The Iranian Hostage Crisis

Carter and his involvement

What was this crisis?

In Iran, the United States had supported the King of Iran who was pro-American. However, many Iranians disagreed with the King's industrial reforms and power over all political freedoms. Instead, the Iranians supported Ruhollah Khomeini, an Islamic leader who was forced to leave the country by the King. In protest, a group of students attacked the US Embassy in Tehran and captured 90 American hostages. Minorities and women were released shortly afterwards because they had "already suffered enough from the American government". The crisis ran from November 1979-January 1981 and the hostages were held for 444 days.

How did Carter handle it?

Carter first ended Iranian oil imports and froze Iranian assets in American banks. Carter decided that military action would be too risky and kept pressuring the Iranian government through economic sanctions. Meanwhile, other members of the Carter Administration ran diplomatic negotiations, but to no avail. Americans demanded stronger action, and so Carter began Desert One in 1980. Desert One was an operation to rescue the hostages through helicopter, but the helicopters malfunctioned and crashed. Iranians were excited at the sign of American impotence. Finally, in September, the hostages were released because of the economy and because there wasn't a need for any more anti-shah propaganda.

Were Carter's Actions Valid?

Although Carter did manage to avoid war with Iran, many feel that he needed to do more to free the hostages. In fact, after Desert One, many Americans lost confidence in Carter's leadership. The hostages were given back at Iran's will, and this crisis gave Iranians more confidence and a feeling of power over the United States. Carter's Desert One was highly ineffective and unorganized, and other rescue missions could have been an option, while increased pressure from the UN or allies could have also helped.