In 1979, the Carter Administration precipitously abandoned the Shah of Iran, Washington’s long-time and loyal ally in Tehran, once widespread dissatisfaction with his regime surfaced. In the melee that ensued, and which accompanied the return from exile of the radical Ayatollah Khomeini, student groups led a successful assault on the huge American Embassy compound. Washington, believing the insurgent forces could be placated by throwing the Shah under the bus, failed completely to heed warning signs in the build-up to the storming of the diplomatic compound, and was caught flat-footed.
Once in control of the American facility, the radicals gained access to innumerable classified documents and microfilm cards (which standard operating procedures dictated were supposed to have been destroyed earlier) containing sensitive intelligence information. Additionally, because other security protocols had not been followed, certain individuals taken hostage were identified to the radicals as intelligence personnel, and subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques” during their long months in captivity.
As a direct result of the fall of the embassy in Tehran, the U.S. lost access to invaluable technological facilities, including some in northern Iran that provided unique electronic listening posts for then-Soviet missile ranges. Perhaps even more disastrous, was the compromising of the identities of numerous cooperating agents in Iran and elsewhere in the region; many of whom were subsequently tracked down and killed. The loss of such resources continues to be felt to this day.
Fast forwarding to last year’s mis-named “Arab Spring,” the Obama Administration found itself in much the same situation as did its predecessor in 1979 -- and appears to have engaged in just as serious a misperception. Apparently believing that popular uprisings against unpopular regimes in the Middle East, including Egypt and Libya, signaled an embrace of Jeffersonian Democracy in the Arab World, Washington again let down its guard – this time with immediate tragic results.