Somber mood prevails on release of US captives; Americans are disillusioned; but they still reject any military action
The American people are becoming inreasingly frustrated by the holding of the US hostages in Iran. But they are still rejecting any military solution. These are these conclusions from Monitor checks with political leaders in Washington and around the United States -- people who keep tabs on what the rank-and-file voters in their regions are thinking. These leaders indicate that anger directed at Iran is intensifying, particularly after the recent demand by that country for $24 billion from the US before it will release the hostages.
But, as a Southern politician puts it, "People don't see how we can possibly send troops in there without getting the hostages killed. And no one I talk to is ready to take that risk."
Thus, while President-elect Ronald Reagan indicated during the campaign that he has some "ideas" on how better to deal with Iran, there seems to be little evidence that the public would encourage Mr. Reagan to take some kind of military action when he assumes office.
A Westerner says the people he talks to "are getting more and more frustrated -- but they don't have any better answers than those the President has already come up with."
An Easterner says he sees the public mood in his area this way: "No one around here is forgetting the hostages. Part of it is compassion. But much of it is a burning anger -- over the indignity to our nation."
"But no one says we should take any military action that would endanger the hostages. I think that any president who would thus endanger the hostages would find the public wouldn't be behind him very long."
Meanwhile, one report out of Iran indicates that the new position of Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai is that if the United States does not deposit a financial guarantee in Algeria, the 52 American hostages will remain in Iran until all legal claims against Tehran have been resolved.
Another report has Iran scaling down its demand from the US to $9 billion.
But whatever Iran's final demands -- compared with its negotiating positions -- there is only one reality in the thoughts of the American people today: that each day the hostages are held adds to the anguish not only of the hostages' loved ones but of all Americans.
There is much public criticism of US relations with Iran during the period leading up to the hostage taking. Some Americans feel that recent presidents should have done a better job of backing up the Shah. Others believe the US should have been more sensitive to the desires of the Iranian public and should have abandoned much sooner.
But while President Carter is faulted by many Americans for contributing to a climate which led to the taking of the hostages -- by being either excessively soft or hard in his relations with Iran -- the public also seems to see no alternatives to the course he has pursue since the hostages were taken.
"I think the President has followed the only course available to him," a Midwestern politician said. "The slow diplomatic process doesn't seem to be accomplishing too much -- but what else? I'm afraid if that rescue mission had not been aborted, we would have lost most of our hostages, if not all of them."
There is one path the new President could follow other than continuing patient diplomacy or moving to confrontation:
Reagan could simply turn his back on dealing with the Iranians -- in the hope that this tactic might lead to the early release of the hostages by an Iranian government which really no longer wanted them.
But the Monitor findings indicate that such a Reagan strategy would not be welcomed -- or understood -- by the US public, which would undoubtedly see it as a heartless way to deal with the hostages problem.