The Carter Implosion: Jimmy Carter and the Amateur Style of Diplomacy

By Donald S. Spencer | Go to book overview

egy played directly into Khomeini's hands, for the Iranians were as committed to symbolic diplomacy as was Carter. Not only did the U.S. posture focus daily international attention on Iran's capacity to humiliate the United States through the agency of a ragged, fanatically inspired band of "students." It also allowed Khomeini to identify all his political enemies with the Great Satan Carter, provide a clear, inescapable focus for his regime's xenophobic appeal, and divert public attention at home from his regime's utter failure to sustain the prosperity and order of the previous regime. History is strewn with demagogues who have created straw men for exactly these purposes, but rarely have they received such willing cooperation from the straw men themselves.

It was only within that surrealistic atmosphere of competing symbolic gestures that Press Secretary Jody Powell could claim, as he did on April 8, 1980, that the White House's sanctions against Teheran during the hostage crisis, however ineffective in material terms, represented "a public relations triumph." 30 That pronouncement, symptomatic of the posturing that afflicted both contending governments during the hostage crisis, confirmed yet again the Carter team's alarming conviction that symbolic victories compensated somehow for their failure to protect the national interest.

Not until January 20, 1981--444 days afer their capture and, perhaps not coincidentally, thirty minutes after Ronald Reagan assumed the mantle of office--did the hostages depart from Iran. The provisions of their release had been negotiated in painstaking detail by the outgoing Carter administration. Yet for many observers it was the promise of a more vigorous approach by Reagan, Who had dismissed the Iranian radicals as "barbarians" and "kidnappers," and who had vowed to terminate all diplomatic contact with the Khomeini regime immediately after his inauguration, which finally closed the deal. Even within Carter's staff, Reagan's hardline policies were recognized as important in the final stages of negotiation. 31

Unfortunately, the resolution of the hostage crisis did nothing whatever to restore a vigorous, Western-oriented Iran. Neither did it terminate the Iran-Iraq War, renew confidence in Saudi Arabia or in other Middle Eastern states in American leadership, or eliminate the systematic training of terrorists against Western interests on Iranian soil. These problems, the direct consequences of the administration's failure to respond effectively to the Iranian revolution, would remain as a sad legacy of the Carter years. In that entirely negative sense, at least, the Diplomacy of Symbolism would exert major lasting effects on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.


NOTES
1.
Quoted in Robert L. Beisner, Twelve Against Empire ( New York: McGraw- Hill, 1968), pp. 16-17.

-82-

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The Carter Implosion: Jimmy Carter and the Amateur Style of Diplomacy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 2 - Some One Syllable Answers 19
  • Notes 32
  • 3 - Sort of a Beacon Light. . . ."" 35
  • Notes 49
  • 5 - The Challenge of Khomeini 65
  • Notes 82
  • Notes 119
  • 8 THE MALTHUSIAN NIGHTMARE AND THE PARADOX OF INVERSE POWER 121
  • Notes 139
  • 9 - Jimmy Carter, Zachary Taylor, and the 800th Lifetime 143
  • Notes 154
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 155
  • Index 157
  • About the Author 163
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