You’re the president? What are you gonna do about Iran?
He misheard me. I said I’m present when he asked how was I? My usual conversational smartassery causes a miscommunication again. But the question was asked and so I proceeded to dwell on the question What would you do about Iran? for the next few hours. My immediate response was to say I’d apologize for saddling them with the Shah, but he didn’t hear me and it wasn’t important enough to belabor the answer to the question that he flippantly asked in response to my smartassed non-answer.
The story of the US’s relationship with the region is a long history of pain and grievance, so the question of what to do is equally long and painful to answer. The nation of Iran was made up out of whole cloth like the country of Iraq was, lines drawn on a map by the colonial powers in an agreement they made to mutually release the region from their direct control following World War one. Before the area we in the West call Iran was under colonial control, the civilization that occupied that space referred to itself as Persia.
Well, that was one of the names that the natives of Iran used. Iran has always been on the road from wherever conquerors came from to wherever they were ultimately going to head next. The natives of the region have always been headstrong, surpassing their occupiers ability to cope with their insistence on going their own way, seperate from the empire they were currently part of, unless that empire was lead by a Persian. That is, until they were almost destroyed by the Mongols. But even the Mongols themselves took up Persian ways after settling in Persia, holding power there until the time we term the modern age. Which is where we modern people meet up with world powers whose names we recognize.
Any attempt on my part to tell a history of Iran and the people of that region will be criticized as being an oversimplification. If the paragraph above doesn’t do justice to the millenia of conflict, discovery and advancement in your eyes, feel free to expand your own knowledge by reading further on the subject. There are links throughout this article for just that reason, feel free to click on them. However, the modern age is where the conflict between the US and Iran originates, so let’s just proceed into the modern era, because this is a single blog article and not a multi-volume history of the region and its peoples.
Tehran is first used as the capital city of Iran/Persia during the Qajar dynasty in the Sublime State of Persia. It was the capital of the Pahlavi dynasty and the Imperial State of Persia. The Pahlavi who founded the dynasty was a member of the Russian military who deposed the Qajar Shah in 1925. The Shah that America and Great Britain put into power, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a continuation of the Pahlavi dynasty in their eyes. Someone who would continue to allow the removal of Iran’s natural resources by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company if also, conveniently, being the Shah of Iran.
To put the Shah into a position where he could do the US and Britain this favor they wanted from him, MI-6 and the CIA toppled the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh had nationalized the oil industry in Iran in an effort to bring control of the country’s national resources back into the hands of the natives of the region. A situation enjoyed by all of the first world countries, but denied to third world countries. He had won leadership of the country of Iran in popular election in 1951. He had been appointed prime minister by the Shah himself. As the wiki article on him notes,
The new administration introduced a wide range of social reforms: unemployment compensation was introduced, factory owners were ordered to pay benefits to sick and injured workers, and peasants were freed from forced labor in their landlords’ estates. In 1952, Mossadegh passed the Land Reform Act which forced landlords to turn over 20% of their revenues to their tenants. These revenues could be placed in a fund to pay for development projects such as public baths, rural housing, and pest control.Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
His actions as prime minister seem quite rational, in hindsight. If only he hadn’t pissed off the multinational corporations that really ran his country, he probably would have been celebrated by more than just the people of the region who want the benefits of liberal democracy enjoyed by first world countries. But that isn’t how it worked out. Britain and the US forced him out of office and restored the monarchy of the Shah. Restored the Pahlavi dynasty to Iran, setting up the next twenty-plus years of military rule, with all the terrorism, torture and suffering that the phrase military rule implies.
It was after the people of Iran were denied liberal democracy by a coup carried out by foreign powers that they turned to the Mullahs for leadership. Can you blame them for this, were you in their place? I can’t. But Republicans do blame them, largely because the current Republican party is dominated by fundamentalist/evangelical christians who see Islam as their competitor in the religion markets of the world. They see Iran as the target they want to take down, have seen Iran as their prime target since the Islamic Revolution occurred and Iran once again nationalized their oil production (the real reason that US corporate leaders are pissed) as well as invaded the US embassy and took Americans hostage.
“I fear chaos Mr. Yazdi, and if I may say it seems chaos has come again.”Andrew Sullivan, Iranian Ambassador
We got our people back, but Britain didn’t get back its oil production machinery, so we remain pissed and Britain remains pissed. In the intervening 40 years between the revolution (1979) and now (2019) there has been a lot of water under that bridge of hatred between the US and Iran. There was the Iran/Iraq war that we funded through Saddam Hussein. The one where he gassed parts of Iran as well as his own people who were in rebellion. We paid for a lot of that. There was the shoot down of Iran Air Flight 655, much like the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that Vladimir Putin deems fake news. We did that and then made up stories for how we didn’t do that, just like Putin is doing now. But we killed nearly 300 Iranian citizens on a routine flight.
Then there was the the US invasion of Iraq. An invasion founded on a lie. That invasion opened pandora’s box in the entire Middle Eastern region, creating the opportunity for political change that the populations of a good portion of the region eventually took advantage of. Iran’s Mullahs took advantage of their neighbor’s instability and have created what Washington sees as an Iranian puppet state where there once was a government installed by the second Bush administration. Iran has taken advantage of the chaos that Bush II created, advancing its influence across the region. Influence which its main competitor, Saudi Arabia, sees as a direct threat. Not surprisingly Saudi Arabia seeing Iran as a threat means that their paid stooge, Donald Trump, sees Iran as a threat.
So here we are in 2019. The tit for tat behavior has been going on for decades. The US and Britain want their assets back, the Iranians want to be in control of their own country, and the idiot that the idiot Stormtrumpers put into the office of the presidency is doing his dead-level best to get us into war with Iran. What would I do now, in his place? I’d recapitulate to the agreement that the Obama administration negotiated in good faith. I’d stop antagonizing Iran with sanctions. I’d apologize, officially, for the coup in 1951. I’d apologize for shooting down their civilian airliner in 1988. I’d apologize for helping Saddam Hussein kill hundreds of thousands of their people. I’d try that just for starters, see how far that gets us. Not that I think it’s likely that the Orange Hate-Monkey or his Secretary of War will do any of that. What I wouldn’t do is bomb Iran.
I will never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.George H.W. Bush
NPR’s Throughline re-released their first episode last week. It reminded me that they had done a primer on the real history of the US and Iran.
“The only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference.”Howard Conklin Baskerville
By 1979 Mosaddegh is long dead, but his legacy is not. So while he himself was completely axed by the clerical powers of the time, his narrative, his legacy, became very useful to the regime.Roya Hakanian
This week Throughline issued a follow-up episode on the subject, one that covers the history between the US and Iran after that initial triumph and betrayal all the way to the present day.
Editor’s note, December 2019.
These deaths are as much on our hands as they are on the hands of the leaders in Iran. All of this could have been avoided, had we not gone insane in 2016.