Why do the Iranians hate us? They, afterall, took 52 Americans hostage during their 1979 revolution. Are we not the ones justified in hate towards the Iranian people? Let’s try to imagine this from the Iranian perspective.
The popular press, too often focuses on the current event without adequate historical context; when the press does give historical context to the Iran-U.S relationship, it generally begins this history in 1979. A better start date is the early 1950’s.
During the early 1950’s, the Iranians elected the popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. His big crime was that he proceeded to nationalize British oil interests, interests which had been sucking oil out of Iranian territory on contractual terms worked-out in 1901: terms deemed highly unfavorable to the Iranian people.
Nationalization of the British oil firm certainly pissed-off the British and they enlisted U.S. help in formulating a coup against the Iranian Prime Minister. President Truman, during the early part of this drama was hesitant to help the British. He wasn’t a particular fan of British imperialism; he actually thought that nationalization of the British oil firm might be a good thing as it would enable the Iranian government to stabilize their economy and in the process thwart Soviet ambitions in their nation.
Geographically speaking, Iran, at that time, straddled the border between Soviet and British imperialists’ spheres of influence. During WWII, the British invaded Iran from the south while the Soviets did the same in the North. Iran’s oil was deemed vital to the Allied war effort: Russia and Great Britain were allies at that time. Additionally, Iran provided a key pathway for war supplies to be transported from British India to Russia which was important for the Russian defense against the German incursion into its homeland. Both nations withdrew from Iran at the War’s end, but the British, and the West more generally, were wary of Soviet expansionist designs in the region. Likewise, the Russians were also wary of western designs on the Iranian territory. Truman did not want to engage in a coup against the Iranian Prime Minister which he feared might provoke a Soviet invasion of Iran. During 1950, the U.S. military, in light of its troop commitments to the Korean war and in other nations in the wake of WWII, was in no position to take-on the Soviets in this vital patch of oil production.
Eisenhower replaced Truman as the U.S. president in 1952. Numerous intelligence reports indicated that the Soviet Union was unlikely to invade Iran, and that the outlawed Iranian communist party: Tudeh, was unlikely to rise to power. The popular Iranian Prime Minister Mosaddegh’s National Front Coalition, however, began to split apart, and while a communist takeover of Iran was not deemed imminent, Eisenhower and his cohorts feared the Iranian Prime Minister might become dependent on Tudeh, the communist party, in order to maintain power. This, despite Mosaddegh’s repeated efforts to distance himself from an alliance with the communist forces. Eisenhower, his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Central Intelligence Director Allen Dulles, the brother of the Secretary of State, all had a somewhat hawkish view of the communist threat and by 1953, with a strengthened military facilitated by substantial increases in the U.S. military budget, decided a coup against the Iranian Prime Minister was the appropriate course of action. The coup would enable a shift in power back to the Iranian Monarch and for the replacement of the deposed Prime Minister with someone more favorable to western interests. Neither the Iranian Monarch: Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, otherwise known as the Shah of Iran, or the new Prime Minister General Fazlollah Zahedi, favored nationalization of the British oil interests.
What followed the successful coup was even worse. In order to maintain political stability, the Shah, assisted by the CIA, and the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, developed and employed the secretive intelligence police force: SAVAK. SAVAK terrorized the Iranian people and essentially eliminated political opposition through executions and torture techniques of such a vile nature that it would be too painful to describe them here. SAVAK was hated by the Iranian people and it was understood that its existence was developed with the support of the U.S. Furthermore, the Iranian people resented the loss of momentum towards a democratic society which was the result of the American coup.
The Shah ruled Iran until the 1978-79 revolution when the Iranian people finally said “enough”. The Iranian revolution culminated in the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran and the taking of 52 U.S. hostages: undoubtedly, in the minds of many Iranians, this act was considered justified in light of the history described above. The revolution freed the Iranians from the hated SAVAK, many members of which were executed following the coup, and also freed the Iranian people from the neocolonial structure imposed on Iran in the wake of the 1953 American coup.
The revolution was followed by the bloody Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988, during which the two nations suffered roughly a million dead. The U.S. official position in the war was one of nutraility. In reality, early during the conflict, the U.S. facilitated arms sales to both sides of the conflict. As the eight year war wore on, beginning in 1982, the U.S. veered towards support of Iraq through the provision of U.S. intelligence and duel-use technology to the Iraqi government; additionally, the U.S. facilitated third party arms sales to the Iraqi regime. Meanwhile, the Soviets Union also supported Iraq, although in subtle ways it permitted support of Iran through other powers in the region which transferred Soviet arms to Iran. It was widely reported in the Press at that time that the two “great” powers: the U.S. and the Soviet Union, managed the war in a manner which would prevent a victory or defeat on either side. There was a preference to maintain the then current balance of power in the region. U.S. support for Iraq during the war undoubtedly did little to boost U.S. esteem in the eyes of the Iranian government.
It is also important to recognize that the Middle East is Iran’s neighborhood. It is never clear whether one should scream, cry, or laugh, when a voice out of Washington speaks of loathsome Iranian efforts to expand their sphere of influence in the region. This somehow offends American sensibilities despite the fact that we do the same, only halfway around the world, in the very same neighborhood.
More recently, of course, the U.S. tore-up the contract it had with Iran in regards to nuclear fuel development despite Iranian adherence to the terms of the treaty. Subsequently, the U.S. has imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran: repeating a pattern of sanctions which began with Jimmy Carter, escalated through the Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama years, when finally sanctions relief were granted as part of the nuclear accord. The current Iranian inflation rate hovers around 27%; it’s unemployment rate exceeds 10%, youth unemployment, those aged between 15 and 24, is roughly 28%. Over the decades U.S. economic sanctions have imposed much economic hardship on the Iranian people. The economic sanctions imposed on Iran have been designed to place diplomatic pressure on Iran and more recently they have been designed in the hope that the subsequent economic hardship imposed on the Iranian people will inspire the Iranian people to rise up and overthrow the current government.
So yes, the U.S. orchestrated coup of a popular, democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister; U.S. support of a highly repressive, authoritarian and sadistic regime; support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war; U.S. fought wars in what Iran considers its sphere of influence: wars which have destroyed whole societies; the tear-up of the nuclear treaty: the terms of which had been kept by the Iranian government; and decades of economic sanctions, have left the Iranian leadership, and undoubtedly a portion of Iran’s population, with hate in their hearts towards the American government, if not the American people.
There will be no effort here to justify violent behavior on either side of the conflict. It is an unfortunate fact of life that type-A, aggressive personality types rise to the top of national hierarchical structures. This is generally achieved through holier-than-thou demagoguery as it relates to a particular cause or ideology. This pattern of behavior does not stop once one is elected to national office and it carries over into the field of international relations. This has dire consequences for the rest of us. The leadership in both nations mirror each other’s behaviors. It seems likely there is an equal measure of ambition, authentic belief, lust for power, nobility, and evil among the leadership in both nations. But the problem is: those who live by the sword, die by the sword, or certainly their followers do anyways, and that tends to be the rest of us.
Peace between our two nations will not occur until the people, the regular people who do not reside at the top of the pyramid: both Iranian and American, demand peace. Until the regular people refuse to fight, political leaders, whatever their motivations, will point their fingers at the other “bad guys”, while they wave the flag, kiss the Cross, praise Allah, and ship the rest of us off to war.
Before we climb onboard with the political leadership in this nation and begin to likewise call the Iranians evil in some bizarre effort to justify more death and destruction in a region which has suffered far too much of it, we should look in the mirror, and recognize the evil we can eliminate: the evil within us.