If United States President Barack Obama is really serious about “unclenched fists” in a new US-Iran relationship, he’s got to take a serious, unbiased look at the US record.
Former US secretary of state Cordell Hull’s classic comment about Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo – “He’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch” – has been the norm for decades. From the Somozas in Nicaragua to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, from Indonesia’s Suharto to the shah of Iran, US foreign policy over the past decades has enshrined a hefty SOB gallery.
This gallery symbolizes the official Washington policy of US neo-colonialism – always indirect and non-ostensive, contrary to historical examples of European colonialism.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has demanded apologies from the US as essential for smashing the wall of mistrust between Iran and the US. He has a point.
If president Jimmy Carter had apologized to Iran for the fact that the US since president Harry S Truman supported Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – aka the shah of Iran – and his tyranny; if he had promised not to subvert the Iranian revolution; and if he had committed to give back to the country the up to US$60 billion stolen by the shah, his family and acolytes, the infamous Iranian hostage crisis would have been solved swiftly.
But a weak Carter – often perceived as a country bumpkin Hamlet – was not the real power anyway. The real power behind the throne was David Rockefeller. German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt was right when she wrote that after 1918, political power, except revolutionary power, is pure operetta.
Do the Rockefeller shuffle
The shah’s banker was David Rockefeller. He was the man responsible for the entry into the US of the “ailing” shah in 1979, which led to the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran (the “nest of spies”) and the interminable hostage crisis. Rockefeller at the time stressed the “patriotism”, “independence” and “tolerance” by the shah towards women and religious minorities and stressed his “modernization” of Iran – this when Amnesty International and even the US State Department itself were amassing stacks of documents showing the shah as one of the most brutal rulers in modern history. But Mohammad Reza provided excellent dividends to then Chase Manhattan. Rockefeller was duly taking the interests of his shareholders into account.
In the late 1940s, the shah did not even live in Iran. He preferred New York and the French Riviera – while Iran was fermenting with democratic and nationalist ideas. These ideas led to the emergence of Mohammad Mossadegh’s party, who was later elected prime minister. Mossadegh committed the enormous sin of nationalizing the Iranian oil industry – so he was duly deposed via a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inspired coup; thus Mohammad Reza was invited to become the new CIA puppet in Iran (during the Mossadegh affair he was no more than a de luxe refugee in Europe).
During the Cold War, stressing how easily the Soviet Union had occupied Iran earlier, the CIA trained the Savak, the shah’s secret police. Being Muslim but not an Arab, Mohammad Reza also rendered a great service to the US: he did not share Arab hatred of Israel. He even sold oil to Israel (one of the reasons that later fomented ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s popularity). In sum, the shah was the perfect gatekeeper of US political and economic interests in the Persian Gulf.
The shah used to be no more than a playboy. John F Kennedy, who met him on the Rivera party circuit before he became US president, thought he was a dangerous megalomaniac. As president, Kennedy anyway supported him, suggesting a little harmless reform here and there. The shah made a few cosmetic overtures towards women, for instance declaring non-obligatory the use of the chador. But this only concerned the wealthy and the Iranian upper-middle class, the small consumer society created by the multinational corporations to whom the shah opened up the country.
What the shah and his secret police did with relish was to persecute all political parties, as well as Kurds, one of the very “minorities” David Rockefeller said was protected.
And just like president George W Bush a few decades later, Mohammad Reza started to believe in his own propaganda and regard himself as king of kings. Especially because he was instrumental behind the spectacular rise in the price of oil in 1973 of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This – the real story – will never be featured in the mainstream US media.
Now do the Kissinger shuffle
The shah got his green light from national security advisor cum secretary of state Henry Kissinger. In 1972, president Richard Nixon had introduced the Nixon Doctrine (pity no one never asked Alaska governor Sarah Palin about that). Based on the US defeat in Vietnam, and convinced he would never be able to directly combat all the global subversion nodes springing up against US interests, Nixon started to promote global “gatekeepers”. No gatekeeper was more essential than the one in charge of the Persian Gulf. The shah gladly accepted the role, but complained he was broke – he could not buy the weapons the US was trying to sell him.
The wily Kissinger found out how: the rise of OPEC oil prices. This is how Kissinger – employed by the Rockefellers – drove to the roof the profits by US Big Oil, which at the time consisted of five of the Seven Sisters, and especially Rockefeller Big Oil (Exxon, Mobil and SoCal, three of the four majors, the other being Texaco). And all this with an added big bonus. Japan, Germany and the rest of Western Europe depended on Persian Gulf oil much more than the US; thus Kissinger also found out how to undermine the devastating industrial and commercial competition to the US by especially Japan and Germany.
A case can be made that the whole shah/Kissinger racket inevitably led to the fall of the shah. The shah – like Somoza, Suharto or an array of Latin American dictators – never understood that he was no more than a puppet.
He spent tens of billions of dollars on American weapons. His multinational model fit the obvious pattern seen all over the developing world: a minority swimming in gold and conspicuous consumption while the absolute majority faced dire poverty. The shah pushed for cash crops instead of conducting a real agrarian reform that would guarantee the subsistence of millions of Iranian peasants – all of them diehard Shi’ites and most of them illiterate.
These peasant masses in the end got the boot from the countryside by American agribusiness; for the Americans, they were nothing but a “superfluous” workforce, non-adaptable to a Western, mechanized, selective model. It was those miserable masses, flooding Tehran and other large Iranian cities in a fight for survival, who composed the mass base of Khomeini’s revolution in 1979. The rest is, of course, history.
Save us from these barbarians
The US ruling class simply could not – and still cannot – acknowledge the power of Third World nationalism; there’s the risk American public opinion, if well informed, could sympathize with nationalists everywhere.
That’s why the Vietnamese were portrayed as puppets of Beijing; after taking out Indochina, they would – according to the domino theory – invade the Philippines and in the end Los Angeles and San Francisco.
US corporate media endlessly denounced the horrendous crimes of the genocidal psychopath Pol Pot in Cambodia; but US public opinion was never told that it was Nixon and Kissinger who destroyed neutral Cambodia in 1970, thus allowing the Khmer Rouge to flower and take over power, destroying it even further.
As for the Iranian revolution against the oppressive, mega-corrupt shah/US multinational corporations regime, it was relentlessly depicted as “subversion” perpetrated by an old religious fanatic and a demented mob (the CIA at least got it right in 1978, depicting Khomeini in a memo as “a sort of moralist, a philosopher-king”).
In 1978, the whole US corporate media were hammering that the shah was invincible; that the Khomeinist mobs were a minority; and that the shah was a “great modernizer” opposed by “Muslim fanatics”. Then, after the revolution, American guilt for the life and “work” of the shah was psychologically replaced by hatred of Iran because of the American hostage crisis.
It’s never enough to remember today: virtually everything happening in the world during the Cold War had to have behind it the hand – and the gold – of Moscow. Why didn’t Carter block Iran – whose oil Japan and Europe badly needed? It was fear that Khomeini would fall into Moscow’s arms.
The Islamic Revolution was received with supreme perplexity in Washington. The perplexity remains to this day – the 30th anniversary of the revolution. The process inevitably went through the paranoia of a (frustrated) attempt to blame it all on Moscow.
Recent history has shown – from Vietnam to Iraq – that the “policies” concocted by the Washington establishment never matched reality, and that’s why they spectacularly failed. Added to the inevitable decadence of empire, it has become increasingly difficult to hide the stark consequences from American public opinion. Nevertheless, it’s still taboo in the US to acknowledge September 11, 2001, as blowback for US foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim world. So how far would Obama really go to explain in detail to US public opinion how the CIA coup against Mossadegh in 1953, and the support for the shah dictatorship, led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and 30 years (or 56 years?) of mistrust?
Hail to the revolution
Thirty years after the fact, the shadow of the Smasher of Idols, the Glorious Upholder of the Faith, the Sole Hope of the Downtrodden, the Vicar of Islam, His Holiness Grand Ayatollah Haj Sayyed Ruhollah Mussavi Khomeini still looms large over Iran.
He was no less than a living essay on hieratic severity. After 16 years in exile, back to Iran to lead his revolution, he said he felt “nothing”. A few months later, on April 1, 1979, an astonishing 98.2% of Iranians, in a national referendum, endorsed his dream of an Islamic Republic.
Khomeini had the genius to brand himself as the incarnated utopia of a world where the weak would be strong, where the law of god would erase the injustice of man, where faith would be knowledge, where the certitude of tradition would trump the angst of progress. Even the Arab masses were seduced; they did not understand any talk of class struggle or plus value, but Khomeini talked in terms of god and satan – the global language of the downtrodden.
This dream of a world devoid of contradiction and conflict, united under the watchful eye of Allah, died with the death of Khomeini – by a fabulous twist of history on the day in 1989 Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s squads were smashing students in Tiananmen Square, thus, in Deng’s view, preventing luan (“chaos”) from hijacking the Chinese economic miracle.
Khomeini adopted “neither East or West”, neither the Great Satan nor communism. He offered redemption through martyrdom – sending hundreds of thousands of young martyrs to certain death into a horrendous war in the 1980s against Saddam that of course he did not want but in the end fully adopted, deploying an incendiary rhetoric of death and proclamations. The victims were in the end the same mostazaffin – the oppressed – whom he claimed to defend.
Khomeini deployed instant tribunals and suicide commandos, the human waves of the Iran-Iraq war and the hostage crisis humiliation. Carter lost his re-election because of the hostage crisis. Iran ridiculed the US with Irangate. Against the terrorism of the Great Satan, Khomeini deployed sacred terrorism. None won. Everyone lost.
For the past two decades, the “dream” has been carried out by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, born in 1940 in Mashhad into a family of preachers, and just a second-tier cleric. When Khomeini died, he was not even an ayatollah, not to mention an imam: just a hojjatoleslam, a student. He had studied the Koran in Najaf under Khomeini. Today his grip on absolute power is tighter than ever. Iran today is not a theocracy or a democracy: it’s a clerical autocracy, where Khamenei is indeed supreme. He will decide under which terms Iran will talk to Obama.
Still, those apologies remain in order. Like the Airbus from Iran Air, flight 655, destroyed by two Standard ER2 missiles shot from the USS Vincennes under the orders of Captain Will Rogers, killing almost 300 civilians in 1988 (that was one of the key reasons that led Khomeini to accept an “ignominious” ceasefire ending the Iran-Iraq war).
If Obama really wants to make the effort to understand Iran he could do no worse than read the great Iranian philosopher Daryush Shayegan, a former professor at the University of Tehran. When Khomeini died, Shayegan identified him and the shah as the two juxtaposed Irans: imperial Iran and the painful Iran of the blood of the martyr, “a juxtaposition that symbolizes an unreal dream: as the 12th century mystical poet Ruzbehan from Shiraz would say, this ‘dementia of the inaccessible’.”
The good news is that from Obama’s point of view, the “inaccessible” can become more than accessible with just a simple “we’re sorry”.