Jimmy Carter owes Barack Obama a debt of gratitude. Why? Because Obama’s response to recent attacks against U.S. diplomatic outposts in places like Benghazi, Cairo and Khartoum makes Carter’s handling of the Iran Hostage Crisis almost 33 years ago look pretty good by comparison.
Recently-freed Americans held hostage by Iran disembark from their aircraft upon arrival Jan. 27, 1981, at Andrews AFB, Md. (DoD photo)
Carter’s crisis began Nov. 4, 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries invaded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans — including several members of the Marine Security Guard Battalion — as hostages and held them for 444 days. It ended Jan. 20, 1981, moments after President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office and completed his inauguration speech.
Though Carter’s presidency will forever be remembered as much for the ill-fated “Desert One” rescue attempt as for anything else, one has to give the peanut farmer from Plains, Ga., credit for having recognized that the violation of U.S. soil and sovereignty that took place in Iran constituted an act of war.
The soil upon which each U.S. embassy stands has been considered sovereign U.S. territory, regardless of location, for more than 200 years, according to Michael Wardell, a 47-year-old retired Marine who’s military experience included serving embassy duty at posts in Central and West Africa and Japan.
“Each embassy represents a place where diplomacy can and should take place between representatives of the United States and the host nation — even if relations are strained or past the tipping point of war,” said Wardell.
If you think Wardell’s observations are a bit strong, consider the point of view from which he offers it; Wardell’s job, he said, was to secure and defend the Chancery and then wait for help to arrive. Until then, he and his fellow Marines were to stand ready to bring pain or death upon anyone who breached the perimeter and violated American sovereignty.
Marine Cpl. Michael Wardell, right, works with a fellow Marine to raise the U.S. flag following the July 11, 1987, presentation of credentials by U.S. Ambassador Stephen R. Lyne in Accra, Ghana.
“Standing ready” in the central African republic of Burundi during the early 1990s meant being prepared at all times as turmoil, Wardell said, even as more than 800,000 host-nation citizens (i.e., Hutu and Tutsi tribesmen), were dying amidst civil strife outside the gates. Further, it meant being ready to use all means available to stop anyone from breaching the embassy’s perimeter and violating sovereign American soil.
As a result of what happened in Tehran more than three decades ago, Wardell said, the Marine Corps changed forever how it would handle matters of security at embassies around the world. Likewise, those events resulted in Marines preparing, over and over again, for scenarios exactly like those that have played out in the news media in recent days.
As a result of these most-recent violations of our national sovereignty, Wardell holds some strong feelings about the handling, or mishandling, of recent events.
“Do I believe we should go to war with these countries over these invasions to our sovereign territory? No,” he explained. “Not yet at least.
“The first thing that needs to happen is we need to boot all of their personnel out of our country,” he continued, “and, if we decide to leave their country as well, so be it; because, once we leave, they have nowhere else to attack.”
In addition, Wardell said, the United States should ignore leaders of countries like Sudan when they tell us our Marines cannot assist in the evacuation of American diplomats.
“We send them in anyway,” Wardell said. “There will be plenty of time to repair diplomatic relations later. And on our terms.”