Victor Davis Hanson: Suppose Jimmy Carter Had Not Appeased Iran in 1979?





Victor Davis Hanson, in the WSJ (May 10, 2004):

Imagine a different Nov. 4, 1979, in Tehran. Shortly after Iranian terrorists storm the American Embassy and take some 90 American hostages, President Carter announces that Islamic fundamentalism is not a legitimate response to the excess of the shah but a new and dangerous fascism that threatens all that liberal society holds dear. And then he issues an ultimatum to Tehran's leaders: Release the captives or face a devastating military response.

When that demand is not met, instead of freezing Iran's assets, stopping the importation of its oil, or seeking support at the U.N., Mr. Carter orders an immediate blockade of the country, followed by promises to bomb, first, all of its major military assets, and then its main government buildings and residences of its ruling mullocracy. The Ayatollah Khomeini might well have called his bluff; we may well have tragically lost the hostages (151 fewer American lives than the Iranian-backed Hezbollah would take four years later in a single day in Lebanon). And there might well have been the sort of chaos in Tehran that we now witness in Baghdad. But we would have seen it all in 1979--and not in 2001, after almost a quarter-century of continuous Middle East terrorism, culminating in the mass murder of 3,000 Americans and the leveling of the World Trade Center.

The 20th century should have taught the citizens of liberal democracies the catastrophic consequences of placating tyrants. British and French restraint over the occupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the absorption of the Czech Sudetenland, and the incorporation of Bohemia and Moravia did not win gratitude but rather Hitler's contempt for their weakness. Fifty million dead, the Holocaust and the near destruction of European civilization were the wages of"appeasement"--a term that early-1930s liberals proudly embraced as far more enlightened than the old idea of"deterrence" and"military readiness."

So too did Western excuses for the Russians' violation of guarantees of free elections in postwar Eastern Europe, China and Southeast Asia only embolden the Soviet Union. What eventually contained Stalinism was the Truman Doctrine, NATO and nuclear deterrence--not the United Nations--and what destroyed its legacy was Ronald Reagan's assertiveness, not Jimmy Carter's accommodation or Richard Nixon's détente....

Roll the tape backward from the USS Cole in 2000, through the bombing of the U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the Khobar Towers in 1996, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the destruction of the American Embassy and annex in Beirut in 1983, the mass murder of 241 U.S. Marine peacekeepers asleep in their Lebanese barracks that same year, and assorted kidnappings and gruesome murders of American citizens and diplomats (including TWA Flight 800, Pan Am 103, William R. Higgins, Leon Klinghoffer, Robert Dean Stethem and CIA operative William Francis Buckley), until we arrive at the Iranian hostage-taking of November 1979: That debacle is where we first saw the strange brew of Islamic fascism, autocracy and Middle East state terrorism--and failed to grasp its menace, condemn it and go to war against it.

That lapse, worth meditating upon in this 25th anniversary year of Khomeinism, then set the precedent that such aggression against the United States was better adjudicated as a matter of law than settled by war. Criminals were to be understood, not punished; and we, not our enemies, were at fault for our past behavior. Whether Mr. Carter's impotence sprang from his deep-seated moral distrust of using American power unilaterally or from real remorse over past American actions in the Cold War or even from his innate pessimism about the military capability of the United States mattered little to the hostage takers in Tehran, who for 444 days humiliated the United States through a variety of public demands for changes in U.S. foreign policy, the return of the exiled shah, and reparations....


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George Carty - 6/21/2005

Every Great Power has an inner security zone around it, usually consisting of the Power's immediate neighbours, and perhaps some other clearly defined 'vital interest' areas.

Britain's traditional inner security zone was the Channel coast - Britain was willing to go to war to prevent the Channel coast falling under the control of a single Great Power.

During the Cold War America's main inner security zone was NATO, while the Soviet Union's was the Warsaw Pact. North Vietnam and North Korea were a Chinese inner security zone - it was fear of Chinese entry into the war which deterred a US invasion of North Vietnam.

Now Iran is in the Soviet inner security zone (as an immediate neighbour) AND in the American inner security zone (due to its proximity to Middle East oil). An invasion of Iran by EITHER superpower would probably have meant World War III.