One event that marred the presidency of Jimmy Carter still weighs on his mind, he said Thursday.
In a press conference held to discuss the details of the former president’s cancer diagnosis, Carter was asked if he wished he had done anything differently as president.
After thinking about it for a moment, Carter smiled.
“I wish I had sent one more helicopter to get the hostages, and we would’ve rescued them, and I would’ve been reelected,” Carter said.
Carter lost reelection in 1980 to California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Analysts and historians generally chalk up Carter’s loss to a lackluster economy and the Iranian hostage crisis.
Fifty-two American hostages who were taken from the embassy in Iran and held for months during Carter’s presidency. The crisis culminated when eight US servicemen were killed during a failed rescue operation in April 1980, months before the election.
Carter emphasized Thursday that his work with the Carter Center — a sprawling nonprofit that does everything from fight disease to help peace negotiations abroad — has been more personally satisfying to him than his four years as president, but he admitted that he would’ve liked to serve another term.
“That may have interfered with the Carter Center. If I had to choose between four more years and the Carter Center, I would’ve chosen the Carter Center. But it could’ve been both,” Carter said, smiling.
In 2014, Carter said that he could’ve “wiped Iran off the map,” but instead opted for a helicopter rescue mission that failed.
“I think I would have been reelected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians,” Carter told MSNBC last year. “And everybody asks me what [I] would do more. I would say I would send one more helicopter because if I had one more helicopter, we could have brought out not only the 52 hostages, but also brought out the rescue team. And when that failed, then I think that was the main factor that brought about my failure to be reelected. So that’s one thing I would change.”
Though Thursday’s press conference focused primarily on Carter’s health and plans for treatment, the former president took numerous questions from journalists and reflected on his life and personal accomplishments.
“I’ve had a wonderful life. I have thousands of friends. I’ve had an exciting, adventurous, and gratifying existence,” Carter said