The two young children in this photo have both committed suicide. Princess Laila died in 2001 and the death of her brother, Prince Ali Reza, was revealed today.
In his televised toast that night, Carter said “Under the Shah’s brilliant leadership, Iran is an island of stability in one of the most troublesome regions of the world. There is no other state figure whom I could appreciate and like more.” This was their last meeting.
Jimmy Carter and Iran
Despite the toast, Carter tied the Shah’s request for sophisticated weaponry to improved human rights and political freedoms. The President urged the Shah to release all political prisoners including known terrorists, and to put an end to military tribunals. The newly released terrorists would be tried under civil jurisdiction and the Islamic fundamentalists used the trials for propaganda and agitation. The Shah told Carter many of the prisoners were communists not fundamentalists.
Several of the prisoners in 1979 became leaders of the new government led by Ayatollah Khomeini. According to PBS, “Carter seemed to have a hard time deciding whether to heed the advice of his aggressive national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who wanted to encourage the Shah to brutally suppress the revolution, or that of his more cautious State Department, which suggested Carter reach out to opposition elements in order to smooth the transition to a new government.”
Following the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Brzezinski had CIA Director Stansfield Turner funnel all intelligence on Iran directly to the White House Situation Room. There were allegations Carter was excluding the Defense Department from this information, but we now know that White House itself was not well informed. The CIA was the focus of liberal scrutiny in the 1970s and their clandestine and covert operations were greatly scaled back.
The top two-thirds of the CIA Clandestine Services were eliminated or replaced, and their successors were not skilled at recruiting and running espionage networks. The late 1970s was an era of intelligence incompetence. Carter at first did not want the Shah to come to the United States but eventually allowed him to have a visa for medical treatment. However, at the same time his Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, was negotiating with the Islamic Republic to trade the Shah for the U.S. hostages. Jordan was in Las Vegas and speaking on an unsecured telephone line. His conversation was intercepted by General Noriega in Panama who alerted the Shah. The Shah instead went to Contadora in Panama as a safe haven.
Was The Shah a Dictator?
The Shah of Iran was an authoritarian ruler in a manner similar to today’s Morocco (a monarchy) or Tunisia (a republic), both of which do not allow democracy. He was guilty of denying political freedom and opposition to his reign, but he was not a totalitarian ruler.
His government did not meddle into private lives and never told people how to dress. Iranians could travel any where. Foreign periodicals were sold even if they criticized the Shah. There was petty corruption and propaganda. Now three decades have passed, and historians are able to place his regime in perspective. Ayatollah Khomeini repeatedly claimed the Shah killed over 600,000 people. Today the real figure is thought to be 383.
The over 300,000 political prisoners held by the SAVAK secret police, is now thought to be 3,000. They included future leaders such as Khamenei, Rafsanjani and Massoud Rajavi.
The Shah used Iran’s oil wealth to build a large military, which probably saved the country from being conquered by Saddam Hussein in 1980. The celebration of his reign in Persepolis was expensive, and damaged his popularity. Nevertheless, living standards were raised significantly. His greatest contribution was increasing levels of education, which was provided free. Over 50,000 Iranian students were studying in the U.S. in 1979 thanks to the Shah.
Their tuition was paid by the government. In the final months of 1978, the U.S. Embassy in Iran was vigorously involved in negotiations to accomplish a transfer of power to the opposition.
What Happened When The Islamic Republic of Iran Was Established?
The new Islamic Republic of Iran was a dictatorship, and it agreed with the Shah about the political prisoners. They were all executed, along with 20,000 pro-Western Iranians during their first months in power. Under the Shah, miniskirts were in fashion but the new regime immediately placed women into servitude. The Shah had allowed international broadcasts but the Ayatollah had people arrested for owning satellite dishes.
American diplomats were taken hostage, and the Soviet Union invaded Iran’s eastern neighbor Afghanistan as a result of the chaos. The radicalization and emergence of Muslim zealots like Osama bin Laden had begun. Within a year of the Shah’s ouster, the Iran-Iraq War began in which over 1 million died, and Saddam Hussein developed and used weapons of mass destruction. The Shah’s children are now a part of this tragedy.
Why Isn’t the U.S. Doing More for Iran’s Democratic Opposition?
Legislative initiatives such as the Iran Democratic Transition Act and the Iran Freedom and Support Act have never passed the U.S. Congress. They would establish a program of direct non-military assistance. The Iraq Liberation Act was passed in 1998, but the program made many mistakes. There is a concern that a similar program for Iran’s opposition would have bad consequences and would taint their efforts.
The U.S. government has participated in several multilateral efforts to deny the current regime the ability to continue to oppress its people. Several stories indicate the opposition is receiving covert assistance.