The Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The History of the Future Essay

The Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan:

The History of the Future

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            On November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the United States embassy in Tehran and held fifty two members hostage in support of the Iranian Revolution.  The diplomatic crisis created a chasm between the two countries that would not be resolved for another 444 days when the U.S - The Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The History of the Future Essay introduction. released over $8 billion worth of Iranian assets.  These are the facts that most people remember from the news reports of the time, however the situation involves a complex set of international circumstances that continue to affect global politics.

            The public perception in Iran was that the situation constituted a political statement by the students who were acting in support of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been restored to power in a 1953 coup sponsored in part by the CIA and had later been admitted into the US for cancer treatment.  The Shah had ruled since 1941 with the support of the US until 1953, when he was ousted by Prime Minister Mossadegh, with the covert support of the Soviet Union and the students were in favor of a theocracy ruled by anti-West ideology and headed by the Islamic Ayatollah Khomeini (Bowden).  Concern over the access to rich Iranian oil reserves and oil prices, as well as interest in limiting Soviet influence led the US to reinstate the Shah to power with the aid of arms, training and technical abilities.

            However, the Shah was notorious in Iran for his secret police and his dictatorial ruling style which the public both hated and feared (1979).  His rule was controversial thanks in large part to the influence of the US and their oil interests while the Islamic Tudeh party and the Soviets believed the Shah to be corrupting regional society.

            The hostage situation was the culmination of these tensions.  It perceived as a political crisis that violated international law that protected diplomats from arrest.  In addition to the legal ramifications, the US used political and economic leverage in the name of diplomatic negotiating, freezing Iranian assets in the international market, halting oil exports from Iran, and expelling many Iranians living in the U.S. while also denouncing the Soviet Union’s Marxist influence in the region.

            The situation was further complicated when the Soviet Union invaded Iran’s neighbor, Afghanistan, in an effort to overthrow the Islamic rule with a Marxist government aligned with their political agenda.  President Carter was thus faced with a dire situation in the Cold War era that left him struggling to find a common ground or an effective response.

            As public outrage coming from all sides reached a climax, President Carter decided to attempt a military rescue mission in April of 1980.  However, technical difficulties and a sandstorm caused two helicopters to crash killing eight Americans and one Iranian and led to the mission being aborted (Reagan’s).  The situation then took another turn when the Shah died in July and then in September Iraq invaded Iran under the direction of Saddam Hussein.  Iran was under military attack from Iraq and facing economic sanctions from the United States that forced them to the negotiating table concerning the hostage crisis, with Algeria acting as a mediator.

            The ineffectiveness of the Carter administration led to increased tension and public outcry and eventually was one of the leading causes that led to the election of Ronald Reagan in November (Reagan’s).  The signing of the Algiers Accord officially ended the crisis and the release of the hostages just minutes after the swearing in of President Reagan began a new era of relations between the two countries.  President Carter suffered a public relations nightmare while the shia Ayatollah Khomeini was returned to power in Iran after being exiled to France (1979).  This new era would be defined by continued strained relations due to the beginning of American legal action against Iran for their actions, most notably through economic sanctioning.

            Tensions stemming from the Hostage Crisis continue to effect relations between Iran and America in our present day.  Economic sanctions have strained diplomatic efforts as oil concerns and nuclear ambitions become a growing global issue.  Furthermore, Iran’s current President Ahmadinejad is accused of being one of the student leaders that were responsible for the US embassy takeover.  The future will forever be impacted by this dramatic time in history.

Works Cited

Bowden, Mark. (2006). Guests of the Ayatollah: the first battle in America’s war with militant Islam. Atlantic Monthly Press. Retrieved 27 February 2009, from

Reagan’s Lucky Day: Iranian Hostage Crisis helped the great communicator to victory. (2001). CBS News. Retrieved 27 February 2009, from

1979: Shah of Iran Flees Into Exile. (2005). BBC News. Retrieved 27 February 2009, from


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