Thirty-two years ago this week, on April 24, eight U.S. servicemen died in the southeastern desert of Iran when their mission to rescue 52 Americans held captive by the revolutionary regime in Tehran was aborted by President Jimmy Carter.
Operation Eagle Claw was one of the first missions conducted by the recently-formed Delta Force. Depending on whose account you read, it was either an unlucky masterpiece of complex planning or a desperate attempt to save a doomed presidency that never should have been given the green light in the first place.
The mission’s failure convinced U.S. military leaders to rethink how they would conduct special operations in the future: formulating plans that were simpler, carrying them out under unified command, and managing the risk.
While our military has learned the lessons of the failed hostage rescue mission, however, our political leaders have not.
When the first reports came in of the deadly aircraft collision during a sandstorm in the Iranian desert, Jimmy Carter lost his nerve. Rather than follow the advice of his military advisors and continue the mission with a smaller force, he pulled the plug and exposed it to the world. His fear of defeat trumped his will to win. The result? Our enemies smelled weakness and sought to deepen our humiliation by parading about the sand-clotted bodies of our dead servicemen like trophies in a Roman Triumph.
Jimmy Carter’s multiple failures in Iran have given us thirty-two years of state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East. By allowing the forces of chaos and extremism to unseat the Shah of Iran, a staunch U.S. ally, Carter not only destroyed the future for two generations of Iranians; he ushered in an era where a sovereign government operating under the guise of terrorist proxies was allowed to murder, maim, and bomb with impunity.
The victims of Iran’s terrorist rampage included people such as Robert Ames, the CIA Near East chief of operations, who was killed when Iranian-backed terrorists blew up our embassy in Beirut on April 17, 1983.
As one of the first journalists on the scene after the bomb ripped off the front of our seaside embassy, I will never forget a dust-and-debris-covered press officer named Ryan Crocker emerging from the rubble to tell us that he had seen the U.S. ambassador, saved by the weight of his office desk, climbing down a broken fire escape at the rear of the embassy .
The victims also included people such as Donald G. Havlish, Jr., an insurance executive from Yardley, Pennsylvania who missed taking his daughter to her first day of preschool on the morning of September 11, 2001 so he could attend a business meeting in New York. He worked on the 101st floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and was killed by the al Qaeda terrorists who crashed a hijacked airplane into his building that morning.
Although I did not know him, I came to know his widow, Fiona, and helped her and other families of 9/11 victims trace the origins of the 9/11 plot back to Iran. These brave families won a measure of justice in a federal court on December 15, 2011, when District court judge George B. Daniels, after hearing our testimony, determined that the Islamic Republic of Iran shared “material responsibility” for the 9/11 attacks with the al Qaeda terrorists.
Mihaela, their daughter, who had turned 13 by then, impressed me to tears as she stood near me in the cold winter winds where once the South Tower had stood. With TV cameras trained on her, she made a brushing of her father’s name in the commemorative marble plaques around the foundation. “I am Mihaela Havlish, the daughter of Donald G. Havlish, Jr, who died on September 11, 2001,” she said. Simple, clear, brave.
We have an opportunity today to ensure that Robert Ames, Donald Havlish and so many others -– including hundreds of our servicemen in Iraq — will be the last American victims the evil regime in Iran can claim. We have the opportunity today to craft effective policies that will end the rein of terror in Iran.
And yet, President Obama has embarked on a different course – a course that I believe will lead directly to a major war with Iran that we do not need and that we can actually prevent.
His course is called appeasement. It begins with the notion that you can rationally discuss matters of import – such as nuclear weapons development and terrorism — with a regime that seeks just one thing: to negotiate the size of your coffin.
The Islamic Republic leaders have shown repeatedly that their only goal in these negotiations is to buy time to complete their nuclear weapons development. During their latest round of talks with the Obama administration on April 14, they succeeded yet again.
About the Author: Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum 2005), and was nominated jointly with Amb. John Bolton for the Nobel Peace prize in 2006 for his work on Iran. He is the president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and is the Republican nominee for Congress in Maryland's 8th District.
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