Led Astray

November 13, 1979 — The San Bernardino County Sun

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | December 10, 2015                    


Back in the 1950’s The San Bernardino County Sun in California displayed a capacity for ignorance and prejudice vis-à-vis Mossadegh and Iran that was simply astounding. What a difference a couple of decades makes.

In the earliest stage of the explosive Iranian hostage crisis, when any loose talk of ‘U.S. imperialism’ was widely frowned upon as offensive to the captive Americans and their worried families, the Sun published this pragmatic lead, sole editorial.

Rather than dismissing the past, they took it into account, recommending that the ailing, hated Shah be sent off to another host country, since both the safety of the hostages and the potential for military conflict were in serious question.

It seems the United States is always grappling with some “Iranian dilemma” or another, and as long as its foreign policy strategems remain true to the status quo, we’ll be admiring shrewd commentaries like these for eternity.

Iranian dilemma

The continuing drama in which militant Moslem students hold hostages at the American Embassy at Tehran illustrates how people some justly, others undeservedly can suffer from history’s consequences.

Perhaps the best lesson that can be drawn at this juncture is not to continue to be victims of uncritical allegiance to misguided policies of the past.

While nothing can excuse the Iranians’ actions in violating the most basic precepts of diplomatic decency by storming and occupying the embassy, their fanatical attitude has certainly been fueled by decades of occurrences that are tied together symbolically by the sight of the deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi receiving any kind of sanctuary on United States territory.

The shah’s father gained the Iranian throne in the 1920s by overthrowing the constitutional government. In a replay of history, the shah kept his throne in 1953 by overthrowing another constitutional government, that of Prime Minister Premier Mossadegh. The shah then set out to eliminate challengers to his imperial rule by instituting the most repressive measures that had been employed since Iran’s Constitutional Revolution had ended in 1911.

Although the shah’s government always enjoyed a “special” relationship with the United States, that association became firmly solidified a dozen years ago when the British government announced it would end its military presence in the Persian Gulf in 1971. Faced with a potential power vacuum in a critical area of the world, the United States had three options: stay out, intervene directly or establish some local nation as a power to police the area. The U.S. took the third option, and the shah’s Iran became “policeman.”

In the 1970s before Pahlavi was overthrown last January Iran became the world’s leading customer for American arms, accounting tor 25 percent of all our arms sales for that period. Moreover, we supplied large quantities of police weapons and paramilitary equipment to the Iranian police and SAVAK the secret police organization.

This had unintended consequences. In a nation where 60 percent of the population is landless and impoverished, many Iranians saw these weapons purchases as disproportionate and wrongful. In addition, Iran lacked persons trained to operate the sophisticated weaponry. Thus, by 1973, 3,600 American technicians resided in Iran to operate the equipment. It was assumed that because of Iran’s dependency upon American technical skills, it would never act in an independent military fashion.

But again, a factor unforeseen by Americans at last entered the scene. The conspicuous presence of affluent Americans among the Iranians inflamed bitter feelings among the latter, and many junior Iranian military officers deeply resented being under the de facto supervision of the American technicians. When the shah’s rule began to break down, American-supplied paramilitary equipment was used against unarmed civilian Iranian demonstrators. It is against this background that any linkage of the shah and the United States produces such extraordinary explosive emotions among Iranians.

It is in that context that the present Iranian government declared when the embassy seizure began: [November 4, 1979] “Today’s move by a group of our compatriots is a natural reaction to the U.S. government’s indifference to the hurt feelings of the Iranian people about the presence of the deposed shah, who is in the United States under the pretext of illness. If the U.S. authorities respected the feelings of the Iranian people and understood the depth of the Iranian revolution, they should have at least not allowed the deposed shah into the country ...”

Since then, the militants have intransigently demanded that the United States hand Pahlavi over for trial by an Iranian revolutionary court. As time goes on, they have indicated a suicidal zeal to have their way. Consequently, the world waits upon the brink of a bloodbath in which innocent and guilty alike will perish.

Before such an explosion is sparked, the United States, in a final effort to break the deadlock, ought to withdraw from its role as Pahlavi’s host. Certainly, it would be barbaric to hand him over to a revolutionary court where his fate would be preordained. However, other nations which Iranians do not view with inherent hostility have offered the shah sanctuary. Requiring him to accept such an invitation promptly could provide the catalyst to break the present delicate standoff. Otherwise, circumstances beyond reasonable control could create a war.

If the U.S. were to take up arms directly against Iran’s frenzied fanatics, it could easily bludgeon a settlement, but the blood of the guiltless would flow freely on each side. That eventuality should be avoided as long as it is plausible.

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Related links:

Worth Listening To | The Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 12, 1980

Iranians and Their Supporters Are Enemies of America | FSU student rant, Nov. 20, 1978

Ayatollah Khomeini vs Jimmy Carter | Nov. 28, 1979 UIowa editorial

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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