.

Well, the White House didn’t want Netanyahu to speak, citing the juxtaposition of the speech and the upcoming Israeli elections. The United States is now going to be seen as playing a part in influencing the election. It’s long been customary to forgo such speeches.

None of that mattered to Speaker John Boehner, who extended the invitation without consulting with the White House. Nor did it matter to Netanyahu, who accepted the invitation understanding the firestorm it would create.

I remain confident that U.S.-Israeli relations will remain strong. President Obama says it is unbreakable; Prime Minister Netanyahu says the nations are like “family.”

This speech, though, has caused a significant rift between these allies.

The time to heal that rift is at hand.


Foes 'all too willing to test us'

Here’s a tiny part of what former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said before a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Here’s the simple truth of our foreign policy: Our allies doubt us and our adversaries are all too willing to test us. No one should be surprised, no one should be surprised that dictators like Assad would cross the president’s red line because he knows the president will not even defend the line that separates our nation from Mexico.” 


Did you get what he’s inferring here? Perry is possibly going to run for the Republican nomination for president of the United States — again — in 2016. To make the case to GOP voters, he must lambaste the president from the other party.

I understand how it works. Democrats do the same thing to Republican presidents as well, as U.S. Sen. Barack Obama demonstrated when he won the presidency in 2008.

But is this “testing” of U.S. power and prestige limited to just this president?

Let’s see: President Richard Nixon was tested when Arab nations executed an oil embargo in 1973, causing near-panic at gasoline service stations throughout this country. President Ronald Reagan was tested in 1983 when terrorists blew up the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 of our young Marines. President George H.W. Bush was tested in Panama when the dictator Manuel Noriega kept looking the other way while drugs were pouring into this country from Panama. President George W. Bush certainly was tested when terrorists flew those hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.

Yes, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were tested too. Carter faced the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979-80  and Clinton had to deal with those warlords in Somalia.

Testing of U.S. presidents has been the norm perhaps since the end of World War II, when this nation emerged from that global conflagration as the world’s pre-eminent military and economic power.

It goes with the territory. It’s part of the president’s job description.


U.S.-Iran breakthrough, or breakdown?

President Obama made a historic phone call today.

He telephoned Hasan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two men chatted for about 15 minutes, after which President Obama informed the world that he believes a deal to derail any Iranian effort to build a nuclear weapon could be struck.


Some folks are hailing the phone call as a thawing of a 34-year-old freeze between the two nations. The last phone call between U.S. and Iranian heads of state occurred in 1979 when Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. It all went to hell later that year when Iranian “students” stormed our embassy in Tehran and held Americans hostage for 444 days.

Rouhani is sounding as though he wants to normalize relations with the United States and rejoin the world community. He’s launched something of a charm offensive of late, talking to a U.S. news network and speaking calmly at the United Nations. I am not totally comfortable plunging ahead with such an effort. I hope Barack Obama retains a degree of skepticism and moves very carefully.

We need to remember that for decades Iran has declared virtual war against the “Great Satan,” meaning the United States. It has declared its intention to wipe Israel off the face of the planet. It has supplied arms and other know-how to international terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida. It arms the Syrian dictator in his war against rebels. It has cozied up to Hezbollah and Hamas, two sworn enemies of Israel. The incendiary statements of Rouhani’s immediate predecessor as president also should not be dismissed and tossed aside.

A single phone call shouldn’t signal a “thaw.” It well might mean that it’s time to turn the temperature up just a bit to begin the thawing of relations.

But just as the late President Ronald Reagan said of Soviet strongman Mikhail Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify,” it is good to seek multiple verifications of any statement that comes from an Iranian president that might signal a new era in relations between two longtime enemies.

Here’s hoping today’s phone call has opened the door to that new era.