1979: A Crack in Time

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1979: A Crack in Time

When I arrived in the Mid­dle East in 1979, I didn’t real­ize how momen­tous that year would be. As it turned out, 1979 became one of the most impor­tant years in recent history.

At the out­set, Aya­tol­lah Khome­ini returned to Iran to take power after decades in exile, remov­ing a key U.S. ally in the shah. Only a few months later, Amer­i­can diplo­mats would be taken hostage in the embassy, a siege that would last for 444 days and severely weaken Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter and the coun­try. I remem­ber hav­ing to con­vince the for­eign edi­tor of Newsweek that I should travel to Iran to cover the story. He didn’t think it would last longer than a day or so!

In July 1979, Sad­dam Hus­sein, the strong­man behind the dic­ta­tor­ship in Iraq, finally took con­trol of the gov­ern­ment, lit­er­ally mur­der­ing his way to the top. It was the first story I cov­ered after arriv­ing in the Mid­dle East. Hus­sein walked into a cab­i­net meet­ing, and, with the help of some asso­ciates, shot many of those who attended.

In one of the most mis­guided poli­cies in U.S. for­eign pol­icy, the gov­ern­ment decided to back Iraq in its later war with Iran, pro­vid­ing weapons and finan­cial aid that embold­ened Hus­sein and led to wars in the 1990s and 2000s.

I broke the story about the secret weapons deal between Iraq and the United States for ABC News and got dissed by my fel­low jour­nal­ists until the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment finally con­firmed my account a week later.

In another bone­headed for­eign pol­icy endeavor, the United States decided to arm the rebels in Afghanistan against Soviet forces, which had invaded in Decem­ber 1979.

Maybe this pol­icy was worse than the one in Iraq. It’s a tough call. Those rebels included Osama bin-​Laden and his band who came back to haunt the United States in a num­ber of ter­ror­ist attacks cul­mi­nat­ing in 911.

Also, in 1979, the United States pol­icy wonks didn’t under­stand how much antipa­thy existed toward the peace agree­ment between Israel and Egypt. It seemed to make sense to have the largest Arab nation cut a deal, but most Arabs saw Egypt­ian Pres­i­dent Anwar Sadat as a trai­tor. Ulti­mately, the Camp David accords led to the assas­si­na­tion of Sadat, the growth of al-​Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups like the Islamic State, and many other rad­i­cal shifts that con­tinue through­out the Mid­dle East.

Forty years may seem like a long time ago, but the reper­cus­sions of 1979 are still cre­at­ing chaos in the Mid­dle East, the United States, and elsewhere.

When I arrived in the Middle East in 1979, I didn’t realize how momentous that year would be. As it turned out, 1979 became one of the most important years in recent history.

At the outset, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran to take power after decades in exile, removing a key U.S. ally in the shah. Only a few months later, American diplomats would be taken hostage in the embassy, a siege that would last for 444 days and severely weaken President Jimmy Carter and the country. I remember having to convince the foreign editor of Newsweek that I should travel to Iran to cover the story. He didn’t think it would last longer than a day or so!

In July 1979, Saddam Hussein, the strongman behind the dictatorship in Iraq, finally took control of the government, literally murdering his way to the top. It was the first story I covered after arriving in the Middle East. Hussein walked into a cabinet meeting, and, with the help of some associates, shot many of those who attended.

In one of the most misguided policies in U.S. foreign policy, the government decided to back Iraq in its later war with Iran, providing weapons and financial aid that emboldened Hussein and led to wars in the 1990s and 2000s.

I broke the story about the secret weapons deal between Iraq and the United States for ABC News and got dissed by my fellow journalists until the Egyptian government finally confirmed my account a week later.

In another boneheaded foreign policy endeavor, the United States decided to arm the rebels in Afghanistan against Soviet forces, which had invaded in December 1979.

Maybe this policy was worse than the one in Iraq. It’s a tough call. Those rebels included Osama bin-Laden and his band who came back to haunt the United States in a number of terrorist attacks culminating in 9/11.

Also, in 1979, the United States policy wonks didn’t understand how much antipathy existed toward the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. It seemed to make sense to have the largest Arab nation cut a deal, but most Arabs saw Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a traitor. Ultimately, the Camp David accords led to the assassination of Sadat, the growth of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and many other radical shifts that continue throughout the Middle East.

Forty years may seem like a long time ago, but the repercussions of 1979  are still creating chaos in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere.