Mark Bowden: Iran's Bad Behavior Recalls Old Times

Mark Bowden has been fascinated with the 1979 Iran hostage crisis since the moment it happened because it was his first day on the job as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Iran's current behavior in the world diplomacy arena makes Bowden's new book even more timely.

"There's this supreme arrogance from a religious-rooted viewpoint where you think that you know the truth and the rest of the world is wrong, and that's where these Islamists are coming from and in that sense this episode of the takeover of the embassy is the beginning of this global struggle we find ourselves in," Bowden, author of "Guests of the Ayatollah," told "Good Morning America."

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been making headlines lately. He recently sent a letter to President Bush criticizing the American government and saying that liberalism and democracy had failed. He has also said that he wanted to wipe Israel off the face of Earth and that Iran wanted nuclear power.

Bowden Says Iran's Current President Was Key Player

Ahmadinejad, Bowden says, was one of the five students in a group called Strengthen the Unity that planned the kidnapping of 52 Americans. They were held in the basement of Iran's U.S. Embassy for 444 days. However, he does not believe Ahmadinejad interrogated the hostages.

"I think he was one of the key players throughout," he said.

When the Ayatollah first arrived to rule Iran, he set up a secular -- as opposed to a religious -- provisional government.

"That's what the students were taking aim at when they took the U.S. Embassy, and two days later they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations when the provisional government collapsed," Bowden said.

Bowden, who also wrote "Black Hawk Down," a book about the tragic U.S. military efforts in Somalia, called Iran's current government "a dangerous regime."

"The recent statements by the newly elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, make it clear there are dangerous players in the Middle East and if they get hold of nuclear weapons, we should all be concerned," he said.

In an op-ed in The New York Times last Friday, Bowden wrote that there was a method behind Ahmadinejad's madness and that he was picking a fight for a reason and that we would be ill-advised to take the bait.

"You need to pay attention to what he's doing and how it plays locally in Iran in the same way that the hostage crisis 25 years ago was used to shore up public support in Iran for the mullahs," he said. "By picking a fight with the U.S. over this, they're appealing to national pride and also rallying the troops around the regime."

Hostages Coped in Different Ways

In his research for "Guests of the Ayatollah," Bowden took three trips to Iran to meet some of the men who had held the Americans hostage. He also interviewed many of the hostages and learned that they all had dealt with the captivity in different ways.

"One woman became very devout, and said she had religious visions and tried to live like a nun," he said. "One captive essentially went over to the other side, and even made radio broadcasts praising his captors."

Bowden says that some were still scarred from the experience although most had gotten on with their lives. Some had become "professional hostages" and had spent the last 25 years on the conference and lecture circuit, talking about their experience.

One former hostage couple said they wanted to open a resort in Iran geared toward American tourists who wanted to enjoy the Caspian Sea.

"They said they wanted to maybe invite the former hostages back to stay as their guests, and I said, 'Will they be able to go home this time when they want to?'"'s Liz Borod Wright contributed to this report.