Both presidents have also received dubious Nobel Peace Prizes. Neither has impressive accomplishments to point to: the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed in spite, not because, of Carter; and Obama had been in the White House for less than two weeks before he was nominated for the prize. Recognising this dearth of achievement, the Nobel committee could only present both awards on the basis of effort.
For all their efforts, however, both presidents have scored poorly in their policies toward the Middle East, and for the same reasons. So argues the American-Israeli journalist Ruthie Blum in her short and engrossing book, To Hell in a Handbasket (RVP Press), which compares the American embassy hostage crisis in Iran under Carter with the so-called Arab Spring under Obama. The book provides abundant material from which to draw parallels in the Middle East diplomacy of these two Democratic presidents.
The American embassy in Tehran was attacked and its staff taken hostage in November 1979 in the midst of the Iranian revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and transformed the country into the Islamic Republic that it remains to this day. The Shah had been toppled and was travelling the world seeking refuge and, more pressingly, medical treatment for his cancer. Carter was reluctant to permit the deposed monarch entry, but after months of pressure from advisers and others, the Shah's request was granted. The protests around the embassy, as well as the attack on it, were ostensibly triggered by this consent for the Shah, who was wanted in Iran for trial.
With misplaced confidence in the Ayatollah, the Carter administration pursued futile diplomacy for months, deploying a rescue team only in the spring of 1980. After the mission was bungled, the crisis continued through that year's election season and undoubtedly contributed to Reagan's victory.
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