I remember it well. It was during the final years of the Carter administration—the rise of militant Islam. The birthplace was Iran under the severe rule of the Ayatollah Khomeini. He had chased the Shah out of the country and taken over, along with his fanatical followers. Khomeini determined that the United States was the Great Satan. Therefore, it made no difference to him that the U.S. embassy was officially American soil; his hordes stormed the embassy and took more than fifty hostages. The news showed them taken out into the streets, blindfolded and humiliated.
But, in fact, it wasn’t the hostages themselves who were humiliated; it was the nation they represented. And weakness trickled down from the top in the person of an ineffective president who was out of his league trying to deal with the situation.
Jimmy Carter didn’t know quite what to do. At one point, he finally decided on a rescue mission, but it had to be scrubbed when a helicopter went down in the Iranian desert. Another wonderful photo op for the militants. Another humiliation for America. Yet Carter won renomination in 1980 and went into the general election against Ronald Reagan. Polls showed that, despite his troubles and general ineffectiveness, not only in foreign affairs but on the economy—the economists had to invent a new term called stagflation to describe just how bad things were—he held a lead over Reagan right up to the week before the election.
Sound familiar again?
But common sense prevailed in 1980, and Reagan won in a blowout, which confounded most experts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have history repeat itself this year?
At the same time that the presidential campaign was in full swing, Americans were transfixed by a miniseries on TV called Shogun, a drama about a European castaway in Japan who has to learn how to survive in a foreign land. He eventually works his way up in the society to a prized position known as a shogun. One particularly brilliant cartoonist saw a linkage with the current administration:
Although this was a pre-internet age, this political cartoon went viral. It showcased the incompetence of the Carter administration, and it hit a nerve. Even Carter’s reelection team posted it in their cubicles as a reminder of how their candidate was perceived.
The past few days have evoked memories of the Carter years. Iran remains the biggest threat in the Middle East, developing a nuclear capability and threatening to annihilate Israel. America still earns the eternal hatred of this Islamic empire. It has spawned even more radicals who now are taking over many Islamic countries, with the mobs, murders, and threats we’ve witnessed in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen. The world has become even more dangerous.
And whom do we have in charge at such a crucial moment?
This does not inspire confidence.