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Omeed Ansari

Omeed Ansari

Professor Friedman

HIST-461-001

December 3, 2018

The Journey of President Carter’s Foreign Policy: From Idealist to Realist

When it comes to President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, people usually remember his failures with the Iranian Hostage Crisis as well as the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. But the few good things his foreign policy is remembered for are the Camp David Accords and the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. His foreign policy is usually highlighted for its weakness, even with his successes. When running for office, President Carter wanted his foreign policy to follow his morals which correlated to a huge emphasis on human rights. In addition, “Carter believed in the rule of law in international affairs and in the principle of self-determination for all people. Moreover, he wanted the United States to take the lead in promoting universal human rights. Carter believed that American power should be exercised sparingly and that the United States should avoid military interventions as much as possible.” All these beliefs vastly differed from the two previous administrations of President Nixon and Ford. Stats have shown, “That under Presidents Nixon and Ford foreign assistance was directly related to levels of human rights violations, i.e. more aid flowed to regimes with higher levels of violation, while under President Carter no clear statistical pattern.” While his personal beliefs of using “power for good” did have its successes, it also allowed for failures and the criticism that came with it. Overall “Carter did have a foreign-policy vision. He had a vision for the country’s role in the world, a doctrine, an understanding of the use of force, and a passion to find peace in the Middle East, although he recognized that many of his positions, especially ones based on religion, would make him unpopular with certain elements in Washington.” But when certain geopolitical events, altered his traditional foreign policy method, President Carter took a turn into strategy. His change in foreign policy went from more of an idealistic approach to a realistic approach. President realized that having an idealistic approach to all things foreign policy wouldn’t be in the best interest of the United States. However, this new approach didn’t translate in the way President Carter had hoped for. Throughout his four years in office, President Jimmy Carter was leading the free world in times they’ve never seen before. From facilitating a peace agreement between former enemies, dealing with a revolution in a country with very close ties to America, to being in a Cold War with Soviet Union, President Carter foreign policy was involved everywhere. With an idealistic approach to start with, President Carter realized that a change into realism was better for the interest of the United States.

When entering the 1976 election, Jimmy Carter was the relatively unknown governor of Georgia. However, his anonymity helped him more than he could have imagined. Just two years before the election, President Nixon resigned for office for his role and coverup in the Watergate scandal. Watergate angered Americans, as they were in disbelief that someone of such power could abuse it and take advantage of this system. In addition, the handling of the Vietnam War caused all-time lows of the public’s perception of the government. Both caused an anti-government, anti-Washington sentiment throughout the country, which Jimmy Carter took advantage of. Jimmy Carter portrayed himself as a simple man, a DC outsider who could help clean up the mess in Washington.

After dealing with a crowded Democratic field, Carter won the Democratic nomination and faced President Ford in the general election. Many believe that President Ford hurt his chances of reelection, by pardoning his predecessor, President Nixon. In addition to his pardon, President Ford was dealing with an economy that had high levels of inflation as well as an energy crisis. Even with these issues, President Ford made the race tighter than expected, but ended up losing to Carter.

Even though his outsider status brought him to the presidency, it also brought in criticism with a focus on his foreign policy. As the governor of Georgia, President Carter never really dealt with international affairs. So, as he rose to the national stage so did the criticism about how he’d handle his foreign policy. An example of the criticism, comes from President Ford’s team as they are preparing for a debate. In their debate notes about Carter’s foreign policy, they stated, “Carter talks more in generalities than specifics about his own plans. His "basic principles," he says, are to make our policies more open and honest, to treat the people of other nations "as individuals: (sic), to restore the moral content to foreign policy, and to aim policies at building a "just and peaceful world order."’ To avoid having a general foreign policy, President Carter started to define his foreign policy, by having a focus on human rights. Just as his focus on human rights was political, due to its popularity with the public, it was personal as well as President Carter lived his own life in a moral way. He expands on this in a speech given to those attending the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Carter states, “As long as I am president, the government of the United States will continue throughout the world to enhance human rights …No force on earth can separate us from that commitment.” Until he got elected, there was no direct details on how he’d correlate his idea of human rights to his foreign policy. However, as he came to power, a more direct and detailed approach was formulated.

As he started his presidency, President Carter stated that his foreign policy initiative on human rights was “Promoting "human freedom" worldwide and protecting "the individual from the arbitrary power of the state.” All these ideas were based off the United Nation’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Carter believed that not only did the United States have to be accountable on human rights, but its allies as well, no matter the consequence. As the ambition was there for human rights, the results didn’t live up to the hype President Carter had. The president Carter was tough on the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc on their human rights violations, as well as suspending aid towards governments with terrible human rights such as Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador. On the flip side, the Carter administration also lessen their human rights talk about the Soviet Union after the Soviets agreed to talk about an arms agreement. Carter also provided arms to the Iranian military, even though the Shah of Iran was violently repressing his opponents and was violating many human rights. As the president who put human rights in the spotlight like no one else, and to not follow through with it perfectly, allowed for criticism and calls of weakness on President Carter. Such criticisms would temporarily come a halt thanks to the Camp David Accords.

Up until 1978, Israel and Egypt had very limited success in accomplishing peace between themselves. Both countries have a very complicated history with each other, as they’ve both been fighting for each other land. But with new hope and opportunities from both the Egyptians and Israelis, President Carter saw a chance for peace began the secret negotiations of the Camp David Accords. In late 1977, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt shocked the world on his intentions of visiting Jerusalem in Israel. This announcement came after years of fighting between the Arab states, which Egypt was a part of, and Israel. Seeing that an actual olive branch was being offered by Egyptians, the Israelis decided to follow through with the offer and welcomed President Sadat to the country. This visit allowed for the idea of bilateral talks to flutter as they might be more successful compared to having Israel on one side of the tables, and all the Arab states on the other side. Seeing this, President Carter believed that actual peace in the Middle East could occurred and wanted to help in the ordeal and so the secret Camp David Accords began.

The 13-day negotiations were a tense, tenacious process that took over tons of effort from all those involved. What comes out of these negotiations, was the effort that President Carter had put in to achieve peace between Israel and Egypt. Even before the negotiations began, President Carter saw the limited opportunity for peace and knew that he had to take advantage of it. In a letter sent to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, President Carter states, “In the view of the importance of Egypt in our common pursuit of peace, I want to take your own preferences into account when working out dates with other leaders with whom I want to meet. The growing friendship and cooperation between Egypt and the United States have already brought us some steps along the path to peace.” Even before the actual negotiations were to start, President Carter was putting in tons of effort to create peace. His commitment showed how dedicated he was in achieving peace in the world and to live up to the standards he had set for himself. In addition to the peace agreement, both the Egyptians and Israelis at the accords agreed that President Carter’s determination was a driving force in achieving peace as he was not going to allow anyone to leave until some sort of peace was accomplished. What the Camp David Accords accomplished were two “framework” documents that put out principles and ideas for a bilateral peace agreement between the two countries as well as a formula for the Palestinian self-government and in the West Bank and Gaza. The Camp David Accords proved that progress peace could be achieved in the Middle East, and the stability that it brought was thanks to President Carter.

Just as he was trying to achieve peace in the Middle East, President Carter also wanted to do the same in Latin America. With his focus on foreign policy based on human rights and reeling in American influence throughout the world, President Carter believed that it was the perfect time to turn over the Panama Canal over to the Panamanians. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, US power in Latin American was growing and expanding, something that was met with anger and resentment. As the Cold War was still going on, Carter knew that if precautions weren’t taken when dealing with the Latin-American countries with anti-American sentiment, they could fall into the hands of the Soviet Union. So as president, President Carter took matters in his own hands as he negotiated two treaties with Panama, that first would allow the United States to always defend the Panama Canal if it were to come under attack. The second treaty stated that the Panama Canal would be transferred to Panama in 1979, which a full transition coming in 1999. Even with public and political opposition to the treaties, President Carter was passionate about the choice because he felt that it was the right thing to do. That’s the type of person he was. President Carter was not fond of politics, he once admitted “That he never had the stomach for “politics as usual,” whether in international or domestic affairs; he did not love politics.” But when he was focused on achieving something that he was passionate about, President Carter put his mind to it.

With the political opposition to the treaties, President Carter knew he had to have 2/3 of the Senate to pass the treaties. With that information, President Carter got to work. In a letter to senators before they were to vote on the treaties, President Carter states “That Americans will support the treaties when they understand that our country has the right to defend the canal… I urge you to support the treaties and to help in laying the facts before the public so that this education process can go forward as you approach your final decision in the Senate. I ask this of you in what I truly believe to be our highest national interest. I need your help.” President Carter understood why there was opposition to the treaties. The Panama Canal was made by the United States and was heavily still being used by the United States and its allies. Opposition feared by giving the canal to the Panamanian government, one that was usually in turmoil and hostile to the United States, would close off American access to the canal and allow the canal to be used as leverage. But with Panamanians fully on board with the treaties, and the Senate ratifying both treaties, the Torrijos–Carter Treaties were in effect. By believing in his message of helping the world rather than dividing it, President Carter was able to have victories but those were short-lived as his failures soon took over. And with those failures came the transition of his foreign policy, as someone who had idealistic beliefs to someone who cared more about strategy and what was more realistic in the end game.

No situation impacted President Carter’s presidency than the Iranian Revolution and subsequently the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Back in 1953, the CIA, with the support of President Eisenhower and his administration, and British intelligence officials orchestrated a coup d’état on President Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran. President Mossadegh was a democratically elected leader who wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil which angered the British and American companies who had oil rigs in the country. After the coup, the United States and Great Britain elevate the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power. Many Iranians viewed the Shah as a puppet for the Western world, as he received tons of aid from the United States and was trying to westernize the country. Iranians did not forget what the Americans had done to their beloved leader and their involvement in their domestic politics.

Since being put in power, the Shah had a unique relationship with the presidents of the United States. No matter the party, the Shah would maintain the same relationship with the next president to come in. The Shah got along well with President Nixon, as they had a mutualistic relationship, where the Iranians would provide oil and maintain stability in the Middle East, and the United States would provide military and economic aid to the country. This relationship continued with both President Ford as well as President Carter. In a visit to Iran, President Carter gave a speech where he stated, “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” That speech was coined the “Island of Stability” speech, and it showed how much the United States relied on and believed in the Pahlavi rule not just in Iran but throughout the Middle East. However, the Shah’s admiration for the United States came to a strict halt, when Iranian hostility towards the United States came to fruition in 1978-79, which coincidently was towards the tail end of Carter’s term.

Since the tail-end of 1977, demonstrations against the Shah were in full effect. Many were upset about the influence the United States on Iran and the Western modernization that it was experiencing. As it started to garner more and more traction, religious leaders became involved and that’s where the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, rose to power. With the whole country engulfed with protests, the Shah realized that his power was running out and exiled to Egypt. However, the Shah was sick and needed medical treatment that was available in the United States. But the decision to admit the Shah was not an easy one. With a new, volatile, and extremely hostile government lead by a religious extremist in Iran, President Carter realized that his associations with the Shah had its risks. Even when trying to still salvage a relationship with Iran, the anti-Shah sentiment was so strong that, “U.S. diplomats in Tehran strove to stabilize American-Iranian relations by negotiating various financial, legal and political issues with the government of interim Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. Those diplomats reported that anti-shah passions were so white-hot that continuing any affiliation with the deposed monarch before revolutionary fervor ebbed and American-Iranian relations normalized would compromise American interests and imperil U.S. officials in the country.” So when he saw that aligning with the Shah, would mess up their chances with the new Iranian government, President Carter denied the Shah asylum. His choice in denying the Shah asylum was the most realistic choice, as it showed the Iranian government that they were willing to salvage what they had. However, anger from prominent conservatives such as Henry Kissinger as well as others throughout President Carter’s administration lobbied for President Carter to stand with the Shah. President Carter’s own National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated, “at stake were our traditional commitment to asylum and our loyalty to a friend. To compromise those principles would be to pay an extraordinarily high price not only in terms of self-esteem but also in our standing among our allies.” In addition, in a memo to President Carter about the Shah’s condition and admitting him to the United States he states, “The response from Tehran will be negative, but I do not believe that we can in good conscience allow them to a veto over our actions in a case which is clearly humanitarian in purpose.” With the increased pressure, and the realization that a real relationship with the new Iranian government was unlikely, President Carter unwillingly admitted the Shah to the United States for his medical treatment.

The decision to allow the Shah into the United States would end up being disastrous as was the spark that triggered Iranians to seize the American embassy in Iran and take hostages with them. The decision to admit the Shah angered many Iranians, as they believed that the United States was helping the Shah find a way back to power. As this wasn’t the choice that the president had hoped for, he knew that there wasn’t much else the United States could do to salvage their relationship with Iran. Their main national interest was now focused on getting back the citizens being held hostage in the embassy. But when analyzing President Carter’s foreign policy, the Iranian Revolution was where his idealistic approach to foreign policy changed to a more realistic one.

The hesitant choice of admitting the Shah to the United States and the Iranian Hostage Crisis is where the change in Carter’s foreign policy was explicitly shown. A perfect description of Carter’s change in his foreign policy is explained well here, “Reflections on Jimmy Carter’s one term as US president (1977-1981) often place him as a principled idealist who fell prey to geopolitical events and gradually converted to a more strategically minded president midway through his term… Early in his tenure, Carter wanted to take focus away from the strategy of containment and to move American focus to issues such as human rights. Upon taking office, however, Carter realized just how difficult such a move would be… Carter quickly understood that foreign policy could not ignore the realities of the international system, and that realism rather than idealism would have to be the driving force behind foreign policy decisions.” As his change in foreign policy from an idealist to a realist ended up giving him more failures rather success, President Carter believed that those realist choices would benefit American interest globally. And even if those decision were labeled as weak; President Carter still had some influences of his idealism when dealing with human rights and trying to bring global peace.

President Jimmy Carter’s tenure as president was considered inept and weak at times. As a Washington DC outsider who had very little experience with global affairs, President Carter came into power when the world was changing. From taking an idealistic approach to start his term, shown through the Camp David Accords and Torrijos–Carter Treaties, to a more realistic approach when it came to the Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis, President Carter had to learn and adapt as he went to lead the United States in the everchanging world.Omeed Ansari

Professor Friedman

HIST-461-001

December 3, 2018

The Journey of President Carter’s Foreign Policy: From Idealist to Realist

When it comes to President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, people usually remember his failures with the Iranian Hostage Crisis as well as the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. But the few good things his foreign policy is remembered for are the Camp David Accords and the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. His foreign policy is usually highlighted for its weakness, even with his successes. When running for office, President Carter wanted his foreign policy to follow his morals which correlated to a huge emphasis on human rights. In addition, “Carter believed in the rule of law in international affairs and in the principle of self-determination for all people. Moreover, he wanted the United States to take the lead in promoting universal human rights. Carter believed that American power should be exercised sparingly and that the United States should avoid military interventions as much as possible.” All these beliefs vastly differed from the two previous administrations of President Nixon and Ford. Stats have shown, “That under Presidents Nixon and Ford foreign assistance was directly related to levels of human rights violations, i.e. more aid flowed to regimes with higher levels of violation, while under President Carter no clear statistical pattern.” While his personal beliefs of using “power for good” did have its successes, it also allowed for failures and the criticism that came with it. Overall “Carter did have a foreign-policy vision. He had a vision for the country’s role in the world, a doctrine, an understanding of the use of force, and a passion to find peace in the Middle East, although he recognized that many of his positions, especially ones based on religion, would make him unpopular with certain elements in Washington.” But when certain geopolitical events, altered his traditional foreign policy method, President Carter took a turn into strategy. His change in foreign policy went from more of an idealistic approach to a realistic approach. President realized that having an idealistic approach to all things foreign policy wouldn’t be in the best interest of the United States. However, this new approach didn’t translate in the way President Carter had hoped for. Throughout his four years in office, President Jimmy Carter was leading the free world in times they’ve never seen before. From facilitating a peace agreement between former enemies, dealing with a revolution in a country with very close ties to America, to being in a Cold War with Soviet Union, President Carter foreign policy was involved everywhere. With an idealistic approach to start with, President Carter realized that a change into realism was better for the interest of the United States.

When entering the 1976 election, Jimmy Carter was the relatively unknown governor of Georgia. However, his anonymity helped him more than he could have imagined. Just two years before the election, President Nixon resigned for office for his role and coverup in the Watergate scandal. Watergate angered Americans, as they were in disbelief that someone of such power could abuse it and take advantage of this system. In addition, the handling of the Vietnam War caused all-time lows of the public’s perception of the government. Both caused an anti-government, anti-Washington sentiment throughout the country, which Jimmy Carter took advantage of. Jimmy Carter portrayed himself as a simple man, a DC outsider who could help clean up the mess in Washington.

After dealing with a crowded Democratic field, Carter won the Democratic nomination and faced President Ford in the general election. Many believe that President Ford hurt his chances of reelection, by pardoning his predecessor, President Nixon. In addition to his pardon, President Ford was dealing with an economy that had high levels of inflation as well as an energy crisis. Even with these issues, President Ford made the race tighter than expected, but ended up losing to Carter.

Even though his outsider status brought him to the presidency, it also brought in criticism with a focus on his foreign policy. As the governor of Georgia, President Carter never really dealt with international affairs. So, as he rose to the national stage so did the criticism about how he’d handle his foreign policy. An example of the criticism, comes from President Ford’s team as they are preparing for a debate. In their debate notes about Carter’s foreign policy, they stated, “Carter talks more in generalities than specifics about his own plans. His "basic principles," he says, are to make our policies more open and honest, to treat the people of other nations "as individuals: (sic), to restore the moral content to foreign policy, and to aim policies at building a "just and peaceful world order."’ To avoid having a general foreign policy, President Carter started to define his foreign policy, by having a focus on human rights. Just as his focus on human rights was political, due to its popularity with the public, it was personal as well as President Carter lived his own life in a moral way. He expands on this in a speech given to those attending the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Carter states, “As long as I am president, the government of the United States will continue throughout the world to enhance human rights …No force on earth can separate us from that commitment.” Until he got elected, there was no direct details on how he’d correlate his idea of human rights to his foreign policy. However, as he came to power, a more direct and detailed approach was formulated.

As he started his presidency, President Carter stated that his foreign policy initiative on human rights was “Promoting "human freedom" worldwide and protecting "the individual from the arbitrary power of the state.” All these ideas were based off the United Nation’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Carter believed that not only did the United States have to be accountable on human rights, but its allies as well, no matter the consequence. As the ambition was there for human rights, the results didn’t live up to the hype President Carter had. The president Carter was tough on the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc on their human rights violations, as well as suspending aid towards governments with terrible human rights such as Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador. On the flip side, the Carter administration also lessen their human rights talk about the Soviet Union after the Soviets agreed to talk about an arms agreement. Carter also provided arms to the Iranian military, even though the Shah of Iran was violently repressing his opponents and was violating many human rights. As the president who put human rights in the spotlight like no one else, and to not follow through with it perfectly, allowed for criticism and calls of weakness on President Carter. Such criticisms would temporarily come a halt thanks to the Camp David Accords.

Up until 1978, Israel and Egypt had very limited success in accomplishing peace between themselves. Both countries have a very complicated history with each other, as they’ve both been fighting for each other land. But with new hope and opportunities from both the Egyptians and Israelis, President Carter saw a chance for peace began the secret negotiations of the Camp David Accords. In late 1977, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt shocked the world on his intentions of visiting Jerusalem in Israel. This announcement came after years of fighting between the Arab states, which Egypt was a part of, and Israel. Seeing that an actual olive branch was being offered by Egyptians, the Israelis decided to follow through with the offer and welcomed President Sadat to the country. This visit allowed for the idea of bilateral talks to flutter as they might be more successful compared to having Israel on one side of the tables, and all the Arab states on the other side. Seeing this, President Carter believed that actual peace in the Middle East could occurred and wanted to help in the ordeal and so the secret Camp David Accords began.

The 13-day negotiations were a tense, tenacious process that took over tons of effort from all those involved. What comes out of these negotiations, was the effort that President Carter had put in to achieve peace between Israel and Egypt. Even before the negotiations began, President Carter saw the limited opportunity for peace and knew that he had to take advantage of it. In a letter sent to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, President Carter states, “In the view of the importance of Egypt in our common pursuit of peace, I want to take your own preferences into account when working out dates with other leaders with whom I want to meet. The growing friendship and cooperation between Egypt and the United States have already brought us some steps along the path to peace.” Even before the actual negotiations were to start, President Carter was putting in tons of effort to create peace. His commitment showed how dedicated he was in achieving peace in the world and to live up to the standards he had set for himself. In addition to the peace agreement, both the Egyptians and Israelis at the accords agreed that President Carter’s determination was a driving force in achieving peace as he was not going to allow anyone to leave until some sort of peace was accomplished. What the Camp David Accords accomplished were two “framework” documents that put out principles and ideas for a bilateral peace agreement between the two countries as well as a formula for the Palestinian self-government and in the West Bank and Gaza. The Camp David Accords proved that progress peace could be achieved in the Middle East, and the stability that it brought was thanks to President Carter.

Just as he was trying to achieve peace in the Middle East, President Carter also wanted to do the same in Latin America. With his focus on foreign policy based on human rights and reeling in American influence throughout the world, President Carter believed that it was the perfect time to turn over the Panama Canal over to the Panamanians. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, US power in Latin American was growing and expanding, something that was met with anger and resentment. As the Cold War was still going on, Carter knew that if precautions weren’t taken when dealing with the Latin-American countries with anti-American sentiment, they could fall into the hands of the Soviet Union. So as president, President Carter took matters in his own hands as he negotiated two treaties with Panama, that first would allow the United States to always defend the Panama Canal if it were to come under attack. The second treaty stated that the Panama Canal would be transferred to Panama in 1979, which a full transition coming in 1999. Even with public and political opposition to the treaties, President Carter was passionate about the choice because he felt that it was the right thing to do. That’s the type of person he was. President Carter was not fond of politics, he once admitted “That he never had the stomach for “politics as usual,” whether in international or domestic affairs; he did not love politics.” But when he was focused on achieving something that he was passionate about, President Carter put his mind to it.

With the political opposition to the treaties, President Carter knew he had to have 2/3 of the Senate to pass the treaties. With that information, President Carter got to work. In a letter to senators before they were to vote on the treaties, President Carter states “That Americans will support the treaties when they understand that our country has the right to defend the canal… I urge you to support the treaties and to help in laying the facts before the public so that this education process can go forward as you approach your final decision in the Senate. I ask this of you in what I truly believe to be our highest national interest. I need your help.” President Carter understood why there was opposition to the treaties. The Panama Canal was made by the United States and was heavily still being used by the United States and its allies. Opposition feared by giving the canal to the Panamanian government, one that was usually in turmoil and hostile to the United States, would close off American access to the canal and allow the canal to be used as leverage. But with Panamanians fully on board with the treaties, and the Senate ratifying both treaties, the Torrijos–Carter Treaties were in effect. By believing in his message of helping the world rather than dividing it, President Carter was able to have victories but those were short-lived as his failures soon took over. And with those failures came the transition of his foreign policy, as someone who had idealistic beliefs to someone who cared more about strategy and what was more realistic in the end game.

No situation impacted President Carter’s presidency than the Iranian Revolution and subsequently the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Back in 1953, the CIA, with the support of President Eisenhower and his administration, and British intelligence officials orchestrated a coup d’état on President Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran. President Mossadegh was a democratically elected leader who wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil which angered the British and American companies who had oil rigs in the country. After the coup, the United States and Great Britain elevate the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power. Many Iranians viewed the Shah as a puppet for the Western world, as he received tons of aid from the United States and was trying to westernize the country. Iranians did not forget what the Americans had done to their beloved leader and their involvement in their domestic politics.

Since being put in power, the Shah had a unique relationship with the presidents of the United States. No matter the party, the Shah would maintain the same relationship with the next president to come in. The Shah got along well with President Nixon, as they had a mutualistic relationship, where the Iranians would provide oil and maintain stability in the Middle East, and the United States would provide military and economic aid to the country. This relationship continued with both President Ford as well as President Carter. In a visit to Iran, President Carter gave a speech where he stated, “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” That speech was coined the “Island of Stability” speech, and it showed how much the United States relied on and believed in the Pahlavi rule not just in Iran but throughout the Middle East. However, the Shah’s admiration for the United States came to a strict halt, when Iranian hostility towards the United States came to fruition in 1978-79, which coincidently was towards the tail end of Carter’s term.

Since the tail-end of 1977, demonstrations against the Shah were in full effect. Many were upset about the influence the United States on Iran and the Western modernization that it was experiencing. As it started to garner more and more traction, religious leaders became involved and that’s where the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, rose to power. With the whole country engulfed with protests, the Shah realized that his power was running out and exiled to Egypt. However, the Shah was sick and needed medical treatment that was available in the United States. But the decision to admit the Shah was not an easy one. With a new, volatile, and extremely hostile government lead by a religious extremist in Iran, President Carter realized that his associations with the Shah had its risks. Even when trying to still salvage a relationship with Iran, the anti-Shah sentiment was so strong that, “U.S. diplomats in Tehran strove to stabilize American-Iranian relations by negotiating various financial, legal and political issues with the government of interim Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. Those diplomats reported that anti-shah passions were so white-hot that continuing any affiliation with the deposed monarch before revolutionary fervor ebbed and American-Iranian relations normalized would compromise American interests and imperil U.S. officials in the country.” So when he saw that aligning with the Shah, would mess up their chances with the new Iranian government, President Carter denied the Shah asylum. His choice in denying the Shah asylum was the most realistic choice, as it showed the Iranian government that they were willing to salvage what they had. However, anger from prominent conservatives such as Henry Kissinger as well as others throughout President Carter’s administration lobbied for President Carter to stand with the Shah. President Carter’s own National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated, “at stake were our traditional commitment to asylum and our loyalty to a friend. To compromise those principles would be to pay an extraordinarily high price not only in terms of self-esteem but also in our standing among our allies.” In addition, in a memo to President Carter about the Shah’s condition and admitting him to the United States he states, “The response from Tehran will be negative, but I do not believe that we can in good conscience allow them to a veto over our actions in a case which is clearly humanitarian in purpose.” With the increased pressure, and the realization that a real relationship with the new Iranian government was unlikely, President Carter unwillingly admitted the Shah to the United States for his medical treatment.

The decision to allow the Shah into the United States would end up being disastrous as was the spark that triggered Iranians to seize the American embassy in Iran and take hostages with them. The decision to admit the Shah angered many Iranians, as they believed that the United States was helping the Shah find a way back to power. As this wasn’t the choice that the president had hoped for, he knew that there wasn’t much else the United States could do to salvage their relationship with Iran. Their main national interest was now focused on getting back the citizens being held hostage in the embassy. But when analyzing President Carter’s foreign policy, the Iranian Revolution was where his idealistic approach to foreign policy changed to a more realistic one.

The hesitant choice of admitting the Shah to the United States and the Iranian Hostage Crisis is where the change in Carter’s foreign policy was explicitly shown. A perfect description of Carter’s change in his foreign policy is explained well here, “Reflections on Jimmy Carter’s one term as US president (1977-1981) often place him as a principled idealist who fell prey to geopolitical events and gradually converted to a more strategically minded president midway through his term… Early in his tenure, Carter wanted to take focus away from the strategy of containment and to move American focus to issues such as human rights. Upon taking office, however, Carter realized just how difficult such a move would be… Carter quickly understood that foreign policy could not ignore the realities of the international system, and that realism rather than idealism would have to be the driving force behind foreign policy decisions.” As his change in foreign policy from an idealist to a realist ended up giving him more failures rather success, President Carter believed that those realist choices would benefit American interest globally. And even if those decision were labeled as weak; President Carter still had some influences of his idealism when dealing with human rights and trying to bring global peace.

President Jimmy Carter’s tenure as president was considered inept and weak at times. As a Washington DC outsider who had very little experience with global affairs, President Carter came into power when the world was changing. From taking an idealistic approach to start his term, shown through the Camp David Accords and Torrijos–Carter Treaties, to a more realistic approach when it came to the Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis, President Carter had to learn and adapt as he went to lead the United States in the everchanging world.