On this day in 1981, the remaining 52 hostages were released by the Iranian government after 444 days. This was also the day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated fortieth President of the United States. For years, this has been part of the Republican myth that Carter was weak and Reagan strong. Indeed, just last weekend, Marco Rubio was on Meet the Press, where he made the de rigueur Republican claim that the world only respects and fears America when a dry mouthed Eagle Scout brays and beats his chest. He said, “When I become president of the United States, our adversaries around the world will know that America is no longer under the command of someone weak like Barack Obama, and it will be like Ronald Reagan, where as soon as he took office the hostages were released from Iran.”
If you look at the timeline of the Iranian hostages crisis, you will see that the Carter administration was not sitting on its hands. The first attempts at negotiation were on 7 November 1979 — three days after the attack on the embassy. The Iranians would not meet with the US, so Carter froze their assets. Originally, there were 66 hostages taken. On 17 November 1979, Iran released all the female and African American hostages — reducing the number down to 53. On 11 July 1980, another hostage was released due to illness. That left the 52 who were released on 20 January 1981.
On 12 September 1980, Iran declared that they would release the hostages if the Shah’s assets were given to Iran and if Iran’s assets were released. The Iranians went to the Carter administration that month with the offer to negotiate. From then through January of 1981, Warren Christopher led the US delegation in negotiations with the Iranians. On 19 January, a deal was settled — the Iranian hostages were exchanged for roughly $10 billion in Iranian assets. And the next day, the hostages were released.
According to PolitiFact (which has debunked this claim before because Republicans so like it), there were a couple of reasons for the Iranian hostages release. First, the Iranians were tired of keeping the hostages. They had to take care of them and keep them from escaping — at the same time having to worry about an American attack, which would have been widely seen as justified. Second, they had been negotiating for months and they didn’t want to start all over with a new administration. And third, the Iranians wanted to insult Carter as the symbol of the United States.
It’s interesting how often Republicans align themselves with enemies of this country just to score cheap domestic political points. Remember Tom Cotton’s ridiculous letter to the Iranians that totally disrespected the office of the president just to make a grand statement? Remember what the letter actually communicated: you should not trust the United States of America.
As for the Iranian hostages deal, no one from Ronald Reagan’s administration took any part in the negotiations. The deal was finalized because of negotiations with the Carter administration. And it was all about money. Nothing else. Rubio is an idiot. But that’s what Republicans are. In 2012, Mitt Romney said the same thing. That’s because chest thumping is the extent to which Republicans think about foreign policy.