Giuliani Tries to Use the 1980 “October Surprise” as Ammunition for His Campaign
I find this infuriating.
In a recent speech Rudy Giuliani brought up the theme, as he does whenever he opens his mouth, about how tough Republicans are compared to Democrats. This particular speech dwelt on a comparison of the handling of the Iranian hostage crisis by Presidents Carter and Reagan. The point of Giuliani’s speech – which I’m sure he’ll repeat a hundred times between now and the end of his campaign – was that Jimmy Carter the Democrat was “weak” and Ronald Reagan the Republican was “strong”, and that’s why President Carter was unable to secure the release of our hostages for over a year, while Reagan was able to secure their release within an hour of his inauguration.
I can’t find a link to the exact speech, but no matter because Giuliani apparently is spouting this garbage wherever he goes these days. Here’s a typical example of how Giuliani dramatizes how Reagan secured the release of our hostages within two minutes of being sworn in as President:
“Remember, they looked in Ronald Reagan's eyes, and in two minutes they released the hostages.”
Uhhhhh – ok, I didn’t know that the Iranians attended Reagan’s inauguration, but I’m sure Rudy would know. Or maybe he’s just speaking metaphorically or something. Anyhow, let’s consider a few things:
The Iranian hostage crisis
You might recall that that the Iranian hostage crisis began on November 4, 1979, when an angry Iranian crowd seized the American embassy in Tehran and kidnapped approximately 90 Americans, 52 which they held as hostages until the Iranians released them on January 20, 1981, about two minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President. But actually, the roots of the crisis go back much further than that, so let’s go back to 1953:
In 1953, CIA Director Allen Dulles convinced President Eisenhower to accede to a CIA plot to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohmmad Mosaddeq. Reasons included Mosaddeq’s recent nationalization of Iran’s oil industry and fear that his leftist leanings would make him susceptible to Communist influence. The CIA-led coup was successful, and Mosaddeq was replaced by the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ruled Iran with an iron fist for the next 26 years, to the great detriment of the Iranian people. That coup has been a major factor in anti-American feeling in Iran and in the Middle East in general, ever since.
In January 1979 the Iranian people finally deposed the Shah, and he fled the country. In October of that year Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah into the United States to be treated for cancer. That was perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back, which angered the Iranians and led them to seize the American embassy and take hostage the Americans within it.
President Carter attempted to deal with the crisis in many ways: He applied economic pressure by stopping the import of oil from Iran and freezing Iranian assets in the U.S.; he tried several diplomatic initiatives, dealing with emissaries from several other countries; and when all that failed he ordered a daring rescue mission, which failed when a helicopter crashed in an Iranian desert.
Back to Rudy’s stupid claim
I think there’s one point on which we can all agree with Rudy: After 444 days of captivity during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, the release of the American hostages within two minutes of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan was no coincidence. If any further proof is needed, the fact that the hostages had been sitting for several hour in a plane, which took off for the U.S. a couple minutes after Reagan was sworn in, should end all speculation on that score. Anyhow, Alex Higgins has a response to Giuliani’s comments that would make good material for a Saturday Night Live skit:
Trying to enter this fantasy takes some mental effort. Picture the Ayatollah Khomeini toying with President Jimmy Carter and laughing at him. Suddenly, newly-elected Reagan comes on the TV screen as the new president. The mocking mullahs wet themselves as they stare into his hard-man eyes and immediately agree to release all hostages, saying they are very sorry and won’t do it again and please be nice to us, Mr. Reagan, sir. That is the image Giuliani was presumably trying to get across. He is apparently quite serious, and no one else at the debate called him on it.
In any event, after Carter lost his election bid for a second term, he continued to vigorously work towards the release of the hostages – an effort that apparently ended in success. Higgins explains:
Carter hoped desperately to salvage his reputation by bringing the hostages home before he left the White House. As inauguration day came closer, he became practically an insomniac – the hostages dominated his waking thoughts, and he stayed awake to have them. In the end he was reduced to hoping they might be released in the final minutes of his presidency. On Inauguration Day itself, at 6:35 in the morning, Carter’s chief negotiator, Warren Christopher, rang him from Algiers to say that a deal with the Iranians had been concluded, with Iran being granted none of its major demands. The 52 remaining hostages were coming home.
Hmmm – So why did Iran wait until Reagan was inaugurated before releasing the hostages?
This is a very important question. Moreover, since Rudy repeatedly brings it up to fuel his campaign by using it to prove how strong Republicans are and how weak Democrats are, it is a question that deserves a lot of thought.
In trying to answer this question, I think that there are four points on which all reasonable persons can agree:
1) The release of the hostages by the Iranians didn’t occur in a vacuum – rather, it must have been based on an agreement that the Iranians reached with representatives of the United States, more specifically with a U.S. presidential administration (or potential administration), and more specifically yet, with either the Carter-Mondale or the Reagan-Bush administration.
2) The timing of the hostage release, just a couple of minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President, was no coincidence. It was specifically designed to give Ronald Reagan credit for the hostage release that Jimmy Carter had worked so long and hard for, and therefore it was designed to make Reagan look good or Carter look bad or both.
3) Therefore, common sense would tell us, in trying to determine whether the Iranian agreement was made with the Carter-Mondale or the Reagan-Bush administration, that it was obviously the Reagan-Bush administration.
4) Lastly, it should be obvious that the deal was not reached in the two minute window following Reagan’s swearing in as President.
So Rudy is correct on all points except for the last one. Ronald Reagan does indeed deserve the credit for arranging the hostage release. And come to think of it, Rudy is not wrong about the fourth point either. He never said that the deal was made within two minutes of Reagan’s swearing in. And surely he’s not stupid enough to think it either. So Rudy was right! Why am I calling him stupid?
But wait! The Reagan-Bush team had no authority to make a deal with the Iranians while Jimmy Carter was President – especially since they never spoke to Carter about it, and since the deal was obviously made while Carter himself was attempting to secure the release of hostages using his authority as President. So it would have been illegal for the Reagan/Bush team to do that. Furthermore, by prevailing upon the Iranians to wait until Reagan took office before releasing the hostages, the Reagan Bush team would have extended the misery of the hostages. And if their deal was made specifically to stop the release of the hostages prior to the 1980 election (so as to improve their chances of winning the election), that would have extended the captivity of the hostages by several months. In that case, their deal would have been especially reprehensible. In fact, it might be considered treasonous.
Evidence that the Reagan/Bush team made a deal with the Iranians to withhold release of the hostages until after the 1980 election
Investigative journalist Robert Parry conducted extensive investigations into this issue and produced documentary that suggested that the Reagan Bush team did in fact negotiate with the Iranians to postpone the release of the hostages. The evidence included more than two dozen witnesses to the negotiations and documentary evidence of shipments of U.S. arms to Iran. The subject of Parry’s allegations is often referred to as the “October Surprise Conspiracy” because the Reagan-Bush team had long warned that Carter would pull an “October Surprise” by announcing the release of the hostages right before the 1980 election.
Not surprisingly, Parry’s investigation and allegations led to the gearing up of the Republican attack machine and two articles, one by The New Republic and one by Newsweek , which debunked the story by finding an alibi for William Casey (the Reagan-Bush campaign chairman) for the period in late July of 1980 during which some witnesses had placed him at a meeting in Madrid. Those stories essentially killed the story in “official” Washington circles, sending it into the realm of “conspiracy theories” – perhaps forever.
But the so-called “debunking” of the “October Surprise” allegations appears to have been based on a fraud. Parry spoke with participants at the conference that had been established for Casey’s alibi, and they all agreed that Casey was not there, thus debunking the alibi. So we have several conference participants versus a single alibi. No matter. Neither the New Republic nor Newsweek ever issued a retraction, so their original stories continued to provide plenty of fuel for Republicans.
Nevertheless a special House Task Force was finally created in 1992. To chair the committee the Democrats picked Lee Hamilton (Yes, the same one who co-chaired the 9-11 Commission), who was well known for his bi-partisanship, mild manners, and willingness to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt when faced with wrong-doing.
While acknowledging that the original alibi, which placed Casey in London on July 28, 1980, was bogus, the Committee proceeded to find another alibi, this one placing Casey in Bohemian Grove, California, during the weekend of July 26th.
When documentary evidence was later found showing that Casey was not in Bohemian Grove the weekend of July 26th, but instead was there the following weekend (of August 2nd), the House Task Force refused to let go. To counter that, they claimed proof that Casey couldn’t have been in Bohemian Grove during the weekend of August 2nd, by finding his phone number on a list of phone calls made to New York that weekend. They had no evidence that he answered a phone call in New York, just a phone number on a list (sigh). Thus the Task Force concluded, despite the documentary evidence to the contrary, that Casey was in Bohemian Grove on July 26th, therefore he couldn’t have attended the meeting in Madrid, and therefore the October Surprise witnesses who placed him there were liars – again. And this was the version of the story that was sent to the printers as the House Task Force report of January 13, 1993, which purportedly debunked the October Surprise Conspiracy theory for all time.
More evidence surfaces prior to the official release of the House Task Force report
But shortly after the House Task Force shipped their report off to the printers, a cable report based on KGB sources arrived from Moscow that supported the October Surprise Conspiracy. As described in Robert Parry’s book, “Secrecy and Privilege – Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq”, the report said that:
CIA officials and other Republicans had met secretly with Iranian officials in Europe during the 1980 Presidential campaign… The Russians asserted that the Reagan-Bush team had disrupted Carter’s hostage negotiations, the exact opposite of the Task Force conclusion…
“William Casey, in 1980, met three times with the Iranian leadership”, the report said. “The meetings took place in Madrid and Paris.” At the Paris meeting in 1980, “Robert Gates… and former CIA Director George Bush also took part,” the Russian report said. “In Madrid and Paris, the representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52 hostages from the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.”
The Russian report wasn’t the only barrier confronting the House Task Force as they prepared to release their report. One Democratic Task Force member, Congressman Mervyn Dymally, submitted a dissent complaining of a host of factors that combined to lead the Task Force to exonerate the Reagan-Bush team on extremely shaky grounds. Hamilton threatened Dymally (See “Dissent denied” section) that if he didn’t withdraw his dissent “I will have to come down hard on you.” After Dymally refused to withdraw his dissent, Hamilton, as chairman of one of Dymally’s committees, fired some of his staff. Dymally then withdrew his dissent in order to prevent further firings of his staff.
Parry tries once again to resurrect the investigation
In a final attempt to investigate the issue, Parry obtained access to some of the House Task Force documents, which he examined in an abandoned ladies room in the Rayburn House Office Building. To Parry’s great surprise, he found among those documents material that had been classified “top secret”, including the Russian report, which supported the October Surprise allegations.
Parry wrote up a report on his findings and tried to get it published in a newspaper or magazine. But it was too late. The story had already been “debunked”, and anyhow, Washington journalism was much too busy with trying to nail Bill Clinton on a minor real estate deal to bother with anything so trivial as a plot to steal a Presidential election by extending the period of captivity of American hostages.
The “October Surprise Conspiracy” in perspective
Some things are just too hot and controversial to talk about.
It’s bad enough that Jimmy Carter’s bid for reelection was thwarted by a cynical, illegal, and probably treasonous meddling with his attempts to secure the release of American hostages; it’s bad enough that our hostages’ misery was consequently prolonged by several months; it’s bad enough that even getting elected wasn’t good enough for the Reagan-Bush team – that they had to prolong the hostage release until after they took office in order to ensure that they would get credit for it; and it’s bad enough that a Congressional committee (under the chairmanship of Lee Hamilton) whitewashed the whole affair for God knows what reasons.
Now, in addition to all that, a Republican candidate for President of the United States is still trying to benefit from the whole sordid affair, by using it to make an ex-Democratic President look weak and an ex-Republican President look strong.
For God’s sake isn’t it time that our corporate news media starts talking about this? Rudy Giuliani brought it up, and apparently he intends to keep on bringing it up. Why doesn’t someone ask him, if he’s so willing to give credit to Ronald Reagan for securing the release of our hostages, to explain to the American people how he thinks Reagan did that?
4. Sorry, but the October Surprise represented a huge failure on Carter's part.
Edited on Sun Jul-08-07 10:34 PM by Matsubara
Carter blew it when he sent in those helicopters, which crashed, and then followed up, with nothing.
Carter would have probably been able to salvage the election, had he immediately followed up the loss of those copters with another, more overwhelming attack and rescue attempt. Even if we lost some of the hostages, he could not have been called "weak".
In a perfect world, Carter's attampts to end the crisis would have been the right thing to do, but he should have known that his adversaries were cutthroat and would stop at nothing to get him out of offfice.
So yeah, Reagan and Bush schemed with the Iranians to get the hostages out when it was convenient for them. That's what republicans do. It's too bad Carter didn't screw up those plans by mounting a massive offensive to get them out.
In case you've forgotten, the overwhelming public sentiment at the time was summed up by the song "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran..." But Carter let the crisis drag on endlessly.
Regardless of any dirty deeds by Reagan/Bush , it was a huge failure on Carter's part. I despised Reagan, but Carter GAVE him the presidency through his consistent weakness and failure to lead. Being president requires more than just being "nice", even if you're a democrat with high ideals.
At least Clinton shone in that respect. He knew how to LEAD.
Oh, but I forgot to mention, Ghouliani's use of the incident to bolster his own campaign is pretty pathetic. I mean, Giuliani had what do do with it? Oh yeah, nothing!
6. I think that the way Carter handled it was far superior to starting a war with Iran
Carter approached the crisis through multiple methods, as I note in the OP. Had not Reagan and Bush interfered, the hostages would have been released while Carter was still President. On the other hand, had Carter started a war with Iran, who knows how many Americans and innocent Iranian civilians would have died and ended up with permanent seriously disabling injuries.
9. It needn't have become a full-scale invasion a la Iraq.
The fact is, had Carter been more forceful in dealing with Iran, it's very likely that he would have won re-election, and our country would be a very different place today. Reagan did irreperable damage to our government, our national psyche, our foreign policy, and our economy. To me, even the costs of a limited war with Iran would have been worth the much greater costs we have paid down the line - IE decimation of American manufacturing, Iran/Contra, two unnecessary wars with Iraq.
Yes, Carter tried multiple tactics, which was fine for a time. But beyond six months, he should have exercised any reasonable military option available. Giving the presidency over to a succession of ultra right-wing thugs was not worth whatver lives might have been saved by avoiding war.
32. Matsubara, I agree with you. It is feasible that Reagan was a traitor AND Carter was weak.
I think President Carter is a noble humanitarian. He has done wonderful things since he left office and he has become a figure of international gravitas. Yet, his handling of the Iran-hostage crisis was, indeed, weak. He should have used more force in gaining the release of the hostages and he should have known that Reagan/Bush were working a sub-rosa (and illegal) deal with the Iranians. He should have known about the treasonous act since he was the sitting president and he should have exposed them for treason. I salivate at the thought of Reagan/Bush in 1979 being charged with treason and instead of winning the presidency, being sentenced for their crimes. A silly fantasy, I know, but one can dream of how different the world would be if all the cherries had not lined up in favor of Reagan/Bush.
40. It sounds to me like you're recommending Democratic presidents become more like right wing thugs
so that they can win elections and prevent right wing thugs from getting into office.
I can't agree with the idea of starting unnecessary wars just so we look "strong" and have a better chance of re-election. That's not leadership in my view. Leadership is explaining to the country why unnecessary wars are unnecessary.
And I don't know what you mean by saying that Carter should have been more "forceful". He was plenty forceful, short of getting into a war. And it worked. The hostages were returned, and they would have been whether or not Reagan and Bush interfered. He was doing what was best for our country, without giving undue consideration to the politics of the matter.
10. Any idea what military officers were in charge of organizing and
Edited on Sun Jul-08-07 11:19 PM by NCevilDUer
carrying out the failed raid?
Carter cannot be blamed for the failure of that raid, and ANY followup would have resulted in the immediate massacre of every one of the hostages. EVERY FUCKING ONE.
Think he didn't know that? You think he actually could have been reelected after causing the deaths of 54 embassy personnel? Not to mention the hundreds, or thousands, that would have died in the subsequent conflict? He would have wound up despised as Johnson was for his war, regardless of any other good he might have done, which would have resulted in the immediate repudiation of the Democratic party and the election of...Ronald Reagan! Just as Johnson's demise led to Nixon.
He was between the rock and the hard place, and he rightfully chose the option which caused the least harm, which killed the fewest people. And then went on to be the best ex-president the Democrats have yet produced. What would his legacy be if he had yielded to the passions of the moment and started a war? Nothing.
It's very easy to sit here and say that "he wasn't strong" enough, blah blah blah. Tell that to tens of thousands of people who didn't get killed or mangled in the war that Carter had the good sense to keep us out of. Just imagine what would have happened had Bush, Cheney, or Giuliani been involved.
19. I'm not disputing any of that. Reagan and Bush were sleazebags...
...but Carter still gave him the presidency.
I know it means a lot to some people to rehabilitate Carter's reputation, and he surely has done a lot of good since leaving office, but I personally think it's important that his failure helped pave the way for Reaganomics, which is still ruining and increasingly polarizing our country into haves and have-nots today. Carter's term was the nail in the coffin of liberalism, because a LOT of people bought the line of bull that Reagan was selling hook, line and sinker. While Reagan's people were very caredul to make sure Reagan looked and sounded good for the cameras, and supplied him with plenty of cute sound bites, Carter was wearing fussy cardigans and giving dour speeches about turning down the thermostat. Zero image consciousness.
And strangely enough, dem candidates still refuse to learn, except for Bill Clinton. He actually seemed to get it.
I could not believe that Kerry hired Carter's guy Shrum, who has never even won an election to my knowledge...
The C-130's with fuel for the final leg of the mission landed and the chopper pilots were ordered to ground-taxi to the refueling point. One pilot became frustrated with the slow progress in the sand and lifted off. He became disoriented from the dust being kicked up by his rotor wash and flew into the refueling plane, touching off a fire and explosion. It was all down hill from there.
5. Great post. Giuliani should read Robert Parry to learn about the October Surprise.
Poppy Bush and William Casey, aided and abetted by current arch-conservatives that include Laurence Silberman, Donald Gregg and Robert Gates, cut a big deal with the Iranians. The Israelis started shipping weapons to Iran and the U.S. started to replace Israeli stockpiles. Many of the same characters show up in Iran-Contra.
29. Thank you -- the fact that so many of the same characters were involved in Iran Contra
Edited on Mon Jul-09-07 09:47 AM by Time for change
appears to suggest that Iran Contra was a continuation of the unwarranted and crimiinal (and possibly treasonous) meddling in the hostage negotiations prior the Reagan-Bush team taking office.
And of course the investigation of Iran Contra, though it got much further and received more media attention than the October Surprise investigation, was also left unfinished -- which is highly unfortunate.
18. Having worked on the Iran Hostage Rescue program,
Edited on Mon Jul-09-07 04:57 AM by formercia
worked with others close to the leadership on the Desert One mission, IMHO, there was no chance for another attempt because all the equipment, list of agents inside Iran and the Op Plan was captured by the Iranians at Desert One.
There were plans for a follow-on mission but there was no serious effort made to implement it.
I think there was a conscious decision made inside the Agency to screw President Carter.
Jimmy Carter did the best job he could to bring the hostages home but the boys fucked him.
I had the best intel source on the mission. I dated the mission commander's ex mistress.
Here's my take on what Rudy is trying to say: I'm one of the boys and we fucked Carter good. Anyone who doesn't do it our way is going to get screwed too.
It seems to me that one of the main reasons that many CIA were against Carter was because they resented what they felt were limitations placed on their activities as a result of Carter's emphasis on human rights. Would you agree with that?
It is very unfortunate that our CIA would be complicit in such nefarious or treasonous activities as to obstruct the efforts of a president to obtain the release of American hostages.
I wonder if many CIA operatives today, given what they have had to put up with over the past 6 and a half years, might long for the good old Jimmy Carter days.
Building fiefdoms and justifying promotions is based on budgets and operations load. The work load was very light under Carter. Things completely changed when Ronnie RayGun, Poppy and Bill Casey came along. All of the pie in the sky projects that the remaining old Viet Nam and Laos hands had tucked away came out of the wood work. They saw a great chance to make it big.
All they did was fuck things up.
The CIA should be in the intelligence business. The paramilitary SOG and other bullshit ops do nothing but get them in trouble.
I bet there's a lot of old hands that wish they had dumped that bunch out of a helo on to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and let the Pathet Lao have a go at them.
In August 1977, CIA Director Stansfield Turner ordered 823 positions within the covert Directorate of Operations eliminated, firing most of the Agency's hard men such as Ted “Blonde Ghost” Shackley, Thomas Clines, and Edwin Wilson. Their response was to take their deadly talents and wares into the private sector. That same year, Armitage left his DIA post in Iran, where he worked with Richard Secord and the Shah’s Secret Police, SAVAK, and was reassigned to State Department cover in Thailand.
In a bid to reestablish their independence, Right-wing Agency operators turned to new sources of cash and foreign patronage, particularly the Saudis, for the resources needed to shake off strictures imposed by President Carter and the Democratic Congress.
43. For that alone Carter should be considered one of our best presidents ever
I know he had faults.
But the crap about him being "weak" is just right wing talking points. It's very disappointing to me that so many people have fallen for it, even some DUers.
It takes a great deal of courage to even try to slow down, let alone put an end to our militaristic culture and the military industrial complex that takes advantage of it. I would just love to have a President who would face them down. But then, I'm sure that s/he would be branded as "weak" for doing that.
Perhaps I should have discussed that in some detail in the OP, but I felt that it was already getting pretty long, and I didn't want it to be so long that people wouldn't take the time to read it. That that is a very important point.
53. I don't think you have to worry about your post being too long
You are a gifted writer. You grabbed my attention, and had me totally engrossed in each word penned. Put that together with your knowledge of history, and analytical skills - WOW! I rarely look at the DU Journals, probably because there is already so much to read, but I did go look at yours, and after writing this, will go back and read more.
About Giuliani, this guy is really grabbing at anything to make himself stand out amid the crowd. Rudy's a pro at self-aggrandizement. I guess spinning the Hostage Crisis is so unique, in his mind, it's bound to make him a winner.
He's looking for a different and unused angle because I'm sure he and his handlers finally got the message that he can't win on "911", "911", "911", "911","911", "911", "911", "911","911", "911", "911", "911","911", "911", "911", "911", alone - most likely I didn't repeat "911", "911", "911", "911" enough to prove he is our hero and most qualified for POTUS :puke:
My bet, he won't use the hostage crisis for long, because the criminals who sold those arms to our avowed enemy back then, are the same criminals wanting a confrontation with Iran today. I could be wrong, but these war-for-profit men certainly don't want to remind the American people of their deceptive practices "Arming and conspiring with our enemies - is the tough Republican way." Especially when they're all acting so big, tough and strong wanting to go over and kick some ass with the lives of taxpayers and voters. Oh, what a tangle web they weave ...
That's a good point about why the Republicans may want to drop this issue real quick. It seems kind of idiotic that Giuliani brought it up in the first place. Hopefully someone will call him on it before they drop it, and ideally the Dems can use this as an opening to clear up a few things.
28. Abbie Hoffman suspiciously died after exposing Oct. Surprise
Abbie Hoffman was a well-known 1960s "yippie" and activist all through the 70s and 80s. In Oct. 1988 he was driving from New England to Chicago to deliver a manuscript to Playboy magazine about the October Surprise when he was involved in a suspicious car accident. He managed to get on a plane and still deliver the manuscript--with broken ribs and a broken ankle.
In April 1989 he died of a huge overdose of Phenobarbitol--called "suicide"--3 months into the new presidency of GHWBush.
some details about treasonous October Surprise, & GHWBush's involvement in it "beyond all shadow of any doubt" (brief excerpt from "The Octopus, Secret Government, and the Death of Danny Casolaro") (registration required): http://www.american-buddha.com/wilcher.octopus.htm
The excerpt also highlights the "mysterious" deaths of 3 others who worked to expose Bush Sr's shadow govt.
30. Oct. Surprise was an act of treason, therefore it is very fittiing
that repuke Ghouliani should bring that out as something to brag about. It is also quite telling that there really is NOTHING that the denture-wearing scumbucket CAN point to as a rethuglican "achievement."
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