Debacle

The December issue of The Atlantic featured an excerpt from Mark Bowden’s forthcoming book on the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam. The April Atlantic now features a second excerpt as its cover story: “The Desert One Debacle.” The Atlantic has set up a special page for the excerpt, loading interviews adjacent to the text and providing many links to related materials.

Bowden is of course the former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and author of distinguished books including Black Hawk Down. I spoke briefly with Bowden this past November in connection with the first excerpt, and it was evident that his forthcoming book is based on the same kind of exhaustive research that made Black Hawk Down so riveting.

At that time I asked Bowden if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the president of Iran — was involved in the hostage seizure. Bowden told me that his reporting establishes that Ahmadinejad was one of the central figures in the student group that planned the seizure and took over the American embassy. Initially Ahmadinejad supported the takeover of the Soviet embassy, but he changed his view when Khomeni endorsed the takeover of the American embassy the evening of the takeover.

Given his position with the student group, Bowden surmised that Ahmadinejad was one of its ringleaders. Moreover, he was identified as one of the group’s ringleaders by every one of the dozen or so hostage takers Bowden interviewed in Tehran in 2004 before Ahmadinejad became president. (Bowden disregards as ambiguous the photograph of the Ahmadinejad lookalike with a hostage.) Thus Iran not only presents one of the greatest threats to American security in the world. The United States has a debt of honor to settle with its odious president.

Bowden’s book could not be more timely. When the Carter administration finally abandoned the hand-wringing with which it responded to the protracted humiliation of the United States by the Khomeni regime, it resorted to the ineffectual rescue mission that compounded the humiliation. Could that mission ever have succeeded? Was it right to make rescue of the hostages the objective of our military response to the crisis? The current excerpt of Bowden’s book focuses on the rescue mission, and it makes your blood boil all over again, not just by virtue of the recollection of the Iranian tormentors of our captive compatriots. (Thanks to Atlantic online producer Ken Berard.)

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