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Strategic Reality and Tactical Mirages: Special Operations and the Iranian Hostage Rescue, 1979-1980

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Technical Report

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Air Command and Staff College, Air University Maxwell AFB United States

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The Iranian hostage rescue attemptdubbed Operation Eagle Clawis an often cited but less understood mission that contributed tothe creation of United States Special Operations Command USSOCOM in 1987. This thesis discards conventional conclusions on the nature of failure, asserting that most assume a Rational Actor Model, and thus, most lessons learned presume rationality in government decisions. Using Graham Allison and Philip Zelikows Models of decision making from their work Essence of Decision, the thesis explores alternative explanations on why the rescue mission failed using the Organizational Behavior and Government Politics Models of decision making. After further scrutiny, the Government Politics Model reveals an asymmetric need for OPSEC by President Carters National Security Advisor. The desire for secrecy resulted in organizational imperatives by the military that ultimately limited preparation for the audacious mission. As SOF continues to provide presidential administrations options in opaque political environments, like Eagle Claw, senior leadersboth solider and statesmanmust recognize the tension between the growth of SOF quantity to meet increasing strategic demand and the attrition of SOF quality by organizational imperatives. The management of this dilemma will characterize the future of SOF.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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