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tv   Taken Hostage  CSPAN  November 3, 2019 8:04am-8:31am EST

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keep reminding people not to romanticize the west that truly was never romantic at all. it was hard work, it was dangerous. very few people succeeded. trying to tell stories and ah-ha momentve an for visitors is truly what we are about. announcer: are cities tour staff recently traveled to wyoming to learn about its rich history. to watch more video from other rg.ps, visit c-span.ot you're watching american history tv all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. years ago, iranian protesters stormed the u.s. embassy in tehran, taking 56 american hostages.
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farber talksdavid about his book "taken hostage" which chronicles their ordeal and examined the u.s. government's first encounter with radical islam. >> i think the 1979-1980 hostage crisis between the united states really set the tone. it was really a significant juncture point in how people thought about political islam, the nation of iran, and how they think about us. there were two movements and iran, both of which involve the united states. there was an insurgency within iran, so the union was trying to foster a communist insurgency. we worried a lot about that and ah becauseith the sh he crushed that communist percent. i do think most american
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political elites thought much about the islamic distance -- the dissidents in that state. part of the reason i wrote that book is that i was trying to get across how reasonably so, but narrowly so americans tended to look at our alliances in that part of the world. didn't really think of islam as a political force. we cheered on who we thought of as coppola's developed. we hoped for democratic development. we didn't typically see the green revolution coming. states and iran have had a complicated relationship for a long time. really, since the 1950's. until the 1950's, iran was kind of a client state of great britain. , thehen world war ii ended united states step forward and one of the things we talked about his we became very involved.
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the iranians would say, too much involved your most famously, 1953, the united states using the pretty much brand-new cia helped engineer a coup and that put into power the shah who was a good friend of the united states. after that, the iranian people were of two mines. those who were pro-shah, more secular oriented people. they tended to look favorably upon the united states. other iraniansf did not look so favorably on the united states and really from that coup forward until the islamic revolution, there were a lot of people in iran who look at the united states, and the phrase has become "the great satan." it is interesting to see when the united states relies they do
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not have a good handle on what was happening in iran. it was really interesting that we have as great relationship in terms of training their new elites. if you were a bright iranian man or woman, mostly men, you probably came to a u.s. university. this starts in the 1960's. think what happening in the united states. these young iranians are exposed not just to the wonders of the universities, but to the dissidents of the 1960's students. and madecalized some them think about their own voices and their own set of concerns. this was a complication for america's relationship with iran. did not expect his young people to come home of a political consciousness. he wanted them to come home with a technocratic consciousness. engineers, doctors, not threats to his regime. revolution is a
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messy affair. not clear to those who are revolting what is going to happen. they don't know the endpoint. they are living through chaos and violence and turmoil and they are all vying for legitimacy. , it's notn revolution really clear who's going to take control. there's all kinds of factions. there is a democratic liberal faction, there's a parliamentary republican faction. there is an islamist faction which once a deoxy. they are all vying for control. they are all trying to find tools for legitimacy. -- when he returns from france to come back to iran, he is treated broadly as he liberatory figure. not because he is going to become a theocratic leader of the country, there were people
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who were cheering that on. summer of 1979, his faction, the more islamist faction, the theocratic faction is gaining power and prominence. young people in particular are trying to figure out what kind of government in they want to live with? who do they want as their leader? how do they stand up for an autonomous iran? unfortunately,e, a decision by some young people to unify their country. they dreamed in a way by creating a next her enemy. peopleying the iranian who are factionalized at this point around one big enemy. we in the united states, almost none of us knew about the 1953 coup. we thought of us as a progressive force for the iranian people. again, they had the memory of
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that seared into their minds. this was part of their historical memory. we are a potential enemy. we are the ones who kept the military and power, who gave him this brutal, internal force and authority. these students begin to plan. let's protest against the u.s. embassy. counter-coup against the growing autonomy of the iranian people. protests begin. it's not clear exactly who that government is. and one movement continues in the midst of many protests, they decide that they are going to make a powerful protest against the u.s. embassy. later, wen decades are not 100% sure what happened or who saw what. there is a strong argument to be made that a group of these students from the universities
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in tehran decide to emulate the african-american civil rights front. they are going to have a sit in at the u.s. embassy to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the american government's presence in their country and the weakness against american policy. when those iranian students decided to make those protests, to possibly hold a sit in, i think all along, there were some who knew they were going to go further. what happens is really a kind of catastrophic affair from so many angles. there were thousands of people protesting outside the u.s. embassy. this one group decides, this group of students, to climb the fence, to come into the u.s. embassy and hold a sit in, maybe to do more. for the american government, it wasn't clear what to do even at that moment of crisis. what is the job of the u.s. marine corps?
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mobs of people, we know this for subsequent tragedies. you have to count on local governments to protect the international diplomatic immunity of your enzi personnel. well, the iranian government didn't do that. and those students who jumped the barricades and climbed into the u.s. embassy suddenly realized they kind of had to do what they wanted. instead of just a peaceful sit in, very quickly it evolved into a hostage situation in which the americans did not fight back exceeded to, they just take over. it was not short-lived, it was 444 days of the seizure of the u.s. embassy. people understood in the u.s. embassy that trouble was brewing in the ron. there was a revolution going on. there have been attempts to fortify the embassy but you can only do so much.
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sense ofhere was a trouble in the ron, the u.s. embassy which had been a massive ofair, with huge numbers personnel, had cut back to only the absolute necessary folks. i think at the moment, there were 66 people still working at the embassy. this embassy had hundreds of people in it. they knew they were risking position, they knew this was dangerous. but i don't think any of them expected what was going to happen. ins is all occurring november, 19 79, almost exactly one year before the 1980 presidential election with jimmy carter is in what we now know is the final year of his presidency. and he knew he was going to run for reelection. this was a difficult, arguably catastrophic event for his presidential administration. i think when it first happened, and he was first alerted to what was going on, he probably saw it as an opportunity.
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carter was being criticized from several directions. economic reasons, political reasons, cultural reasons. foreign policy reasons. knew if he was going to get reelected he was going to have to convince the american people that he was strong, but he was capable, that he could take care of american business. i think at the very beginning when this took off, carter saw perhaps a chance to show leadership. trying tohese thugs take over the u.s. embassy in the midst of turmoil. carter would show strong leadership, negotiate his way out of this. there would be a happy ending. it could not have gone worse. carter did something that in retrospect probably wasn't wise. he took upon himself the leadership for solving this, what he thought was probably a short-term crisis.
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and he went out in front, he talked to the american people and he instructed his staff that he wanted hands-on responsibility. who veryways a man much managed the situations before he was not a delegator like ronald reagan would be. that by seizing the stage, taking care of this trouble, the american people would see him as a strong leader. he basically did everything right, that is the irony of the situation. he quickly got a hold of the iranians, he talked to people who we thought were responsible figures. again, the iranian government is nationalized, not exactly clear who is in charge of what. h was still seen as a figurehead. who exactly to talk to was a riddle for the american government. step-by-step move through the process to resolve this issue.
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what he didn't realize was that there were factions in iran that did not want to resolve this issue. that this crisis was good for the iranian factions wanting to create an islamic state. they wanted to maintain a crisis with the united states. an americant government trying to rationally resolve a very unpleasant diplomatic problem and you have a faction within iran who want to foster and inflame this crisis to gain legitimacy for , trying to faction seek total control of the islamic government by that time. two negotiating partners who have very different interest. in terms of the takeover of the u.s. embassy, religion had always been a factor. there was a strong sense that many of those protesting outside the embassy -- because this doesn't happen in one day, it takes place over time -- that there were strong islamic
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presences. again, and a faction of the revolutionary movement are islamic students and islamists of all kinds. so, the united states government is conscious of that, but doesn't really see them as a primary threat. we are still thinking communists, we are still thinking the communist party of the ron. that tothe real fear, become a proxy state of the soviet union. all that oil suddenly under soviet control. really take as seriously as we needed to the islamic presence. it was there. it was obvious. the cia knew. it was not foremost in their minds. so, what happens when the students come in and despite the fact that they claim that it was peaceful, a few of them had weapons. some of that was off from the beginning.
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first sees the hostages thinking it might only be a day, two days, a few days. as time goes on and things don't get resolved, decisions are being made in all parts of the iranian government. one decision that is kind of iraniansng is the decide that because they are good, islamic people, it's not right to keep women as hostages. it's inappropriate. so they give the women members of the delegation the right to leave and almost all of them do. decision,g political the real irony is the iranian revolution. all the black members of the delegation, they are released. they are free to go. several of the marine guards were african-american.
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so, you suddenly go from 66 down to 53 at this point. they are playing a political game and this is done in full view of the cameras. meanwhile, the iranian government is trying to decide what is going on. is this good, is this bad? ayatollah's faction, they see this as useful. they are his people. the iranian people are responding positively to this. and a lot of them are like, we are showing those americans what for. here we are, the one victim of america, now we are in control of america. and this gave his faction a lot of credibility. a lot of legitimacy. and so, maybe we shouldn't let them go. suddenly, you get a stalemate.
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fairly quickly, black americans are given permission to leave if they choose. women are given permission to leave. but the others, no. there is a side story to this which is at the moment of takeover, a few american embassy personnel escape, that great movie that got made by ben affleck and others, six americans have escaped and run through the streets, that is a whole other story. there's hostages escaping, they root in the canadian embassy. but the others are sitting there blindfolded but by no means being housed comfortably as the days start to tick on. for the american government, it was a really hard decision. leverage point? how do you fix that situation? jimmy carter is very methodical in a good sense. he kind of goes through every
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plausible avenue of consideration to release the hostages peacefully. so, we go from diplomatic talks to sanctions. this economic sanctions that play a vital role in donald trump considerations many years later. we use everyn., possible ally we have and they are all on or. our regional allies are on board. none of it works. so, all along, the military has been planning for alternative scenarios. but what is it? one, five months go on. carter says we have picked through every possible point of pressure and none of them are working. is there anything else we can do? and the pentagon steps up and says we have been practicing, we have a plan. take a few to helicopters, fly them in, having
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-- toy placed personnel this day, we literally don't know every detail of this. but people have been placed securely to facilitate the release. the idea was that helicopters would fly in, come onto the embassy grounds, and freida hostages. military hasates tremendous capacities. we didn't necessarily have tremendous capacities in 1980. climbedeer this kind of specialn -- clandestine operation rescue attempt. the israelis had done something like it in the 1970's. we trained, we learn from the israelis. but we had never really done anything like this or as a military, it was really hard operating in desert conditions,
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enemies everywhere, no support system. there were a lot of reasons this wasn't going to go well. from the iranian perspective, it didn't go well. the helicopters begin flying in to tehran and have to fly over the desert and fly low to try to escape any supervision or surveillance. and just terrible luck with dust storms, a sandstorm blows up and does a number on the mechanical parts of the helicopter and all hell breaks loose. helicopters are grounded, they crash into each other. the operation doesn't even get to tehran, it just fails. men died. the one military operation that is tried is just a disaster. boy, does that hurt jimmy carter's chances for reelection. the iranian hostage crisis arguably never happily resolves
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itself in any expeditious way. it goes on month after month after month. after a year, things are still terrible, but a new attempt had been made to bring in a third-party mediator. the algerian government. the algerian government was not from the united states. the revolutionary government and its own right, but good international players? legitimate international players saying we think we can help in this situation. and they are right, the iranians look at them as fellow revolutionaries, it was ultimately islamic country although they don't have an islamic government at that point. likelgerians go in there switzerland, they do a really good job, slowly working through the problems and negotiating a point by point issues. algerians get a lot of
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credit for resolving this issue. the iranians play one last hard joker, president carter, they are fed up with him, they are furious about the military rescue attempt, they refuse to allow the on syrians to resolve the issue and to free the american hostages. until jimmy carter is out of office and ronald reagan is sworn in. it's not until the inauguration of ronald reagan, 40 four days after the hostage taken that finally puts americans are let going. it's 1981 and ronald reagan is the president of the united states. and it's an interesting moment in world affairs. on one hand you might think the new reagan administration could islamistrd this new presence in iran and growing presence in the region and say we've got a new threat, we got a new challenge. how are we going to resolve this issue? but that is not what ronald reagan's head was thinking.
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he is a warrior. he is focused on the soviet union. residence, aist challenge in presents is basically put way deep in the background. have a terrible relationship with iran, we don't resolve it during the regular administration, we don't recognize their government. we keep, as donald trump would tell us later, a huge hunk of their money hostage in our banks. and we just have deteriorating back story relationships with iran. irony is that during the same time that ronald reagan sees opportunity with a different islamist group, a group that eventually would be called al qaeda in afghanistan. so, because he is such a fierce anti-communist warrior, ronald reagan chooses to side with the islamic revolutionaries in afghanistan.
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provide them weapons, training, money. islam is ins say presents an interesting challenge, we don't treat it seriously. we embrace it in afghanistan because they are anti-soviet. that did not turn out so well. the united states began to take more seriously the changing temperaments of the middle east, you can make a case by the late 1980's. was growing, we had people who could speak arabic more commonly. but we still did not treat it as a central problem. in 2001, iccurs think overwhelmingly for americans and even government elites, there was a shock. why has this happened to us? the kind of anger and disrespect that many people in the middle east had for the united states was still a mystery to us. while we had certainly increased our capacities, we never took it
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seriously as we might have that growing crisis in that part of the world. later, we areears still trying to figure out who our friends and our enemies are in the middle east. and how do we keep the islamist challenge manageable? and how do we keep the islamist challenge manageable. we are still struggling to find the answer in that part of the world. answers. no easy that is what jimmy carter understood back in 1979. ago, iranian students stormed the u.s. embassy in tehran and took hostages, setting off a crisis that would continue until january 20, 1981. hostages whoformer worked in the carter administration at the time join us to take your calls and
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tweets. first, a clip from the 1989 documentary "444 days to freedom," which looks at the first moments of the crisis. ♪

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