In an interview with Muslimpress.com, Kambiz Zarrabi talks about US-Iran relations and the tension between the two countries.
What was the policy of the United States toward Iran before the Iranian Revolution, and what factors ultimately led to the Islamic Revolution?
America’s control of the Middle East affairs began slowly at the end of the World War II, as the age-old British influence was beginning to fade. But the fledgling American intelligence gathering agency, the CIA, created in 1947, still had to rely on the old fox, the British MI6, for intelligence information and strategic approach in dealing with the post WWII developments in that region.
After the nationalization of the oil industry by Dr. Mosaddegh in 1951, which effectively nullified England’s total and unchallenged monopoly over the exploitation and marketing of Iran’s national wealth, the CIA was convinced by the British Intelligence Service to cooperate in masterminding a coup to overthrow the Mosaddegh premiership in 1953 and to bring back the Shah from his short-lived exile.
Iranian nation’s first attempt toward democratic reforms, independence and self-determination was thus killed in its infancy, something that the nation never forgot or forgave.
The baton changed hands and the United States took the helm in planning and guiding sociopolitical developments in the strategic Middle East. America’s interests in the region were three-fold: First was the concern over the potential Soviet expansionism; second, the protection of the regions oil wealth for the benefit of the Western imperial powers; and third, protection and support for the post-WWII European transplant in the heart of the Islamic World, the unwanted, illegitimate state of Israel.
To accomplish this, the old British model was adopted; i.e., convincing the leaders of the regional states that their very survival and longevity was dependent upon their subservience to the wishes of their benefactor superpower. In the case of the less developed or inconsequential states, perhaps all with the exception of Iran, no explanation was ever needed. In the case of Iran, a country with a history of public aspirations for liberty and independence, the leadership had to use the rationale that bowing to the mandates and policies of the superpower was not only beneficial for the nation’s economic wellbeing and modernization, but it also protected Iran from the fearsome Russian Bear.
But this economic growth and overreach toward modernization was at a great cost to the nation. Unlike much of Europe and the nations of the New World of the Americas, the Iranian people had more than economic development and modernization to champion; traditional cultural values, as well as the uniqueness of the Shi’a Islam as symbolically Iranian, were equally important to the nation. Even though great progress was being made toward industrial and economic developments, increasing prosperity was tilting toward the already wealthy and the well-connected, creating a wider chasm between the thin upper crust and the less privileged majority population. The rural farming communities were being drained of their populations, who crowded the suburban slums surrounding the ever expanding metropolitan areas, in search of menial jobs and meager subsistence.
As the runaway modernization inevitably took the form of Westernization, too much was being left behind and sacrificed as excess baggage to lighten the load while jumping on the bandwagon named “progress”. Anything that resisted or opposed this trend was branded as anachronistic and as a regression toward the darker, less civilized past. Disregarding the fact that the religious leaders of the nation had actually spearheaded the first constitutional revolution in Iran in the early 1900s, religion and its hierarchical establishment in the country were treated as hindrance toward a more up-to-date social restructuring.
But the undercurrent remained alive and struggling. The disenfranchised citizenry, whose national identity, which included the national religion, Shi’ite Islam, had remained the only glue that held it together, finally erupted in full force. The regime’s military, Western armed and Western trained, with its well-fed and well-clad top brass, succumbed to the rebelling low ranking infantrymen and cadets and unraveled in the face of public uprising during the Islamic Revolution. The center of regional stability and progress that the American President, Jimmy Carter, had called Iran under the Shah just a few months earlier, had suddenly become an ocean of rebellion and turbulence.
How did the US support for the Shah affect the Iranian people?
The average American man and woman would like to believe that their government’s financial, diplomatic and military support for various countries is formulated philanthropically and even altruistically to promote freedom and democracy and economic growth in the underdeveloped world. They are, therefore, shocked in disbelief when the reality kicks in to dispel that myth.
Support for despots and hand-picked potentates in sheikdoms and kingdoms or monarchies in strategic areas of the globe, such as the Middle East, has been to ensure the continuity of the kind of stabilities that best serve the interests of the superpower, even if such support results in brutal suppression of human rights, human dignity, and any aspiration for freedom and democracy.
The Shah had even expressed his opinion that in a bipolar world in the midst of the Cold War between two superpowers, a strategically located country like Iran would not be allowed to remain independent and neutral; therefore, the best choice would be to align with the bigger and the better. While in exile, he had expressed his genuine surprise and disappointment that, although he had complied with all the dictates of his benefactors, he was left out in the cold at the end. He should have learned his lesson during his visit to the United States in the early ‘60s to ask John F. Kennedy for more military aid, when the American President basically told him to go fly a kite! He should have learned that puppets, no matter how loyal, well-groomed or well-trained, are dispensable and replaceable coldly, even brutally, by their puppeteer.
In spite of all that, the Shah did remain loyal to American mandates and tried to hide the nation’s deep-seated anger and resentments stemming from the anti-democratic coup of 1953, as well as the brutal suffocation of any voice of dissent, under a thin veneer of forced tranquility; forced with the help of the notorious secret service, SAVAK.
The Iranian nation was losing patience, anxiously waiting for the opportunity to do what nobody thought was possible to do; and succeeded!
Why did the United States encourage and support Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980, and what were the results of this imposed war for both Iran and Iraq?
The motto of the Islamic Revolution was “Neither East, Nor West.” The Islamic Republic of Iran wanted to remain independent as a non-aligned state managing its own affairs. But, as the Shah had said, the concept of independence for a strategically located country sharing borders with the Soviet Union, and sitting on some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, didn’t sit well with the United States. To this day, an independent Iran does not seem to be an acceptable proposition for the one and only superpower in the world.
After the success of the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of Imam Khomeini in 1979, and especially after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as the US President in 1981, the use of force to invade and overthrow the Iranian regime, directly by the United States or indirectly though American proxies in the region, principally Israel, was in the drawing boards at the various intelligence agencies and think tanks.
In 1981, when the Ba’athist regime of Iraq under Saddam Hussein launched its unprovoked attack upon Iran, it was initially seen as a cakewalk for the amply equipped Iraqi armed forces to overcome the still poorly armed and disorganized Iran’s regular forces. But Saddam had underestimated the patriotism and dedication of a nation, whose volunteer citizenry, young and old, Moslem, Christian, Jew and Zoroastrian, and Farsi, Turkish and Arabic speaking people from all across the country, supplemented what was left of the armed forces to stop and reverse Saddam’s gains.
Even though Saddam and the secular leftist Ba’ath party of Iraq were Soviet allies, it was the United States that began providing the Iraqi forces with strategic information and weapons to prevent the Iranian forces from gaining the upper hand against Iraq. (The caption quoted from the Wikipedia below is quite revealing.) For the American strategists, Saddam Hussein was yet another regional dictator that could be purchased and managed as a surrogate, and flushed down like toilet tissue once his usefulness wore off.
American foreign policy strategists wanted to prolong the Iran-Iraq war as long as possible in order to incapacitate both countries’ military capabilities and to inflict irreparable damage to their industrial infrastructures. This way, the oil-rich Iraq would become another compliant ally, like Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms; and the Islamic Republic of Iran would more easily yield to a regime change, not into a friendly but still independent state, but back to its former subservient monarchical structure, perhaps headed by the Shah’s son, who was actually being vetted for the job.
That imposed war of attrition lasted for eight years, resulting in over one million deaths, several million injured and over a trillion dollars’ worth of infrastructural damage to the two warring countries.
Excerpted from Wikipedia: The Iran/Iraq War.
International response in 1982, [Highlights my own]
In April 1982, the rival Baathist regime in Syria, one of the few nations that supported Iran, closed the Kirkuk–Banias pipeline that had allowed Iraqi oil to reach tankers on the Mediterranean, reducing the Iraqi budget by US$5 billion per month. Journalist Patrick Brogan wrote, "It appeared for a while that Iraq would be strangled economically before it was defeated militarily." Syria's closure of the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline left Iraq with the pipeline to Turkey as the only means of exporting oil. However, that pipeline had a capacity of only 500,000 barrels per day (79,000 m3/d), which was insufficient to pay for the war. However, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf states saved Iraq from bankruptcy by providing it with an average of $60 billion in subsidies per year. Though Iraq had previously been hostile towards other Gulf states, "the threat of Persian fundamentalism was far more feared." They were especially inclined to fear Iranian victory after Ayatollah Khomeini declared monarchies to be illegitimate and an un-Islamic form of government. Khomeini's statement was widely received as a call to overthrow the Gulf monarchies. Journalists John Bulloch and Harvey Morris wrote:
“The virulent Iranian campaign, which at its peak seemed to be making the overthrow of the Saudi regime a war aim on a par with the defeat of Iraq, did have an effect on the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], but not the one the Iranians wanted: instead of becoming more conciliatory, the Saudis became tougher, more self-confident, and less prone to seek compromise.”
Saudi Arabia was said to provide Iraq with $1 billion per month starting in mid-1982.
Iraq began receiving support from the United States and west European countries as well. Saddam was given diplomatic, monetary, and military support by the U.S., including massive loans, political clout, and intelligence on Iranian deployments gathered by American spy satellites. The Iraqis relied heavily on American satellite footage and radar planes to detect Iranian troop movements, and they enabled Iraq to move troops to the site before the battle. With Iranian success on the battlefield, the U.S. made its backing of Iraq more pronounced, supplying intelligence, economic aid, anddual-use equipment and vehicles, as well as normalizing its intergovernmental relations (which had been broken during the 1967 Six-Day War). President Ronald Reagan decided that the United States "could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran", and that the United States "would do whatever was necessary to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran". Reagan formalized this policy by issuing a National Security Decision Directive to this effect in June 1982.
In 1982, Reagan removed Iraq from the list of countries "supporting terrorism" and sold weapons such as howitzers to Iraq via Jordan and Israel. France sold Iraq millions of dollars worth of weapons, including Gazelle helicopters, Mirage F-1 fighters, and Exocet missiles. Both the United States and West Germany sold Iraq dual-use pesticides and poisons that would be used to create chemical and other weapons, such as Roland missiles.
At the same time, the Soviet Union, angered with Iran for purging and destroying the Tudeh Party (Iran's national communist party), sent large shipments of weapons to Iraq. The Iraqi Air Force was rearmed with Soviet and French fighter jets and helicopters. Iraq also bought weapons such as AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades from the Chinese. The depleted tank forces were replenished with Soviet tanks, and the Iraqis were reinvigorated in the face of the coming Iranian onslaught. Iran was portrayed as the aggressor, and would be seen as such until the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraq would be condemned.
As the war was approaching its end in 1988, an American missile cruiser carelessly shot down an Iranian passenger airliner over the Persian Gulf on July 3rd, mistaking it for a much smaller fighter jet (!), killing 290 people. The United States never apologized for that event, and it took about eight years before financial reparations under international law were finally made to the families of the victims. Quoting the then Vice President George H. W. Bush, "I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy." - George Bush, Aug 2 1988.
Fourteen years later, in his State of the Union Address in 2002, President George W. Bush, the son of George Herbert Walker Bush, lumped Iran together with North Korea and Iraq as a member of the Axis of Evil, shortly after Iran had helped the United States in stabilizing the chaotic Afghanistan and establishing the Karzai government!
America’s policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran remained unchanged; if a direct military intervention had proved impractical, a change of regime through covert means including assassinations, sabotage, encouragement and support for various dissent movements to fragment Iran from within, became the main order of foreign policy business in Washington. In addition, the implementation of increasingly severe economic and diplomatic sanctions under one or more pretexts was adopted to further damage the Iranian economy and the gradually crumbling industries, from the oil refineries to the aging aircraft maintenance needs.
To justify the implementation of such draconian sanctions, some of which were clearly in violation of international norms, various reasons were falsely concocted. Chief among these manufactured arguments was the allegation that Iran’s nuclear industry, a peaceful and legal - under the None Proliferation Treaty agreement – project aimed at production of electric power, was being violated to produce materials for nuclear weapons. Other allegations included the claim that Iran was the world’s chief supporter of international terrorism for its support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, both branded as terrorist organizations because Israel, the real promoter of international terrorism, said so!
Sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy and have forced the nation to adopt what is called the economy of resistance. It did not, and was not likely to, incite public rebellion or to bring the nation to its knees. Certain creative adjustments were made in foreign trade procedures and management of inflation rates. But the trade restrictions also encouraged steps toward greater self-sufficiency within the country.
In short, Iran was actually being punished, not because of any truth in the allegations brought against it, but simply because it insisted on being an independent island surrounded by America’s client states in the Middle East. The Iranian government knew that the charges against the Islamic Republic were bogus; and so did the United States. So, the question remains: What factors have been responsible for influencing America’s foreign policy toward Iran to perpetuate such hostilities against the Islamic Republic? To understand that, we should look at some of the special interest groups that, whether for material or ideological reasons, benefit from such policies.
To summarize, the group consists of the hardliner neoconservatives who are mostly Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists; the gigantic economic machinery of the military/industrial complex; and the two powerful lobbies: the Israel lobby and certain radical evangelical Biblical extremists.
Of these groups, the most influential have been the pro-Israel elements that rule all the sensitive committees of the US Congress that have anything to do with matters of foreign policy in any shape or form.
It is no secret, but very seldom if ever highlighted by the mainstream US media, what the cost to America’s own national interests this blind support for that little illegitimate apartheid state has been. In the United States, nobody dares ask the simple question of what that passionate attachment has ever done for the United States to deserve all that support.
In my opinion, it was President Obama, and only in his second and final term in office, who actually dared to redress the merits and disadvantages of the established alliances, partnerships, as well as antagonisms and animosities, between the United States and the Middle Eastern regimes. Initiating steps to resolve Iran’s so-called nuclear weapons ambitions was a convenient excuse toward a rapprochement with Iran. The allegations against Iran were maliciously false, therefore Iran had no problem coming to terms with the P5+1 agreement, providing the rationale for the United States to lift the nuclear-based sanctions. It is a mistake to think that such adjustments adopted by the US administration were magnanimous gestures of compassion and humanity; the reason was the realization that America’s own interests in the Middle East would be better served through a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that continued animosity would harm the United States more than it would hurt Iran.
But as we are observing today, the same elements of influence are relentlessly at work to sabotage any chance of a new opening between the Islamic Republic and the United States. Obama’s term is expiring soon and the anti-Iran rhetoric will continue to dominate the geopolitical debates during the upcoming elections.
Iran recently detained US Marines for trespassing into Iranian territorial waters. Did the Iranian’s actions humiliate the United States?
The detention of American Marines who trespassed into the Iranian waters was handled legally and professionally by the Iranian forces, and the tension was defused promptly, as everyone expected. The Revolutionary Guard’s Naval Forces never attempted to “humiliate” the detainees; but the episode was an admitted embarrassment for the US Navy. Several similar incidents had also taken place during the past few years and quietly resolved bilaterally to avoid an escalation of tensions, something that neither Iran nor the United States would really welcome.
July 1, 2016
Kambiz Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion.He has conducted lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to Iran, with focus on US/Iran issues. Zarrabi's latest book is Iran, Back in Context.