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On November 12, 1979, President Jimmy Carter responds to a potential threat to national security by stopping the importation of petroleum from Iran.
Earlier that month, on November 4, 66 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had been taken hostage by a radical Islamic group. The alarming event led Carter and his advisors to wonder if the same or other terrorist groups would try to strike at American oil resources in the region. At the time, the U.S. depended heavily on Iran for crude oil and Carter’s cultivation of a relationship with Iran’s recently deposed shah gave the radicals cause, in their view, to take the Americans hostage. Not knowing if future attacks were planned involving American oil tankers or refineries, Carter agreed with the Treasury and Energy Departments that oil imports from Iran should be discontinued immediately. This ended America’s formerly friendly association with the oil-rich nation.
READ MORE: The 1970s Energy Crisis
The U.S. and Iran had previously enjoyed a healthy diplomatic relationship; Carter had even enlisted the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s help in reconvening peace talks between Israel and Egypt. Carter also sought Iran’s help in supporting nuclear non-proliferation talks with the Soviet Union. Carter and the shah affirmed their desire to collaborate on alternative energy and oil conservation. He even once toasted Iran under the shah as “an island of stability” in the Middle East.
While Carter and the shah planned closer collaboration on energy issues and the Middle East peace process, an Islamic revolution was brewing in Iran. The shah, who was reviled by the revolutionaries as catering to evil Western influences, was deposed in January 1979 and replaced by a clerical regime led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. In October 1979, the exiled shah came to the United States for cancer treatment. Carter’s hospitality toward the shah enraged the group of radical Iranian students who, on November 4, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage.
The ensuing hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days, eroded Carter’s popularity and he lost his bid for re-election to Republican Ronald Reagan. Reagan went on to serve as president from 1980 to 1988.
READ MORE: How the Iran Hostage Crisis Became a 14-Month Nightmare for President Carter and the Nation
Jimmy Carter shuts down oil imports from Iran - HISTORY
Long before President Bush placed Iran within his “Axis of Evil,” the two countries, Iran and United States, had a contentious, if not hostile, relationship. In the 1950s, the U.S. supported a coup in Iran to overthrow a democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and install a more friendly figure, the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Although in a lot of ways he modernized the country, the Shah did not endear himself to the people by 1979 he was forced to flee the country, travelling to the U.S. ostensibly to seek treatment. The Iranians, incensed by American interference in their government, raided a U.S. embassy, capturing more than 60 of the staff as hostages.
On this day, November 12, in 1979, in response to Iranian taking of terrorists, just days after the raid, President Jimmy Carter acted to ban oil imports from Iran and froze $8 billion of Iranian assets in the United States.
Carter hoped, vainly, that economic pressure would persuade the Iranians to release the hostages. Thirteen were in fact released, all female or African-American, but the majority would be held for 444 days. Early on, Carter authorized a secret rescue effort, involving a group of helicopters along with C-130 cargo planes, but the mission was badly mismanaged: helicopters broke down in the raging sandstorms outside of Tehran, and one helicopter that did take off slammed into a C-130, destroying both. The resulting chaos, when discovered, was a propaganda victory for Tehran and a black eye for Washington.
Jimmy Carter on Energy & Oil
In fairness, transforming America's energy consumption would have been a Herculean feat for any president. But Carter lacked two core qualification. He never mastered the art of either inspiring the people or working with Congress. Carter was a man of abiding principle, idealism, and morality. Those qualities shone through in his post-presidency. However, as president, his attempts to appeal to ethical norms often sounded merely reproachful or preachy. His high purpose was not enough. Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p. 56 , Aug 25, 2008
Boycott oil supplied from ANWR
Our nation consumes 7 billion barrels of oil per year, and even if the refuge provided the hoped-for 1 million barrels per day, the slight increase in domestic supply would not significantly lessen our dependence on foreign oil. At best, according to various energy experts, the refuge would yield less than a year's supply of oil for the US.
The tragedy of the decision to savage the Alaska refuge is that when oil from the area might reach peak production, 15 to 20 years from now, it will equal the amount that could be saved by requiring the efficiency of "light trucks" (SUVs) to be the same as that of ordinary cars (20 miles/gallon). Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p.167-168 , Sep 26, 2006
Pushed alternative energy program to fight oil shortage
Invest windfall profits tax in synthetic fuels & solar
CARTER: With the windfall profits tax as a base, we now have an opportunity to use American technology and American ability and American natural resources to expand rapidly the production of synthetic fuels to expand rapidly the production of solar energy and also to produce the conventional kinds of American energy. We will drill more oil and gas wells this year than any year in history. We'll export more coal this year than any year in history. This exciting future will not only give us more energy security but will also open up vast opportunities for Americans to live a better life and to have millions of new jobs associated with this new and very dynamic industry now in prospect because of the new energy policy that we've put into effect. Source: The Reagan-Carter Presidential Debate , Oct 28, 1980
Gasoline conservation by oil import fee rationing if needed
We will set gasoline conservation goals for each of the 50 States, and I will make them mandatory if these goals are not met. I've established an import ceiling for 1980 of 8.2 million barrels a day. I expect our imports to be much lower than this, but the ceiling will be enforced by an oil import fee if necessary. I'm prepared to lower these imports still further if the other oil-consuming countries will join us in a fair and mutual reduction. If we have a serious shortage, I will not hesitate to impose mandatory gasoline rationing immediately.
The single biggest factor in inflation last year was from one cause: the skyrocketing prices of OPEC oil. We must take whatever actions are necessary to reduce our dependence on foreign oil--and at the same time reduce inflation. Source: Pres. Carter's 1980 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 23, 1980
Passed energy policy of some decontrol & some regulation
Increase production cut waste use plentiful fuels
Now we know what we must do--increase production. We must cut down on waste. And we must use more of those fuels which are plentiful and more permanent. We must be fair to people, and we must not disrupt our Nation's economy and our budget.
Now, that sounds simple. But the fact remains that on the energy legislation, we have failed the American people. Almost 5 years after the oil embargo dramatized the problem for us all, we still do not have a national energy program. Not much longer can we tolerate this stalemate. It undermines our national interest both at home and abroad. We must succeed, and I believe we will. Source: Pres. Carter's 1978 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 19, 1978
Proposed Energy Dept. to share sacrifices of rising prices
We realized that our domestic prices would have to rise in order to stimulate American production and encourage conservation, but the increase needed to be brought about in a predictable & orderly fashion. Also, the unearned profits from higher prices needed to be shared with the consuming public. Even with such protection, some sacrifices among the people would be required, making it doubly important that our proposed plan be fair.
On March 1st, I sent to Congress our proposal for the new Department of Energy. It was like pulling teeth to convince the people of America that we had a serious problem in the face of apparently plentiful supplies, or that they should be willing to make some sacrifices or change their habits to meet a challenge which, for the moment, was not evident. Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p. 94-97 , Apr 18, 1977
Energy policy needed to avoid kowtowing to oil countries
Develop a varied energy portfolio, including solar
CARTER: We're gonna run out of oil. We now import about 44% of our oil. We need to shift from oil to coal. We need to concentrate our on coal burning and extraction, with safer mines, but also clean burning. We need to shift very strongly toward solar energy and have strict conservation measures. And then as a last resort only, use atomic power.
FORD: In 1975 I submitted to Congress the first comprehensive energy program recommended by any president. It called for an increase in the production of energy in the United States. If you're going to increase domestic oil and gas production--and we have to--you have to give those producers an opportunity to develop their land or their wells. I think you have to have greater oil and gas production, more coal production, more nuclear production, and in addition you have to have energy conservation Source: The First Carter-Ford Presidential Debate , Sep 23, 1976
Bob Benjamin - 7/16/2008
your article on Carter suggesting that if we had followed his advice we would not be in the situation we are today is so wrong. First, I like the first statement because that does suggest that we should of been drilling more as demand increased over the years to a point of producing half of the oil we used. However, living during those times and remembering Jimmy Carter he would of meant that we cut our usage to meet the 50% mark. His second suggestion that we put a major effort into alternatives was done, just maybe not to the degree needed. Those are both good statements. However, it is the rest of the suggestions that are very disagreeable to me. First " He was right in seeking to raise the fleet auto mileage standard to 48 miles per gallon by 1995. (Even U.S. automakers admitted at the time that they could easily achieve 30 mph by 1985.)"
Putting requirements on auto manufactures increase the costs of those manufactures. Those costs are passed on to consumers. Additional costs by corporations are handled in two ways. Raise prices on what you are selling (causing the consumer to pay more for their car), settled for less profits (which shareholders will not like and that hurts everyone who has invested in them), or lay off workers (again hurts the consumer. Even with that not happening to the degree Carter wished, GM is close to selling themselves to foreign investors because they can not make it. So great idea lets give them more constraints.
Next, " Invoking the pioneering spirit of the 1960s’ moon mission, he was right to recommend a tax on windfall oil profits to finance a crash program to develop affordable synthetic fuels." This was tried and there was a Windfall profits tax which during the time imposed was estimated to bring in an additional 300MM and ended up only bring in 85mm. Why because consumers with their good common sense stopped consuming as much because pricing was getting to high. Supply/Demand equation works when prices go up, demand goes down. economics 101.
Next, Requiring Utilities to get 50% of their power from alternative sources." This is the best, Could you imagine what our utility bills would look like if that was done. WOW, that would of raised costs through the roof.
You suggest in your article that wind power tax credits are slow to come about. MAybe that is because wind power is extremely inefficient. Read up on it. For this to be a viable solution, their has to be wind and lots of it. Then it would have to be stored for those many days there is no wind. There is currently no way to build an energy source large enough to hold that wind power so that it can be stored. So we would need fossil fuel, or oil in reserve to power what was not being consumed. Dont think that solves the problem.
Getting tired of writing, but it makes sense to drill now and develop alternates now. As you rightly said ethanol is not the answer, that is just one side of congress who has their own agenda and the americans they serve are not their concern. Drilling in off-shore and the artic are sensible since it is a sure bet, contigencies should be giving credits to other sources so in time they can be proven to be useful as replacements, but in the mean time we are sure. New technologies allow for this to be done in a environmentally safe way.
Arnold Shcherban - 7/13/2008
The real truth is that J. Carter as ALL American presidents (the Right's darling Reagan included) made small and big mistakes (small and big evil things) along with small and
big correct things.
As far as the US oil dependence and policy in Mid-East are concerned Carter made no more, perhaps even less, mistakes than any other US president after the WWII, considering
the fact that ALL of them were the conductors of Pax Americana policies, just a bit more or less aggressive.
Raul A Garcia - 7/10/2008
While in college in the early 70's I read a popular mechanics article on a great simple device to improve gas mileage on almost any vehicle. What a shame this happened only incrementally via a number of compromises between the auto co.'s and the government. The cars are cleaner tis true but there are so many more of them. The traffic is universally bad. I have taken to walking more. I will not relinquish my pickup truck I am a big man- but I use it selectively now. The road is less romantic for sure.I actually drive the speed limit!
Ross Kiser - 7/8/2008
Of course, there are some liberals who would like to see industrial civilization grind to a halt. I think it was Paul Erhlich, who has been erroneously predicting for years that we would run out of resources, who said that a clean, cheap source of energy is like giving a child a machine gun.
Robert Lee Gaston - 7/8/2008
A stopped clock is right twice a day. Jimmy Carter may have been right once in four years.
That oil is a finite asset controlled by unstable governments that may not have good relations with the United States was first expressed in my lifetime by President Eisenhower. This was in a speech announcing the “Atoms for Peace” program. Here, Jimmy said nothing new.
Jimmy Carter and the congress let a bad movie set nuclear powered electrical generation back in this country by three decades. About all Carter did was establish DOE and talk. I would guess the number of kilowatts of electricity and the number of barrels of oil produced by the DOE is fairly small.
Elliott Aron Green - 7/8/2008
Mike, can you enlighten me as to when Carter ever complained about the lack of human rights in Saudi Arabia or Iraq or the Persian Gulf oil princedoms??
Further, Mike, the US did have a lot of influence over events in Iran. See the article from about 1981 on this matter by George Lenczowski in the American Spectator. It's interesting that at the time of Khomeini's takeover, the Anerican press was complaining about the Shah's denial of civil rights, etc. All these denunciations of the Shah helped bring in Khomeini who showed the world what denial of rights really meant.
I agree with Lawrence Hughes but would add one more peccadillo to carter's list. He and his man Friday, Zbigniew Brzezinski [now advising Sen Obama], got the US involved in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The downside here was the kind of allies that Zbig and jimmy were working with. One of them was Osama bin Laden. After 9-11 Zbig was asked whether his doings in Afghanistan had been worth it in view of Bin Laden and 9-11. He answered Yes, pointing to the fall of the USSR. But his one-time proteges, bin Laden and Co. may be even more dangerous than the Communists were in their day. So much for carter's record on peace and human rights.
Gary W. Daily - 7/8/2008
"Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan summed it up when he said of Carter in 1980, 'Unable to distinguish between our friends and our enemies, he has essentially adopted our enemies' view of the world.'"
I've looked for a source for this quote which is all over the web and haven't found one. I'm not interested in turning this thread away from Carter's energy program, but does anyone know the 1980 context for Moynihan's (if he did say this) statement.
Michael Davis - 7/8/2008
Here, here. Brazil just discovered two humongous oil fields in the Atlantic.
Too bad we can drill in these areas off our own coast.
Michael Davis - 7/8/2008
Amen. Don't worry. Nuclear will have to be part of our energy future out of pure necessity. Since the eco libs don't like coal, which we have gobs of, they have nowhere else to turn. Wind and solar sure won't plug the gap. Plus wind power has opponents everywhere (read: the Cape Cod shore.)
Don't you love it when libs fight among themselves?
Lucio Benedetto - 7/7/2008
And why don't you have the courage to mention nuclear power? I'm all for all forms of alternative energy that mention as well. But we we can't whitewash the fact that Carter promoted the safe use of nuclear power as well, although he was opposed to methods that involved the use of plutonium or recycling, which might encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Before we turn him into a hero of solar/ethanol, let's remember that he did not discount the use of nuclear, which Carter's party now opposes today.
Randll Reese Besch - 7/7/2008
If we had followed Carter's lead we would have been in much better position today. More solar and other alternate cleaner technologies and using less instead of more oil. We knew the car companies could have created more fuel efficient cars much less hybrids and electric only vehicles would have been much more in use and cheaper to run and purchase.
Too bad our Bush/Cheney Axis of Evil are oil men who have no interest in getting off of that teat just yet. Drill, drill, drill! Even with many more dry wells these days and having to drill ever deeper to get oil at a higher cost. Sour crude that costs more to process also ads cost. Do the math. Brazil took a different direction though they still haven't gone to solar just yet. They need to and soon!
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 7/7/2008
There have been six or eight times since Rockefeller got started when the world thought it was running out of oil, and each time the geologists went out and quickly found lots more. This will happen again, although presently known reserves can fill current demand for perhaps 200 years at the present rate of consumption. Apart from that, your description of civilization coming to a schreeching halt without oil would be accurate. But there is plenty out there, and more atomic power will be generated to extend its life, too, plus gasification of coal. Relief from wind and solar sources will be too meager to make any difference.
The extraction and use of more oil and gas is the only cost-effective and quick method of returning to a energy situation which does not threaten the end of the world.
Clifford j wirth - 7/7/2008
Global oil production is now declining, from 85 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. At the same time demand will increase 14%. This is like a 45% drop in 7 years. No one can reverse this trend, nor can we conserve our way out of this catastrophe. Because the demand for oil is so high, it will always be higher than production thus the depletion rate will continue until all recoverable oil is extracted.
We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel trucks for maintenance of bridges, cleaning culverts to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables, all from far away. With the highways out, there will be no food coming in from "outside," and without the power grid virtually nothing works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated systems.
This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed: http://www.peakoilassociates.com/POAnalysis.html
Cary Fraser - 7/7/2008
Carter's search for a new approach to energy production and consumption demonstrated his grasp of the fundamental challenges that would confront America in the future. Unfortunately, his successors since 1980 have succumbed to the allure of petroleum.
Sniffing gas is an impediment to clear thought.
John D. Beatty - 7/7/2008
Every president since Nixon has made that same claim in one form or another, and none have been demonstrated to be right yet. Our "dependence" on foreign petroleum will last as long as the Congress and the Greens want it to last and has absolutely nothing to do with the hallucinations of incompetent peanut farmers.
Mike Schoenberg - 7/7/2008
Another issue that Carter raised was Human Rights, something that he was bashed over the head by the Wall Street Journal and others on the right. Seems that Bush used this issue as one of the justifications for invading Iraq. As for Carter and the Shah, how much influence did we really have over there at the end?
Richard Landes - 7/7/2008
have to agree with Lawrence Brooks. at a time when Carter is being made a fool of -- a willing useful idiot -- by Hamas, and writing books that are so riddled with errors that they would never get a passing grade from a serious professor, it seems bizarre to say the least to read an article with this title. surely one can find a voice for sanity in energy conservation and independence other than Carter.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 7/7/2008
Admirers of President Jimmy Carter have got to be an endangered species. Most of us feel he was a terrible president, and perhaps THE worst ex-president, as well.
Carter failed to deregulate oil and gas, and we had to wait four years until Ronald Reagan did so, making fuel supplies rise and fuel prices fall.
Carter undermined the Palavi government in Teheran, leading directly to the ascension of the madman Khomeini, which in turn led directly to our present problems with Iran, not to mention the hostage crisis, the enslavement of Iranian women, and the Iran-Iraq War.
Carter said the income tax was "a disgrace to the human race," but did nothing about it. It's still the same, 27 years after his term ended.
He said the military had more generals and admirals than during World War II, and it still does. He believed in turning the other cheek toward the Soviet Union, instead of pubhing back as Reagan did, which prolonged the Cold War.
Carter halts Iranian oil imports: Nov. 12, 1979
On this day in 1979, President Jimmy Carter barred oil imports from Iran in response to the seizure of American hostages in Tehran.
Concerned that future attacks may have been in the works against American oil tankers, Carter agreed with the Treasury and Energy departments that oil shipments from Iran should end immediately. Iranian oil imports had reached a peak of 555,000 barrels a day in 1978.
Eight days earlier, radical Islamic students had taken 66 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy. (Thirteen women and African-Americans who had been seized were subsequently released on Nov. 19 and 20.)
The crisis centered on the U.S. relationship with Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, who began his reign in 1941. In a 1953 power struggle with his prime minister, the shah gained CIA support to prevent nationalization of Iran's oil industry.
In return for assuring the United States a steady supply of oil, Iran received economic and military aid from eight American presidents.
Early in the 1960s, the shah announced social and economic reforms but refused to grant broad political freedoms. Iranian nationalists condemned his regime and his “Westernizing” policies.
During rioting in 1963, the shah cracked down, suppressing his opposition. Among those arrested and exiled was a popular religious nationalist and bitter foe of the United States, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Unable to sustain economic progress and unwilling to expand democratic freedoms, the shah’s regime collapsed. On Jan. 16, 1979, the shah fled the country.
The exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from Paris in February and whipped popular discontent into rabid anti-Americanism. When the Shah, with Carter’s permission, came to America for cancer treatment in October, the ayatollah incited Iranian militants to attack and occupy the U.S. embassy.
The ensuing hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days, eroded Carter’s popularity, who set as his highest priority the safe release of the hostages. The lingering standoff contributed to his failure to win reelection in 1980, when Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee, defeated him.
According to Yale historian Gaddis Smith, “From the moment the hostages were seized until they were released minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as president, … the crisis absorbed more concentrated effort by American officials and had more extensive coverage on television and in the press than any other event since World War II.”
Jimmy Carter shuts down oil imports from Iran - HISTORY
Iranian Oil Contingencies
Iranian oil production in recent months has averaged about 3.7 million barrels per day, with late October production up to 4.1 million b/d. Exports have been about 3.1 million b/d, of which about 700,000 b/d comes to the U.S. This constitutes about 8 percent of U.S. oil imports and about 3.7 percent of total U.S. oil availability.
If Iran decides to embargo oil shipments to the U.S., a basic question is whether Iran also decides to reduce its total exports. We believe this would be the case. As the 1973–74 experience showed, it is very difficult to target an embargo on a single country, and greater impact is achieved if production is cut at the same time. The Iranian regime is presently earning foreign exchange at about twice the rate of its foreign exchange expenditures. Even before the occupation of the American Embassy, the Iranian National Oil Company told us that they would cut back oil production by 300,000 b/d in 1980.
Triggering the IEA Sharing System
Even if no other market adjustments were made to compensate, an Iranian embargo of the U.S. would not trigger the IEA sharing system because the size of the cutback to the U.S. would be below the trigger level. To activate the system, the IEA group or any member country must sustain a cut in available oil to a level at least 7% below base period consumption (roughly the previous year). U.S. oil imports from Iran are only about 3.7% of total oil available to the U.S. in view of the recent increase in our total oil availability, a complete and uncompensated stoppage of Iranian exports to the U.S. would leave us with expected oil availability about 2.2% below base period.
A larger Iranian cutback (e.g. one million b/d) would have its impact on the consuming world as a whole. Even if it all fell on IEA countries, it would be far below the 2.6 million b/d trigger level for the IEA as a group.
It is possible to activate the IEA sharing system at less than a 7% shortfall by unanimous agreement, but it is doubtful that unanimity would be achieved. Many IEA countries, and the Secretariat, believe that triggering the allocation system—which would inevitably entail domestic allocation—is much less desirable for a shortage below 7% than more informal coordination of policies. However, if something approaching a total shutdown of Iranian production ensues, we would not exclude IEA sharing as a tool for joint action.
Major producing countries with spare crude capacity are shown in the attached table. 2 A number of them increased production when Iran shut down early this year, and some might do so again. On the other hand, a number are expected to reduce production in early 1980.
Saudi Arabia is now producing 9.5 million b/d from Aramco fields, one million b/d over its ceiling. It may have capacity to produce some additional oil, but analysts doubt whether a substantial increase can be sustained for long.
Kuwait is now producing at about 2.3 million b/d, slightly below capacity this is scheduled to drop to 2.2 million b/d, and the Kuwaitis are reportedly considering an even steeper cut of up to 500,000 b/d. The Kuwaitis do not need the income and view oil in the ground as potentially more valuable than additional financial investments.
Abu Dhabi has about 500,000 b/d unused capacity due to production ceilings imposed by the Algerian-managed national oil company for “technical reasons”. The technical justification for these limits is questioned by Western oilmen, but their imposition clearly reflects a broadly accepted local desire to maximize long-term field output.
Nigeria raised its output in early 1979 to about 2.4 million b/d in response to the Iranian crisis, but production has since been reduced to about 2.2 million b/d because of technical reasons (falling pressure in small fields) and conservationist sentiment.
Algeria and Libya have 200,000 and 100,000 b/d of spare capacity which they might bring back on the market if they desired the additional income. Iraq also has perhaps 300,000 b/d of spare capacity.
The United Kingdom recently cut output by 85,000 b/d because of the reintroduction of restrictions on flaring gas from the Brent field. The U.K. may be amenable to another relaxation of flaring rules. While Venezuela has announced it would cut production by 150,000 b/d for conservation reasons in 1980, they might be persuaded to maintain production at 2.35 million b/d.
A major argument in urging additional production would be the risk of harm to the world economy from a renewed shortfall. This might well persuade the Saudis to keep their production up to 9.5 million b/d, although whether they would be willing to go beyond that is questionable. Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, however, might be very reluctant to raise their oil production at this point if that were confrontational with Iran, since they have a strong interest in not antagonizing their larger neighbor. We could not expect our argumentation to have any impact on Algeria or Libya. Strong urgings from the world community might well cause Nigeria and Venezuela to resume higher production on a temporary basis. Iraq could conceivably increase production principally for commercial reasons, either secretly or in some way as to be portrayed as benefitting countries other than the U.S.
Informal Efforts with U.S. Companies
If Iran were to embargo the U.S. but maintain its overall production level, we would expect oil companies to readjust supplies among themselves so as to send Iranian oil to non-U.S. destinations, and non-Iranian oil to the U.S. Market changes in the past year (tight market, increased oil sales moving through producer government companies, reduced amounts of oil available to the majors for third-party sales) have made this more difficult but not impossible. However, the average price paid for such oil imports to the U.S. would be higher, since much of the replacement oil would be at spot prices.
While we believe this would happen naturally, it might be accelerated and coordinated through USG persuasion. This would have particular impact on companies active in the U.S., who would see behind it the potential for regulatory action. It would be essential, in pursuing such efforts with the companies, to consult our IEA partners to reassure them that the U.S. was not seeking to overcompensate for a shortfall at their expense.
The more serious problem is that Iran would be likely to reduce total output in conjunction with any embargo on exports to the U.S. We would still expect through normal market action and persuasion to be able to mitigate to some extent the impact on the U.S., but the consequences for price in the U.S. and eventually worldwide would be more severe.
A list of the companies currently importing oil from Iran is attached. 3 The top two companies—Amerada Hess and Ashland—are very heavily dependent on Iranian oil. Unless oil were rapidly made available to them from elsewhere, they would very quickly be on the spot market, and would likely feel compelled to pay exceptionally high prices.
While DOE buy/sell orders (which mandate oil transfers to crude-short companies) are normally restricted to small refineries, which generally do not directly import foreign crude, it might be appropriate for DOE to review the possibility of regulatory changes which would permit orders requiring other US companies to make oil available to firms cut off under such circumstances. Alternatively, full domestic crude oil allocation might be considered. 4
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The cost of delivering that message is high. It’s difficult for politicians to summon the political will to do so when voters are most concerned with economic growth and prosperity. Public-opinion data reveals that Americans want their fuel reliable, safe, and, above all, cheap. Even when people want to fix local problems that come with health risks, like high emissions, they have little willingness to pay more or use less to prevent global warming, according to a Harvard/MIT survey.
Few political dividends seem to come from taking on conservation, it seems. Just ask Jimmy Carter.
During the 1970s, American leaders were forced to recognize for the first time that the nation used too much oil. In the late 1960s, the United States appeared to be reaching its geological peak of production. New environmental restrictions also limited the extent of production. Feeling the shrinking domestic supply and growing consumption demand, especially as his reelection battle was looming, President Richard Nixon lifted previous import prohibitions. Between 1970 and 1973, oil imports more than doubled, reaching one-third of all usage.
In 1973, the oil-producing Arab nations, through the OPEC cartel, imposed an embargo on the United States in response to its support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The impact was traumatic. In late October, Nixon’s presidential energy advisor, John Love, warned: “Considerable public fear and indignation, cries of industry conspiracy and government ineptitude, and possibly real hardships, appear imminent.” Americans “have an energy crisis,” Nixon said in a televised address to Americans that November. He called for mild conservation efforts combined with more fossil-fuel production, including the development of nuclear energy and coal. Congressional Democrats like Henry “Scoop” Jackson pushed for mandatory rationing.
The public sense of crisis was palpable. Jesse Jackson proposed a moratorium on the unemployed having to pay their utility bills. Time ’s December 1973 cover story, “The Big Car: End of the Affair,” featured an automobile visibly weeping from its headlights. Anxious motorists arrived at gas stations before sunrise fearing there would be no supplies. People bought locks for their tanks to prevent others from siphoning off their fuel.
The greatest act of desperation came when truckers decided to protest. In early December, 1,800 independent truckers tied up the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Jersey, creating a 12-mile back up for seven hours. One hundred twelve miles of the Ohio Turnpike were also shut down. “We figured if trucks could do without fuel, the country could damn well do without trucks,” shouted one protester. When members of Congress returned to their districts over the Christmas recess, they encountered hours-long lines of drivers waiting to fill up their tanks. In Suffolk County, New York, 76 percent of residents identified the energy crisis as the country’s most serious problem, according to a poll circulated in the Nixon White House Watergate came in at only 15 percent. When Tonight Show host Johnny Carson opened with a joke about a shortage on toilet paper in late December, thousands of consumers went to the market the next day to stock up.
Without any sense of irony, Nixon made a public appeal to Americans to cut back—from Disney World in Florida. Unless Americans voluntarily conserved, the government would have to distribute ration coupons. Oil companies also urged cutbacks: Amoco replaced its previous ads about the open road with images of Johnny Cash telling Americans to “Drive Slow and Save Gas.” And Congress took baby steps to diminish usage: In 1973 it created a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit on federal highways.
OPEC finally ended its embargo in March of 1974, but the energy crisis remained a central issue in American politics throughout the 1970s. Every aspect of public policy and daily life was touched by high energy prices, which did not fall. Instead of rolling out reforms, government officials looked for ways to obtain more supplies. Democrats like House Majority Leader Tip O’Neill and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy pushed for price controls and government allocations, policies designed to protect middle-income consumers. Meanwhile, Republicans pushed for deregulation. In 1975, President Gerald Ford—working closely with advisers such as Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, and Alan Greenspan—successfully pushed legislation that would gradually reduce federal control over oil markets.
But in 1976, Jimmy Carter came into office determined to end the crisis. His term began during one of the coldest winters of American history, which triggered a heating-fuel shortage. Days into his presidency, he delivered a now-famous televised address about energy. “We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren,” he told America from in front of a fireplace, wearing a cardigan. “We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.”
The president had solar panels installed on the White House roof and called for a billion-dollar investment in solar-power research. He pushed for legislation, including the 1978 National Energy Act, which created federal grants for energy-efficient homes and buildings. He also led the creation of the Department of Energy, a cabinet-level body charged with dealing with these issues. But he was not able to find support for an oil tax. Many Americans didn’t want a plan that added up to “Pay More, Buy Less,” as The Boston Globe put it.
In the summer of 1979, when the Iranian Revolution led to a decline in the global oil supply, OPEC announced yet another substantial price increase. Oil prices were up more than 1000 percent since the start of the decade.
The long lines returned. Fistfights broke out as drivers accused each other of cutting. One Brooklyn man fatally shot another in front of his pregnant wife. Ten days later, another man was stabbed to death. “One line was shorter and they both tried for that,” an officer explained. That June, Levittown, Pennsylvania, went up in flames in a gas riot with protesters chanting, “More gas, more gas!”
Jimmy Carter was failing on his energy agenda. Members of Congress were “literally afraid to go home” over July 4th, noted Carter’s domestic adviser Stuart Eizenstat, for fear of encountering “angry constituents.” More than half of states enacted odd-even rationing laws, which designated the day a person could fill up based on the last digit of his license plate—that is, if supplies were available.
Carter did not give up. In mid-July, he once again asked Americans to cut back. “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption,” he said. “Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.” He told Americans they had to drive less, carpool more, and use public transportation. “Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense—I tell you it is an act of patriotism.”
The speech didn’t work. Carter’s approval ratings continued to plummet. Conservation did not seem to be what most Americans wanted. And Americans blamed Washington for the panic at the pump. “Carter, Kiss My Gas,” became a popular bumper sticker.
Right up until the end of his time in office, Carter pushed for reforms. In 1980, at his insistence, Congress created the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, which provided massive financial support for synthetic-fuel-manufacturing plants. Shortly before leaving office, he persuaded Congress to enact the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which protected vast amounts of land from becoming sites of oil exploration and production.
But President Carter was never able to build a strong political coalition to support limits on oil consumption. “The basic problem is that there is no constituency for an energy program,” said James Schlesinger, the country’s first energy secretary. “There are many constituencies opposed. But the basic constituency for the program is the future.” Most Americans saw the energy crisis as a shortage that threatened their way of life. As the novelist John Updike wrote in Rabbit Is Rich, the nation was “running out of gas” knew “the Great America Ride is ending.”
Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, had a very different vision of energy policy. “First we must decide that ‘less’ is not enough,” Reagan said on the campaign trail. “Next we must remove government obstacles to energy production. … It is no program simply to say ‘use less energy.’”
Reagan delivered. On January 28, 1981, his first major act was to issue an executive order that removed all remaining federal controls on the domestic production and distribution of oil and gasoline. “The long national nightmare of energy regulation is over,” noted one columnist in The Washington Post. “In his first major political decision as president, Ronald Reagan has pardoned the oil companies.”
Reagan’s actions were popular. Smaller Japanese cars like the Datsun, which had been all the rage in the 1970s, were replaced by bigger gas-guzzlers. In his hit song “I Can’t Drive Fifty-Five, ” Sammy Hagar sang to an imaginary cop, “Go on and write me up for 125. Post my face wanted dead or live,” capturing the feeling many had about the restrictions of the previous decade. Soon after his reelection, Reagan removed the White House solar panels.
Republicans also expanded America’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, in part so that the U.S. could protect its access to resources abroad. The build-up had started under Carter in 1980. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the president had announced the “Carter Doctrine,” which would require a massive military presence in the Gulf. As part of an increase in defense spending, Reagan dedicated 300,000 troops to the region. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi troops into Kuwait, George H.W. Bush, now in the Oval Office, saw the action as a threat to the global oil supply. The stakes, he told his Cabinet, were nothing less than “U.S. reliability, the potential domination of Gulf energy resources … [and] international order in what I call the post-postwar era.”
In 2016, Americans are at another crossroads. The success of fracking seems to have created the false impression among some consumers that energy is not a problem. Oil imports are down, prices have plummeted, and there is no shortage of domestic energy. With gas prices in decline, the demand for bigger cars and SUVs has gone up. Given that more than a quarter of all greenhouse-gas emissions come from the transportation sector, any successful plan to curb global warming will depend on changes in consumption habits.
But there’s also greater opportunity for reform than there was in the Carter era. The Georgia Democrat led an incredibly divided party, which made any deal in Congress difficult, even though Democrats held a sizable majority. The party was split between Northern liberals, who insisted on keeping prices down, and the representatives of southern producers, who, in the words of a popular song by the Folkel Minority, said they would rather “Freeze a Yankee” than embrace production restrictions. At the same time, conservatives criticized the costs of government intervention, which resulted in powerful arguments against reform. As Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist and leading critic of Carter’s energy agenda put it, “There are very few taxpayers, I believe, who think they are getting their money’s worth for the 40 percent of their income which is being spent for them by government bureaucrats.” And the Cold War made international treaties on conservation impossible.
Today’s political landscape is different. In 2015, more people got jobs in solar and wind than in the oil industry, and employment in renewables was three times greater than in coal. As the International Energy Administration has reported, the United States has posted two consecutive years of growth without a corresponding increase in its emissions, suggesting the country can keep global warming in check even as the economy picks up. Instead of urging Americans to pay more and use less, as Carter did, the next president can encourage Americans to grow green. The Paris Climate Agreement also offers cause for optimism 195 countries around the world have committed to cutting pollution that creates climate change.
Jimmy Carter’s Age and Health
Carter was born on October 1, 1924. As of May 2020, he was 95 years old. That makes him the oldest living president. On March 22, 2019, he turned 94 years and 172 days, making Carter the longest-living president ever.
The former president’s advanced age makes many people wonder about his health. In 2015, Carter reported that he had melanoma that had spread from his liver to his brain. Four months later, he announced he was free of cancer after being treated with pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug. On average, the treatment extends life by 18 months, but some patients are cancer-free after 10 years.
In 2019, Carter received treatments for a number of health complications, but he appears to have recovered well and remains active.
Jimmy Carter’s Options in Iran Were All Bad
The passing of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush in December 2018 left Jimmy Carter as the oldest living American president. The 39th commander-in-chief.
The passing of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush in December 2018 left Jimmy Carter as the oldest living American president. The 39th commander-in-chief and former governor of Georgia was elected in 1976 and served one term, giving way to Ronald Reagan, whose vice-president was Bush, in January 1981.
Carter’s loss to Reagan in 1980 can be attributed in large part to the impact of the Iran hostage crisis, a 444-day affair in which 52 Americans were held against their will by revolutionaries who had seized the United States’ embassy in Tehran.
The botched rescue attempt, code-name Operation Eagle Claw, on April 24, 1980, resulted in the deaths of eight Americans. The incident, among other occurrences during the Carter administration, was seen to have damaged U.S. credibility and prestige worldwide.
During the crisis, there was considerable pressure on Carter to act more decisively to bring the hostages home. There were calls for military action, even at the risk of resultant harm to the hostages. As the 40th anniversary of the crisis approaches, the question remains – what else could Carter have done at the time to rescue the hostages and bolster America’s fledgling credibility?
In retrospect, not a whole lot.
“The National Security Council agreed that [military force was] more likely to provoke the Iranians to kill some of the hostages than to let them go free,” Kenneth Pollack determined in his 2004 history of U.S.-Iran relations, The Persian Puzzle.
He also noted that critics often miss the point when panning Carter’s handling of the crisis, by forgetting he was ultimately successful in attaining the release of every hostage without harm. The president had made it the top priority of his approach to the problem and, though it took over a year, the goal was achieved.
“The relevant question is whether there was another approach that would have brought the hostages home sooner or that would have been less damaging to our interests abroad,” Pollack wrote.
However, Pollack also conceded an argument could be made that the United States should have pursued a policy toward Iran aimed at maintaining “the credibility of American deterrence.” The scholar, currently an American Enterprise Institute resident fellow, noted the callousness such a policy would have entailed, but stressed that deterrence is such a critical component of defense and foreign policy that it cannot afford to be undermined.
Willingly yielding the fate of the 52 Americans to their captors would have been a difficult road for any president to take, but, depending on the mindset and worldview of a given administration, it is not out of the question another president could have handled the same crisis differently.
What sorts of measures could have been taken? And would they have worked? As Pollack detailed, the answer lay in the events that followed the embassy seizure. First, the options – instead of attempting to negotiate, the United States could have tried coercing the Iranians into releasing the hostages, with the trade-off being an increased likelihood of not all the captives returning alive.
Given Iran’s intransigence, it was unlikely coercion would have worked. It may in fact have hardened their resolve to resist the “Great Satan” at all costs. This means, eventually, coercion would have to be backstopped by force. The use of force is precisely what many of Carter’s critics and even his national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski endorsed as a means of resolving the stand-off.
At top — Iranian students crowd the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979. Above — C-SPAN capture
The question was, was the United States willing to employ the kind of force necessary to impose “unacceptable” costs, as Pollack put it, upon Iran as to cause Iran to capitulate to American demands? In his eyes, the nature of revolutionary Iran at the time was such that only “a full-scale invasion of Iran or the use of nuclear weapons” would have been sufficient enough to force change in Tehran’s behavior.
Neither option was seriously considered.
In fact, the United States had very few military options. Striking air bases, oil facilities, a blockade including mining Iranian harbors, seizing Kharg Island or a rescue mission were all considered early in the crisis. But even a rescue was initially de-emphasized as an option because of the inherent difficulties in getting a rescue force in and out of Iran safely with minimal casualties, along with a lack of intelligence on the exact whereabouts of the hostages.
Only until more reliable intelligence surfaced and Delta Force had developed a viable rescue plan, was the option more seriously considered and, eventually, implemented in the form of Eagle Claw.
This left air strikes, mining harbors, seizing Iranian territory and a blockade available to the president. In his memoir, Brzezinski recalled a National Security Council meeting on Nov. 23, 1980, in which Carter presented his strategy of “condemn, threaten, break relations, mine three harbors, bomb Abadan, total blockade.”
Though determined to resolve the crisis diplomatically, Carter understood force or the threat of would need to be introduced at some point down the line. The common denominator of all these options was the targeting of Iranian oil as a means of inducing compliance.
Abadan, which hosted a major refinery in oil-rich Khuzestan Province in Iran’s southwest, was the major focus of the strike option. Kharg Island was Iran’s major oil export terminal. Mining and blockade were aimed at shutting down Iranian oil exports complete, thereby causing economic trauma.
But as Pollack noted, Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini was producing less oil than it had been doing before the revolution. A reason for this was because Khomeini himself saw oil as the source of the country’s problems related to outside intervention and imperialism. It was not until the Iran-Iraq War that the former found the need to increase the production of oil.
Unless the United States invaded Iran, causing damage to Iran’s economy was, at least in the immediate term, unlikely to convince Khomeini to release the hostages and probably would have hardened Iran’s resolve to resist America at all costs.
Wreckage of a U.S. rescue helicopter in Iran following the failure of the Eagle Claw raid. Photo via Wikipedia
If that ruled out the air strike against Abadan as well, what about against Iranian air bases? The Iranian revolution had gutted the Iranian military due to political purges, lack of readiness, and even sabotage. Initial setbacks against Iraq during the war demonstrated the extent to which Iran’s air force was in poor fighting trim, only to see the Islamic Republic mount a ferocious comeback against their mortal enemy.
This suggests Iran would have been similarly unfazed by U.S. strikes in 1979 or ’80. From Tehran’s perspective, there was little to lose and their response to their Iraqi invaders implies Iran would have stood their ground in the face of limited American action.
Mining and blockades were unlikely to induce compliance as well. In addition to revolutionary Iran’s conflicted attitude towards oil, it was impossible to completely choke off Iran from the outside world, given its vast land borders which would not be impacted by mining or blockade.
While America could cause considerable damage to Iran’s economy in such a fashion, the way the Iranian people adapted to the rigors of the revolution and the Iran-Iraq War demonstrate not only had they already endured enormous hardship, they were ready for more.
In fact, the Iran-Iraq War is highly illuminating with regards to how Iran may have responded to U.S. military action. Pollack describes disturbing extent to which Iran was willing to take casualties, stating:
Iran suffered horrific damage during that war and its people made astonishing sacrifices, yet it took eight years [emphasis placed] of beating their heads against a wall and losing hundreds of thousands of young men in senseless human-wave attacks, with nearly the whole world lined up against it, before Iran gave up.
This historical fact brings the debate full circle back to the only two options likely to have forced Iran to capitulate – full-scale invasion or nuclear attack, neither of which were feasible nor worth considering given the scenario. The uncomfortable truth is that no military option was likely to resolve the hostage crisis and may have only reinforced the narratives pushed by Khomeini and other revolutionary leaders about the need to resist America to the bitter end.
Additionally, the military options were ultimately indirect means of achieving the president’s primary goal – bringing all the hostages home alive, something only a rescue attempt could achieve. Even as the necessity of such an endeavor became clear, there was still a sense the United States would have to unleash punitive measures against Iran.
“I started to think of the need to combine the rescue mission with a retaliatory strike,” Brzezinski recalled. “My view was that casualties in the rescue mission would be unavoidable and we had to face the fact that the attempt might even fail.”
Ultimately, the rescue did fail, though not for the reasons Brzezinski and others anticipated. What’s more, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December ’79 also changed Washington’s calculations, which, according to Brzezinski, had been trending closer toward military action.
Ironically, it was the bizarre combination of Soviet expansionism and a tragedy in the Iranian desert that averted military action by the Carter administration and, ultimately, created the conditions for the safe return of all the American hostages.
How The Oil Industry Fared Under The Last Nine U.S. Presidents
MIDLAND, TX - JULY 29: President Donald Trump speaks to city officials and employees of Double Eagle . [+] Energy as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (3rd L) on the site of an active oil rig on July 29, 2020 in Midland, Texas. Trump began his visit to the Permian Basin at a fundraising event in Odessa and concluded in Midland for a tour the oil rig and to discuss energy policy. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)
With the 2020 presidential election looming — and with many claims and counterclaims about a president’s impact on the oil industry — I thought it might be of interest to review the history of U.S. oil production and consumption over the past 50 years.
Here are the highlights from each president’s term in office.
Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th president on January 20, 1969. When President Nixon took office, U.S. oil production was nearing a peak after over 100 years of increasing production. Imports made up 10% of U.S. consumption. In 1970, U.S. oil production reached 9.6 million barrels per day (BPD) and began a long, steady decline.
Richard Nixon began his second term on January 20, 1973. U.S. oil production had declined to 9.2 million BPD while consumption had increased by 3 million BPD from the first year of Nixon’s first term. As a result, oil imports would more than double during Nixon’s presidency, and American citizens would learn the danger of the dependence on imports with the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.
Gerald Ford was inaugurated as the 38th president on August 9, 1974 after Nixon resigned in disgrace. During President Ford’s term in office, domestic oil production continued to decline. U.S. oil consumption and imports continued to grow, and both were at all-time highs during Ford’s last year in office.
Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th president on January 20, 1977. Recent trends in consumption, production, and imports all reversed themselves during President Carter’s term. Consumption fell by 2%, U.S. production increased by 6%, and imports—after initially rising to record highs during his first year in office—were a fraction of a percentage lower at the end of his term than during Ford’s last year in office. Factors beyond Carter’s control—such as the Iranian Revolution and the Iran–Iraq War—heavily influenced the oil markets.
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Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th president on January 20, 1981. Oil consumption continued to decline during most of President Reagan’s first term, and oil production crept back to levels that had not been seen in a decade. Oil imports fell by 35% during his first term.
Ronald Reagan began his second term on January 21, 1985. The trends from his first term all reversed themselves, as consumption rose 10%, domestic production fell by 8%, and oil imports increased by 49%.
George H. W. Bush was inaugurated as the 41st president on January 20, 1989. Consumption fell slightly during his term, but domestic production fell even more—down 12%. Imports increased by 19%, back above 6 million BPD for the first time since the 1970s.
Bill Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd president on January 20, 1993. During his first term, consumption increased by another 7%, domestic production fell by 10%, and imports increased by another 23%—exceeding 7 million bpd for the first time in U.S. history.
Bill Clinton began his second term on January 20, 1997. His second term trends were almost identical to those of his first term. Consumption rose by another 8%, domestic production fell by another 10%, and imports increased by an additional 21%. Consumption and oil imports were at all-time highs, and production had fallen 40% from the 1970 production peak.
George W. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd president on January 20, 2001. During his first term, consumption climbed above 20 million BPD for the first time in the nation’s history. Imports also reached new highs, above 10 million BPD. Domestic production continued to fall.
George W. Bush began his second term on January 20, 2005. During Bush’s second term, consumption began to decline as the nation entered a recession and oil prices reached record highs. Imports fell back to below 10 million BPD. The decline in domestic production continued, albeit at a slower rate of decline than during his first term. This marked the first trickle of oil production from hydraulic fracturing, which would make a major impact during the terms of the next two presidents. During Bush’s last year in office, the level of imports reached just over 50% of U.S. consumption.
Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president on January 20, 2009. The economic sluggishness initially continued, but the impact of hydraulic fracturing began to be felt in President Obama’s first year in office. In a reversal of the long decline that began in 1970, crude oil production would rise all four years of Obama’s first term.
President Obama began his second term on January 21, 2013. The fracking boom caused oil production to accelerate until 2015. But then overproduction led OPEC to initiate a price war that ultimately crashed prices and production. Production began to decline in 2015, but 2016 — the last year of Obama’s second term — was the first year of his presidency that annual oil production declined.
‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
Posted On April 29, 2020 15:49:32
When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.
In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?
The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.
The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.
As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.
We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.
When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.
At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.
As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.
Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.
The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.
Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.
Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.
In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.
These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.
The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.
This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.
“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.