« "Look Martha, I've been disappeared to a dungeon in Afghanistan" | Main | Why Armenia? »

October 10, 2007

Comments

By "American electorate" did you mean "American media"?

It's worth noting that a lot of the loudest shouters about toughness are themselves soft and venal. The archetypal tough guy, Reagan, presided over the freeing of the hostages in Iran via exactly the sort of back-door deal he was busily denouncing in public, for instance. It's one more field where they value making the right noises in public far more highly than doing the right thing, particularly in private.

Good post.

As I see it, the Reagan Administration learned from the hostage-takings in Beirut that the 'tough' options were mostly hot air at best, and extraordinarily high risk/long shots more likely. They also learned it with regard to the Soviet Union, as it was only after the government backed away from the 'evil empire' and 'bombing begins in 30 minutes' rhetoric, and instead embraced a policy much like Carter/Nixon's that the trust building ultimately necessary for the peaceful end of the Cold War could take place.

In our own time, a great many people misunderstood the consequences of the failure to start a war after the USS Cole bombing. The whole thing isn't about who's bold -- AQ wanted us to start a war on their home turf, in order to do to us what they had done to the Russians in Afghanistan. We didn't take the bait with the Cole, for political reasons,* so they had to escalate. Their first choice for war didn't work out, because they hadn't calculated on the moral horror in the wake of 9/11, but we obliged them with the Iraq war, and are now playing perfectly to script.

* Everyone on earth understood that the reason we didn't strike after the Cole didn't have anything to do with cowardice, but everything to do with internal US politics.

Careful, G'Kar. With a phrase like "Carter's response to Iran's seizure of American hostages may not have been ideal, but I'm far from convinced that a 'tougher' response would have resulted in any better end state then or now. Indeed, it might only have accelerated the formation of terrorist groups devoted to striking back at America, just as an increased American presence in the Persian Gulf did in the 1990s." you are coming dangerously close to saying something that some on the luinatic fringe, such as Cheney, would consider traitorous.

It is almost as if you were saying we deserved to be attacked.

Actually, no, but that is the meme that is out there. Unless we are tough, unless we stand up to them in a violent way, we are weak. And if we try to understand what they are reacting to, then we are saying we deserved to be attacked and should have given in to all their demands.

But then again, maybe that is why those folks are considered the lunatic fringe, such as Cheney.

Now there may be some truth to the idea that Carter's unwillingness to go to war with Iran to get back the hostages emboldened America's enemies, suggesting to them that America would not fight back if attacked. Yet Carter can hardly be blamed for the military's failure to rescue the hostages via the Desert One operation, sent on Carter's authorization, and while some might believe that the United States should have gone to war over the incident, I'm not convinced the average American would have been thrilled by the idea of a war with Iran over 52 hostages who were, eventually, freed via diplomacy.
D'oh, there may be "some truth" to it? Carter can "hardly be blamed" for the failure of the rescue mission? Why not?! It happened on his watch, and revealed serious">http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/apjinternational/apj-s/2006/3tri06/kampseng.html">serious flaws in military readiness that were ultimately his responsibility. As to why the hostages were freed, as I recall, it happened the first day of Reagan's presidency. I think the unpredictability of what he would do, as opposed to Carter's pathetic passivity, had something to do with the timing.

Unless we are tough, unless we stand up to them in a violent way, we are weak.

Well, the premise of the Iraq War (for some of its supporters, to the extent it had a premise)is that we would demostrate to the region and the world how tough we were, so that everyone would be intimidated and do exactly what we say. That's why a real connection to al Qaeda or 9/11 never mattered to the proponants of the war--the point was to give a demonstration. Michael Ledeen famously expressed this point of view by saying, "every now and again the United States has to pick up a crappy little country and throw it against a wall just to prove we are serious." A similar notion was expressed in the famous phrase, "shock and awe."

Of course, in the real world, the reaction we get is that people don't get cowed, they get angry.


As to why the hostages were freed, as I recall, it happened the first day of Reagan's presidency. I think the unpredictability of what he would do, as opposed to Carter's pathetic passivity, had something to do with the timing.

Far from being based on Reagan's alleged unpredictability, the reason the hostages were released on the first day of the Reagan presidency is that's the deal he cut with the Iranians behind Carter's back.

Very good post, G'Kar.

Being perpetually tough to me stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, which takes the actions of other parties as fixed and effectively reduces interactive matters to solitaire. In the real world, starting out looking for cooperation, and only acting threatening when threatened or otherwise necessary works far better. As someone who spends the bulk of his office life in interaction with parties with differing interests (lease negotiation), I can say with considerable certainty that being consistently agressive is consistently counterproductive.

Far from being based on Reagan's alleged unpredictability, the reason the hostages were released on the first day of the Reagan presidency is that's the deal he cut with the Iranians behind Carter's back.

Any evidence for this assertion? I looked, and all I could find was this.

REA, I'm not sure I'd buy that all the way. But then, I also don't see why people can't go with the theory that best fits the facts re hostage release: the deal was negotiated by the Carter admin -- Reagan wasn't at all involved in the Algiers Accords -- and the Iranians hated Carter enough to hold the hostages through to the very end. There was no reason for the Iranians to be afraid of Reagan: military readiness wasn't going to be any better, in the short, run and he was more focussed on the Soviets anyway. And then later on, the Iranians allowed their Lebanese proxies to take American hostages.

Far from being based on Reagan's alleged unpredictability, the reason the hostages were released on the first day of the Reagan presidency is that's the deal he cut with the Iranians behind Carter's back.

The Onion headline from Our Dumb Century said it best:

"Iran Releases Hostages; Reagan Urges Nation Not to Put Two and Two Together"

I mean, there's some stuff out there from noted 9/11 Truther Barbara Honegger, but she's a crazy person. I tend to discount unevidenced assertions of conspiracy uttered by crazy people.

One would think that the Reagan administration, were it cutting deals, would have only asked Iran to hold the hostages until after the election, rather than an extra couple months until Reagan was president.

Sometimes I don't even believe myself, if you can believe that.

"I think the unpredictability of what he would do, as opposed to Carter's pathetic passivity, had something to do with the timing."

Regardless of your thinking, the documented record is entirely clear on the day-by-day details of the negotiations, which, of course, were done completely under Jimmy Carter; the only reason the Iranians waited was because of their hatred of Carter.

I suggest reading up on the facts, rather than simply imagining what you think happened.

If you want to look into Reagan's role, you can examine Gary Sick's investigation into the allegations that the Reagan campaign negotiated with Iran to prolong the hostage release to the political advantage of Reagan.

(Similar to the case of what's known for a fact, that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon communicated to South Vietnamese President Thieu and his delegation in Paris, prior to the 1968 election, via Anna Chennault, to delay the Paris Peace Talks and promised to give Thieu a better deal than Humphry -- ironically, as is the way of things, Thieu ended up feeling totally screwed and abandoned by Nixon, as, of course, he essentially was, since Nixon and Kissinger simply looked for the "decent interval" in which to let South Vietnam inevitably fall.)

Anyway, as I said, there's no end of books available on the topic, which will provide much more factual accounts than your imagination. (As well, of course, also quite a few books which will provide equally imaginative accounts.)

And anyway, one can't both entertain the 'America's enemies were emboldened by the failure to go to war with Iran' and 'the Iranians released the hostages because they were afraid of Reagan' theories, at least as to any event after January 20, 1981.

If it isn't clear, that page I linked to with "Gary Sick's investigation" has some completely nutso stuff on it; I wasn't linking as an endorsement, but as an example of some of the allegations. That page mixes together fact, kooky-wacko material, and stuff in between, to be sure.

"I mean, there's some stuff out there from noted 9/11 Truther Barbara Honegger, but she's a crazy person."

But Gary Sick is a very credible guy; at least in my view.

Mind, I don't say it happened. I don't know. I'm agnostic. But while I wouldn't claim it happened, I'm not persuaded it definitely didn't happen, either. (Especially given the track record in 1968, which ex-Nixon people like Richard V. Allen were entirely familiar with.) Thus the agnosticism.

I'm not persuaded it definitely didn't happen, either.

Me, either. I consider this sort of thing as indeterminately factual, which frequently gets interpreted here as a protest that it didn't happen.

Unsurprisingly, I'm not familiar with Gary Sick's work, but the October Surprise conspiracy theories aren't a new thing to me. The notion that somehow secret dealings with Iranians in late October were sufficient to sway the election two weeks later to the tune of 40% of the electoral vote and 9+% of the popular vote, though, seems like a stretch to me. I don't think that Reagan and Bush really needed the October surprise, whatever its function, unless they'd somehow arranged in advance for the hostages to stay in custody through the election. I haven't seen any accounts to that effect, but I haven't seen anywhere near all of it yet.

There may be good explanations for this part of the theory, but I haven't seen them yet.

Tough is what better schools teach in kindergarten: "Use your words." Bluster is what imbeciles and cowards do.

The notion that Hillary might not be tough enough, which appears to be based largely on her gender, is frankly offensive and reminiscent of a mindset that long ago should have been put to rest in a country that claims to be civilized.

Two words: Margaret Thatcher

Frankly I have no concerns about HRC being tough enough – quite the opposite. I believe that she will be extremely ruthless if and when the situation calls for it. I can’t imagine that anyone (male or female) who has interacted with a good variety of women over a number of years and in various settings would believe that women are not tough enough. Heck, they are the tougher gender by a fair margin.


America is the only nation in the world to have utilized atomic weapons in combat.

That was relatively humane compare to the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo.


I am curious how any nation capable of such actions cannot be considered tough in the schoolyard sense that proponents of toughness appear to use.

Exactly. My fear is that most of the world forgets exactly what we are capable of.

There's that, OCSteve, and then there's the scary signs.

I'm guessing the architect was part of the shadow government.

My fear is that most of the world forgets exactly what we are capable of.

i think the world is perfectly aware of it, and that's why the only attacks against us are from small bands of non-state terrorists. no country is dumb enough to try anything like a direct attack on us. but there some extremely pissed-off people out there who are willing to take matters into their own hands.

Whatever problems I have with Clinton, her lack of 'toughness' certainly is not one of them. She is as tough as anyone, in a way that isn't always a compliment in exactly the way described in the post.

The notion that somehow secret dealings with Iranians in late October were sufficient to sway the election two weeks later to the tune of 40% of the electoral vote and 9+% of the popular vote, though, seems like a stretch to me. I don't think that Reagan and Bush really needed the October surprise, whatever its function, unless they'd somehow arranged in advance for the hostages to stay in custody through the election.

The problem is, that's exactly what happened with Nixon, Kissinger and the sabotaging of the Paris Peace Talks. The precedent alone should be enough to give one pause, though IMO you're right to consider it "indeterminately factual".

no country is dumb enough to try anything like a direct attack on us.

Yet.

That's the trouble with "toughness": wield it often enough, and everyone will wait for your moment of weakness.

Sure, it gives me pause enough to follow Gary's link and read a bit. I'm not closed-minded to the claim, I'd just like to see some amount of substantiation, followed by a firm hooking-in of what happened to the explanation of what that meant.

I don't have high hopes, though. A quarter-century is more than enough time for all of the fingerprints to have evaporated.

"Unsurprisingly, I'm not familiar with Gary Sick's work"

He was the major Iran expert in the Carter administration. For all the legitimate and illegitimate criticisms of the Carter White House, he was a serious major State Department guy; I read his prior book on Iran, All Fall Down, and it was a serious work, as I recall.

That doesn't make him right or wrong about any given thing; it's just why I took/take his views seriously. I certainly don't find it remotely implausible that William Casey would have engaged in such a thing.

But I, as I said: agnostic on this one.

"I don't think that Reagan and Bush really needed the October surprise, whatever its function,"

I agree, but that's not the sort of thing one knows in advance. Remember, at least until the debates, the convention wisdom was still that Carter, problems though he had, was going to blow the lightweight Reagan away.

"...unless they'd somehow arranged in advance for the hostages to stay in custody through the election. I haven't seen any accounts to that effect...."

It's been suggested, yeah. That's the heart of the allegation.

You also have to look at the thing in light of Iran-Contra; it's hard to allege that these same characters would have been acting out of type earlier. That's not proof, of course, but I'm just saying that it would be extremely consistent behavior.

On the other hand, a number of organizations say they've debunked it. So there you are.

I think the unpredictability of what he would do ... had something to do with the timing.

I think the deal reached by Reaganites with the Iranians in secret had much more to do with it. Why, it's almost as if Iran were signaling something.

According to my Dad, who represented the US banks at the Algiers negotiations, there is no evidence that the delay in releasing the hostages until the day Reagan took office was for anything other than humiliating Carter and the US generally.

(ultraweird moment -- I'm at boarding school, having just talked to my mother earlier that night I have no idea where in the world Dad is, the television in the common room is set to the news which is covering the Algiers negotiations, and suddenly my Dad walks into the viewfield of the camera, apparently returning from the bathroom.)

I see I'm way behind, but now that I've read the intervening comments want to thank peeved for the Onion reference.

Just exactly how it felt on the streets of DC that day.

Fascinating story, Francis, but what reason would we have to think that people at the Algiers Accord would be notified of contact between Reagan's people and Tehran?

Generally speaking, the way secrets get kept is by not blabbing them to people to whom there's no reason to tell them.

(This, of course, constitutes proof not in the slightest; I'm just noting that there's no clear reason this is a refutation, either; now, if Khomeini didn't know about a deal, that would mean something.)

What did Iran get in return in this deal?

factionalism and timing. By the time of the Algiers negotiations, Warren Christopher was pretty comfortable that he was working directly with the people who had the authority to make the ultimate decision. Following the conclusion of the Algiers talks, there was still a ton of work to do on getting various funds released, so it's not like the Iranians were reneging on the deal a lot by holding the hostages until the 20th.

Here's one possible twist: Reagan's people actually did work with an Iranian faction before the 20th, but this faction may have had no power to effect the release date. However, this faction may have provided the conduit for the later arms-for-hostages deal in Lebanon.

Carter can "hardly be blamed" for the failure of the rescue mission? Why not?! It happened on his watch, and revealed serious flaws in military readiness that were ultimately his responsibility.

While there may be some truth to this, it's always seemed bizarre to me that Carter took blame from all quarters for the failure of the rescue mission, while blaming Bush for 9/11 is thought of as a fringe position. I mean, there's just not much consistency as far as what events leaders are required to take responsibility for.

"What did Iran get in return in this deal?"

Allegedly, promises of weapons parts deals, including from Israel, and an unfreezing of Iranian assets.

As we all know, the idea of the Reagan Administration, and specifically people such as Richard Allen, William Casey, Oliver North, Richard Secord, Albert Hakim, and so on, proceeding to make secret weapons deals with the Iranian government is just nuts, and impossible to believe.

Oh, wait.

(See PBS Frontline.)

Pretty much all the allegations can be found here, if anyone wants to go at it.

Ugh: money. The Shah banked his oil revenues primarily at Chase Manhattan Bank. (My dad was head of the banking department at Chase's chief outside counsel.) When the hostages were taken, Carter issued an Executive Order blocking the transfer and release of Iranian funds held in US banks.

See Dames & Moore v. Regan 453 US 654 (1981) available at findlaw. A long complicated case but very interesting.

Big, big money, given that the Shah skimmed about $2 billion a year off the oil proceeds.

Which we all learned a couple of days after he was overthrown from the Washington Post, in a story that clearly could have been published at any time in the previous ten years. But who's counting?

But isn't the money the deal Carter was cutting?

"While there may be some truth to this, it's always seemed bizarre to me that Carter took blame from all quarters for the failure of the rescue mission, while blaming Bush for 9/11 is thought of as a fringe position."

I think it is the failure of the response that is at issue. You can't blame Carter for the TAKING of the hostages--that was pretty much an amazing change in the diplomatic world. You blame him for his response. Similarly you can't really blame Bush for 9/11 itself, but there are oceans of blame for him to drown in with respect to his response in the months and years following.

"But isn't the money the deal Carter was cutting?"

The weapons weren't.

"Similarly you can't really blame Bush for 9/11 itself...."

You can certainly blame him for an endless amount of things he didn't do, and an utter and complete lack of attention to terrorism as an issue at all, prior to 9/11, for sure. At least, I can.

Not that I care to go round on the details again, if you don't agree.

Exactly. My fear is that most of the world forgets exactly what we are capable of.

Oderint dum metuant?

There's no denying the visceral satisfaction of blowing stuff up when you're pissed off. At a certain point, however -- a point that I suspect we have achieved -- you're just the stupid bull charging the red flag.

Regarding threats from other states, our foreign policy of the last six years has only made us more, not less, vulnerable.

Regarding threats from folks who have actually attacked us, they just want to die and go to Allah. They don't care what we blow up.

19 guys, half a million bucks, and some box cutters. They don't really give a crap what we're capable of. They'll see us one better, and have fun doing it. I'm not sure we want to play that game. Actually, I'm pretty damned sure we don't want to play that game.

To me, it makes much more sense to make sure we stay friends with the folks who aren't nuts.

Thanks -

Redhand- D'oh, there may be "some truth" to it? Carter can "hardly be blamed" for the failure of the rescue mission? Why not?! It happened on his watch, and revealed serious flaws [broken link] in military readiness that were ultimately his responsibility.

I've read your article and others on Desert One that point to the Carter administration's defunding of Special Forces as the culprit. Of course most of these accounts softpeddle the huge institutional bias against SF within the military. Carter was not operating in a vacuum. The US Army brass wanted a conventional force.

This was the case under Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and continued to be the case after Carter left office. It didn't start to change until 1987 and the creation of SOCOM. It's still, by many accounts, an issue today.

But it is far more convenient to blame Carter for the internal insitutional culture of a military suspicious of outside interference, dominated by a WWII mindset and loth to change -- certainly more convenient than taking on a military where the underlying problem is most thoroughly entrenched at the top of the command structure.

I have never understood the rationale for the Carter helicopter raid. I heard once that Nixon, hearing about it, said "ten helicopters? Why not a thousand? We've got 'em." To put it another way, if you're going to invade another country anyway, why not use overkill levels of force so you can be sure to get the job done?

Granted, at some point the logistical preparation needed loses the element of surprise, but can it possibly be true that nothing more than Carter sent could have preserved surprise? And even if surprise had been lost, would not the saber-rattling build-up period give the Iranians time to back down? The whole thing made no sense.

That said, we have not generally looked like wusses before or since that mess, so I don't think we need to keep worrying about it.

Trilobite, are you being sarcastic? Reagan did what is now referred to as "cutting and running" after the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut only a few years later, and I don't think that's the only example when some people think we've "looked like wusses" since.

Sigh.

Trying again:

"To put it another way, if you're going to invade another country anyway, why not use overkill levels of force so you can be sure to get the job done?"

Because the operation was predicated on getting the copters in and out of Iran undetected, of course. And every additional helicopter just increased the risks of detection, and of accident.

"And even if surprise had been lost, would not the saber-rattling build-up period give the Iranians time to back down?"

Either I don't understand the question, or the answer is "no." If they'd been detected, why would the Iranians have backed down?

Mark Bowden wrote a good account, by the way.

Remember, the choppers and planes had to wait at Desert One a full night and day, deep inside Iran. And Sea Stallions are very large helicopters. C-130s are even bigger, and with more helicopters, there would have had to have been more C-130s. They were already using six, for pete's sake, a gross inflation of the original plan. And they had to fly in fuel for everything. Three C-130s alone were required just to be "bladder planes" and carry the fuel. Making the mission yet larger was problematic.

"...and I don't think that's the only example when some people think we've 'looked like wusses' since."

They tend to mention Somalia, and no boots on the ground about al Qaeda before 2001.

Excellent, excellent post. You summed up a bunch of nebulous thoughts that have been floating around my head for years. And when I read...

When men start passing football-sized kidney stones without anesthesia, maybe they can lay claim to being as tough as women.
...I nearly sprayed coffee all over my computer. Nice.

We still look like wussies for letting Bin Laden go and letting his Saudi backers invest heavily in the American economy.

Michael Mann. Fascists. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2004. Pp. x, 429. Cloth $65.00, paper $23.99.

According to Mann, overrepresented in fascist movements were not the class foes of communist historiography, capitalists and petty bourgeois, but rather the highly nationalistic and "macho" young from all classes, people living in border regions where communists or foreigners had earlier threatened, war veterans and younger men with paramilitary values, and, in largely agrarian countries, big and small landowners.

More:
http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/110.2/br_129.html

KC, no, I was taking a broad view, thus the word "generally." We have surely backed down or been forced out other times, which may have emboldened potential enemies. But we have also killed a lot of people along the way, and stupidly gotten our own soldiers killed, for whatever deterrent effect that may have.

Not much effect, I suspect. I agree with G'Kar. Nothing short of imperial conquest and massacre will pacify a population that won't surrender. Not that I want us to attempt a Pax Americana, but the current range of "tough talkers" are still far short of what would actually be effective. I'm glad of that, but I wish they, or their audience, would get a clue.

Sorry, when you wrote "we have not generally looked like wusses before or since that mess," I thought you were implying that we looked like wusses during that mess. If you were only saying the failed rescue attempt didn't hurt our reputation significantly, then I agree. If not, I'm not sure how you justify looking specifically at that one incident while taking a "general" view that ignores all other specific incidents. But it's probably not important enough to pursue further.

Er, something like, that defeat, like others, did not erase our many bloodthirsty acts, so we are still plenty scary. My comment was not especially deep or profound.

I do think the hostage crisis was a particularly bad blow to American prestige, and made us look more pathetic than anything since, and the failed raid was part of that image. YMMV.

Actually, I'll qualify that. Our panicked, hysterical response to 9-11 makes us look pathetic, but in a different way.

Our panicked, hysterical response to 9-11 makes us look pathetic, but in a different way.

to steal from the editors: egg, act, lee.

Ack, that s/b:

eggs, act, lee.

"eggs, act, lee."

But can the eggs play Hamlet? Inquiring minds want to know.

But can the eggs play Hamlet?

I suppose that depends on whether he was truly cracked, or just pretending to be...

You can't make a Hamlet without breaking some eggs.

Puns. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

*weeps in corner while scrubbing brain*

No, ugh, it's all white! No more yolks, I promise! We shell stop at once!

Ugh's brains are scrambled. He's toast. All jammed up.

trilobite, quit stirring him up.

someotherdude:

I shall have to track down that book. How does it compare to Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism? Does it explain *why* cranky macho guys are over-represented in fascist movements?

Doctor Science,

Does he provide a psycho-social reason for men’s proclivity for praising brutality? No.

Although, I understand there are many feminist theorists who do go down that dark alley.

He uses a political sociologist’s framework. I do a lot of research on various Protestant sects and their interactions with the State and that is how I came across his book.

Another good review:
http://www.cjsonline.ca/reviews/fascists.html

I will be reading Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism? after this semester is over, it gets referenced quite a bit.

Not to interrupt the punfest but I was in such a hurry that I forgot to say: excellent post, G'Kar. I've made similar points (incessantly) in the past but never so eloquently. Thanks.

People often forget that tough has a sell by date. One minute you're a tough guy with a noose around your neck defying the tiran, the next you're a henpecked wuss.

Good post G'kar

The Eisenhower regime was so tough that their overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953--at the behest of the very tough British, of course--set in motion the Iranian revolution of 1978 and the hostage crisis in the American Embassy.

Eisenhower also got the US involved in Vietnam following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, which had disastrous consequences.

I'd rather have "smart" than "tough."

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad