Saw Syriana last night, it got my head spinning...
February 26, 2006 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the American hostages from the Iranian embassy in April of 1980, was clearly a deeply-flawed plan. Was it also hindered by foul play?

All accounts agree that the plan was way too complicated and depended on bad intelligence and poor preparation. Still: on various sites (including the above-linked wiki article), suspicions abound that the Iranians were tipped-off about the mission beforehand, thus compromising the element of surprise. There are those who attribute the tip-off to the Soviets. But what really sends chills to my bones is the assertion, on the wiki page, that it was REPUBLICANS who spilled the beans to the Iranians in the hopes that the ongoing hostage crisis would sink Carter's re-election hopes. Unfortunately, the assertion isn't supported at all: "It seems likely that this information must have come from Republican operatives wishing to see the Amercian hostages remain in captivity until at least after the 1980 presidential election."

I was but a lad at the time, so my memories of it all are very sketchy. Ditto the Iran-Contra affair. And it wouldn't be the first time that my naivete got the better of me. That said, the thought that the Republicans conspired to sink an ongoing American military operation seems particularly dark, even to my Bush-hating, conspiracy-prone ears. The rescue attempt took place in April, so the hostages were held for another six months. I always assumed that there was a deal between the Reagan campaign and the Iranians, but that it happened much closer to the election and didn't involve jeopardizing American troops, even if the mission itself was ill-fated for other perfectly valid reasons. My question: has anyone else heard this charge? Does any one give this story any weight?
posted by fingers_of_fire to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't recall any specifics, at the moment but I seem to recall reading that Charlie Beckwith had horrible things to say about Carter and his cabinet w/r/t to the military planning of that mission. Not that I'm blaming Carter necessarily. Except to say that bad planning and bad luck seem to be more in line with Occam's Razor here (e.g. I don't think Republicans could have been responsible for the bad sand storm and equipment failure that by all accounts screwed up the mission). Though you can never be too suspicious of politically motivated skullduggery...
posted by Heminator at 1:38 PM on February 26, 2006

Robert Parry seems to be the go to guy
posted by hortense at 1:46 PM on February 26, 2006

If your head really wants to spin, read Robert Baer's books on his life in the CIA and afterwards. He is the actual person George Clooney's fictional character was based on. Lots of food for thought there.
As far as the republican conspiracy against U.S. troops on a rescue mission, as low as those people have sunk since Nixon forward nothing would surprise me. I graduated from high school a year before the election where Reagan 'won' and this country's been deeply screwed up ever since. I wonder how many other americans graduated from high school and a year later felt their country had been taken over by madmen and is still run by them to this day (Clinton doesn't count, i.e. Republican Lite).
posted by mk1gti at 2:22 PM on February 26, 2006

I think mk1gti forgot to include the words "in the movie Syriana" after "fictional character" above.
posted by soiled cowboy at 3:13 PM on February 26, 2006

oops. I didn't read the title. go on ignoring me...
posted by soiled cowboy at 3:17 PM on February 26, 2006

I've never heard the theory that Republicans tipped of the Iranians. As much as I don't trust the oil-sucking Republicans, I doubt that at that time they were well connected enough to take such a bold risk. I remember the time well - it was widely reported in the news then that a sandstrom clogged the helicopter's air intake.

Why do I doubt the Republicans involvement?
1. While I am convinced that the Republican Party - and George Bush in particular - were involved in the "October Surprise" (negotiating with the Iranians to keep the hostages captive until the election was over, thereby making the Democratic incumbent Carter look bad) which was being planned in the spring of 1980, I do not think that they had reached the level of evil necessary to snitch on a US military operation. At least not in 1980. They would have to wait for Rove and Cheney before they got that bad.
2. While the Republicans were already corrupt and sleazy, in 1980 they were still not elected, and had not made the kind of neo-con bible-belt alliances that would eventually lead them to become true crypto fascists. Heck... back in the 70s Carter was the Bible-belt poster boy and you had Ted Kennedy arguing that anti-nuclear protesters should be surveiled and rounded up and incarcerated, so who needed the Republicans for that?
3. Sandstorms can suck. If this happened today the American public would simply never, ever hear about it on the news.
posted by zaelic at 3:39 PM on February 26, 2006

Extraordinary charges require extraordinary evidence.
posted by Nelson at 4:23 PM on February 26, 2006

As Zaelic has already noted, this is the "October Surprise" conspiracy theory. No credible evidence has ever been put forward to support it.

As for these kinds of conspiracy theories in general, an important corollary to Occam's Razor is, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" (or, in some versions, "incompetence.")
posted by enrevanche at 4:41 PM on February 26, 2006

Not the same as the October Surprise
posted by destro at 4:56 PM on February 26, 2006

enrevanche: I have been following the October Surprise since the first revelations about it during the Iran-Contra hearings in the 1980s. A lot of credible evidence has come out about it, but that should be a FPP in the blue, not an AskMe/Talk issue.... a bit of googling should show this to be a valid concern. The Village Voice ran a bunch of articles about this in the late 1980s... but then, I left the US in Iran-Contra disgust in 1988, so I don't have access to libraries to quote you the sources of my suspicions at this time.

But in the big picture, I do not think that the Republicans had - in 1980 - either the inclination nor the connections to actually monkey-wrench a covert US miltary operation against Iran at that time. They weren't in power yet. They were - at that time - not liley to kill their own sons. They hadn't been taken over by the neo-cons. They basically were the party of corrupt low-tax racists (Lee Atwater RIP.....)

Of course, things have radically changed since then, so i can understand fingers_of_fire's suspicions. I simply think they are a bit early. Anything after 1990 I'll believe.
posted by zaelic at 5:18 PM on February 26, 2006

Two investigators into the possible Paris meeting of GHWB and Iranian agents at the king david hotel were flying home via Pan Am 103.
posted by hortense at 5:50 PM on February 26, 2006

Response by poster: Remember what I said about naivete? Anyway, since the post, I've discovered the "discussions" tab on the wiki site - have a look. Someone else had the same reaction that I had to the particular statement from the wiki article.

That said, zaelic, I considered going to the blue for this, but it's just too big a topic and my understanding is too superficial to do it justice. I still suspect something fishy, just not anything that involved sacrificing US troops.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 6:11 PM on February 26, 2006

Having trouble Googling it, but I recall an interview with Miles Copeland, Jr, the CIA agent (and father of Police drummer Stewart) where he discussed the alternative rescue plan he and his cronies had cooked up involving operatives dressed as Iranian soldiers who would've shown up where the hostages were being held and said, "Good job, we're taking over" and spirited them out of the country. This was in the early days of the situation, before the hostages were moved around, and there was clearly frustration on his part that time was allowed to pass before an effort was made.

It's also clear that he had considerable contempt for Carter, deriding him as an "idealist" and too "moral". But despite his embrace of realpolitik, he considered himself a patriot, and I find it hard to believe he'd actively work against US troops, even if he wasn't thrilled with the operation.
posted by jalexei at 6:33 PM on February 26, 2006

A lot of people forget just how bad off the Army was at that time. It was still reeling from Vietnam, drugs and drinking saturated the barracks.
I remember G.I.s at the time getting liquored up and driving tanks down the street of the nearest German town, flattening cars as they went.
So I don't think a conspiracy was necessary. Also, the plan was pretty complicated. Flying CH-53s off a helicopter deep into the desert, linking up with refueling planes...too many moving parts.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:06 PM on February 26, 2006

Off a helicopter... off a carrier, I mean.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:07 PM on February 26, 2006

« Older Why do cartoon characters read backwards?   |   wifi goes a little wtf Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.