After 30 Years, U.S. Still Clueless About Iran

Thirty years ago today, November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian “students� shouting “death to America� stormed the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, Iran and took 66 Americans hostage. Though fourteen of the hostages were soon freed, the remaining 52 were held for 444 days. For the American people, it was our introduction to militant Islam. For the Carter administration, intent on “engaging� the regime that replaced Shah Reza Pahlavi, it was a disaster.

The embassy seizure took place just nine months after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile in France and declared himself “Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution.� Though some of those who participated in the takeover subsequently claimed they planned nothing more than a “sit in� like those on U.S. college campuses during anti-Vietnam War protests, the Ayatollah’s most radical followers were soon in control of events.

On Christmas day, less than 2 months after the hostages were seized in Tehran, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. President Carter, wracked by intelligence failures and indecision, said he was “shocked and surprised� and boycotted the Olympics.

Over the course of the next year, while the Carter administration dithered, Khomeini and his council of militant clerics created all of the instruments of state control common to revolutionary regimes, but with an Islamic twist. He purged the military and the Iranian civil service, created a massive internal secret police network, a “block warden� system to spy on neighbors, took control of print and broadcast media, rounded up opponents and tried them in “special courts� under Sharia law.

By the spring of 1980, when President Carter ordered our deeply under-funded U.S. military to rescue the hostages held in Tehran, Khomeini was convinced that he was on a divine mission to “purify Islam� and re-establish a “Caliphate� in the “Lands of the Prophet.� When Operation Eagle Claw failed catastrophically on the night of April 24-25 with the loss of 8 American lives – and without the Iranians firing a shot – the Ayatollah claimed it was because Allah was guarding “The Islamic State� and protecting it “from infidels.� He also began predicting an apocalyptic battle against the U.S. and Israel which would destroy “The Great Satan,� and “the Zionist entity.�

Though the hostages were released on January 20, 1981 -- on the eve of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural -- Tehran’s wave of terror didn’t stop. By 1982, despite being engaged in a bloody war with Iraq, the Ayatollah’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had created a proxy force in Lebanon – Hezbollah. Over the course of the next five years Hezbollah terrorists armed, trained and paid for by Tehran hijacked, kidnapped, bombed and killed more Americans than any terror organization on the planet until the attacks of 9/11/01.

In the three decades since the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the rhetoric of revolutionary Islam is little changed. The words and pronouncements of Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, and the declarations of Iranian President Mahmoud Ajamdinijad differ little from those of Khomeini thirty years ago. Tehran's leaders still proclaim “Death to America.� Iranian clerics still promise to destroy Israel. Only now they are building nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them.

Like the Carter administration, Mr. Obama and his advisors are apparently convinced that “engaging� the Iranian regime will somehow make things different. After 30 years they still don’t get it.

Oliver North is the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel. He is a syndicated columnist, author and Fox News contributor.