Today’s images also remind me just how vulnerable we were to waves of violence, to opportunistic Iranian politicians and to bad decisions in which we had no say. Our security – like that of our colleagues today – depended on our host country’s authorities and their willingness to assume their responsibilities. In 1979, those authorities did nothing to stop the attackers and rode that wave of mob rule to cement their own power.
As much as I respect John -- a good friend (the main person who introduced me to Persian culture) and perhaps the most knowledgeable non-Iranian American about Iran and its recent history -- what he has said begs the question of how we can avoid such situations before they happen. Not "cheap shots" or the groveling "apologies" that figure importantly in Republicans' critique of our stance toward the rest of the world, but genuine, eyes-wide-open grappling with the diversity and complexity of that world. We are clearly not earning high marks when it comes to either winning friends or influencing people -- despite our success in influencing governments and manipulating economics. In fact, part of our problem stems from the fact that we are the single superpower, the most important nation, the hegemon ~ but not ALL of our problem. We also manage to botch a lot of opportunities to establish relationships of mutual respect and real dialogue. If it only takes one idiot on the internet to run us into the rocks, it will take a great many sensible and sensitive people to steer us toward seas of tranquility and harbors of safety.
Specifically, in the case of Iran, President Carter should not just be faulted for failing to support and protect those who served at his pleasure in the Embassy in Tehran, but for failing to realize that our "constituency" in Iran was not merely the crowned autocrat on the Peacock Throne, but the people of Iran, who were not all supporters of the Shah, his modernizing agenda or his ruthless lieutenants. By the time the "King of Kings" was diagnosed with cancer, our foothold in Iran was itself at Stage Four, with no therapies available to make it well.
We see the same scenario, with variations, replayed in Egypt, where we supported Mobarak for many years before we opposed him, in Saudi Arabia where we hold hands with princes who hold hands with fundamentalist Islamists, and in Afghanistan, where the forces we helped create gave safe haven to those who would now destroy us. Self-serving foreign policy has a way of morphing into self-destruction, sometimes in a very short period of time.