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The Reagan Myth moves to white dwarf status

[ 41 ] March 7, 2012 |

I’m a bit late with this, but for the love of the Angel Moroni, the eventual Republican presidential nominee is talking some dubious shit:

Beginning Nov. 4, 1979, dozens of U.S. diplomats were held hostage by Iranian Islamic revolutionaries for 444 days while America’s feckless president, Jimmy Carter, fretted in the White House. Running for the presidency against Carter the next year, Ronald Reagan made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior. On Jan. 20, 1981, in the hour that Reagan was sworn into office, Iran released the hostages. The Iranians well understood that Reagan was serious about turning words into action in a way that Jimmy Carter never was.

Wow, that Ronald Reagan fellow must have been one terrifying fellow. I’ll bet his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention was brimming with fury, warning of the severe consequences for Iran if–sorry, say what now? He didn’t actually mention Iran at all? That seems weird. But OK, fine. Maybe he didn’t want to harsh the celebratory mood. Surely, though, his late October debate with Carter was filled with the species of aggressive, demonstrative rhetoric that alerted the revolutionary leadership to his resolve and showed the humiliated American public that a vote for Reagan was a vote against the weak and . . . um, wait a minute.

First of all, I would be fearful that I might say something that was presently under way or in negotiations, and thus expose it and endanger the hostages. And sometimes, I think some of my ideas might involve quiet diplomacy, where you don’t say, in advance or say to anyone what it is you’re thinking of doing.

Your question is difficult to answer, because, in the situation right now, no one wants to say anything that would inadvertently delay, in any way, the return of those hostages if there is a chance of their coming home soon, or that might cause them harm. What I do think should be done, once they are safely here with their families and that tragedy is over — and we’ve endured this humiliation for just lacking 1 week of a year now — then, I think, it is time for us to have a complete investigation as to the diplomatic efforts that were made in the beginning, why they have been there so long, and when they come home, what did we have to do in order to bring that about, what arrangements were made? And I would suggest that Congress should hold such an investigation.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue praying that they’ll come home.

Well now I’m just confused. I expected to hear the clanking of gigantic, novelty-sized brass balls, but this sounds like a load of pantywaisted hippie nonsense to me.

No matter. Once Reagan was elected, the Iranians must have been positively soiling themselves with fear, scrambling to reach a deal as word leaked out that the time for shit-taking had well-nigh reached an end. By January 8 — a mere twelve days before the Serious Turning of Words into Action so elegantly and briefly described by Mittens Romney — the forces of manly Republicanism would have been wiggling in their seats as the anticipation mounted and OH MERCY ME WHERE’S THE BONER JUICE?

None of the actions being considered at the highest Reagan levels contemplate military action against Iran. Not yet, at least. Reagan planning shows a fastidious caution about the use, or even the threat, of military force. The reason, as explained by one key actor in the unfolding hostage drama: “We will suggest nothing in the way of military action that we are not absolutely certain we cannot carry out.”

Because Romney is in fact an empty vessel willing to say anything that sounds like something Republicans might endorse, it’s not surprising that Reagan — the chap who denounced Carter for releasing billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets to get the embassy hostages back, then approved illegal arms sales to Iran in exchange for hostages in Lebanon who were never in fact released — receives undeserved credit for being tough on Iran. What’s remarkable, however, is that the guy whose relationship to Iran eventually led him to break the Constitution winds up sounding completely reasonable and cautious by comparison with the people who now claim him as their totem.

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Comments (41)

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  1. Jeff Fecke says:

    I think it’s ridiculous for Mitt to argue that Obama should illegally sell arms to Iran to finance a proxy war in Central America.

  2. c u n d gulag says:

    Anyone who believes all of the right-wing myths about Reagan, is either mything a whole bunch of brain cells, or mythed a whole bunch of history classes that covered that error – college classes, that is, not HS, since, apparently, teaching Reagan is an acceptable substitute to teaching Christianity in public schools.

  3. Njorl says:

    Jimmy Carter was too cowardly to exchange arms for hostages.

  4. rea says:

    What the whole incident represented, was Iran successfully manipulating the US presidential election, with the active cooperation of Candidate Reagan. Why anyone, even a Republcian, would think that represented some kind of national triumph, rather than a national humiliation, is a mystery.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Why anyone, even a Republcian, would think that represented some kind of national triumph, rather than a national humiliation, is a mystery.

      Given the track record of both Reagan and Bush 2, Occam’s Razor would indicate the possibility that the highest levels of the Republican Party are now and have been Iranian agents.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Is that why they gave Saddam WMD’s under Reagan, and then attacked Saddam for having WMD’s under “Baby Doc” Bush?

        “Baby Doc” must have forgotten that Saddam chose not to take the WMD “Extended Warranty Plan.”
        So that the by the time he wanted to attack, 20 years later, the virus ones could barely cause a sneeze, and the chemical ones were useless – like cocaine that’s been cut with baby laxative by too many levels of dealers.*

        *This is a joke, since I’m aware of some of the effects those weapons had on the US soldiers who found them.

      • Sev says:

        “no one wants to say anything that would inadvertently delay, in any way, the return of those hostages”

        Sounds like a confession to me.

  5. actor212 says:

    They seriously want to run on the October Surprise? Really?

    Against an incumbent President?

    To quote another low-light: bring it on.

  6. mark f says:

    The Reagan Iran Myth is similar to the Clinton Was Responsible for 9/11 Myth. Why does history stop when the Republican enters office? If Clinton should’ve stopped bin Laden before 9/11, why does Bush get a pass for not worrying about it for nine months? If Iran should have paid a stiff price under Carter, what stopped Reagan from imposing one? I can imagine Reagan calling up Khomeini, all like, “Oh-ho, you slick bastard! 444 days was pretty bad, but 445 would’ve gotten you in soooooo much trouble! I mean, just one more day and you were really gonna get it, but you stopped just in time. How did you know?!?!?”

  7. LKS says:

    Don’t know how old you are, davenoon, but I was 28 when all that was happening, and it’s one of those few historical events I remember like it was yesterday.

    The right-wing/media-driven narrative at the time was that Iran freed the hostages because they were afraid of St Ronaldus. It was out there even before the hostages got off the plane. A few voices tried to point out that this was patently stupid, that if the Iranians were terrified of Reagan they would have released the hostages to make the presumably lily-livered Carter look like a hero so he could get re-elected. But of course, no one listened to the people who actually made sense.

    The more rational explanation is that the Reagan promised something to the Iranians – like working to get the embargo lifted or circumvented – that the higher-minded Carter wasn’t willing to offer. We’ll probably never know the truth, alas, which makes it harder to counter the right-wing silliness about the whole affair.

    • John F says:

      Meh, the truth was that after the Shah croaked and Iraq invaded the Iranians no longer had any “reason to” or benefit from holding the hostages. Basically they held onto them until the moment Carter left office because the people in charge there hated Carter. Reagan really had nothing to do with it.

  8. joe from Lowell says:

    The reason, as explained by one key actor in the unfolding hostage drama: “We will suggest nothing in the way of military action that we are not absolutely certain we cannot carry out.”

    What was this word smith trying to say here? Did he misspeak, with the triple negative? Was he trying to say that they did not suggest military action out of fear of it not working?

    Or was he saying that they’d only suggest military action when they knew there was no chance of it ever happening?

    • Bill Murray says:

      It is a mystery, I think there are 3 possibilities, as there are 3 negatives, so two must cancel out

      1. We will suggest nothing in the way of military action that we are absolutely certain we can carry out.

      might make sense from a secrecy standpoint ie if we can do it we won’t suggest it so that you will be surprised

      2. We will suggest … military action that we are not absolutely certain we can carry out.

      is crazy talk, crazy talk, change the subject type blather

      3. We will suggest … military action that we are absolutely certain we cannot carry out.

      sounds like a bluff

      • rea says:

        As usual, the problem is that Reagan could sound good, but making sense was beyond him. What he probably meant was something like, “We’re not going to attempt to rescue the hostages by force of arms unless, in contrast to Carter, we’re sure our plan will work.” In other words, it was meant as a jab at Carter’s failed hostage rescue attempt. Of course, that’s not what he said . . .

        • John F says:

          It’s likely what he meant, but who knows. One of Carter’s problems was that he was presented a myriad of military/military type options- and managed to pick the absolute worst one- the one with the absolute worst chance of success- why?

          It was the only plan presented to him where no one- American or Iranian- got killed if the plan went off perfectly- in all other plans he was given deaths (especially Iranian) were INTENDED to result.

          The problem was that no plan goes off perfectly, and a plan as complex as the one he approved most certainly was not going to go off perfectly- and even if it went off near perfectly you were going to get many scores of shot-up Iranians and some American casualties as well.

          Carter’s problem was that he never seemed to come to grips with the fact that he was dealing with HOSTAGE TAKERS, he insisted on negotiating as you would with a “normal” government, and then he approached it the way you approached cold war spy exchanges- no no no, he should have dealt with them the way you deal with 3 armed cokeheads hold up in a bank, string them along, give them some of what you want, as you set up your pieces, demand some quid pro quos along the way, just keep tightening the perimeter.

          • Sev says:

            Perhaps he put too high a value on preserving human life, as opposed to political advantage… I’m not a great fan of his presidency, but he did get them all home alive.

    • DocAmazing says:

      What he meant was “We will sell no wine before its time.”

  9. S. cerevisiae says:

    led him to break the Constitution winds

    Reagan had a constitution up his butt?

    Seriously though, they really want to bring this up? Just shows they got nothing.

  10. Warren Terra says:

    The degree to which Ronald Reagan Wilson has been turned into a touchstone of sheer unadulterated perfection utterly unconnected from anything the actual person ever did never fails to amaze me. Here on the left, we have debates about how to reconcile the legacy of LBJ given that he enacted sweeping civil rights legislation but also got us mired deep in Vietnam, etcetera. On the right they tell inspiring tales of the Great Reagan and we’re lucky if the stories have even the faintest connection to the truth. In this case, it seems that pretty much the only true part of the tale is that Iran kept American hostages for 444 days until Carter left office – everything else is an invention. Thing is, it’s no more untrue than what the Republicans say about Reagan and Gorbachev, or Reagan and Terrorists, or Reagan and Taxes – the list goes on.

    • TT says:

      Whenever I think of conservative memory as it applies to Reagan, how it has consigned the actual Reagan presidency to the memory hole, and how how violently it reacts to any fact-based discussion which diverges from the Legend, I can’t help but think of the final sentence of The Thin Red Line:

      One day one of their number would write a book about all this, but none of them would believe, because none of them would remember it that way.

      • John F says:

        The funny part is that James Jones was wrong, many of his fellow soldiers would later say that he (almost alone) got it right- the way they remembered it.

    • Reagan scored the winning goal against the Russians in the Miracle on Ice.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Reagan was way cool
      Everybody liked Reagan
      Everybody wanted to hang out with him
      Anything he wanted to do, he did
      He turned water into wine
      And if he wanted to He could have turned wheat into marijuana Or sugar into cocaine Or vitamin pills into amphetamines
      He walked on the water
      And swam on the land
      He would tell these stories And people would listen He was really cool
      If you were blind or lame You just went to Reagan
      And he would put his hands on And you would be healed
      That’s so cool

  11. skidmarx says:

    Reagan — the chap who denounced Carter for releasing billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets to get the embassy hostages back, then approved illegal arms sales to Iran in exchange for hostages in Lebanon who were never in fact released

    Reagan was fiscally responsible and Carter wasn’t.

  12. BobS says:

    Reagan was no less shy about flirting with treason to gain the presidency in 1980 than Nixon was in 1968.
    Robert Parry at consortiumnews.com has written extensively on the October Surprise

  13. DrDick says:

    Zombie Reagan is waaay more awesome than the real Reagan ever was.

  14. joe from Lowell says:

    Ronald Reagan did one thing right in the foreign policy arena during his entire presidency: he flip-flopped on relations with the Soviets once he recognized what Gorbachev represented.

    That was really a pretty remarkable event in American history, and absolutely nobody saw it coming.

    • rea says:

      Yeah, that was Reagan’s one moment of at least partial redemption–despite all the evil he did, when the time came to make peace, he escaped from his handlers and made peace. That’s why he’s infinitely preferable to the likes of GWB, or Romney, and why he (the real Reagan, not the zombie one) would never win the nomination today

  15. Halloween Jack says:

    Reagan was obviously much more of a commander-in-chief than Carter, what with his important work with the First Motion Picture Unit and all, while Carter-that lucky ducky–didn’t graduate from the Naval Academy until after V-J Day, so he got to spend his military career in such idyllic pursuits as helping to disassemble a partially-melted-down nuclear reactor.

  16. Tracey says:

    The legacy of Ronald Reagan represents the republican party I support. Unfortunately, I realize they never have been what they say they are.

    • Malaclypse says:

      No, no, they are still the same race-baiting reptiles they were back when Reagan chose Philadelphia, Mississippi to kick off his presidential campaign with a speech on state’s rights [*]. He just knew how to keep the subtext as subtext.

      * cue Manju’s obligatory Robert Byrd false equivalence.

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