15. Memorandum From the White House Chief of Staff (Jordan) to President Carter1

I know that you are pressed from all sides with free advice and ideas on the situation in Iran. I don’t want to contribute to that problem, but need to state frankly my views to you.

There is no doubt that we will be ultimately judged on two fronts: what happens to the Americans and what we do after their release/murder to retaliate against Iran.

Having said that, we must also be in the correct public posture to minimize the public and political damage to your Presidency and our country’s image in the world if we have a bad result and/or to maximize the benefit of a good result if the Americans are freed.

This gets to the question of your trip to Canada. The American people are frustrated at our country’s inability to do anything to free the prisoners and retaliate in a fashion that makes us feel better about ourselves. There was a person-on-the-street interview this morning on NBC asking citizens what they would do. I found the individuals surprisingly sympathetic to the plight which faces you as to the rescue of the hostages. Having said this, there were a couple that wanted you to consider foolish things, i.e., send in the Marines.

We will never convince or satisfy the hawks on this question, but we don’t need to lose the understanding and support of those who share your own frustration. I believe that if you leave for Canada tomorrow, you will be very vulnerable on two fronts.

First, you will be perceived as not taking the “crisis” that exists seriously. It makes no difference that you will only be an hour away by plane or that you have left Vance and Zbig or that you have good communications.

It will be perceived at the time of an international crisis involving the lives of American citizens, their President is traveling to a foreign country for a reason not obvious or relevant to them. At this point, you will seem irrelevant to the crisis. I realize that there is not much more that you could do if you were here, but the American people want to have a sense that you are on top of the situation, minding the store, exploring every possibility, etc.

An even worse possibility would be that violence is done to the hostages while you are in Canada. If that happens, you will be ravaged [Page 37] politically for being out of the country at the time of a major crisis. I would predict that it would cost you your re-election as President. Suppose the chances of this happening are 1 in 10. Should you have to take such a gamble?

An argument could be made that to cancel the trip would send a bad signal. I think that it would have to be made clear that you are staying merely to give this situation your complete and undivided attention. I don’t see how Joe Clark could fault you for delaying your trip to a later date.

Mr. President, this crisis is a crisis in every sense. It is a crisis for your Presidency, for the hostages and for our country’s image around the world. I can see no good or valid reason for you to leave the country—even for 24 hours—while this is going on. Your trip to Canada will be perceived by the American people as largely ceremonial. Issues and problems will pop up here that will require your attention and thought. I don’t see how you can justify your trip under these circumstances.

(CBS news last night devoted 55% of its coverage last night to Iran. The Today Show this morning spent the full first 20 minutes of its half hour on Iran).2

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 34, Iran 11/79. Eyes Only. Carter initialed “C” in the upper-right corner.
  2. A handwritten addition by Jordan at the end of the memorandum reads: “If you even consider cancellation of the trip, it should be done earlier instead of later. I have not talked to the VP about this. Possibly someone should.” Carter did not go to Canada.