45. Editorial Note

In response to the situation in Iran, namely the taking of 66 American hostages on November 4, 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the administration of President Jimmy Carter developed a new U.S. policy for the Persian Gulf region. This new policy began to take shape in late November 1979 among the National Security Council Staff and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski. On November 27 and 28, National Security Council Staff members sent Brzezinski several memorandums that dealt with broad Middle East issues and contained ideas for a U.S. response. In a November 27 memorandum to Brzezinski, National Security Council Staff member Paul B. Henze wrote that the United States needed to “display a determination to stick it out and assert ourselves,” which the administration could achieve “by showing the kind of determination and strength that will enable our friends to help us assert ourselves.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 30, Iran: 11/28–30/79) The following day, National Security Council Staff member Robert Hunter, in a November 28 memorandum to Brzezinski, noted that while the Iranian situation had precipitated a major crisis, there were “also increased opportunities, especially with greater American public willingness to see us take a leadership position, a fading of the ‘Vietnam syndrome,’ but also a sense of greater balance and maturity in the nation about the uses of power.” Hunter commented that “there will be insistent demands for a strong, coherent policy, and clear leadership by the President.” He recommended that Carter deliver a televised address immediately following resolution of the hostage crisis. Hunter asserted that Carter should propose:

“a series of concrete, specific, steps, including domestic and international energy efforts; some tailored increase in defense spending and activity; and our position toward and support for other countries in the [Page 167] region (within the context of respect for individual national integrity, independence, and respect for Islam). There should be a clear integration of political, economic, and military efforts—no one is enough; the interrelationship is critical.

“If enough pieces of a long-range strategy can be ready for use, this could become a Carter Doctrine for the Middle East, dealing with the whole nexus of oil-security-U.S. resolve and leadership issues.” (Ibid.)

Also, in a November 28 memorandum to Brzezinski, National Security Council Staff member William E. Odom noted: “The present Iranian crisis seems to be creating the chance to begin a serious regional intelligence rebuilding effort as well as a physical military presence. The time for action, therefore, is at hand.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 27, Iran: 11/78–11/79)

The administration’s belief that a strong statement on the Middle East was needed took on new urgency following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 25, 1979. Brzezinski noted in his memoirs: “I discussed that issue [a “wider strategic challenge” in the Persian Gulf as a result of the invasion] at some length with the President.” Brzezinski “stressed that the issue was not what might have been Brezhnev’s subjective motives in going into Afghanistan but the objective consequences of a Soviet military presence so much closer to the Persian Gulf.” (Power and Principle, page 430) This exchange likely occured in a 30 minute telephone conversation between Carter and Brzezinski on December 31. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) After this discussion, Brzezinski commented:

“The President’s approach served as the point of departure for a wider response which, in the course of the next several weeks, took three forms: (1) the adoption of sanctions directed at the Soviet Union; (2) the formulation of a doctrine linking the security of the region with that of the United States and a U.S. effort to shape a regional security framework; and (3) the acceleration of our strategic renewal, in terms of both doctrine and defense budget.” (Power and Principle, page 430)

The level of importance to which Brzezinski ascribed the situation and the administration’s response were evident in his January 2, 1980, memorandum to the President entitled “Relevance of the Truman Doctrine to Current Situation.” Brzezinski wrote that he “would like to recall for you an earlier crisis which in my judgment has some striking parallels with the present challenge we face in Afghanistan, in that region and globally.” He then summarized the history and importance of the Truman Doctrine. Placing the present situation in even starker terms, Brzezinski concluded: “The Soviet intervention in the present case is both more blatant and more brutal than in 1947, and the Gulf is unquestionably more vital to Western interests today than were [Page 168] Greece and Turkey 30 years ago.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 67, Truman Doctrine: 1/80) In a January 3 memorandum to the President, Brzezinski outlined a “Strategic Reaction to the Afghanistan Problem,” including the possibility of selling defensive arms to China. (Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 17, Southwest Asia/Persian Gulf Afghanistan: 12/26/79–1/4/80) Both memoranda are printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Documents 134 and 135. In a memorandum to the President on January 9, entitled “A Long-Term Strategy for Coping with the Consequences of the Soviet Action in Afghanistan,” Brzezinski listed possible U.S. actions in the Persian Gulf region to enhance regional security. The memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume VI, Soviet Union, Document 256.

The President elucidated what would become known as the Carter Doctrine in his State of the Union speech delivered to Congress on January 23, 1980. Speaking directly on the Middle East region, the recent Iranian situation, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter noted that “we face a broader and more fundamental challenge in this region because of the recent military action of the Soviet Union.” He asserted that the “Soviet Union has taken a radical and an aggressive new step. It’s using its great military power against a relatively defenseless nation. The implications of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan could pose the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War.” Getting to the crux of the issue, Carter stated:

“This situation demands careful thought, steady nerves, and resolute action, not only for this year but for many years to come. It demands collective efforts to meet this new threat to security in the Persian Gulf and in Southwest Asia. It demands the participation of all those who rely on oil from the Middle East and who are concerned with global peace and stability. And it demands consultation and close cooperation with countries in the area which might be threatened. Meeting this challenge will take national will, diplomatic and political wisdom, economic sacrifice, and, of course, military capability. We must call on the best that is in us to preserve the security of this crucial region. Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

Carter then outlined the steps the United States was taking to make this doctrine a reality, such as improving capabilities to rapidly deploy U.S. forces to the region, preventing conflict in the region, strengthening the U.S. naval presence in the Indian Ocean, and solidifying the U.S. guarantee of Pakistani independence. (Public Papers: Carter, 1980–81, Book I, pages 194–198)

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The full text of Carter’s address is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 138.