Jimmy Carter's Biggest Regret As President May Surprise You

The presidency of Jimmy Carter was in many respects one of good intentions gone awry (via The New York Times). He came to be elected after Richard Nixon's infamous path to resignation and Gerald Ford's subsequent assumption of the office. For many, Carter represented a breath of fresh air. Indeed, he was an outsider disassociated from the recent corruption who would bring at least relative respectability back to the presidency. But Americans were mixed on his initial performance and personal character, as he often did not seem to have solutions for the core issues he tried to tackle. And public opinion began to turn once the Iranian Revolution unfolded. 

Not only was there the unprecedentedly massive hostage crisis, but global fuel prices soared as Iranian oil workers conducted strikes (via the Brookings Institution). It is arguably these economic factors that helped lead the American public in the opposite direction with the election of Ronald Reagan. In regards to Carter's own reflections on his presidency, his biggest regret has to do with his handling of the hostage crisis itself. Notably, he believes the rescue attempt could have been far less disastrous.

Carter wishes he had invested more in Operation Eagle Claw

After decades of rule under Iran's American-backed shah — complete with democratically elected figures being ousted — various groups rose up in revolt (via Britannica). The American embassy in Tehran became the focal point of this anger, and the ensuing Iranian Hostage crisis initially saw 66 Americans held captive before 13 were released (via History). The remaining 53 were held for over a year as Jimmy Carter's administration tried to find a solution. They settled on Operation Eagle Claw, the planned military extraction of the hostages via helicopter (via The Drive). 

The operation ended in complete failure after a series of mechanical and navigational issues led to a helicopter colliding with an EC-130E, killing eight service members (via Business Insider). Several aircraft were abandoned, and no hostages were rescued in a disaster that Carter believes lost him the following election. Were he to do it over again, Carter has stated he would have deployed one more helicopter; three of the original eight deployed were grounded for maintenance (via CNN). This, from his perspective, could have made the difference and led to both a speedier resolution to the crisis and a greater chance of his reelection (via the Los Angeles Times).