Iran was a friend to the USA until Carter traveled to Iran and immediately afterwards Iran faced revolution. Khomeini went to Iran from France.

On November 4, 1979, an angry mob of young Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 Americans hostage, etc...

Now Iran is an enemy of the USA. I really don't understand why President Carter did not support Shah of Iran as a friend.

What exactly was Jimmy Carter's role in the Iranian Revolution?

  • 2
    Welcome to the site. I did some extensive grammar cleanup to this for you. Since there is a pretty reasonable question buried in here, I also removed a lot of the emotional language and at least one explitive. You can put those back in if you really want to, but for the sake of your site reputation here I highly advise against it.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 15, 2012 at 18:55

3 Answers 3


There is a notion that superpowers have, well, super powers, and can bend history to their will. There is never a shortage of conspiracy theories involving foreign agents. The reality of course is that even great powers are constrained, and the idea that Carter's appearance in Iran sparked a revolution is at the very least too Carlylian for my taste.

If Carter had a role to play, I would say that his administration placed too much faith in the shah's government, then was indecisive in its support. Carter managed to disappoint reformers even as he failed to provide unambiguous support for the-devil-we-know, and left the regime to its devices in the critical year of 1978 while his administration focused on SALT II and the Camp David Accords. Ultimately, forces in Iran, not a few provoked by the shah himself, are responsible for what followed.

The OP refers to New Year's Eve 1977. On a 16-hour visit, Carter became the first and only U.S. president to visit Iran, and at dinner made an infamous toast:

Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you. The transformation that has taken place in this nation is indeed remarkable under your leadership.*

With that, Carter seemed to dash hopes that his administration would put real pressure on the shah, while at the same praising the very policies which had angered much of the Iranian public— inviting the scorn of the liberal, Marxist, and Islamist opposition alike. But to claim that this was the spark of the revolution is an overstatement.

In the early 20th century, as Persia was caught in the endless machinations of the British and Russian empires as they jockeyed for position, the U.S. may have been seen as a potential third power which would put a stop to the meddling. But the U.S. had no interest in Iran (it was cultivating influence with the Saud family on the other side of the Gulf) until after World War II, when Cold War politics came to dominate foreign policy. It was vital to keep the largest and wealthiest state in the Middle East out of the sphere of the Soviet Union. American and British involvement in the 1953 coup d'etat against the Mossadegh government was widely suspected, and later confirmed to be true.

Mohammed Reza Pahlavi by all accounts proved to be soundly anti-communist and pro-Western ally. To the West, he was abolishing feudal institutions, industrializing the economy, and secularizing Iranian society. The U.S. even curtailed intelligence-gathering in Iran in the 1970s, trusting his government to supply it. Internally, however, the shah managed to alienate large segments of the population with increasingly arbitrary rule (e.g. replacing the calendar): first clerics and landlords in the White Revolution of 1963, then the intelligentsia, and after he tried to blame the souring economic conditions of the 1970s on merchants, both the commercial classes and the unemployed.

The Carter administration did admonish the shah on human rights concerns early on, resulting in the token release of some political prisoners, but public protests began months before Carter's visit. Mustafa Khomeini, son of Ruhollah Khomeini, was killed while in exile in Iraq in 1977. The shah's secret police were widely believed to be responsible, leading to protests and a harsh crackdown. Secular intellectuals issued a challenge in October 1977, and citing this letter, Khomeini encouraged clerics to step up their opposition citing the letter. So the protests of January and February 1978 were the culmination of years of resentment against the regime, its secret police, and its propaganda machine, not a spontaneous critique of American foreign policy.

Some do blame Carter for later events. He had been elected partly on the promise of a government that practiced its high ideals. In contrast to the realpolitik that led previous administrations to turn a blind eye to human rights issues and social justice, his would not intervene in the affairs of other countries, and would take an active interest in disarmanent and peace. At the same time, however, Carter had the reality of serving a superpower's interests during the Cold War, in a period when the West had seen a succession of humiliations in Southeast Asia and Africa, and the U.S. was reeling from Watergate, Vietnam, and stagflation.

These competing interests played out at the very top of the administration. From the early months of the crisis, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor, advocated for ardent support of the shah as in the best interests of the U.S. The State Department under Cyrus Vance (and the U.S. ambassador, William Sullivan) believed that the shah was a lost cause, and that supporting democratization would serve U.S. interests better.

By February 1979 Iran was in a state of civil war, but the U.S. dithered. Brzezinski was assuring the shah of unwavering support, the State Department was reaching out to the liberal opposition to try to smooth transition to a democratic government, but the government refused to support a coup d'etat or other action that could have replaced the shah with someone other than Khomeini, much less any direct military intervention. When the shah was admitted to the U.S. for medical treatment in October, students stormed the embassy and published documents showing that U.S. officials had met with moderate leaders. This helped turn public opinion against the moderates and raised fears of direct U.S. intervention, which Khomeini extracted for maximum propaganda value for years to come.

  • See theguardian.com/world/iran-blog/2015/feb/11/…. General Huyser and my father were friends and served together at SAC Headquarters. As the article said, the Iranian generals were concerned that the revolutionaries would kill all of them. To avoid that he recommended that if the generals should immediately side with whoever appeared to take charge, which they did. Gen. Huyser told my father that President Carter gave him the best performance evaluation he ever had from a superior. Oct 22, 2018 at 17:24
  • I would have made this an Answer if given the opportunity. I know a bit more than what is in the article, but the article on General Huyser's pre-revolution meeting with the Iranian military heads reflects what I knew from General Huyser via my Dad. Oct 22, 2018 at 17:26

Jimmy Carter was a human rights activist. As such, he was not totally compatible with the Shah (a human rights violator), even though the Shah was acting very much in American interests. As such, Carter's actual (as opposed to verbal) support of the Shah was lukewarm at best, even though he realized that the Shah was on "our" side.

Jimmy Carter was also a deeply religious man. As such, he might have been initially sympathetic to, or at least neutralized by, the priestly Ayatollah Khomeni. He never realized how hostile such a man might be to Americans, until the Iranian hostage crisis.

As a President, Jimmy Carter was a "compromiser" in the Gerald Ford mold. He was never decisive like Reagan or Nixon. As it were, Carter was unable to make the best of either an alliance with the Shah or a rapprochement with Khomeni, both of whom were very decisive people. Which is to say that he was unable to "take sides" effectively in the Iranian Revolution.

  • Nice analizing... well done dear mate. Actually, I assume Carter was not able to match himself to Islamic Republic of Iran. Besides, he'd like Iran to be his puppet, But Islamic Repulic of Iran never allow him and other next presidents of USA ... / Good luck. Mar 4, 2016 at 17:09

I believe that Jimmy Carter toppled the Shah and he turned Iran, which was a friend, into an enemy and because of this, he was only the U.S President for 4 years.

He was the 39th President of the United States (1977–1981)

The end of his presidential tenure was marked by the 1979– 1981 Iran hostage crisis. Iran was a strong ally, until Jimmy Carter, offended by the policies of the Shah of Iran, engineered the installation of the super-radical Muslim Ayatolla Khomeni. Though he has passed on, the strictness of his regime hasn’t. By W. Edward Murphy Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 11:39 AM EDT

Readout of the Guadalupe Conference.

Carter said, “Iran’s circumstances have fundamentally changed and the Shah can’t stay in power any more. He has lost his legitimacy among Iranian people. No Iranian statesman, except for the militaries, is willing to cooperate with him. Most of Iranian military commanders have been trained in our schools and are well acquainted with our military commanders and officers. The Guadalupe Conference was one of the meetings held by the Western leaders at the threshold of the victory of the Islamic Revolution to discuss different issues inclusive of the Islamic Revolution.

At the invitation of the French President Giscard d’Estaing, the American President Carter, the British Prime Minister James Callaghan, and the West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt were gathered in the Holidays of January in Guadalupe to discuss important global issues.

All those countries benefit from the Iranian revolution Except the United States was the biggest loser of this event because we missed iran for more than three decayed.

This is the orgin of Iranian revolution Guadalupe Conference

  • 2
    Conspiracy theory. Not useful. Aug 16, 2012 at 14:19

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