Chapter 2

Home Front

This essay is a review of:

Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency

by Hamilton Jordan

How America Fell
by Achyutha Komarlu

“1980 was pure hell-the Kennedy challenge, Afghanistan, having to put the SALT Treaty on the Shelf, the recession, Ronald Reagan, and the hostages . . . always the hostages! It was one crisis after another”. Crisis after crisis piled onto the Carter Administration till the foundation itself gave up. In the final year of his term President Carter tried his best to maintain control of the nation, but with due time the reigns slowly slipped from his grasp. Hamilton Jordan’s first-hand account of the struggles faced by the Carter Administration through its final moments is carefully wrung out and explored in Crisis: the Last Year of the Carter Presidency. It follows the chronological decline of the Carter Administration as crises fell continuously upon the party, which led to a time of desperation and fear. After failing to solve the problems at hand, Carter failed to be re-elected in 1981, losing to Ronald Reagan.

In November of 1979, The Carter Administration faced a dire situation - the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran was overrun by Iranian demonstrators and American personnel were kept hostage. The Demonstrators, led by Khomeini, were people who despised the Shah who recently was allowed to seek shelter in the United States while avoiding the turmoil of his own nation.  The stability in Iran steadily dropped as the Shah lost support of the people, causing the campaign to lose support. Especially after President Carter “scheduled to leave for Canada…in the middle of an international crisis, with the lives of numerous American diplomats at stake”. After his return President Carter tried to resolve the Iranian Crisis with an honorary solution, which involved clearing Khomeini’s suspicions that the diplomats were not spies and honest civilians’ trying to help out to uphold international peace. Khomeini released 13 people out of 66 hostages, but sent women, blacks and non U.S. Citizens back to the U.S. to incite hatred in America and try and bring the nation down. In December, the Carter Administration realized that housing the Shah, on their soil was delaying the hostage situation and decided to secretly transport him out of the country. Carter sent Hamilton Jordan to Panama to discuss with Leader Torrijos. Using his good relations, Hamilton was successful in convincing Panama to accept to house the Shah, but they faced one problem convincing the Shah himself to accept the move to Panama. After countless weeks of persuasion, and after having many conditions met, were The Shah and his royal family to be transported to live in Panama. To make matters worse, on December 16, 1979 the USSR Soviets invaded Afghanistan trying to take over the Islamic peoples there. President Carter was in a dire situation as he says “Capturing those Americans was an inhumane act – but this is deliberate aggression that calls into question détente and – destroys any chance of getting the SALT Treaty through Senate, makes prospects of nuclear war even greater.” Despite the New Year a time of celebration, everything else in the White House was filled with chaos, especially the Afghan Soviet crisis.

Khomeini was contacted in February of 1980, when he agreed to an idea of an international commission that would listen to the grievances of the Iranians against the Shah and would try to solve the problems. Jordan was sent to meet with some French men in Switzerland to discuss the international peace program with Iran. Hamilton Jordan was able to set up contact with a secret Iranian, who disclosed that the hostages were doing fine and will be “relieved soon” as long as the U.S. doesn’t do anything to “hurt the Iranian regime” under Khomeini.  Khomeini demands that the Shah must be returned to Iran, punished for his crimes and then Khomeini will plan to release the hostages. The Carter Administration decided not to fall for Khomeini’s tricks and refused to send in the Shah, complicating the crisis at hand tenfold. In March, the UN committees landed in Tehran, to try and pry open the hostage case, but even after a week it led to no avail there wasn’t any response. The Demonstrators who were in charge of the hostage crisis claimed that the UN lied about having Khomeini’s support for the release and refused to let the hostages be seen or released to Ghotbzadeh, the Iranian foreign policy minister. Khomeini uses the relation between the Shah and the U.S. to state “they supported the Shah, [U.S.] are as evil and wicked as he”.  The following month, President Carter was frustrated with the extremely slow pace of the diplomacy; he decided to launch a highly risky military rescue mission known as Operation Eagle Claw, against the opinions of many of his advisers. What was supposed to be an elite rescue mission into the embassy compound was met with an unprecedented severe desert storm.  Resulting in malfunctioning helicopters and one veered into a transport plane which killed eight American servicemen causing the operation to be aborted. After the failed plan, Iranians refused to comply and the crisis worsened. President Carter swore that he will solve the Iranian crisis before his term ends. But as the Campaign drained its resources, the nation also entered a period of recession due to lack of funding greatly challenging the Carter Administration.

Due to failures of the president in resolving the crisis at hand, critics and opponents arose and assailed President Carter trying to make him lose support and power. At the same time, the Iranian Parliament was holding elections and Iranian hardliners were hoping to win control so they could then speed up the process of the hostage release. The democrats themselves claimed “Carter is such a bad man that he has to be defeated even if it means a Reagan Presidency.” In June, Kennedy won five out of eight primaries and had the support of 2123 delegates. President Carter advised Hamilton Jordan to drop out from personal matters to focusing full time on the Presidential campaign to re-elect Carter. On the Penultimate day Kennedy says that he concedes in the race and begins to help President Carter in an attempt to win over Ronald Reagan. In July of 1980, Reagan discusses with former president Gerald Ford of what he would do with his presidency and how Ford could be his Vice president. Another crisis introduces itself to the Carter Administration now brought onto them by President Carter’s brother Billy Carter. Billy Carter “making capital of his brother’s success … never accepted responsibility for the trouble his actions caused the President” which lead to “Billygate”; a scandal where Billy Carter was proven to have had connections with the Libyans”, causing the people to believe that if Carter was unable to solve his own brother’s problem, how could he plan to govern the nation? Due to this the President’s approval rating dropped by 12 percent, and the Billy Carter Scandal was the bane of the Carter Administration. Many people and the Administration itself believed that “Billy Carter’s shenanigans with the Libyans have hurt Jimmy Carter more than Watergate hurt Nixon”. On July 27, the United States re-opened negotiations with Iran using the Shah’s death to fuel the process.

Despite the “Billygate” scandal, Carter held a more stable and stronger position in the presidential race in October 1980. In a speech in Chicago, President Carter caught the support of many Americans by exposing Reagan; “if Reagan were to be elected it would divide the country, black from white, Jew from Christian, North from South, rural from urban.” As Carter began rebuilding his support, Reagan exposed financial problems and how the recession was brought about by Carter. The Iranian Parliament sent a message that they planned to meet on November 2 to further discuss the hostage crisis and work together on a solution to help both nations. The presidential election seemed not to rely on the primaries that were yet to be held, but rather the crisis in Iran that shocked the nation through and through. As crisis looked to have no solution, in the span of one day Carter lost all of his supporters’ and it was predicted that Reagan would win by a landslide of 10 points. In December although Reagan started roughly, the presidential election swayed in his favor after it became a referendum on Carter rather than a race between the two. Reagan had won the election as the 40th president of the United States of America and was to take office in January 1981. Hours after his farewell speech, the Iranian Hostage crisis seemed to have been resolved, as the remaining 52 hostages were released on January 21, 1981 right after he officially left office.

Hamilton Jordan tries to convey how despite striving towards success, the Carter Administration’s time had run out and met an abrupt end. He builds up the Inaugural day with glory and how Carter was “ingenious” and “glorified in his methods of solving problems”, however then came the disastrous Iranian hostage crisis which turned the tables for the worse. Another example is the Presidential election, as Carter at the end looked like he could pull off a win over Reagan, but last second, in the span of a night, he loses by a landslide due to the multitude of crises during his term.

Hamilton Jordan was the Chief of Staff to President Carter and wrote the book while being in office with Carter. Hence the book is tended to have a bias towards the better views of Carter as Jordan was working under him and was very close to the President. Jordan’s point of view was influenced heavily by being Carter’s right hand man as well as him being a Democrat writing about a Democratic president whom he served under. The proximity between the two can be expressed in Carter’s farewell; “The brief exchanges were filled with emotion – [Carter says] we’ve been through too much together not to stay close. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I attempted a smile”. Although published in 1982, it was written first hand during the Carter Administration and brought about the reasons why Carter faced many troubles and how his inability to multitask and solve all the problems at hand led to a very unsuccessful presidency.

The book Crisis: the Last Year of the Carter Presidency is one that has two very important aspects says a well-known site for reviews on politically significant books. For one the book shows how different the time and politics were back then, when compared to modern times, “how the problems of the last year of the Carter Presidency seem so simple compared to what we face today”. As the book follows a diary format, it gives “insights” on how the “re-election year campaign failed” and why the Iranian Crisis was the heart of it all. Therefore, a presidency is restricted by power and hindrances that are passed down with him, thus is the power that democracy wields and Crisis gives you the power to re-vision the past, of the last year of the Carter administration. Another site is known for reviewing controversial topic of United States history. The critic states how “this account is valuable not so much for precise events recounted as for what it reveals of the frustrations endured and the incapacity displayed by the Administration in dealing with an intractable situation.” This reveals how even the author was not put in a good situation after the book’s publication.

Crisis: the Last Year of the Carter Presidency is a spectacular work that explores the final years of the Carter Administration. It conducts a perfect job in discussing the multiple crises faced throughout the novel each crisis has its own effect on the administration and brings to the table a new element, “1980 was pure hell-the Kennedy challenge, Afghanistan, having to put the SALT Treaty on the Shelf, the recession, Ronald Reagan, and the hostages . . . always the hostages! It was one crisis after another”. This is an informative read, which reveals the deepest and darkest things of the Carter Presidency.

The crisis was the major reason why Carter was not reelected, combined with the other crises that later piled over such as the recession, Afghan-Soviet war, and especially “Billygate”. Thus the Carter Administration was already set up to topple over even before it could even think of trying to hold off for another term, “imagine how Jimmy Carter would respond to his defeat… challenge of working to liberate the hostages probably insulated him from facing the question of what a former President does with his life”.

As time shaved off, the problems sharpened till they eventually dug deep into the skin of the Administration that when taken out crippled it till the day it crumbled in retirement. Although President Jimmy Carter served the nation with his utmost intentions he will always be remembered for the atrocious ending of his term: that year when America exhausted of its troubles fell into an irreversible state of panic for over a decade after the Carter Administration.


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