Our agreement with Iran reached under the Obama administration and canceled by President Trump was viewed, by many, as an alternative to the unsavory option of taking military action to halt Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. John Kerry crafting the agreement with Iran always stressed that if Iran fails to meet the requirements of the current deal, all options remain on the table. With this in mind, we should not give the Obama administration too much credit for bringing us a great or even good agreement.
Remember that during the Obama years many people considered Middle-east policy a mess as he flip-flopped ignoring the red lines he boldly drew in the sand. At the time, Iran held more cards than we were told because ISIS was a growing threat. In many ways, Iran held the fate of Baghdad in their hands. If the Shia militias from Iran that were defending Baghdad wavered both the Iraqi capital and the American Green Zone could have come under fire from ISIS, this would have been very embarrassing for Obama and our government. When Kerry talked about offsetting the one hundred and fifty billion dollars Iran was to receive when the sanctions were lifted by "upping our game in the area" questions arise as to the cost and how Washington intended to pay for this gambit.
Iran Has Little Reason To Trust America
While officials claimed the agreement would halt much of Iran’s nuclear program and ratchet back other elements, several U.S. senators, both Democrat and Republican, voiced displeasure with the agreement. They argued that the U.S. and its partners offered too much for something short of a full freeze on uranium enrichment. Also, if part of the boatload of money released at the signing of the agreement was used to fund Iran's many proxy wars it would create chaos. If Iran does not halt and reverse its course it can always ramp up its plans to develop a nuclear bomb at off-site locations.
Much of the problem America has with Iran stems from the perception that we have created over the years by portraying Iran as a larger than life boogeyman that threatens our very way of life and existence. Iran was elevated to this level when President George W. Bush included Iran as a member of the "Axis Of Evil" in his State of the Union Address in 2002. Unfortunately, Washington and the politicians who reside there often mislead us as they allow agendas of special interest to influence policy. When it comes to Iran's official stance towards America anyone saying that Iran has good reason not to trust the American government is making an understatement. America through its foreign policy has wreaked havoc upon many countries few have been affected or suffered from our meddling as much as Iran.
A somewhat neutral source for information on the history of Iran post-World War II is Wikipedia. It shows America has constantly interfered in their internal politics. In 1953 the British M16 and the American CIA organized a military coup d'etat to oust the nationalist and democratically elected Prime Minister and put in power Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, the man we all know as the Shah of Iran, in Persian Shah means king. It is only fair to call attention to some very damning declassified documents released recently, the approximately 1,000 pages of documents, shed light on the Central Intelligence Agency’s central role in the 1953 coup that brought down Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh.
The documents conflict with the U.S government's long denied involvement in the coup. The State Department first released coup-related documents in 1989 but edited out any reference to CIA involvement. Public outrage coaxed a government promise to release a more complete edition, and some material came out in 2013. Two years later, the full installment of declassified material was scheduled but the release was delayed fearing it might interfere with the Iran nuclear talks that were taking place. Now they have finally been released, it should be noted they are not complete because numerous original CIA telegrams from that period are known to have disappeared or were destroyed long ago.
What is clear and finally brought to light is the CIA plot known as Operation Ajax, was about oil. In early 1951, amid great popular acclaim, Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry. A fuming Great Britain began conspiring with U.S. intelligence services to overthrow Mossadegh and restore the monarchy under the Shah. While some of the U.S. State Department, the newly-released cables attempt to blame the British for the tensions and indicate efforts to work with Mossadegh plans were made for a coup. The coup attempt began on August 15th but was swiftly thwarted. Mossadegh made dozens of arrests. General Fazlollah Zahedi, a top conspirator, went into hiding, and the Shah fled Iran. At that point according to a newly declassified cable sent on August 18, 1953, the CIA under the impression the coup had failed decided to end their role. The message read, “Operations against Mossadegh should be discontinued.”
Washington wanted to make sure nothing "could be traced back to the U.S,” however, this cable was ignored by Kermit Roosevelt, the top CIA officer in Iran. What unfolded next is pivotal, on August 19, 1953, with the aid of “rented” crowds widely believed to have been arranged with CIA assistance, the coup succeeded and Iran’s nationalist hero jailed and the Western-friendly Shah placed in power. The existence and extent of Operation Ajax have long been a major point of contention for many Iranians from which the flames of anti-Western sentiment grew fueling a surge of nationalism. In 1979 this culminated in the U.S. hostage crisis, the Shah being overthrown and the creation of the Islamic Republic.
During his time in power, the Shah maintained a close relationship with America and shared our views towards the Soviet Union its northern neighbor. Iran was a strong ally in efforts to keep the Russians contained during the cold war. While the Shah westernized and modernized Iran arbitrary arrests and torture by the Shah's secret police were used to crush all forms of political opposition. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini an active critic of the Shah publicly denounced the government and was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months. After his release when Khomeini publicly criticized the United States government he was sent into exile. When oil prices spiked in 1973 due to an oil embargo declared by OPEC and several other countries a flood of foreign currency into Iran caused double-digit inflation;
Social unrest from waste, corruption and a recession resulted in protests and strikes that spread until they reached a point where the Shah fled the country. Ayatollah Khomeini returned in 1979 and formed a new government. Over the next several years uprisings were violently subdued as the new government went about purging itself of the non-Islamist political opposition that had joined with them to overthrow the Shah. Tens of thousands of Iranians were executed by the Islamic regime.
A part of history that lingers strongly in the minds of many Americans is that in November 1979, a group of Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy taking 52 U.S. citizens and embassy personnel hostage after the U.S. refused to return the former Shah to Iran to face trial and execution.
The hostages were finally set free but many Americans continue to view this as a slap in the face.
America Supported Iraq Which Attacked Iran
A serious point of discord among Iranians is what happened next. On September 22, 1980, the Iraqi army invaded Iranian Khuzestan which signaled the start of the Iran–Iraq War. The United States, alongside regional and international powers, supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein with loans, military equipment, and satellite imagery during Iraqi attacks against Iranian targets. Although Saddam Hussein's forces made several early advances, by mid-1982 the Iranian forces successfully managed to drive the Iraqi army back into Iraq and Iran decided to invade Iraq in a bid to conquer Iraqi territory. The war continued until 1988 when the Iraqi army defeated the Iranian forces inside Iraq and pushed the remaining Iranian troops back across the border.
Subsequently, Khomeini accepted a truce mediated by the UN, but the war cost Iran many lives and huge economic damage. Half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers, with an equivalent number of civilians, are believed to have died and many more injured. It must be noted that during the conflict America and the international community remained silent as Iraq used chemical weapons of mass destruction against Iran as well as the Kurds in northern Iraq. Following the war, Iran concentrated on a pragmatic pro-business policy of rebuilding and strengthening the economy without making any dramatic break with the ideology of the revolution.
Tensions with the United States dramatically increased after the 2005 presidential election brought the conservative populist candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to power. His over the top rhetoric galvanized the feeling Iran had no intention to take a peaceful place in the world community. In 2009 protests erupted in Iran after he was reported to have won nearly 60 percent of the vote despite voting irregularities. Despite the relatively peaceful nature of the protests, the police and the Basij (a paramilitary group) crushed the people by using batons, pepper spray, sticks and, in some cases, firearms. Images of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot and died were uploaded to mass media and broadcast around the world. It was reported that thousands were arrested and tortured in prisons around the country, with former inmates alleging mass rape of men, women, and children by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Relatives of those killed are forced to sign documents claiming they had died of heart attack or meningitis.
Many Iranians Want More Freedom
In truth, few Americans know much about Iran or its 78 million inhabitants or have ever visited the country. Many people would have difficulty pinpointing its location on an unmarked map and the chief source of what knowledge they do have is usually from the evening news. The official name of the country is the Islamic Republic of Iran and it is an area that history called Persia with Persian being the official language and the rial is its currency. Iran's unique political system based on its 1979 constitution combines elements of a parliamentary democracy with a theocracy governed by the country's clergy. The country is made up of several ethnic and linguistic groups but most inhabitants are officially Shia.
Travel Documentary Shows Little Malice Towards America
This recall of history is necessary to understand the real nature of the American-Iranian relationship and how we arrived at today. It should be noted that many Iranians have no malice towards America and are far more moderate than the political apparatus with its strong links to the country's clergy. A few years ago Rick Steves produced a documentary that explored Iran in a one-hour, ground-breaking travel special. This is a good place to meet the people of this nation whose government so exasperates our own.
On June 15, 2013, the electoral victory of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took place but the moderate has not had as much impact as hoped. The fact is if current trends continue in the future Iran looks to face a defanged and economically weakened America with less power in the region. Regardless the fact remains that one way or the other we must deal with Iran and war is not a great option.
Two things are clear.
The first is that many Iranians want more freedom.
The second is that history shows war to be a poor option to bring about positive change. War brings about change but to what degree and for how long.