President Trump on Wednesday gave the most honest, direct speech about Iran’s dictatorship that has ever given by an American president. It was a refreshing break from the lies and self-deception that have characterized much of the American establishment’s efforts to avoid thinking about it.
Watching the various reactions to the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, I have been struck by how historically ignorant most politicians and commentators are – and how our political-diplomatic language and mindset block us from reality.
The reality is: Iran’s dictatorship has been waging war against the United States for more than 40 years.
I was a freshman in House of Representatives in 1979 when the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became the dictator of Iran.
Khomeini maneuvered brilliantly from Paris to Tehran. He gave President Jimmy Carter’s administration smooth reassurances that he feared the Americans too much to be a threat. Once in power, however, Khomeini was quite clear about his hostility to the United States.
For the last 40 years, I have watched the Iranian dictatorship wage war on America.
On Nov. 4, 1979 protesters chanting “Death to America” seized the U.S. Embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran in complete violation of international law.
Host governments have an obligation to protect embassies. But, in fact, the Iranian dictatorship used the embassy seizure to pressure the United States.
When it was clear President Carter would not respond forcefully to the attack on our embassy and the hostage taking, Khomeini said “the Americans can’t do a damn thing against us,” which became a slogan in Iran.
I have listened to a Carter administration official who had been in the negotiations with Khomeini’s new dictatorship. The United States offered economic aid, offered to fulfill its military contracts, and promised to supply the parts for the American military equipment Iran already had.
On every offer, the Iranians responded that they didn’t care about any of that. They wanted the U.S. to turn over the shah, who was in exile in the U.S. and dying of cancer, so they could try him and kill him in public.
The hostility was implacable and unyielding. Further, “Death to America Day” became a national holiday in Iran in 1987, commemorating the anniversary of the seizing of the American Embassy.
This attitude of American weakness persisted for 40 years. As Clifford May reported for The Washington Times: “Indeed, on Jan. 1, in response to Mr. Trump’s vow to hold Iran’s rulers ‘fully responsible’ for any lives lost at the besieged Baghdad embassy, the supreme leader’s official website proclaimed: “There is no damn thing you can do.”
Despite every effort of the Carter administration, the 52 American hostages were held for 444 days and released only as Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president.
I remember sitting on the platform at the Capitol for Reagan’s inauguration and hearing that the hostages had been released. It was an electrifying moment.
The Iranians knew they had to take whatever concessions they had gained from the Carter administration through the Algiers Accord and release the hostages, because Reagan wouldn’t have given in to any of their demands. He would have saved the hostages and inflicted a high cost on the Iranians.
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