Iran and the West on Revolution Anniversary: 36 Years of Futile Estrangement

By Farhang Jahanpour | (Informed Comment) –

Anniversary of Iranian Revolution

February 2nd marks the 36th anniversary of the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Iran after 14 years of exile. After ruling Iran for 37 years as a staunch U.S. ally, Mohammad Reza Shah left Iran on January 16, 1979, never to return. Demonstrations against his rule that had started from October 1977 intensified from the beginning of 1978, and a combination of strikes and civil disobedience that took place between August and December 1978 made it impossible for him to stay in power.

Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran on 2nd February 1979, and the last government set up by the Shah led by Shapur Bakhtiar collapsed ten days later, and the Islamic revolution became triumphant after armed groups attacked the Shah’s palaces and military barracks and occupied them. Since then, the Islamic Republic marks the anniversary of those events as the “Ten Days of Dawn” (2-12 February).

Very few people imagined that the clerical regime that emerged out of the revolution would last very long. In any case, many, including Mehdi Bazargan who had been appointed by Khomeini as the prime minister of the Provisional Government, believed that the title of Velayat-e Faqih, or the Guardianship of Jurisprudent, only suited Khomeini and it would die with him. However, 36 years later, despite a grueling war with Iraq and almost constant U.S. and subsequently Security Council and EU sanctions, and many overt or covert attempts to topple it, the Islamic Republic is still very much in power, and it could be argued that it is now perhaps the most stable regime in the entire Middle East.

Many Iranians might look back nostalgically to the time of the Shah and regard it as a golden age in Iran’s recent history, but most Iranians including the diehard opponents of the clerical regime do not wish to see foreign interference in Iran which could subject their country to the same fate as Iraq, Libya or Syria. This is why practically all the reformists and the members of the opposition Green Movement, including some from inside the Iranian prisons, issued a statement supporting the ongoing talks with the West and calling for the resolution of Iran’s nuclear dispute through diplomatic means.

Since the election of the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013, Iran and the P5+1 have been trying to negotiate an agreement over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, but above all to open a new chapter in relations between the United States and Iran. The United States cut off diplomatic relations with Iran after a group of militant students attacked the US Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and kept 55 American diplomats hostage for 444 days. The recent talks have revived the memory of hostilities between the two countries, and especially the hostage crisis, and there has been a barrage of attacks on the Islamic Republic in the media and strong opposition in Congress and among pro-Israeli politicians and commentators to a nuclear deal with Iran.

The aim of this article is not to go over the rights and wrongs of the Islamic revolution or to defend the generally negative record of the Islamic Republic. The aim is simply to put the record straight and to point out that although the taking of US hostages was illegal and a despicable act, the United States has also been guilty of many violent acts against Iran, which are generally forgotten or ignored when dealing with Iran-US relations. It is only in the light of a clear understanding of the grievances of both sides, and at least trying to see the situation from an Iranian point of view that one can make a more sober assessment of the current nuclear talks and whether it is time to forget and forgive and to move on to a more productive relationship.

 

Foreign aggression and interference in Iran

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Iran had been subjected to foreign aggression and interference in her domestic affairs. From the start of the Tobacco Protest in 1891, to the start of the Iranian Constitutional Movement in 1906, the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 to partition Iran into their zones of influence and the tacit support of Russian aggression directed against the Persian reformist and constitutionalist camp resulting in the bombardment and closure of the Majles [parliament] and supporting the anti-constitutional coup by the autocratic Mohammad Ali Shah, Britain and Russia used Iran as an arena for their imperial rivalry and for achieving their geopolitical and economic goals.

During the First World War, Britain and Russia attacked Iran despite Iran’s declared neutrality, to gain access to Iranian oil. The same story was repeated during the Second World War, again despite Iran’s neutrality, when the Allies deposed Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty and the architect of modern Iran, and sent him into exile, replacing him with his young son Mohammad Reza Shah.

With the start of oil excavations in Iran by William Knox D’Arcy in 1900 and the subsequent formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Iran became a major economic asset to Britain and the West as a whole. When the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and the Iranian parliament nationalized the Iranian oil industry, MI6 and the CIA organized a coup in 1953, toppled Dr. Mosaddeq and regained control of Iranian oil, this time with a major share for US companies.

Some of these developments may be unknown to most Americans and Westerners as a whole, but this long history of foreign meddling and Iranian humiliation is very alive in the minds of most Iranians. This is why, despite all its faults and brutality, one message of the Islamic revolution, namely the concept of independence, or in Khomeini’s words “neither the East, nor the West”, has struck a sympathetic chord in the minds of Iranians.

The admission of the ailing Mohammad Reza Shah to the United States for medical treatment revived the memories of the 1953 coup when the Shah who had fled the country was brought back and restored to power. There is no doubt that at the time of the revolution the vast majority of Iranians had revolted against the former regime and wanted change at any price. Therefore, especially at the height of the revolutionary fervor, any idea that the Shah would be returned to the country again as a result of a coup was anathema to many young Iranians and they wanted to do everything in their power to prevent it.

 

The Hostage Crisis

A great deal has been written about the history of the hostage crisis by many Iranian and foreign officials that were intimately involved in it, and the reason for the takeover of the US Embassy has become much clearer. The hostage crisis was the result of mutual incomprehension, because even from shortly before the revolution, the Carter Administration had reached the conclusion that the Shah had to go, and they even sent emissaries to Paris to meet Khomeini where he stayed a few months prior to returning to Iran to reassure him that the United States was willing to work with him. On the Iranian side, initially the hostage taking was not intended as an anti-American act, but was primarily as a feature of the domestic power struggle between the clerical establishment and communist and leftist groups.

Prior to the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran by the so-called Islamic Students Following the Imam’s Line, the members of the radical Marxist group the Feda’iyan Khalq attacked the Embassy on 14 February 1979, and took a US marine Kenneth Kraus hostage. Ambassador William Sullivan surrendered the Embassy to save lives, but Prime Minister Bazargan immediately sent his foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi to talk to the radicals who put the embassy back in US hands in three hours, and released Kraus six days later. In order to counter the left’s “anti-imperialist” slogans, some radical Muslim students decided to launch an attack of their own on the Embassy in order to show that they were as revolutionary as the Marxists. So a group of them got together and consulted a young cleric, Mohammad Mousavi-Kho’iniha, about what they intended to do. He warned them against it because he said that the government was bound to attack and dislodge them as it had done in the case of the earlier attack by the Feda’iyan Khalq. However, he also told them that if the takeover of the Embassy proved successful by attracting mass support, Khomeini would not oppose it. Some of the students wanted to attack the Soviet Embassy, but others thought that it would not have the same propaganda effect in neutralizing the left as the American Embassy.

So on 4 November 1979 a group of radical students attacked the Embassy in the early hours of the morning. One of the ringleaders of the attack, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, said later that initially they had intended to occupy the embassy for a few hours to object to some US policies. He said: “Announcing our objections from within the occupied compound would carry our message to the world in a much more firm and effective way.” However, the takeover of the embassy proved more popular than they could have imagined, with large groups of leftist and radical Islamic students gathering and demonstrating in front of the Embassy, demanding the return of the Shah.

After three days of silence, Khomeini finally put his full support behind the students, and called their action “the second revolution”. He added that the first revolution had been against the Shah, while the second revolution was against imperialism. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bazargan and the entire cabinet resigned when they failed to kick the students out of the Embassy.

After the government’s resignation, Abol-Hasan Bani-Sadr was put in charge of the Foreign Ministry for a short time. Bani-Sadr has stated: “During this time, I called all the ambassadors from the European and North American countries and told them that the occupation of the embassy was in fact a strike against the Iranian government; it was we who were being held hostage. I asked them to help us end it.” http://www.csmonitor.com/layout/set/print/Commentary/Global-Viewpoint/2013/0305/Argo-helps-Iran-s-dictatorship-harms-democracy

To be sure, there was a fierce battle between government officials, such as Bazargan, Bani-Sadr and later Sadegh Qotbzadeh who served as foreign minister, and hard-line clerics led by Khomeini. While the more moderate elements wanted to put an end to the revolutionary chaos and get the country back on its feet, Khomeini and radical clerics were struggling to control the state. Meanwhile, 96 per cent of the votes in the following presidential election went to the candidates who had openly opposed the hostage taking, and Bani-Sadr won the election with 76 per cent of the votes.

The Rescue Mission

The takeover achieved its main domestic aim, which was to win support for Khomeini and proclaim his radical and revolutionary credentials. However, for Iran and for the Islamic Republic it was a very costly and foolish venture the repercussions of which still continue.

The issue became more complicated when President Carter decided to rescue the hostages by force. The operation that was codenamed Operation Eagle Claw and launched on 24 April 1980 involved flying eight helicopters from USS Nimitz to a remote airstrip in Iran’s Great Salt Desert near Tabas, the so-called “Desert One”. They were supposed to rendezvous with a number of waiting Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport and refuelling airplanes, move to a caravanserai near Tehran over night and attack the Embassy compound and free the hostages. However, while landing at Desert One the helicopters encountered severe dust storms that disabled two of the helicopters, and the next day a third of the eight helicopters was also found to be unserviceable. So the mission was called off. As the helicopters were repositioned for refuelling one helicopter ran into a C-130 tanker aircraft and crashed, killing eight and wounding a number of other servicemen.

With hindsight, it was just as well that the mission was aborted, because had it gone ahead it would have resulted in many casualties and probably the death of most of the hostages. After the ill-fated attack, the hostages were dispersed and their treatment worsened.

 

The October Surprise

There was another major twist to the hostage crisis, as according to many reports some Republicans who were campaigning for the victory of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election organized clandestine negotiations with the Iranian government persuading Khomeini to keep the hostages till after the election, a campaign that came to be known as the “October Surprise”. Bani-Sadr has argued that after becoming president on 4 February 1980, he worked very hard to free the hostages, but found that his efforts were thwarted by the clerical establishment. http://truth-out.org/news/item/15044-october-surprise-and-argo

The allegations that the Reagan team subverted the U.S. government’s attempt to resolve the hostage crisis were generally regarded as conspiracy theories until the Iran-Contra affair was exposed in 1986. A bipartisan House panel that investigated the reports concluded that there was no merit to the accusations. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/13/us/house-inquiry-finds-no-evidence-of-deal-on-hostages-in-1980.html

 However, strong evidence that has been revealed after the Congressional report provides little room for doubt that there was some substance to the allegations. http://www.wrmea.org/1987-october/did-iran-delay-hostages-release-to-ensure-reagan-s-election.html

In addition to Bani-Sadr, the former Foreign Minister Ghotbzadeh told Iran’s parliament on 18 August 1980: “Another point to consider is this fact. We know that the Republican Party of the United States in order to win the presidential election is working hard to delay the solution of the hostages crisis until after the U.S. election." He also made this point to Agence France Presse that “the Republicans were in contact with elements in Iran to try to block a hostage release.” The investigative journalist Robert Parry collected a great deal of incriminating material that he published in a number of articles and in his book, America’s Stolen Narrative (published in 2012).

 

US Involvement in the Iran-Iraq War

Another consequence of the hostage-crisis was the disastrous Iran-Iraq War that lasted for eight years, killed and wounded a million Iranians and caused hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage. Many Iranians believe that US officials encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran in order to put pressure on Iran to free the hostages. In Barry Lando and Michel Despratx’s brutal documentary “Saddam Hussein: The Trial You’ll Never See” prepared for European television, reference is made to a secret memo written in 1982 to Ronald Reagan by the Secretary of State Alexander Haig indicating that using the Saudis as go-betweens President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to attack Iran. Furthermore, the US might have even helped the Iraqis to plan the attack on Iran. A copy of the memo is shown in the program.

An investigative reporter Richard Sale who had close ties to senior US officials says in the program that he believes the reports to be accurate.  He even claims: “The Americans were also feeding trumped up information about Iran. I was in contact with a whole range of US officials, and we were clearly stuffing Saddam’s head with a lot of nonsense, to make the conditions look better than thet were, to encourage him go to Iran, that it was a breeze.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qkswer28xpk&mode

Whether one believes all this or not, the fact remains that after the war the United States and other Western countries supported the Iraqi dictator with the most sophisticated weapons, including chemical weapons that killed and wounded about 100,000 Iranians. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE also gave him billions of dollars of financial assistance.

 

Time to Turn a New Chapter

So, on balance, although the attack on the American Embassy was clearly contrary to international law and has to be condemned, it is clear that it cost Iran much more than it cost the United States. As Noam Chomsky says, the United States has been torturing Iran for 60 years. http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2013/9/11/noam_chomsky_us_has_been_torturing_iran_for_60_years_since_1953_coup

After all those ugly actions and mutual recriminations, the time has come to put all that behind us and to move forward to a more balanced and normal relationship. After all, foreign policy is about realism, rather than emotions.

As Lord Palmerston said: “Countries do not have permanent friends or foes, they have permanent interests.” At the moment, the entire Middle East is in turmoil. Continued fighting in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, and the rise of the barbaric ISIS have created a new urgency to review old policies. Above all, a rapprochement between Iran and the United States would best help the cause of democracy in Iran. An Iranian government that is friendly with the West, that is in constant communication, that engages in trade and diplomatic exchanges is more likely to improve its domestic policies than one that is in a state of hostility. For all these reasons, it is essential to work hard for the success of nuclear negotiations with Iran and start a new chapter after 36 years of estrangement.

 

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan. He has also taught at Cambridge and Oxford universities and was also a senior Fulbright research scholar at Harvard.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wotchit General News: “Iran Says Nuclear Talks With Europeans ‘promising’ but no Progress”

12 Responses

  1. Julie

    Well, we did overthrow their gov’t & prop up our chosen dictator & they did parade US hostages on Int’l TV–makes for bad feelings

  2. In light of your piece about the Mugniyah murder, you might be interested in my reflection at the time.
    Best regards,

    FEBRUARY 25, 2008
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    1
    The Assassination of
    Imad Mughniyeh
    A Death in Damascus
    by ROGER MORRIS
    It was another car bomb in the Middle East, the victim this time one of those “notorious terrorists” seemingly generic to the landscape. Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh died February 12 in Damascus as he lived most of his forty-five years, in that world of searing blast, mutilation, mayhem, and aftershock of cold fear.

    Yet behind fleeting, often hackneyed reports of his death, he was no ordinary figure in the long blood-red line of killers and killed. Given a murderer’s good-riddance by Washington and Jerusalem while a martyr’s memorial from Gaza and Beirut to Baghdad and Tehran, Mughniyeh was emblematic of the gulf between worlds-of atrocities and abject failure of statesmanship on all sides, in which American policy has its own half-century share.

    Millions on his head, Mughniyeh led a largely unseen life. But some of its milestones can be glimpsed from the archive of the past fifty years in the Middle East. It is in part the story of a man, a country, a region pitted against the United States in a shadow war of intervention and resistance, attack and reprisal, most Americans never saw.

    No outrage or theology of the oppressed can rationalize the savagery of a Mughniyeh, spiraling vengeance that leaves the non-state terrorist-or the government practicing its own version in the guise of “special operations” or covert action-no better than the evil they claim as justification, and their cause ultimately no less betrayed. But there will be no end to reciprocal brutality and defeat in the Middle East until the history Mughniyeh embodies is understood.

    Born in 1963 to Shiite peasant parents in Tayr Dibba, a village in impoverished southern Lebanon, he grew up in a cinder block house with no running water in a Levant of vast inequity, where pre-World War II French colonialism and then postwar U.S. support heedlessly fastened Western control with the proxy political-economic repression by the Maronite Christian minority with its avowedly fascist Phalangist party and militia. That client tyranny, masked by Beirut’s cosmopolitan façade, was perpetuated by the 1958 military intervention of US Marines and the ensuing CIA corruption of Lebanese politics through the 1970s, including millions in covert subsidies to the Phalange and numerous Lebanese politicians.

    He was nine in July 1972 when near where he lived in south Beirut’s Shiite slums the city’s first car bomb, planted by the Israelis in retaliation for the recent Lod Airport massacre, blew up the spokesman of the group behind the Lod attack, Palestinian poet Ghassan Kanafani, along with his 17-year-old niece Lamees with him for a shopping trip.

    Mughniyeh was thirteen in 1976 when the CIA and Israel covertly backed the invasion of Lebanon by Syria to thwart the emergence of a broad nationalist coalition representing the country’s Islamic majority and supported by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

    He was an eighteen-year-old engineering student at the American University of Beirut in 1981 when the U.S. gave a “green light” to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in pursuit of the PLO.

    He was nineteen in the summer of 1982 when the Israeli Army, with covert U.S. aid, laid siege to Beirut, raking the city with artillery, devastating Shiite neighborhoods. (Osama bin Laden would say later it was the attacks on Beirut’s high-rise apartment buildings that prompted him to retaliate against New York skyscrapers.)

    By 1982, like several of his boyhood soccer team, teenage Mughniyeh joined the combined PLO and Lebanese nationalist resistance to the invasion, becoming a sniper along the Green Line. He watched that September as the West negotiated the PLO’s exit from Lebanon with guarantees that U.S. and other peacekeeping troops would protect Palestinian refugee camps from reprisal by hostile Lebanese factions-only to see the US Marine force swiftly withdrawn, leaving Lebanese militias to massacre helpless hundreds at the Shatila and Sabra camps as Israeli forces looked on. Even US officials, Secretary of State George Shultz and National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, would call the episode “treacherous” and “criminal.”

    In April 1983, a bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut killed several CIA agents pivotal in past covert actions in Lebanon, an attack Mughniyeh was later accused of “masterminding.” But there would be no real evidence of his role-only that the bombing was in retaliation for the Marine withdrawal allowing the Shatila and Sabra slaughter as well as earlier interventions.

    He was twenty in September 1983 when the U.S. Sixth Fleet intervened in the Lebanese Civil War by firing on rebel forces fighting the reactionary Phalangist regime, the USS Virginia and John Rodgers pounding hills above Beirut with 24,000 pounds of ordnance, soon followed by the battleship New Jersey’s small car-size 2,000-pound shells inflicting untold civilian as well as combatant casualties.

    On October 23, 1983, a truck bomb with 12,000 pounds of explosives killed 241 Marines quartered at the Beirut Airport after being sent back to Lebanon. U.S. officials later accused Mughniyeh in the attack, though again there would be no evidence-only that the assault on the Marines was in retaliation for the U.S. naval shelling and other interference in Lebanon’s civil war. “We still do not have the actual knowledge of who did the bombing of the Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport,” Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense at the time, told PBS in 2001, “and we certainly didn’t then.”

    A turning point came for Mughniyeh came in 1985 when he was a twenty-two-year-old bodyguard to Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. A fiery preacher, spiritual mentor to many in the rising political consciousness of Lebanon’s Shiite community, Fadlallah took no political role, opposed violence and sectarian division, and defied growing Iranian influence in Lebanon. But on March 8, 1985-in reprisal for the Marine barracks bombing, and in an operation goaded by the Israelis and funded by the Saudis, both of whom saw Fadlallah as a threat to their own interests in Lebanon-the CIA tried to car-bomb Fadlallah. By chance the cleric escaped harm, but the huge explosion ravaged the poor Shiite area where he lived, wounding 200 and killing 80, among them Fadlallah’s bodyguards and Mughniyeh’s close friends. The next day, a banner hung over the smoking ruins-“Made in the USA.”

    With the Fadlallah bombing, Mughniyeh joined the terrorist arm of the increasingly militant political impulse among Lebanon’s Shiites from which Hezbollah soon emerged, and as the resistance movement’s chief of security and intelligence, he joined one of history’s more vicious chain reactions.

    Later in 1985 he reportedly interrogated kidnapped CIA agent William Buckley who soon died in captivity, and whose abduction set in motion the Washington sequel of trading arms for hostages that led to the Iran-Contra scandal.

    In July 1985 he was involved in the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 with the brutal killing of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, for which Mughniyeh and others were indicted by an American court.

    In 1988, he was implicated in the kidnapping and murder of Marine Colonel William Higgins serving with UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, a crime a U.S. official would describe as a “blood debt” driving Washington’s further intervention in Lebanon and the region.

    Over the 1980s, Mughniyeh conducted much of the Middle East’s shadowy minuet with Washington in which dozens of Western hostages were taken and traded for American arms for the Palestinians and Iranians as well as Hezbollah-the U.S. feeding Iran weapons in its 1980s war with Iraq while supplying the Iraqis intelligence on Iran in a ruthless policy of bleeding both.

    Mughniyeh evaded numerous U.S. and Israeli attempts to assassinate him, including a 1994 car bomb that killed his brother. Become mythic, in the West a faceless monster, in the Middle East a tall, handsome, well-dressed hero fluent in English and French, he was widely credited with historic feats, including the deployment of armor-piercing roadside bombs driving Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000 and 2006, and plaguing the U.S. occupation of Iraq. “When in doubt, and we are always in doubt about this,’ said an ex-CIA official, “blame Mughniyeh.”

    His death, predictably, was shrouded in intrigue and menace. As Hezbollah threatened revenge, there were reports that he had been planning some retaliation for the recent Israeli bombing of Syria, that the headrest explosive in his SUV was triggered by satellite as only the U.S. or Israel could have managed, that some of his Syrian hosts may have conspired with the CIA in some new cabal, or even that the killing was faked so that he could go still deeper underground. In the old ceaseless, senseless cycle, reprisals were in the offing.

    About his life, as Churchill said of historical tragedy, the terrible ifs accumulate. If in a Lebanon free of any real cold war Russian threat the West had not so reflexively and so long colluded with the colonial oligarchs against a political-economic democracy bringing long-term stability. If there had been from any side an equitable peace between Palestinians and Israelis. And perhaps most decisively, if the U.S. had not continuously thrown its vast weight into the scales-furtively if not always openly-with so little knowledge and sensibility that it ended with enemies America and its Israeli client need never have made.

    How history will see Mughniyeh-vicious killer, fierce patriot, or both-will depend, of course, on who writes it in the era’s clashing dogmas. If only his death could teach, this figure who killed so many might yet save lives. But so long as the world’s greatest power lacks the wisdom and courage to face its past culpability and change its course in the Middle East, the key to so much else in its policies at home as well as abroad, one outcome seems sure. In some cinder block hovel in south Beirut, the rubble of Gaza, or the walled-in ghettos of the West Bank, some young man, or woman, is waiting to take his place.

    ____________________

    ROGER MORRIS, who served on the Senior Staff of the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon before resigning over the invasion of Cambodia, is an award-winning historian and author of several books on Nixon, Kissinger, Haig, and the Clintons. More recently, he co-authored with Sally Denton The Money and the Power, a history of Las Vegas as the paradigm of national corruption. His new book in progress, is Between the Graves, a revelatory history of US covert intervention in Afghanistan and South Asia dating to the 1950s.

    [A shorter version of this article ran in Canada’s Globe and Mail February 23, 2008]

    • Several reply comments to the above:

      (A) Journalist Robert Fisk of the U.K. is another source that agrees that Sheikh Fadlallah had no direct ties to Hezbollah – although in the West his name is synonymous with terror activities associated with that group and promotion of violence;

      (B) I authored a paper in 1983 on the 1982 Sabra & Shatila camp massacre, and one Lebanese Muslim that I interviewed cited your point, above, that U.S. guarantees to the P.L.O. of the safety of Palestinians in those camps were unfulfilled and the U.S. government, therefore, bore a degree of responsibility for those deaths;

      (C) the large degree of radicalization of the Shia community within Lebanon was directly caused by U.S./Israeli security policies that were perceived as supportive of the Phalangists coupled with the violence directed against Shi’ites – this view has been voiced by Council on Foreign Relations member Thomas Friedman in his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem”;

      (D) the Iranian government filled a vacuum in providing logistical and training support to Shia extremists involved in paramilitary and terror activities against Israeli interests and thus gained substantial influence in that region.

  3. Several points not covered in the article:

    (A) the decision of the Carter administration to freeze $5 billion in Iranian assets held in America was, in hindsight, the correct course of action as it was the principal motivation for Iran to release the hostages;

    (B) the Reagan administration’s decision to secure the release of hostages in Lebanon via negotiations with Iran was not only legal – but specifically authorized under federal law – and the weapons shipped to Iran were to be used against Iraq, who was a pro-Soviet country hostile to both Israel and America;

    (C) Operation Eagle Claw was a disaster which embarrassed Jimmy Carter and was one of the key reasons for his defeat to Reagan in 1980;

    (D) Iraq received satellite imagery of Iranian troop concentrations from America collected from U.S. intelligence agencies during the Iran-Iraq War;

    (E) the Central Intelligence Agency procured a $4 billion loan from an FDIC-insured Atlanta branch of an Italian financial institution for Iraq’s benefit (to purchase armaments) during the war which was likely illegal and was, in fact, investigated by the FBI at the direction of Director William Sessions;

    (F) Iran Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was executed by firing squad by the Iranian government in 1982

  4. India had suffered far more at the hands of the colonial powers than Iran (Iran was never colonized) and yet India moved on, they have democratic institutions, a good economy, and they respect the religious minorities.

    The shiite clerics have hurt the Iranian people far more than the US or the English

    • Iran was partitioned by Russia and Britain in 1907 and forbidden to do things like build a railroad. It was deeply disadvantaged developmentally by this ‘informal empire.’

  5. India suffered far more than that, over hundreds of years. Besides, that might explain the 20th century but what about Nasir-Din-Shah(ruled from 1851-1896) who was so greedy that he sold state institutions to foreigners with the highest bid. The one responsible reformer, Amir Kabir, was put to death at his decree(cerca 1853). And the sheer avariciousness of the Shiite clergy that kept the people in grinding poverty.. This was at a time when the US was not even a player on the world stage.

    Iran is like a man who suffers from the flu and stomach cancer and blames everything on the flu. How about removing the cancer that is causing 95% of his problems.

    • Don, you’re writing to a historian of Qajar Iran. Imperialism deeply constrained and affected Iran in this period, economically and in other ways. You don’t seem aware that the British actually attacked Iran in the Nasiri period. Iranians entered modernity being pushed around and shaped by outsiders in ways that simply were not true of Britain or the US.

    • Donald, I am not in any way dismissing the faults and responsibilities of the Iranians for what they have experienced during the past few centuries and I am also aware of the effect of colonialism in India, which was partly their own fault too. Otherwise, why should a huge and populous – and rich – country be so easily dominated by a much smaller country thousands of miles away! None of that however contradicts my argument that throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Iran was subjected to a great deal of aggression and hostile action by foreign powers. Iran lost huge chunks of her territory to Russia at the beginning of 19th century following the Gulistan and Turkmenchai treaties. Just compare Iran’s map towards the end of the Safavid period or under Nader Shah in the mid-eighteenth century with today’s Iran and you will see how much territory Iran lost during the 19th century as the result of foreign invasions.

      As you say, Iran was never formally colonized. One difference between Iran and India has been that while in India we can set a date for the beginning and the end of British rule, in the case of Iran there has been a continuous and insidious foreign involvement and interference in Iran’s affairs that has continued right to the present time. Iranians cannot name the date when foreign imperialism ended, and this is the reason for their continued suspicion of the West, and as I mentioned in the article the importance of the concept of independence to them. You probably know that shortly after the revolution there were at least two military coup attempts against the Islamic Republic. Both of them failed, but they have intensified Iranian suspicions of foreign involvement in their affairs.

      In the article I did not have time to refer to all the activities of the imperial powers against Iran or what Iran has suffered since the revolution. Mark Koroi has referred to a few other cases, except that the Iranian assets frozen by the Carter Administration were much more than $5 billion dollars, and all businesses that had some contracts with the Shah’s government were paid in full, something that is quite unprecedented after any revolution.

      Just to give you some idea of the scale of exploitation by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, some studies have shown that in the year 1950 alone, the last year before oil nationalization, the company revenue and the tax that the British government received from Iranian oil exceeded Iran’s entire oil revenue during the previous 30 years from the time that oil was exploited in large quantities.

      During the Iran-Iraq war Iran was subjected to chemical attacks, as the result of which at least 20,000 were killed and tens of thousands were injured. There are still thousands of people in Iranian hospitals suffering from the effects of gas attacks. A Congressional report has shown the extent of US involvement in the supply of chemical weapons to Saddam (although the European and especially German role was greater), yet nobody has been prosecuted for any of those crimes.

      However, none of this means that Iranians were not partly responsible for their misfortune. What I meant to say was that the Iranian perception of foreign interference in their internal affairs has been partly responsible for their suspicions of foreigners and for the hostage taking, and also to show that although the taking of hostages was illegal, the West has not been completely honest or blameless in its dealings with Iran. Yet, despite all that has happened, I believe that the time has come to draw a line under the past and move forward.

  6. If what you say is true, why no hostility toward Russia? They actually took provinces away from Persia. It seems their actions were far more perniciious than the English.

    In any case it still doesn’t counter my argument that India has done far better on the international stage, and suffered much, much, more than Persia ever did.

    As far as the US is concerned, they were a minimal player in the 19th century. They only established relations with Iran in the mid 1850s. The US really did not have international presence until Mckinley(1898) and that was generally confined to Latin America and the Pacific.

  7. “Iranians entered modernity being pushed around and shaped by outsiders in ways that simply were not true of Britain or the US.”

    During The war of 1812 the British burned our capital, to me that seems a lot more traumatic then seizing the port of Bushihr which, according to my understanding of the 19th century was in response to Persian expansion(under Russian influence) into Afghanistan.

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