April 25, 2016


The Desert One Debacle (MARK BOWDEN, MAY 2006, The Atlantic)

[I]n the following months, restraint had begun to smell like weakness and indecision. Three times in the past five months, carefully negotiated secret settlements had been ditched by the inscrutable Iranian mullahs, and the administration had been made to look more foolish each time. Approval ratings had nose-dived, and even stalwart friends of the administration were demanding action. Jimmy Carter's formidable patience was badly strained.

And the mission that had originally seemed so preposterous had gradually come to seem feasible. It was a two-day affair with a great many moving parts and very little room for error--one of the most daring thrusts in U.S. military history. It called for a nighttime rendezvous of helicopters and planes at a landing strip in the desert south of Tehran, where the choppers would refuel before carrying the raiding party to hiding places just outside the city. The whole force would then wait through the following day and assault the embassy compound on the second night, spiriting the hostages to a nearby soccer stadium from which the helicopters could take them to a seized airstrip outside the city, to the transport planes that would carry them to safety and freedom. With spring coming on, the hours of darkness, needed to get the first part of this done, were shrinking fast.

Unrolling a big map, General David Jones, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked the president and his inner circle of advisers through the elaborate plan, pointing out the location of the initial landing and refueling site, called Desert One; the various hide-site locations; the embassy, in central Tehran; the soccer stadium; and the airfield. It was risky; but short of leaving the hostages to their fate or engaging in some punitive action against Iran that would further endanger them, the president had few options. Jordan could see the course of Carter's reluctant reasoning.

To maintain appearances, the president sent Jordan back to Paris for a scheduled second meeting with Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, the Iranian foreign minister, with whom Jordan had secretly worked out the most recent failed agreement. Carter had at last severed all formal diplomatic ties with Iran; in this second face-to-face session with Jordan, Ghotbzadeh called the break in relations a tragic mistake that would drive his country into the arms of the Soviets. He also confirmed that peaceful efforts to resolve the crisis were at an impasse, and predicted that it would be many months before the hostages might be released. He was apologetic, but said that for him to take a "soft" position on the issue at that point was tantamount to political, if not actual, suicide. "I just hope your president doesn't do anything rash," he added.

Posted by at April 25, 2016 3:38 PM