Carter: 'I could have wiped Iran off the map'
© Getty Images

Former President Carter said in an interview airing Wednesday that he could have won reelection in 1980 if he had appeared more "strong" and "manly" by taking military action against Iran.

"I could've been reelected if I'd taken military action against Iran, shown that I was strong and resolute and manly and so forth," he said on "CNBC Meets." 

"I could have wiped Iran off the map with the weapons that we had, but in the process a lot of innocent people would have been killed, probably including the hostages, and so I stood up against all that, all that advice, and then eventually my prayers were answered and every hostage came home safe and free.


"And so I think I made the right decision in retrospect, but it was not easy at the time."

In 1979, Iranians took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage. Even as pressure built, Carter did not take military action other than a failed rescue attempt.

The crisis contributed to Ronald Reagan's victory over Carter in 1980. The hostages were then released shortly after Reagan took the oath in 1981. 

Carter said Americans have come to accept his decision not to use military force.

"I think increasingly they have [accepted] as more facts are known and as people look back on those times," he said. "But there's still a strong inclination in our country to take military action when I think it's not necessary."

Carter also spoke about the human rights work that his Carter Center has done in his post-presidency. 

"Human slavery now is greater than it ever was during the 18th or 19th century," he said. "In Atlanta, Georgia, we have between 200 and 300 girls sold into sexual slavery every month. ... And on our college campuses in America, in almost every college, the sexual abuse of girl students is horrendous, and it's not addressed directly because the college owners and administrators don't want it to be known that they have sexual assaults still taking place on their college campuses. And the same thing applies obviously in the military."