IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT! (Part 3)

Welcome to Part 3 of my 4-part series, Iran: They Think We’re Great! in which I look at the history of US-Iran relations and attempt to explain how we got where we are today: each on the other’s shit list.

It’s all part of my effort to bring history and geopolitics to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but find The Economist too uppity. I’ll be releasing a new segment each week, but if you’d like the whole essay now, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it to you! It’s that easy!

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

You also missed Part 2? Wtf is your problem? Read it here.

Want more Finley? I aim to please. Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of the CIA and the war on terror. It’s been called “wickedly funny!” and “a delight!” And don’t miss my other series, including The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers and High Heels, Wigs, and Flamboyant Robes (or…Dictators). You can find all my writing here.

And now: Part 3


IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT!

(Part 3)

Last week, we discussed the Iranian people’s growing hatred of the Shah of Iran. One guy in particular was especially pissed: Ruhollah Khomeini, who would become the first Scary Mullah With A Beard with whom we Westerners would become acquainted. He thought the Shah’s reforms were pushing Iran to become too western and he didn’t like the rights they afforded to women and non-Muslims. He was so vocal about it that the Shah kicked him out of the country in 1964. I like to imagine he promptly joined the Beatles on their world tour, singing backup on “I Want to Hold Your Hand (but I Can’t)” and When I Saw Her Standing There (I Averted My Eyes).”

Khomeini

This is a photo of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. I will not make a joke because I do not want to die.

The Last To Know

Back in Iran, things were going swimmingly, at least according to American intelligence agencies. In a sign that American intelligence officers likely only had sources close to the Shah, rather than sources among the people, a CIA analysis in August 1978 said Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation,” and a US Defense Intelligence Agency cable from September 28, 1978, stated that the Shah “is expected to remain actively in power over the next ten years.” Today, we would say, “The intel on that was not 100 percent.” I am guessing they only had sources right at the top. Because who is always the last to know a ruler is about to be overthrown? The ruler who gets overthrown.

Khomeini did not, in fact, join the Beatles (how different would history have been? I’m guessing we’d all be saying, “Ringo who?”). Instead, he fomented from abroad for change in Iran. At first, he did his fomenting from right next door in Najaf, Iraq. But after too much fomenting, Iraq expelled Khomeini—and his beard—in 1978. Given how deeply pious and anti-Western he was, he went to…Paris. Wait, what? Did he want tickets to the Moulin Rouge? Did he want to eat frogs’ legs, as revenge for Kermit’s manipulation of Iran’s democracy?

Khomeini actually wanted to go to Algeria. However, that country’s president at the time, Houari Boumediene, was in a coma, which made accepting an international pariah as a guest a little complicated (although it’s a great premise for a film, “Weekend at Houari’s”). The French, for their part, were a wee bit more cynical about the Shah’s peacocky rule and American support of it. They decided to hedge their bets and let Khomeini foment from Paris. The Shah figured Khomeini was too far from Iran to do much effective fomenting. But foment he did. And it was powerful. Plus, France had a much better communications infrastructure than Iraq. Getting his message of foment to Iran was now easier. Basically, there was a lot of fomenting, and now with a French accent.

Also, Western TV was like, Yo! Who is this dude with a beard who hates oppression? In a way, Khomeini was an early reality TV star, a pioneer of sorts. As he gained popularity, he went total Survivor and started conspiring to vote the Shah off the island. Only in this reality show, long beards were not considered hipster, and the religious tones were a little worrisome to some. Khomeini wanted to give the revolution a democratic uprising look rather than a religious one. He partnered with leftists and nationalists so the movement could put forward its best secular, clean-shaven face. The nationalists in particular were keen to see the Shah go and, as they were mostly Mossadegh supporters, feared for some crazy ass reason that the CIA would push a countercoup to keep the Shah in place, LOL like that would ever happen. In any case, the non-religious or less religious factions went along with Khomeini, thinking they would get to influence how the government would be formed after the Shah was gone. Welp, funny story about that.

The uprisings pushed the Shah to leave Iran on January 17, 1979. He knew he was never coming back. He left his last prime minister in place to deal with what was coming. The prime minister allowed protests, released political opponents, and allowed Khomeini back in the country, maybe hoping it would buy him some goodwill. It didn’t. Khomeini denounced the prime minister and the government and named his own. The Iranian people had traded the Shah for the Supreme Leader.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 10.11.12 AM

Leader of The Supremes (left), Supreme Leader (center), Taco Supreme (right)

Scary bearded guy threw us Westerners for a loop. What was this religion that sounded more like a swear word that really cool British exchange student had taught us over beers one night? Shite? What is this?

Khomeini made it clear from the beginning he wasn’t going to be super accommodating to the nationalists and leftists and others who had helped in the revolution. Instead, he went full theocracy. He advanced the idea of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, meaning (at least in Khomeini’s interpretation) that an Islamic jurist—in this case, Khomeini (surprise!)—is responsible for the people. Khomeini set up God’s Government, with himself as Supreme Leader, overseeing the Council of the Guardians, who would be experts in Islamic Law. Only he could say what He wanted. Going against Khomeini was going against God. Yikes.

guardians of the galaxy

The Council of the Guardians fights to protect Iran from fanatical anti-Islamic forces. Unfortunately, they are not allowed a killer soundtrack.

Next week: I’m Only Holding You Captive Because I Love You

 

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IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT! (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of my 4-part series, Iran: They Think We’re Great! in which I look at the history of US-Iran relations and attempt to explain how we got where we are today: each on the other’s shit list.

It’s all part of my effort to bring history and geopolitics to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but find The Economist too uppity. I’ll be releasing a new segment each week, but if you’d like the whole essay now, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it to you! It’s that easy!

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Want more Finley? I aim to please. Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of the CIA and the war on terror. It’s been called “wickedly funny!” and “a delight!” And don’t miss my other series, including The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers and High Heels, Wigs, and Flamboyant Robes (or…Dictators). You can find all my writing here.

And now: Part 2


IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT!

(Part 2)

Rise of the (Pea)Cock

When we left off last week, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had convinced US President Dwight Eisenhower that Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, needed to be overthrown because he was a raging communist (oh, and because of the minor detail that he wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry). Eisenhower called on the CIA, which called on Kermit the Frog Roosevelt to boot Mossadegh without anyone knowing who was doing the booting.

Kermit the Spy launched TPAJAX, an operation that was a mix of covert influence and propaganda, with false flag operatives and dissidents and paid protestors and a lot of cash, all thrown together to create massive chaos. The plan consisted of choosing a replacement for Mossadegh—one who would, of course, be more amenable to American demands—building support for the would-be new prime minister and the Shah, and whipping up protests and anger against Mossadegh. Basically, it was a giant mind fuck on the Iranian people: False news stories directed at strategically targeted groups, coordinated talking points from high-level US officials bashing Mossadegh, and planned and coordinated protests among anti-Mossadegh factions. (Years later, when Russia would launch a similar influence campaign to affect US elections, the United States would remember AJAX and have a good laugh at the irony of history.)

In an effort to be fair and balanced, Kermit gave the Shah a choice: participate in the coup or be deposed. Being such a strong leader, ready to fight for the rights of his people—even if it meant enormous sacrifice on his part—he pretty damn quickly agreed to cooperate and signed the agreement that would replace Mossadegh with a CIA-chosen military leader. That’s what was best for the Iranian people, or something like that.

On August 15, 1953, Mossadegh received the Shah’s decree dismissing him as prime minister. But Mossadegh was obstinate and refused to accept the order. His supporters flooded the streets, giving the Shah one big “Bye, Felicia!” The coup had failed. The Shah fled to Baghdad and then to Rome, because eating pasta and gelato is a great way to sooth yourself after a failed coup. Washington sent a message telling Kermit to come home. And that was it.

Or so it seemed. Remember, these were the beautiful days before instant communications, before Washington could micromanage every aspect of an operation.

As it turns out, Kermit decided to ignore the cable from CIA headquarters telling him to stand down. On his own volition, the little frog kept pushing. On August 19, Mossadegh turned himself in. A new, pro-American government was now in charge in Iran.

The Iranian people were thrilled that foreigners had yet again come to show them the light, this time by removing the very person they had democratically voted for. That was very kind of the democratic United States to remove him, they all thought.

Shah coronation

It’s hard to believe it now, but Shah Pahlavi, seen here crowning his wife Empress of Iran, had trouble relating to most people in his country.

The Shah—who took the CIA-engineered coup to overthrow an elected and popular prime minister as a sign that the Iranian people really loved him—preened atop the Peacock Throne. He began implementing a number of modernization programs, including giving women the right to vote. He was the first regional leader to recognize Israel (spoiler alert: this Iranian sentiment would eventually change). He also released his not-so-delicate intelligence services, known as SAVAK, on anyone who dared voice dissent, or anyone who even stood next to someone who voiced dissent. Or even that person’s neighbor. Or even that neighbor’s cousin across town. Or even that neighbor’s cousin in another country. Basically, everyone. Everyone was oppressed.

But the US was happy because the oil was flowing again. Hooray! Sure, the Shah was a dictator, but he was our dictator. Plus, he had really spiffy uniforms. We propped him up with tons of weapons, figuring he would stabilize the region on our behalf. The Shah felt empowered, however, figuring the US needed him more than he needed them. He controlled the oil, after all. As world leaders courted him and Iran’s economy boomed, the Shah’s ego got a little big for his pantaloons.

Peacock throne

Despite being covered in rubies and emeralds, the Peacock Throne is remarkably buoyant.

Turns out, all the SAVAK oppression was hiding the fact that many Iranians viewed the Shah as a puppet of the West. They also really didn’t like SAVAK. Distaste for the monarch grew, even though peacock, when prepared just right, is actually quite delicious. His subjects began to see him as corrupt—a $100 million celebration to mark the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire, complete with chefs from Paris’s famous Maxim’s restaurant, didn’t help—and it seemed nobody was benefiting from all those reforms he had launched.

One guy in particular was especially pissed. Ruhollah Khomeini, who would become the first Scary Mullah With A Beard with whom we Westerners would become acquainted.

Puppy

This is a picture of an adorable puppy, because no way am I risking a fatwa by putting an image of Scary Mullah With A Beard.

Next Week: The Last To Know

 

IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT! (Part 1)

Regime change in Iran is all the rage again. The Trump Administration is ready to say Iran is not complying with the Iran Deal (even though the intelligence community says it is). And the White House recently circulated a report from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies calling for toppling Iran’s ruling clerics, and others–from Sen. Tom Cotton to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson–seem to be on board with the concept, at least. (Interesting to note, by the way, that FDD are some of the same people who brought us the invasion of Iraq because of yellowcake in Niger, so this ought to be just as fun.)

But before we go overthrowing governments, I thought it would be a good idea to step back and take a closer look at Iran’s history. How else can we Americans understand what we think is best for them?

Iran: They Think We’re Great! is a four-part series that looks at the history of US-Iran relations and attempts to explain how we got where we are today: each on the other’s shit list.

It’s all part of my effort to bring history and geopolitics to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but find The Economist too uppity. I’ll be releasing a new segment each week, but if you’d like the whole essay now, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it to you! It’s that easy!

Want more Finley? I aim to please. Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of the CIA and the war on terror. It’s been called “wickedly funny!” and “a delight!” And don’t miss my other series, including The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers and High Heels, Wigs, and Flamboyant Robes (or…Dictators). You can find all my writing here.

And now (finally!): Part 1


IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT!

(Part 1)

Tehran Conference

I know, none of these men are Iranian, which is kind of the point.

Would You Like Tea With Your Lube Job?

Located in the exotic Middle East, Iran has a rich linguistic history and a strong tradition of poetry. It is one of the most educated countries in the world and has made enormous contributions to human civilization for more than 9,000 years. Despite this, we in the West generally know Iran as the Country Led By Scary Mullahs With Beards Who Call Us The Great Satan.

You read that right, they think we’re “Great”!

But alas, as countries, we are very far apart, not just geographically, but emotionally and politically. But it wasn’t always thus.

Flock of Seagulls

The Western rock group Flock of Seagulls lamented Iran’s geographic distance with the famous lyrics, “Iran, Iran so far away,” and encapsulated the feeling of so many US-Iranian nationals who’ve visited there recently: “I couldn’t get away.”

The story of modern-day Iran started much like the morning of so many maids working in the New York Sofitel: with unwanted advances from a foreigner.

The British first discovered oil in Iran in 1908. Having no historical context for just how much this was going to fuck them in the future, Iranians were happy to have this wonderful natural resource under their feet. The Brits would extract the oil and give Iran a (small) share of the proceeds, likely while patting their Iranian partners on the back and calling them “Ol’ Chap.” Indeed, the Brits were being super cool about the whole arrangement, making it clear Iran was an independent state and not a colony under British rule—as long as Iran didn’t act out too much.

That didn’t last long. Iranians began advocating for a better deal, as if the oil belonged to them just because it was, you know, located in their country. The British, being British and acting like they owned most of the world (because at that point they basically did), refused to negotiate.

The problem came to a head in 1941, after the Iranian monarch of the time, Reza Shah Pahlavi, flirted a little too openly with Nazi Germany. Fearing Iran would cut off the oil supply the Allies desperately needed to continue fighting Germany, Britain and the Soviet Union decided on a very subtle course of action: They invaded Iran. Reza Shah was shipped off to South Africa and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, became the second (spoiler alert: and last!) monarch in the not-so-long line of the House of Pahlavi.

Shah of iran

Like so many great world leaders, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi earned his position and the admiration of his people by being born into the right family.

Self-Determination For All (LOL JK!)

After the war, the United States and Britain talked about everyone being free. High on having just wiped fascism out of Europe, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill promoted the idea of self-determination, saying people should be free to choose their own government and have control over their own country. They didn’t mean that literally, of course. Fuck no. It was more like a wink wink nudge nudge kind of thing. You do you, and we’ll keep taking the oil.

A charismatic statesman named Mohammad Mossadegh decided to change all that. Elected as Prime Minister of Iran in 1951, he fomented a nationalist movement and made the grave error of stating (out loud!) that he planned to nationalize Iran’s oil. Can you imagine the gall of this guy, thinking Iran’s oil belonged to Iran? The Brits and Americans felt slighted. They yelled about how they had paid for all the infrastructure to extract the oil. They pointed out that they were the ones who had trained Iranians how to extract the oil. Surely, they had a say in the whole thing?

But Mossadegh was having none of it. For some reason, he thought oil in Iran should belong to Iranians.

Churchill, who had just become Britain’s prime minister again after leading the opposition and drinking for six years, approached the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower and asked the United States to overthrow Mossadegh, presumably because the British were too proper to do such distasteful work themselves. While the covert plan was in reality about oil (most Western foreign policy is), Churchill was not so crass as to say that out loud. Rather, he used a tactic sure to resonate with Eisenhower: He whispered, “COMMIES!” over and over while pointing at Mossadegh.

But who could handle such a delicate operation? Overthrowing a government and making it look like a popular uprising is no easy task. The CIA turned to a veteran spy with years of experience in the Middle East: Kermit Roosevelt.

I know what you’re thinking with a name like that. Nepotism, am I right?

Oh, you mean “Kermit.” Yes, it’s true. People used to actually name their children that. The fact that he was Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson was irrelevant. Kermit was to be the quiet, hidden force behind the coup. Long before Pepe the Frog, Kermit was about to help install a government.

Kermit

It’s not easy being green, or covertly overthrowing a democratically elected government. Long before Pepe, Kermit was involved in regime change.

 

Next week: Rise of the (Pea)Cock