Iran and The US: Contemporary Issues
Following the Second World War, many US leaders made a habit of analyzing global events in relation to the Cold War. Particularly, domestic politics of individual nations and broader regional politics of the Middle East were often analyzed in the context of the perpetual threat of global communism. This trend is exemplified by the US response to a very definitive development in Iran, which occurred in 1953. Mohammad Mosaddeq, Prime Minister of Iran at time, nationalized the Iranian oil and moved to halt foreign control of the commodity. President Dwight Eisenhower, the leader of the United States at the time, viewed this decision as unacceptable. With British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sharing this sentiment, Eisenhower supported a staged coup in Iran, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) led this effort. While Mosaddeq was indeed ousted as a result, the leader that replaced him – Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi – would rule with an iron fist for the next 26 years.
This style of rule would eventually work against US interests, though members of the administration at the time presumably viewed this harsh rule as tolerable, given that oil security was ensured once again. Ultimately, Shah Pahlavi’s suppressive regime was successfully challenged, and overthrown, in 1979. The Iranian Revolution, as it is known historically, demarcated yet another complex shift in the dynamic. Unlike the coup of 1953, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was mostly the product of internal efforts at change. The regime that filled the power vacuum, headed by Ayatollah Khomeini, embodied the anti-Americanism that resulted from the earlier meddling in Iranian affairs by the US during the 1950s. Interestingly, while many leaders in the US initially believed that the 1979 Revolution signified a “loss” to Moscow in the battle against global communism, Russia never could gain the sort of foothold that would be truly threatening, in Iran. It has been posited that this is “because of the Islamic Republic’s deep suspicion of Russia’s history of aggressive behavior and the religious leadership’s antipathy for official Soviet atheism.”
Still, relations between the US and Iran have continued along a rocky path through recent years, even though communism never dominated Iranian politics, due to the mistrust and antipathy produced by years of US interference. Accordingly, US leaders such as former President George W. Bush have gone so far as naming Iran as part of the “axis of evil” (in addition to Iraq and North Korea). What is more, the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has opted to adopt such hard-lined tone. In a speech given in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, President Trump stated:
Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule. This radical regime has raided the wealth of one of the world’s oldest and most vibrant nations, and spread death, destruction, and chaos all around the globe.
Beginning in 1979, agents of the Iranian regime illegally seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held more than 60 Americans hostage during the 444 days of the crisis. The Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah twice bombed our embassy in Lebanon -- once in 1983 and again in 1984. Another Iranian-supported bombing killed 241 Americans -- service members -- in their barracks in Beirut in 1983.
The speech goes on to list further crimes committed by Iran. Still, it notably fails to relay any pre-1979 Iranian history. There is not even a retelling comparable to the brief background given in this article. Rather, the year 1979 is the oddly emphasized starting point of the narrative, as told by President Trump in his speech. Trump’s mischaracterization of the actual Iranian Revolution is, arguably, misleading. Still, President Trump’s condemnation of violence, human rights violations and sectarian divisiveness is inarguably necessary, and spot-on, as has been the case for other US leaders. However, in creating these incomplete narratives, and denying historical truths, our leaders lend less legitimacy to their efforts to combat the current, real-world implications of policy that predates them.