UI – Part 512 – Iran, Who Knew or Should Have Known
Another title for this article could be, ‘Opening Pandora’s Box of Demonic Forces on the World.’
It is important to Understand Islam. In the past, not doing so, has led to much of the conflict today in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Events leading up to and following the 1979 Revolution in Iran is history that must be studied to fully appreciate what was a catalyst igniting the bonfire of militant radical Islamists spreading the hatred expressed in the tenets of Islam in their heartland and beyond. In doing so America’s lack of attention to detail, proper focus on outcomes, poor choices and decisions on the part of multiple Administrations, which has abetted the chaos in the area, comes into the light. We cannot escape our role.
Iran Since WWII
Several articles have been provided in this Blog regarding Iran. The big story is the transformation, or transmogrification, of Iran over the past Century. After WWII Iran was modernizing and becoming a productive world participant. Its oil revenues, which the British basically controlled until after 1953, contributed to its growth, benefiting the people and the emerging position of Iran, as a Middle East example, a welcoming country to visit, where education of girls and boys was flourishing and freedom was evident. There was a Parliamentary structure similar to the United Kingdom, a monarchy in place, the Pahlavi family, with a Prime Minister as the governing voice. In 1953 the PM was displaced, granting increased powers to the Shah, at the insistence of the British, protecting what they argued was their right to a large percentage of the oil profits. The claim was made that it was Brits that discovered the oil, put in place the infrastructure to recover the oil, established the administration to oversee further development, production and distribution of the oil, sourced buyers of the oil, and provided transportation, shipping, to foreign locations as needed. But, the dilemma. It was oil under the ground that was Iran. The workers were Iranians. It was Iran’s resource. PM Muhammad Mosaddegh had nationalized oil production to increase the benefit to Iran of this valuable commodity, which the British had taken upwards of 95% as their rightful share. Thus a political side to the story of what happened in Iran, or to Iran, begins which leads up to today’s Iran.
Lack of Attention to the Ideology of Islam
The Middle East and much of southeast Asia, along with northern Africa, the Maghreb, has since maybe 50 to 75 years after the death of the self-proclaimed Prophet Muhammad enjoyed a large percentage Muslim population. To those in the West Islam was not really a concern. Few showed a proper appreciation for the nature of Islam. One was Winston Churchill, who as a young Brit, expressed, in a two volume book written 1899, The River Wars, the “dreadful curses of Mohammedanism.” This Blog is an attempt to have people understand Islam. When Iran’s recent history, at least that since the end of WWII is studied, it was a lack of understanding of this very subject, as well as a focus more on the spread of communism than the potential for the spread of Islam, that clouded decisions made by a number of American Administrations, especially those after Truman through Jimmy Carter. But Churchill realized this before the end of the 19th Century. What he wrote then is as applicable today, but was ignored by far to many influential world political decision makers.
“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.
A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”
Be sure to read Churchills comments more than once.
One can reflect on history, the time leading up to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, enabling a theocrat to take the throne, as it is, of a Nation at the time which was the most modern, progressive, secular, and greatly militarized in the region. Allowing a fanatical scholar of a “retrograde force” commanded by a spokesperson for Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, an example to all Muslims of militant practices applied to achieve an end that foregoes any sense of human dignity, freedom, opportunity, success or equality, showed complete ignorance towards the potential outcome.
America’s Intelligence Gathering
During WWII America became quite capable at infiltrating and gathering essential information that was valuable to the successful outcome of this brutal and tragic war. The CIA was established in 1947 by the National Security Act. It is an agency of the U.S. Government with the sole purpose of providing expert analysis and advice to the President and the National Defense structure on foreign activities. Where intelligence dictates covert activities can result. Communism became almost the lone focus after the war, resulting in military activities in Korea, and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as a watchful eye on Russia’s possible interest in the oil fields and harbors for distribution in the Middle East. Iran’s Shah’s relations with the United States were quite positive and the embassy in Tehran became one of America’s largest (5th largest). However the intelligence gathering apparatus there continued to watch Russia. We became dependent on the Shah’s SAVAK, a secret police force, a domestic security and intelligence service of the Pahlavi dynasty, for information. We used what they provided, yet we asked very little about the potential impact the spread of radical Islam, the fundamentalists of Islam in charge, would have on the Nation of Iran, or the world political order. Farsi, the Persian language, was useful in communications, but our ears were deaf to what an Islamic theocracy might bring to the region.
An interesting read is The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, by David Christ, and published in 2012 by Penguin Books (Radom House). Events and contrasting voices of members of Presidential administrations, with an emphasis on that of Jimmy Carter, is presented. The Shah was active in the modernization and secularization of Iran, in fact “In the early 60’s…(he) forced land distribution…of the vast holdings of Shia clerics, which struck at the heart of their wealth and power….(He ordered) state owned businesses sold; the enfranchisement of women, including their ability to hold political office; and the removal of Islamic dogma from schools.” Called the White Revolution, the policies of liberalization were objected to by the Shiite clerics, whose power was taken from them, claiming they were inconsistent with Islamic values. Christ noted that, “The Shah largely dismissed Islam as a backward force that impeded the formation of a new modern Iran.” He sounds like Churchill, when you compare “retrograde force” with “backward force.” However all was not great as the Shah had his ego to contend with as the people had sudden, significant and “rapid social change” to contend with that engendered “increased instability” in Iran. Islam was a factor and the sudden dismissal of this ideology, practiced as a religion in Iran, was a hurdle to be overcome, while at the same time a cause for opponents of the Shah to use against him. What the outside world missed, America’s CIA and other intelligence sources missed, was the undercurrent, the caldron of boiling dissent towards a less than benevolent dictator, that would enable a potential revolutionary force that would bring into the Iranian Republic an Islamic Republic, emphasis on “Islamic.”
There were suggestions from outsiders that the Shah, who was becoming a problem, should move swiftly towards a more democratic form of secular government, having elections to bring more fair minded, equitable persons into political offices, as well as distribute more of the increased oil wealth, resulting from the 1974 oil crisis (if you can remember the gas lines during the Nixon era) to help the people via welfare programs and job creation. The Shah resisted favoring a new single political party “dedicated to the Pahlavi regime.” That upset the populace even more.
During the years leading up to this moment America had provided military training and equipment creating the strongest army in the Middle East, but not necessarily as dedicated as the Israeli Army. Our objective had to be preserving what the Shah had created for the people, the freedoms available, while mitigating his oppressive policies, and maintaining the army as a peaceful force in the region. Included in that objective scenario should have been excluding fanatical Islamic theocratic fundamentalists from taking charge with the resultant “influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it,” per Churchill, would bring. But it was the Khomeini that was in Paris, in the wings, ready, willing and able to take office. Outside of Iran he was able to use the Media to make known his “vitriolic criticism” towards the secularization of the Iranian society, which the Shah used to exile the Ayatollah in 1963. The Khomeini never stopped referring to the Shah as “corrupt” and proclaiming the United States as his main supporter.
Thinking the Khomeini would return as an ideological cleric, “in the traditional role of a Shia imam: influential and powerful, but aloof from secular politics,” more common for those of the Shia ideology than the Sunni ideology, was a mistake. During his years in exile he observed the roles of clerics in theocratic positions of power and saw benefits for his potential leadership in the future, should that even come about. His overtures to the people were to continue with progress and modernization but his intentions were quite different. To say he lied to the people is an oversimplification. He intended to replace the Imperial Throne of a monarchy with the Mosque and the pulpit or lectern from which the clerics, Imams, Mullahs and others demand their constituency obey the Supreme Being and the Messenger. Why were the intelligence gathering personnel, those on the ground in Islamic religious centers like Qom, not picking up signals of the intent of the Mullahs if a revolt was possible and the result put them in control?
Where there was unrest towards the Shah unfortunately there were deaths, many in Qom, over 100 in Tabriz, in Abadan “Khomeini supporters set fire to the Cinema Rex….More than 400 people died….” No matter who instilled the riots or the fires, in the streets it was the Shah, the government of Iran, that was blamed. ‘Conspiracy’ was the buzz-word. In the center of the horns of a dilemma the Shah was at a loss. On one side he defended his Throne trying “to crush the dissidents,” on the other he had to deal with criticism for “his human rights abuses.” Allowing protests would encourage the opposition, such is the case today in Iran. When he ordered his police force to open fire on dissidents in July 1978 they refused. Even the CIA was conflicted observing that it was the modernization of Iran, maybe too fast, to which the people were reacting. That should have been a clue as to the impact the ideological Islamists were having on the minds of the people. And the CIA in a memo noted, “strong forces of reaction…are not being contained by martial law or piecemeal concessions to the opposition.” The majority of the population of Iran was and remains Shia. Outside of Iran the Khomeini was available to the Media and able to conduct a “sophisticated media campaign against the Shah.” Even Jimmy Carter began to doubt the Shah could survive, or a replacement was possible, except for the Khomeini.
Emphasizing what is being said herein, from the words of David Christ, “the American government did not even consider the religious aspect of the opposition.” From the embassy few American diplomats, if any, ever walked the streets to meet and greet the common man, or have sit downs with a mullah, even get to know a Mullah, and certainly not to have talks with any dissidents. So much for intelligence gathering.
As an aside: how many times in history, in stories told, have the elite, from the military to government factions to corporate groups, and those feeling secure cloistered themselves and partied while outside events took place, potentially destructive, to which those inside were totally unaware. From the Red Masque of Death, by Poe, to robberies taking place while the owners were away, to Hillary Clinton, her Party ignorant of the ‘deplorables’ movement. Trump, to his credit, did go to the streets to obtain a sense of what the people wanted. That was taking place in the Embassy in Tehran. They relied heavily on the Shah, who they believed was in control and trustworthy.
Iran – the Conflict Among America’s Experts
There were those within the Carter Administration that had a proper sense of developments. One was Brzezinski (National security Adviser). He “wanted the Shah to use force to crush the resistance. He believed the United States needed to express its unqualified support for the monarch.” He disagreed with the Ambassador in Tehran, William Sullivan, who “agitated to open a dialog with Khomeini.” His insight was sufficient to foresee the consequences of a theocracy and a swift re-direction of Iran towards an Islamic Republic, not an Iranian Republic. The CIA agreed with Brzezinski while Congress “looked upon the Shah as so undemocratic that they would not tolerate a covert program designed to keep him in power.” Congress knew so little about Islam; they were not wrong about the Shah, but needed to support, or should have, an alternative that did not involve the Ayatollah. Time was not on our side, as a swift transition was needed, to include decisions regarding a new government after the Shah. Internal conflicts based upon opinion waged on in Washington.
The Shah did not help his own cause, or that of the people’s future in Iran. After a tragic event in September 1978 referred to as Black Friday, the Shah’s concerns took hold and he began a process of reconciliation making the Shah appear “weak and irresolute,” in turn emboldening the opposition (Khomeini supporters). Carter continued to express support for the Shah which when publicized caused even greater ire towards the monarch. It was too late in the process when a government official met with a leader, an opponent of the Shah, only to realize the extent to which the Islamic, religious, militants “played a prominent role in mounting antigovernment demonstrations.” They were well organized and funded. The United States continued its call for a civil government, but the Shah failed to act accordingly. Collapse was imminent. Carter had a “strong distaste for…covert actions,” which were needed. A commitment to such actions had to be strong, stronger than what did transpire. Our Ambassador was insisting the Shah was finished and the Khomeini would be better than a military coup. In retrospect, was he correct?
Brzezinski wanted the coup option to remain on the table.
New Year’s Eve 1977 in Tehran
At a State dinner in Tehran, Iran on December 31, 1977, the Shah hosting Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, gushed with great praise about the help America has provided Iran over the years. He is quoted saying, “Almost 100 years ago the first American Ambassador, Samuel G. W. Benjamin, who had been assigned by President Chester Alan Arthur, came to Iran. In his book, Persia and the Persians, he wrote, ‘Iran today is a weak and unknown country, but certainly this country will step into the path of progress and in the not too distant future will again play an important role in the world.’ Now with this prediction coming true, our country has started its role within its potentialities and possibilities. Perhaps it need not be mentioned, but this is a positive and constructive role and in conformity with the principles that your great country has always supported independent and of which you, Mr. President, are the most notable advocate.” Much transpired over this 100 year span and Iran had emerged in a fashion the Islamists would refer to as ‘westernized,’ a reference they found objectionable.
President Jimmy Carter responded to the Shah with glowingly admiration of Iran. A poignant comment from his lips, “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” So much for complete awareness on the part of Jimmy Carter. Was this honesty or political correctness? Carter made note, “We have no other nation on Earth who is closer to us in planning for our mutual military security. We have no other nation with whom we have closer consultation on regional problems that concern us both. And there is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal gratitude and personal friendship.” Consider what took place 13 months later.
(The transcript of the speeches on 12/31/1977 can be read – here)
On February 1, 1979, the “man they all despised” was provided a military escort, honor guards, and other protections, even a helicopter to parade him about Tehran. Well, so much for Carter’s gratitude towards the Shah. Like an ideological hurricane of force so great that the island of Iran was destroyed and the ashes of progress were strewn about as a reminder of what the demonic elements of Ayatollah felt was wrong, caused in part by the support of the Great Satan. Were the people of Iran mis-led by a fake supreme being to such an extent that, despite a selfish ruler, gave away the freedoms and progress being made to be re-wrapped in the hijabs and burkas of Islam.
A cleansing followed. Military commanders were re-educated in the ways of the Ayatollah, erasing any semblance of a king in their hearts. Anti-semitism increased to the point a newly appointed ambassador to Iran who was Jewish was replaced. The American embassy was under siege; the surrounding walls decorated in graffiti showing enmity towards the Great Satan. Billions of U.S. military supplies were still scheduled for shipment to Iran, all of which the new regime wanted. The new power base wanted to know America was done with the Shah, but when he was allowed to enter the U.S. for critically needed medical services, it was made clear to the populace the Shah was a pawn of America and Iran was a chessboard upon which the pieces were in the past moved by foreign hands. Not all true, but as a propaganda piece enough to halt any attempt to reach an accord with the Ayatollah. “Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s line” headed an assault on the Embassy on November 4, 1979, planned before the Shah came to the U.S., parading embassy staff, “bound and blindfolded, before a stunned world media.” What was to last a few hours, the occupation and retention of the personnel lasted until Reagan was inaugurated (January, 1981) – 444 days later. This action was endorsed by the Khomeini. In a short period the moderates and secularists were expunged leaving “the Revolutionary Council and the Islamists in sole power.”
Quoting an Iranian that since escaped from Iran, now living in Canada, “When the Islamic Republic came to power in 1979, for the first year they just executed anybody who had anything to do with the previous regime.” Many more died, murdered, at the hands of the Shiite religious so-called leaders in the 1st year under the Khomeini than during the entire reign of the Shah. And the killing continues.
A dissident interviewed (read more).
Carter was a feckless President whose lack of resolve and commitment, plus a lack of understanding Islam, his hesitancy and poor timing on essential matters, has led to much of the turmoil and terrorism, emboldening Islamists and militants transforming the Middle East and Southwest Asia into a sepsis upon the multitude who live in those areas. After the revolution came Russia’s invasion in Afghanistan, the growth of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, actions to Islamize Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Libya and many other secular, moderate, Muslim majority cultures and countries. Those areas became blood spattered killing fields for the Islamists activated by Allah, Muhammad the militant their example, and a succession of backward, poorly educated, instigators of hatred at the helm. The Bullies of Islam assumed control.
The Mistake of 79
If the opportunity presents itself for the people of Iran to revolt and restore their climb out of the dungeon in which the Islamic Republic under the Ayatollah and his contingent of “backward, uneducated clerics” have created for them, they must. It could well be the beginning of the restoration of sanity and progress in the entire region. What a legacy that would make for Trump, although I do not believe that such a legacy is his objective. It is more to have sanity return to the region, a voice of reason, a government structured for the common good of all the residents, increased industrialization, improved and broader education, a welcoming place for tourists of all persuasions, a renewed attitude of religious tolerance and expanded rights for women and others. If this occurs, for which we all must continue to pray, may Trump have those who can speak Farsi available.
The ideology of Islam will remain a forever problem in the region with its varied approaches to true Islam, its lack of education beyond that of the example of the militant Prophet Muhammad, clerics ill equipped to govern a country of diverse and progressive interests, requirements that teaching or memorizing the Quran is an essential, and a strident intolerance towards other religions or personal preferences. The arrival of the Ayatollah on the stage of Islam is proof of the inadequacies and lack of ability of any of the scholars, the ulema of Islam, to govern in a civil fashion. They are all for Allah, and not for human rights. Freedom will remain an anathema and independent thinking will be frowned upon. Such concerns must be addressed, along with the eradication of arcane Apostasy Laws, including the mitigation of America or Israel as ongoing targets of Islamic hate, and, vitally important, an acceptance of modernity, which includes Christian principles of equality, of sexes, human rights, and opportunity.
If the article suggests to you that under Jimmy Carter a Pandora’s Box of retrograde demonic forces was unleashed, then my point has been made clear.
Food for Thought.
Grace and Peace
Other articles on Iran previously posted.