Tag: Jimmy Carter

Eagle Claw and Honey Badger

“As health concerns for former President Carter mount,” Caleb Brown noted recently in this space, “it’s nice to be able to look back on his time in the White House and see something remarkably positive.” Indeed, our 39th president doesn’t remotely merit the bad rap he gets from conservatives and libertarians. As I wrote a few years back, “at its best, the Carter legacy was one of workaday reforms that made significant improvements in American life: cheaper travel and cheaper goods for the middle class.” For loosening controls on oiltruckingrailroads, and airlines, he should, Daniel Bier suggests, be thought of as “the Great Deregulator.” It’s in no small part thanks to him that conservatives can cry in their microbrews over the sorry state of the 2016 Republican field.  

So the man from Plains has a lot to be proud of. In the coming months, I hope he’ll have the consolation of seeing the record corrected and his historical reputation start to rise. 

Judging by his recent press conference announcing his illness, however, Carter shares a widely held misconception about where his presidency went wrong. Asked about his regrets, he answered: “I wish I’d sent one more helicopter to get the hostages and we would have rescued them and I would have been re-elected.” Carter was referring to “Operation Eagle Claw,” the aborted Iranian hostage rescue attempt in April 1980. If you’re old enough, you probably remember: the operation never got past the initial “Desert One” rendezvous point, due to the mechanical failure of three helicopters, and eight US soldiers were killed during departure when a helicopter collided with a transport plane. 

The botched rescue attempt definitely contributed to Carter’s defeat. But the mission failed during the “easy” part; when you look at what was supposed to come next, it’s hard not to think the whole operation would have been the Bay of Pigs meets Black Hawk Down.

Writing in the Air & Space Power Journal in 2006, war gaming professor Charles Tustin Kamps observed that “the things which did cause the mission to abort were probably merciful compared to the greater catastrophe which might have taken place if the scenario had progressed further than the Desert One rendezvous.” “In the realm of military planning there are plans that might work and plans that won’t work,” Kamps writes, “In the cold light of history it is evident that the plan for Eagle Claw was in the second category.” It would have required “the proverbial seven simultaneous miracles” to succeed. 

Reviewing Carter’s Deregulatory Record

As health concerns for former President Carter mount, it’s nice to be able to look back on his time in the White House and see something remarkably positive. Carter’s deregulation of air travel, commercial trucking, rail shipping and oil have delivered substantial and ongoing dividends to Americans. In today’s Cato Daily Podcast (Subscribe: iTunes/RSS/CatoAudio for iOS), Peter Van Doren discusses how those policy changes occurred.

An e-mailer reminds me that Carter’s pen also sealed the deal ending the longstanding prohibition on home brewing of beer for personal consumption. Anyone who appreciates craft beer today owes a small thanks to Carter for getting the feds out of the way of the small-scale tinkerers who eventually became today’s craft beer entrepreneurs.

Arbabsiar Plot Still Makes No Sense

Manssor Arbabsiar

I was as shocked as most other people to hear Tuesday the Department of Justice unveiling charges against Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year old Iranian-American apparently linked to Iran’s Quds Force. If the facts as described in the government’s complaint [.pdf] were part of a crime novel I were editing, I’d tell the author it was far too outlandish and to do some more research. Now we’re finding out that the administration itself had “expressed concern that the plot’s cartoonish quality would invite suspicions and conspiracy theories.”

And cartoonish it was. I had figured that maybe I was the only one who thought the government’s story was shot through with gaping holes, but now I read that basically the entire roster of non-neoconservative Iran watchers can’t make sense of the plot.

For their part, reflexive hawks have taken the news in stride. James Jay Carafano explained that this is what happens when you act like Jimmy Carter, and the neocons’ Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has essentially taken over  the WSJ op-ed page. (As one wag noted, the WSJ’s unsigned editorial invoked 9/11 in the first sentence.) But note the lack of critical thought in these pieces. Reuel Marc Gerecht uses the story as the latest hook for his “let’s bomb Iran” shtick, and another FDD/WSJ offering even says that “though details of the plot are still scarce,” “[t]o doubt the Iranian regime’s responsibility in the thwarted attack is to misunderstand its nature, or to somehow fall prey to the delusion that when an Iranian connection appears behind a terror plot, its perpetrators have gone rogue or are acting on behalf of some dark faction to undermine a nonexistent ‘moderate’ camp within the regime.” Well, maybe, but I like details.

I think there’s a pretty strong case for revisiting our assumptions about Iran, provided somebody can fill in the aforementioned holes. I had a bit more of a critical piece in CNN International, asking a number of questions that I’d like to see answered before deciding anything. I’ll just share with you one question I asked:

the accused seem to have believed that the [Mexican drug cartel the] Zetas would blow up [Saudi Ambassador Adel] al-Jubeir (and potentially a hundred people nearby, explicitly including possible U.S. senators) having only been fronted $100,000 of the $1.5 million payoff, and holding Arbabsiar as collateral.

There’s little evidence that the Zetas are stupid enough to cause themselves the trouble that blowing up a Washington restaurant containing the Saudi Ambassador and a hundred others would inevitably cause – especially for a potential payday of only $100,000 and a dead Iranian operative. Why did Arbabsiar or the IRGC think that the Zetas would be willing to do this deal?

To my mind, this is the biggest question out there, but I raise several others. For my provisional thoughts on the story, have a look at that piece.