“Gentlemen, I want you to know that I am seriously considering an attempt to rescue the hostages.”
April 24, 2006 5:07 PM   Subscribe

The Desert One Debacle
posted by Kwantsar (19 comments total)
I haven't even read it yet and I'm excited. Bowden is one of the best journalists alive. The level of detail in Black Hawk
Down was incredible.
posted by Heminator at 5:31 PM on April 24, 2006

I was a little diappointed in the print version of this article when I read it. It ends pretty abruptly and seems somewhat hollow and lacking in context, which I guess is because it's a excerpt from a book. Maybe I missed something, but I don't remember anything in the magazine saying that it was a excerpt from Bowden's upcoming book.

This online version certainly has a lot more information. In the end, though, I don't think this story is all that compelling in and of itself when looked at in isolation from the larger story of the Iranian hostage crisis. I assume his book will do a better job of tieing it all together...
posted by pitchblende at 5:43 PM on April 24, 2006

Not to take away anything from Mark Bowden, but there was also an excellent, well-received memoir of Eagle Claw from the USAF component commander on the ground at Desert One: The Guts to Try by Col. James H. Kyle.
posted by pax digita at 6:12 PM on April 24, 2006

Interesting. Is Atlantic backing away from its subscription-only model? Or is this a one-off promotion?
posted by mrgrimm at 6:14 PM on April 24, 2006

Very interesting. I was only six at the time, and my memory was that two choppers went down due to the sand. I didn't realize a chopper hit a C-130.

A complicated mission, no doubt, but so fitting for the Carter legacy--a good idea fucked over by things uncontrollable (haboobs) and rank incompetence (IMO, Beckwith sounds like a major league ass who had no business being an officer).

And while the loss of life is saddening, I couldn't help but laugh at "Sea Stallion" choppers being sent across the desert. It pretty much symbolizes American foreign policy in the middle east for the last 50 years.
posted by bardic at 6:24 PM on April 24, 2006

Don't put your faith in version 1.0 of anything.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:36 PM on April 24, 2006

Oh, man I wish this had worked. It does sound like it was a pretty far-fetched long shot though.
posted by jlub at 6:40 PM on April 24, 2006

while bowden is a pretty good writer, and his pieces generally exciting, remember that he was one of those used by the administration to push the Iraq WMD propaganda. see his story pre-invasion that claimed had all sorts of ominous but unfounded things about sadam, terrorists, and scary weapons.
posted by Shike at 6:50 PM on April 24, 2006

A case study in Murphy's law.
posted by furtive at 8:28 PM on April 24, 2006

"he was one of those used by the administration to push the Iraq WMD propaganda"

Based on what? Are you implying he was actively used as a tool of the administration? I don't think he warrants an attack on his integrity like that. I imagine Bowden believed genuinely, like a lot of people at the time, that Iraq did have WMDs. While I don't know about his intelligence expertise, when it comes to the military Bowden knows his stuff. If he was wrong he was wrong, nut let's not call him a tool of the administration or political manipulator unless you have proof otherwise.
posted by Heminator at 9:12 PM on April 24, 2006

I loved Neal Pollack's parody of Bowden's pre-war piece on Saddam, "Tales of the Tyrant."

The tyrant lives in fear of being discovered. It’s hard for him because he’s moving around all the time. He cannot sleep in the same bed more than five minutes in a row. He cannot eat more than three meals a day. He constantly has to pee, but he rarely has the time. One hour he’s in one place, the next hour another place. Sometimes it takes him three or four days to finish watching a movie. The tyrant is lonely. He has company. He gets horny. He feels sated. His children are like ghosts to him, and his ghosts like children. Sometimes he feels sad being a tyrant, but other times it makes him happy. Though he’s not fully human anymore, it doesn’t seem to bother him. He likes being the hunted. It makes him feel important. The tyrant is worth writing about in short, self-important sentences. He’s going to fall soon. This he knows for sure.
posted by Kirklander at 9:41 PM on April 24, 2006

A daring follow-up plan was Operation Credible Sport: land two rocket-braked Hercules C-130s (loaded with Special Ops forces) inside a Teheran soccer stadium, go grab the embassy hostages, return to the stadium, and take off in the rocket-assisted planes.

Simple. This spectacular video (QuickTime) shows one reason why they decided not to go through with it. The remaining YMC-130H Hercules can be seen at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
posted by cenoxo at 10:28 PM on April 24, 2006

Bowden, in his own words:
Q. Knowing what you know, how would you advise the decision-makers in Washington to deal with Saddam?

A. After working on this story, I really do think that Saddam poses a serious threat to the United States and the rest of the world—not that he will attack Israel or the United States directly, but if he possesses or develops nuclear weapons of mass destruction, I have no doubt that he will find a way to get those weapons into the hands of groups like al Qaeda and others who will use them. Saddam has been making a very serious effort for some years now to develop the kinds of weapons that really can only be developed by a state. So I think that in the interest of self-defense it's really important that we do something to end his regime. But as for how to go about it? I'm afraid that's, as they say in the military, "over my pay grade."

I agree that the Atlantic version of Debacle is a bit frustrating. The basic story of the mission is dead simple yet that's the problem -- like an iceberg, 90% of the story is underwater, in this case, the preparation and planning and politics. (For instance, one of the interesting stories is the engineering of the portable fuel bladders.) The mission itself ran into trouble very quickly and then disaster followed -- and then everybody high-tailed it out of there.

I still find it astonishing that in the middle of a desert 50 miles from civilization they not only managed to encounter three indigenous vehicles, but get two planes close enough to blow up. But that's part of the crazy beauty of the plan -- if only it had half-worked Carter might have gone down in the ages as a ballsy president. It took great courage to underwrite this risky plan.

The Beckwith &c. apologists are legion, of course. Somehow the entire bungled thing is the fault of the one man who had the least to do with it. That's "fair" in a political sense, but historical judgement shows that Pentagon infighting was a key factor that doomed the mission from the start. They'd taken the initiative to create Delta Force, but then they couldn't find the stomach to support it properly. I'm still unsure that USSOCOM is the "right" solution, but it seems to work OK.

And Credible Sport, man -- if that had worked. Holy fuck. (Didn't we have a thread on that last year? Can't find it.)
posted by dhartung at 12:47 AM on April 25, 2006

Good people tried.

posted by fluffycreature at 5:32 AM on April 25, 2006

His children are like ghosts to him, and his ghosts like children.

A little Neal Pollack goes a long way, but that's a great line.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 AM on April 25, 2006

It took great courage to underwrite this risky plan

or desperation. I've never really bought the Saint Jimmy thing. and, with one obvious exception, poor Jimmy is quite clearly the worst President since Warren Harding
posted by matteo at 8:43 AM on April 25, 2006

Nothing succeeds like success. Perhaps we should have asked the Israelis for a little uncredited help...
posted by cenoxo at 9:02 AM on April 25, 2006

Heh, the side-note at the end of the Operation Entebbe wikipedia article struck me:
"Additionally, for refusing to leave the plane, Captain Bacos was reprimanded by his superiors at Air France and suspended from duty for a period."
posted by joecacti at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2006

Who hijacked matteo's account?
posted by nofundy at 12:38 PM on April 25, 2006

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