Category Archives: Iran

The Verdict of History: Comparing The Bush and Obama Records by Gregory Hilton

April 29, 2007: The National Day of Impeachment was organized by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Daniel Ellsberg and Cindy Sheehan.


The Bush Economic Record
President George W. Bush came into office with a recession and left with one, but his overall record is admirable. For 24 quarters we had steady growth, a record not matched by any other President. The Bush tax cuts rescued the economy and provided the nation with low unemployment and continued growth for 5½ straight years. The Dow Jones reached an all time high, and the tax cuts got America out of the dot com recession. Continue reading

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April 25, 1980 – 30th Anniversary of Desert One, Hostage Rescue Attempt in Iran Fails by Gregory Hilton

It was 30 years ago today that eight U.S. servicemen died at the Desert One site south of Tehran, Iran. Their bodies had to be left behind, and at the time it was described as the worst humiliation the U.S. had ever suffered. Continue reading

House Votes 403 to 11 to Condemn Iran But Ron Paul Defends The Islamic Republic by Gregory Hilton

Last night the House of Representatives voted 403-11 to proceed with a conference which would further isolate Iran by cutting off its supplies of refined petroleum products such as gasoline. Under the proposed law, companies that export gasoline to Iran would be barred from the U.S. market. Despite Iran’s massive oil reserves, the country has limited refining capacity and has to import the gasoline it requires.
The lawmakers are acting to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said last night, “We have waited long enough for diplomacy to work.” Many lawmakers told the House last night that Iran’s intentions are clear, and “now is the time to implement crippling sanctions on this reckless regime.”
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), the 1988 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, was once again in the forefront of those rushing to defend the Islamic Republic and its nuclear weapons program. Paul led the opposition to the “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act,” and told the House:

I rise in strong opposition. I object to this entire push for war on Iran, however it is disguised. . . We hear war advocates on the floor today arguing that we cannot afford to sit around and wait for Iran to detonate a nuclear weapon. Where have we heard this before? Anyone remember then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s oft-repeated quip about Iraq: that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to appear as a mushroom cloud. We need to see all this for what it is: Propaganda to speed us to war against Iran for the benefit of special interests. . . A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran.

Ron Paul is the only Republican who has consistently defended Iran’s President when he makes statements such as “Israel should be wiped off the map.” Congressman Paul has also repeatedly justified the actions of terrorists who have attacked the United States. He also accuses the CIA of being in the drug business and says they need to be “taken out.” Paul is considered a champion of the “9/11 Truth” movement.
They believe the NYC Twin Towers were packed with explosives. Many liberal activists are understandably enthusiastic about Rep. Paul. One Moveon.org group assisted in the funding and production of one of his TV ads, and the organizations website continues to promote meetings of Paul supporters.
Reps. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) are the only two lawmakers who voted against a resolution condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his statements calling for the destruction of Israel and genocide of the Jews. The resolution outlined the reasons why the Iranian leader was in violation of the UN Genocide Convention.
In October 2009, Ron Paul and Kucinich were the only two Members of Congress to vote against H.Res.175 condemning the government of Iran for “state-sponsored persecution of its Bahá’í minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.”
On January 9, 2009, Paul and Kucinich were once again in the minority on a 390-5 vote recognizing Israel’s “right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks” and reaffirming the U.S.’s support for Israel.
Ron Paul is also the only 2008 GOP presidential candidate who refused to support John McCain in the general election.
I sure wish a national Republican leader would step forward to condemn the many radical and dangerous statements of Ron Paul and his supporters.

Iran – The Decisive Day Has Come by Gregory Hilton

Supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi throw stones at riot police during a demonstration in Tehran on June 20, 2009. Thousands of Iranians clashed with police as they defied an ultimatum from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for an end to protests over last week's disputed presidential election.

Supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi throw stones at riot police during a demonstration in Tehran on June 20, 2009. Thousands of Iranians clashed with police as they defied an ultimatum from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for an end to protests over last week's disputed presidential election.


I am listening to the reports of street fighting and demonstrations in Iran on the BBC World Service, and my thoughts are of our former First Lady, Abigail Adams. She was wife of the second President of the United States, and the mother of our sixth President. Along with her nine year old son John Quincy, she was an eyewitness to the battle of Battle of Bunker Hill. This was the start of the American Revolution, and she wrote to her husband “The decisive day has come.”
Let us hope Iran’s decisive day has come, and that this is the start of a revolution to bring democracy, the rule of law and human rights to the oppressed and long suffering people of the Islamic Republic. Iran is a military dictatorship with periodic rigged elections providing a thin veneer of legitimacy.
Democracy protestors were not successful in Tiananmen Square, Zimbabwe or Burma, but it is difficult to imagine how Tehran will go back to the status quo. It is thrilling to hear over 3,000 brave Persian patriots chanting “Death to Dictatorship” and “Death to Khamenei!” as they were being pelted with tear gas and water cannons. Helicopters have been pouring boiling water on them. Several European embassies are reporting today that burning liquid is being sprayed on people from helicopters. It is a water soluble skin irritant.
More seriously, many protestors are being beaten with batons and metal pipes by the Basijis security forces who are directed by the powerful Revolutionary Guard. At least seven of the demonstrators have been killed. The Basijis have blocked off Tehran’s Revolution Square from the protestors and they are responsible for stabbing 12 students at Tehran University. Also today, opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi said he is ready for martyrdom.
The government of the Islamic Republic is intent on building nuclear weapons, they deny the Holocaust occurred, they have pledged to wipe Israel off the map and they are now the main funding source for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Our nation should not be neutral in this battle. The protesters should know that America supports them. Helping other nations achieve freedom is a difficult and thankless enterprise, as we learned in Iraq, but it is the right course. In his memoirs, “Answer to History”, the late Shah of Iran explained how the Carter Administration abandoned the Pahlavi dynasty. We should not do this to the reform movement. They should know that we care and we believe their cause is just. For far too many days our State Department has refused to condemn the Iranian government’s crackdown on the protesters, or even acknowledge that electoral fraud has taken place.
At the time of our revolution Sam Adams called for “brushfires of freedom.” After 30 years in the darkness they are now burning brightly in Iran.

Still No U.S. Support for Iran’s Democracy Movement by Gregory Hilton

President John F. Kennedy, July 23, 1962, State Department Auditorium.

President John F. Kennedy, July 23, 1962, State Department Auditorium.


At this mornings State Department press briefing the Obama Administration’s spokesman refused to condemn the Iranian government’s crackdown on the protesters, or even acknowledge that electoral fraud has taken place. This was followed by President Obama’s exclusive interview with The New York Times in which he said from an American national security viewpoint it did not matter if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Mir Hussein Moussavi, the last Prime Minister, won the election. This was the wrong message to send to Iran’s democracy movement.
The President’s remarks were in sharp contrast to the strong statements of support from the Iranian opposition has received from the leaders of Britain, France and Germany. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei singled out the United Kingdom as the “most evil” of Western governments. I sure wish the United States was acting in a manner similar to our European allies. I also wish the Obama administration would give democracy promotion a high priority. We need to have more John F. Kennedy’s in our State Department: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
“To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Key Lessons of the Iran Hostage Crisis


 

On November 4, 1979, the United States faced one of the most serious crises in modern history. Almost 100 of its diplomats were taken hostage in Iran, a country that had become bitterly hostile and unpredictable. Caught totally off-guard, the U.S. was paralyzed, unable to negotiate or take action. Four years later, on October 23, 1983, 241 U.S. marines were killed in a terrorist bombing of the Marine headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon. The marines were part of a multi-national force demonstrating U.S. presence while negotiations continued for a withdrawal of hostile forces from the country.


The memories of these two days, representing two of the largest U.S. foreign policy failures in recent times, appear to have faded in the minds of President Clinton’s foreign policy team. The intent here is to call them back into much clearer focus. A recent shift in the purpose of the U.S. intervention in Somalia, resulting in the loss of U.S. lives, and the looming prospect of another intervention in Bosnia, have created new memories, much like those in 1979 and 1983.

These events, manifestations of Clinton’s ‘enlargement’ doctrine and reliance upon U.N. multilateralism, have led to a renewed questioning of the post-Cold War shape of U.S. foreign policy, especially whether it represent U.S. national interests. My purpose, therefore, is to demonstrate that important lessons from the U.S. experiences in Iran and Lebanon should serve as cautions for the Clinton Administration as it continues to shape and implement a foreign policy doctrine.

 

STRUCTURE

 

Before introducing my model of analysis, I will first provide selective reviews of U.S.-Iranian relations since 1960, then the events surrounding the two Multi National Forces missions to Lebanon. These reviews are in no way comprehensive, detailed histories; my primary objective is not to offer a new theory on why they happened, who should be blamed, and how they could have been avoided, but to demonstrate that the situations in 1979 and 1983 have viable relevance to U.S. foreign policy in 1993 and beyond.

Against this background, I will then establish my framework of analysis, what I call the “triangular base” model, for linking the lessons of Iran and Lebanon to Somalia and future U.S. intervention possibilities. I will explain this base in detail at that point.

In anticipating critical evaluations of my model, I then provide a theoretical background that might offer insight into why the above foreign policy experiences are linked, despite the different circumstances surrounding each nation, and why U.S. policies have taken the shape they did.

 

Part One:

Iran and the U.S. 1960-1980

 

As mentioned above, my purpose is not to give a comprehensive review of U.S.-Iranian relations, but to highlight aspects of this relationship that had direct effects on U.S., and Iranian, policy actions.

From the end of World War II to the advent of the 1960’s, the status of relations between Iran and the U.S had been relatively unchallenged. With Iran, the U.S. had found a strategic ally in the vital Persian Gulf region, and committed its support to the regime of Iran’s Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Shananshah Aryamehr. Under the Shah, Iran was beginning to warm to its role of regional power, and enjoyed strong U.S. support against possible Soviet aggression.

Between 1946 and 1979, Iran under the Shah was transformed from a largely agriculture-based economy to a modern society, involving massive changes in the traditional social, economic, and political orders.


The Shah accomplished this mainly through a package of reforms he called the “White Revolution.” His launching of such an ambitious reform process coincided with the Kennedy administration’s growing dissatisfaction with Iran’s economic progress. Economic development, as opposed to military strength, became the stress of long-term U.S. policy toward Iran. Land reform to the U.S. was critical, a view shared by the Shah as well. The other major initiatives of the White Revolution included profit-sharing for workers, the nationalization of forests and pastures, the sale of state-owned factories, the enfranchisement of women, and the creation of a literacy corps.(1)

The positive initial effects of the White Revolution pleased U.S. officials, validating their analysis of Iran’s economic problems. Here I must note that it is well beyond my means to chart in detail the economic course Iran took as a result of the Shah’s reforms, but some general trends are instructive in demonstrating the effects of reform and explosive economic growth for the course of Iranian affairs.

During this period, especially from 1960 to 1978, the shah’s regime successfully achieved most of its economic, social, and military objectives. World Bank data shows that in this period Iran’s annual real growth rate, 9.6 percent, almost doubled the average of countries in its category, and was higher than any other group of countries in the world. Iran registered positive growth for fourteen straight years until 1977, held unemployment to relatively low levels, pushed industrialization using oil revenues and not at the expense of agriculture, and made great strides in public health, education, and illiteracy. These economic benefits, however, hid long-term political and cultural consequences that would lead eventually to revolutionary unrest in many classes.

White Revolution policies greatly expanded the autonomous capabilities of the Iranian state, and allowed the Shah to portray himself as progressive. Moreover, increased autonomy allowed the Shah to pursue his own priorities. His quest for military superiority in the Gulf, his desire to modernize Iran and create an industrialized welfare state within a decade- all dependent upon Iranian oil revenues- became too ambitious and too much of a burden upon traditional Iranian society. Before the program officially ended in 1971, the land reform program provided land to over 50% of Iran’s peasant population, but eliminated almost all of the large landowners, destroying the traditional upper class in Iranian society.

Another important effect was the rural migration to urban areas as a result of the land reform program and Iran’s rapid economic growth. Land reform failed to lessen rural poverty: 32% of the peasants still did not own land in 1971, and 75% owned less than the minimum for subsistence. The ignorance of rural needs, therefore, pushed peasants into urban areas, where they lacked any modern skills or experience. This held great significance, for in the midst of the confusion caused by a collision with twentieth-century mores, the peasants would turn to their mullahs for guidance.


This shift in political power contributed significantly to the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the religious revolution in 1979.

The early 1970’s would prove to be critical in U.S.-Iranian relations. Changing political and economic conditions in the U.S., largely a result of the Vietnam war, reduced U.S. abilities to maintain its commitments overseas. Foreign policy officials in the Nixon Administration, therefore, began to rely on regional powers taking greater responsibility for collective security. These powers would receive U.S. arms, but not U.S. forces, unless it was clearly in U.S. interests.

Deciding to rely on the Shah and Saudi Arabia, U.S. policymakers developed the “twin pillars” policy toward the Persian Gulf, in which the two nations would assume responsibilities for maintaining security. Most Iranians, however, understood that Iran was the only regional country to fill the vacuum left by the British withdrawal from the Gulf in 1971, and “resented the United States for demanding this role from Iran and the Shah for playing it.”

With the twin pillars policy logically came an increase in arms sales to Iran. Since Iran was willing to contribute to its own defense, and U.S. commitment to its security maintained stability in the Middle East region, conventional wisdom became uncritical acceptance of Iranian requests for new weapons. The extent of these arms sales, and the appetite of the Shah for advance military hardware and capabilities, was not anticipated at first, however.

During the next eight years, Iran became the top buyer of military equipment of any developing nation, with almost 27% of its budget allocated to defense spending. Between 1973 and 1978, Iran bought over $20 billion worth of U.S. military hardware, representing over sixteen times the amount sent by the U.S. to Iran over the previous two decades.

Iran was able to purchase such large amounts of weaponry with the influx of oil money that resulted from the success of OPEC in 1973. But such unchecked spending began to strain not only Iran’s economy, but the patience of its people as well. Religious elements in Iranian society castigated the Shah’s regime for adopting a Western model of development that made Iran “dependent upon foreign raw materials, managerial know-how, technology, and trade.” In response, a disenchanted public took an increasingly negative view towards the modernization efforts of the Shah.

To many, they became associated with “disorganization, waste, corruption, incompetent administration, dependence on foreigners, inflation,…uncomfortably dizzying change,…[and a] poorly planned crash modernization [that] damaged Iranians economically and culturally.”

Iranian resentment spread also to the growing American presence in their country. The booming arms sales business and intensified trade ties brought thousands of U.S. citizens into Iran, whom were offered numerous perks, such as triple salaries, tax-free shopping, and extended holidays. This created resentment and envy among those working with Americans, who “were representatives of an alien and threatening faith.


The relaxed way in which these strangers dressed, their love of liquor, their noisy parties, their car and motorcycle races and their ostentatious opulence could not but arouse…mistrust and anger over the years.”

In response to the Shah’s reform efforts, the disproportional spending on military equipment, and growing anti-Americanism, opposition groups slowly reemerged in Iranian society in the 1970’s. The women’s rights movement carried out in 1959, along with the land reform program, angered much of the Shi’i clergy (mullahs), whose ideology had great appeal to traditional Iranian middle classes.

Gradual and quiet activism carried out by the mullahs had built up a large base of support in the urban lower classes, which continued to grow rapidly and became more disillusioned with Iran’s economic, social, and cultural problems.

Iranian student groups overseas, largely in the U.S., became quite adept at mobilizing students against the shah’s regime and focusing attention on Iran’s growing human rights abuses.

These groups could not effectively operate inside Iran, however, mainly because of the Shah’s repressive apparatus. Another opposition group involved small guerrilla bands, whose attempts to launch violent uprisings repeated failed to generate popular support. Their violent tactics and complex ideology alienated them from most of the Iranian society, and furthermore made them prime targets for security forces.

The election of Jimmy Carter to the Presidency cast a new shadow over U.S.-Iranian relations in 1977. The special relationship between the nations could not prevent certain allegations of human rights abuses, and the initial emphasis of the Carter Administration on linking U.S. foreign policy with human rights appeared to seriously question U.S. assistance to Iran. In fact, the two priorities Carter campaigned on in 1976 involved limiting U.S. arms sales overseas, and giving a greater role to human rights in U.S. foreign policy. Differences with Iran were unavoidable if these goals were to be pursued.

Relations between the two nations remained unchanged, however. Iran and Saudi Arabia continued to anchor U.S. strategic policy in the Persian Gulf, and the Shah appeared determined to ease Carter Administration fears of human rights violations in Iran.

Beginning in 1977, the Shah instituted a series of reforms which prohibited the use of torture by security forces, released a number of political prisoners, loosened censorship rules, and made other minor policy changes. Whether or not this liberalization led to further demands for more reforms, and the eventual downfall of the Shah, is a possibility, since revolutionary forces were gathering significant strength in 1977 and 1978.


The Shah’s visit to Washington, D.C. in November of 1977 is an excellent example of the status of U.S-Iranian relations, and the surrounding environment, at this point. At the initial press conference, televised nationwide in Iran, 4,000 anti-shah students engaged 1,500 pro-shah demonstrators in a violent clash outside the White House, resulting in 124 injuries. Tear gas was needed, and a cloud of the gas drifted toward the conference, causing Carter and the Shah to blink and wipe their eyes. Privately, however, Carter praised and reassured the Shah, telling him how Iran was “‘a very stabilizing force in the world at large’ to which the U.S. was ‘bound with unbreakable ties.'” New arms sales were discussed, as well as controlling OPEC prices.

Only eight days after Carter returned from a visit to Iran in January of 1978, riots broke out in Iran that signalled the beginning of the end for the Shah. The riots continued to escalate in number, violence, and bloodshed throughout the summer, while the Shah desperately looked to the U.S. for advice and assistance, and continued to alternate between extending more liberalization and suppressing the violence.

Finally, with tacit U.S. support, the Shah appointed General Gholam Reza Azhari prime minister of a military government on November 6. (My summary of these and subsequent events leading up to November 1979 is taken primarily from a chronology of events found in Barry Rubin’s Paved with Good Intentions.)

Three weeks later, Carter reaffirmed U.S. support for the Shah, and declared that the U.S. would not interfere in Iranian domestic affairs.

Oil production continued to fall in Iran, causing huge shortages which ground the economy to a virtual standstill. As riots continued in most Iranian cities, Azhari resigned from the government on the last day in December of 1978. Four days later, the Iranian parliament appointed Shahpour Bakhtiar as prime minister, to whom the U.S. immediately offered cooperation. The Shah would leave Iran, and effectively end his thirty-seven year reign, on January 16.

The solidification of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s power was in evidence upon his return from exile on January 31, when hundreds of thousands of supporters greeted his arrival back into Iran. His announcement of Mehdi Bazargan as his choice for prime minister of a provisional Islamic government, led to the resignation of Bakhtiar in February. Bakhtiar’s departure effectively shut the U.S. out of the Iranian government, for the Embassy and foreign policy officials had failed to cultivate any genuine ties with Iranian officials who still remained in some position of influence.

U.S. attempts to generate diplomatic ties with the new religious power in Iran were for the most part unsuccessful. Throughout the spring of 1979, Khomeini and Iranian students continued to demand that the U.S. admit its guilt for past involvement in Iranian affairs, and return the Shah to Iran to be tried by the Islamic government. U.S. officials refused, and any further hopes of reconciliation were dealt a severe blow when the Carter Administration agreed to let the Shah come to New York for medical treatment in October.


On November 4, one day after the Iranian Foreign Ministry formally protested the U.S. decision to admit the Shah for treatment, Iranian students staged a sit-in at the U.S. Embassy, which ended violently with the taking of U.S. diplomatic personnel hostage. Khomeini shortly thereafter condoned the event, stating that “if they [the U.S.] do not give up the criminal…then we shall do whatever is necessary.” Khomeini had received his wish- a direct confrontation with the “Great Satan,” that would last over 440 days and cost the lives of eight U.S. servicemen in the aborted rescue attempt in April of 1980.

 

Lessons From America’s Support of the Shah

When reviewing the progression of U.S. policy toward Iran beginning in the 1960’s, I found that policies were implemented with a definite lack of comprehension concerning the Iranian internal situation, and without continued re-analysis and attention to the policies’ effects. The result of this, in effect, was a ‘dump and go’ type of phenomenon, in which changing U.S. strategic and foreign policy concerns would impose their influence upon Iranian affairs in irregular bursts, without consideration for long-term domestic effects in Iran.

In the early 1960s, the Kennedy administration had concluded that containing Soviet influence in the Third World necessitated implementing far-reaching social and economic reforms. Since Iran’s position in the Middle East, specifically its location, oil resources, and growing political influence, was of vital strategic importance to U.S. security concerns, the administration began to pressure the Shah to implement a reform program.

This pressure came as a result of the belief by U.S. officials, noted in a report by the National Security Council in 1963, that the Shah’s evaluation of what was needed for the political stability of his regime “[did] not always coincide exactly with ours.” U.S. policy initiatives during this period, therefore, reflected an attempt to push Iran towards reform.


Direct, non-military aid to the Iranian government was terminated; furthermore, the basic strategy underlying the U.S. military commitment to Iran, according to the report, was to effect a redirection of Iranian attention…away from a reoccupation with military force expansion toward that which appeared to be the greatest threat to Iranian security- the insufficiency of economic development and internal reforms.

Even if such an appraisal was accurate, the administration’s policy approach lacked “a clear idea of how these reforms should be carried out, what the social repercussions would be, and how much potential there was for political disruption.” As noted previously in Part One, the Shah had initiated in 1960 a sweeping land reform program as part of a series of social and economic changes called the “White Revolution”. Under U.S. pressure, the Shah introduced further reforms, including the enfranchisement of women and a heavy promotion of Westernization, that would fundamentally alter Iran’s social and political structure.

With surprising foresight, the report addressed this potential conflict, noting the “complicated problem of how and by what means [the U.S.] can contribute to the success of the reform program and influence its direction.” Unfortunately for the Shah, however, the report spoke clearly about the dangers of direct U.S. involvement. “The U.S. is strongly identified with the regime and the reform program,” it explained, and the long-run success of the White Revolution “may well rest on the extent to which it is identified as an indigenous effort; to the extent that it becomes known as an American-dominated movement, it will lose popular appeal.”

Even more to the point, the report recognized that the Shah’s “single greatest liability may well be his vulnerability to charges by both reactionary and radical opposition elements that he is a foreign puppet.” In light of this, the attitude of the National Security Council was that “bloodless destruction by the Iranians themselves of an ancient and unprogressive system of land tenure and political monopoly is a good thing which we can only view sympathetically,” and it would not be in U.S. interests to intervene directly.

The result was continued U.S. support for Iran’s military expenditures, at that time 25% of total budgetary expenditures, especially since military forces at that time played “a key role in maintaining in power a progressive and pro-Western monarch.” [The U.S. in essence had demanded the Shah institute reforms, but did not monitor the long-term effects of those the Shah implemented. These would alienate the Shah from important sectors of Iranian society, especially the clerical and urban lower classes, who increasingly came to view the Shah and the U.S. as collaborators in destroying the traditional Islamic foundations of Iran.]