Carter began his presidency in a fairly controversial way. One of his first actions as president was to pardon all those who had illegally avoided the draft during the Vietnam War, angering veterans's groups around the nation. Carter did not extend the pardon to deserters.
Energy policy was a major initiative of Carter's and ironically was one of the areas in which his presidency really suffered. His robust energy plans consisted of many points, including reducing the national growth rate for energy consumption, reducing gasoline use, cutting the amount of oil that America imported, increasing coal production, and using more solar energy, among other things.
Carter was not one to give compliments. Staffers and the press found him hard to relate to. According to Bob Woodward in his book Shadow, one time Carter agreed to play tennis with some congressmen, but after the match he simply said goodbye. He did not see the importance of sitting down with them for drinks or building relationships in this way.
Carter's measures were severely curtailed in Congress, although he did manage to create the Department of Energy with James Schlesinger as its first secretary.
In March 1979, the most serious accident in a nuclear power plant in America occurred at Three Mile Island near Middletown, Pennsylvania. Even though no deaths or injuries resulted, the incident brought about sweeping changes to regulations, planning, and operations at nuclear power plants.
During the Carter presidency, a treaty was created in which the Panama Canal would be ceded back to the nation of Panama. The treaty was necessary because of Panamanian unrest toward the U.S. presence in Panama over the canal zone. To keep the canal safe, Carter deemed it necessary to negotiate this very controversial treaty that relinquished control of the canal to Panama in 2000. The treaty barely passed ratification in the Senate.
Camp David Accords
When Carter took over the presidency, Egypt and Israel had been at war for some time. The Egyptian president had made overtures for peace but talks had stalled. In 1978, President Carter invited Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Camp David to help them forge a peace agreement. The Camp David Accords eventually led to a formal peace treaty in 1979. However, the fallout for Egypt was huge. The accords meant that there was no longer a united Arab front against Israel, and Anwar Sadat was later assassinated in 1981.
Iran Hostage Crisis
On November 4, 1979, the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, was seized and sixty Americans were taken hostage. Iran's leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, demanded the return of the Reza Shah to Iran to stand trial in exchange for the hostages. America did not comply and fifty-two of the hostages were held for more than a year. Carter suspended oil imports from Iran and froze all Iranian assets. Further, the UN security council called for the release of the hostages to no avail.
In 1980, Carter attempted to rescue the hostages. Ironically, three helicopters malfunctioned and the military was unable to follow through with the rescue. When Iran entered war with Iraq, the economic sanctions placed upon the country by the United States began to take a toll. The Ayatollah Khomeini finally agreed to release the hostages in exchange for the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the United States. The hostages, however, were not released until Reagan was officially president. The hostage crisis was a large part of the reason that Carter did not win reelection.