Learning from mistakes?
*Ten days before the toppling of the Shah of Iran, President Carter told a conference of world leaders on the Island of Guadeloupe that a Khomeini-led Iran “would not export revolution… and would be interested in buying tractors, not tanks…. On January 11, 1979, six days before the toppling of the Shah, “the CIA assessed that Khomeini would sit back and let his moderate, Western educated followers run the government….”
*On the eve of the toppling of the Shah, US Ambassador to Iran, William Sullivan, argued that Khomeini and the armed forces were anti-Communist, that “Khomeini would play a Gandhi-like role, and that elections would be likely to produce a pro-Western Islamic republic….”
*Five months before the toppling of the Shah, an August 1978 CIA study concluded that “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.”
*According to Winston Churchill, “all men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”
Moreover, making mistakes could be a productive experience, if one avoids repeating them.
*Have US policy-makers learned from past mistakes by avoiding – or repeating – them?
The pre-1978/79 mistaken policy on the Islamic Revolution dealt a devastating blow to Middle East stability, generated a robust tailwind to Islamic terrorism, and severely undermined US national and homeland security.
As a result of this dramatically flawed policy, Persia was transformed from “Iran” to “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” and from “the American policeman of the Gulf” to a global epicenter of anti-Americanism, stretching its rogue presence from Central Asia, through the Middle East and Africa to Latin America, all the way to the US-Mexico border.
*Notwithstanding the mega-billion dollar bonanza of the 2015 nuclear accord, Iran’s Ayatollahs have persisted in perceiving the US as “The Great Satan” and the mega-hurdle on their way to advance their mega-goal: the subordination of Western culture and the entire globe to Islamic Shiite dominance.
Dramatic mistakes of the 1978/79 US policy on Iran
*On November 9, 1978, US Ambassador Sullivan sent his “Thinking the Unthinkable” cable, contending that US interests could be protected in a post-Shah Islamic government. Opposition leaders such as Bazargan would lead a new government, that would depend on the US-oriented Iranian military. Khomeini would return to Iran in triumph and hold a Gandhi-like position in the political constellation. Iran could still be counted on by the US to fulfill its role as defender of the northern tier.
*The late British Prof. Eli Kedourie, who was a game-changing Middle East historian, exposed fundamental fumbles in US policy on Iran: “US Ambassador Sullivan argued that Khomeini and the armed forces were anti-Communist…. that elections would produce a pro-Western Islamic republic…. In Washington, there was a chorus of academic and official voices singing the praises of Khomeini…. Princeton University’s Richard Falk… [claimed that] Khomeini’s entourage were committed to a struggle against all forms of oppression…and strong belief in minority rights…. Khomeini’s Islamic Republic could be expected to have a doctrine of social justice at its core…flexible at interpreting the Koran…. The Islamic republic will be a stabilizing element geopolitically…. The State Department believed that Khomeini intended to set up a government drawn from moderate secular politicians, with Ayatollah Khomeini remaining in the background as a guiding political and spiritual force…. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Harold Saunders, declared that he did not sense a strong anti-American feeling among the [new] leaders of Iran…. [National Security Advisor] Brzezinski told [the new regime] that the US government is prepared to expand security, economic, political and intelligence relationships…. A profound and systematic misunderstanding of Khomeini and what he stood for….”
US conned by the Ayatollahs’ Taqiyyah
*The BBC Persian Service documented Ayatollah Khomeini’s skillful use of Islamic Taqiyyah, which is a 1,400-year-old act of religious devotion – embraced by Khomeini’s successors – intended to mislead rivals/enemies by concealing one’s belief and intentions through dissimulation.
Khomeini showered the US with empty promises, which satisfied the worldview of US policy-makers, who were eager for Iran to be pacified and embrace Western values and institutions, such as peaceful coexistence, human rights and democracy.
*Khomeini convinced the US national security and foreign policy establishment that they could do business with the Islamic Republic, as expressed by a January 11, 1979 CIA document.
According to the CIA document, Khomeini was expected to let his moderate, Western-educated followers and his second-in-command, the pragmatic, university-educated, English and German-speaking, Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, run the government.
*Moreover, on January 27, 1979 – five days before Khomeini’s landing in Tehran – he sent a message to President Carter, suggesting that if the US were to secure Iran’s military acceptance of Khomeini’s takeover, then he would calm the country, restore stability and protect US interests and US citizens in Iran. The Islamic Republic will not act as the Policeman of the Gulf, will not interfere in the affairs of other countries, and will not export the Islamic Revolution.
*Khomeini stated that he was not opposed to US interests in Iran, and the US would not lose an ally, because he, too, would be a friend of the US. He preferred dealing with the US, rather than the atheistic, anti-religion Soviets. American presence was necessary to counter the Soviet and British influence. The Islamic Republic will be humanitarian, advancing the cause of peace and tranquility for all mankind…. He pledged not to destroy the pro-US military, and urged the US not to pull its sophisticated weapon systems out of Iran.
*However, on February 15, two weeks following Khomeini’s landing in Tehran, four senior military generals were executed on the rooftop of a high school. And, that was just the beginning of countless executions.
*Downplaying the role of Islam in shaping the vision, culture and policy of the Islamic Republic, US policy-makers were preoccupied with Khomeini’s lack of affinity for the Soviets.
*In January 1980, celebrating the first anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Khomeini held 63 US hostages, including the US Charge’ d’Affaires, declaring: “America can’t do a damn thing; Iran is going to fight American imperialism worldwide; and we will export the Islamic Revolution to the entire world.” Instead of the soothing messages to President Carter, Iran’s Ayatollahs have promoted the message of “The Great American Satan.”
Have US policy-makers learned from past mistakes?
According to Tony Blair Institute for Global Change’s Kasra Arabi, a specialist on Iran and Shiite Islam, the fundamentals of Iran’s Islamic Revolution are as valid today as they were in 1979:
“….Western foreign policy towards Iran has consistently overlooked the power of the ideology born in the Islamic Revolution. The totalitarian worldview promotes repressive governance on religious grounds and hostility to the West. It has been a driving force of instability and violence for decades. It has claimed lives not only in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, but also as far as Bulgaria, Argentina and Thailand….
“Antipathy towards the US has become a greater focal point for the regime under Iran’s incumbent Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, than it was under Khomeini…. A pledge to exporting the 1979 Revolution is enshrined in Iran’s Constitution….
*”Iran’s anti-US stance was not altered by the 2015 nuclear agreement…. [The Ayatollahs] believe in a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, with the view that Islam is incompatible with Western values…. [According to Iran’s] anti-Americanism, the US is the chief representative of the oppressors, the Great Satan, Islam’s ultimate enemy and the master of injustice that has subjugated the Muslim World…. Since the 2015 agreement was signed, Tehran has become more involved in the region, continuing to support proxy groups. In Syria, Iran spent at least $30bn since 2011, and now spends at least $6bn every year…. Since 1979, revolutionary Shiism has linked Tehran with a network of Shia militia groups in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, Shia militias in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen.
*”Israel is an illegitimate, oppressive and usurping entity, created in the heartland of the Muslim world to enable the West, in particular the US, to achieve its ‘colonial goals’ throughout the Islamic World….
*”The depiction of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, the belief that Islamic governance is the solution to the Muslim world’s problems, and the aim of establishing a universal Islamic order based on the Sharia’ law are espoused by both Shia and Sunni Islamists….
*”Forty years following the Revolution, Iranian leaders still act on these ideas. Tehran has worked tirelessly to export its Shia’ Islamist ideology, regionally and globally. Iran and its proxies are driving violence and instability across the Middle East and beyond….
*”Coexistence between dar al-Islam (abode of Islam) and dar al-Harb (abode of the ‘disbelievers’) is impossible. Dar al-Islam is in a permanent state of war, or Jihad, with dar al-Harb. Peace between Muslims and non-Muslims is unattainable [while temporary ceasefires are possible]…. Iran actively encourages all Muslims to rise against their corrupt, pro-Western regimes, particularly aiming at Saudi leaders, to whom Khomeini referred as illegitimate disbelievers, who had usurped the holy mosque of Mecca….”
The bottom line
*Is the systematic track record of Iran’s Ayatollahs consistent with the assumption that they are amenable to good-faith negotiation, peaceful-coexistence and departure from their 1,400-year-old fanatic and imperialistic vision?
*Does the US recognize the well-documented 1979-2022 ruthless Ayatollahs’ reality – including Iran’s Constitution, school curriculum, mosque sermons, mass public event, regional and global subversion and terrorism – which has exposed the futility and the self-destructive practice of waiving the military and regime-change options?
*Do the architects of 2022 US foreign and national security policy avoid – or repeat – the egregious errors of their predecessors from 1978/79?
*Or, are US policy-makers still susceptible to the masterful practice of Taqiyyah by Iran’s Ayatollahs, sacrificing the harsh and frustrating reality on the altar of convenient wishful-thinking?
Is the US still trapped in a policy, which underestimates the critical role played by Islam in shaping Middle East culture and geo-strategic relations; a policy which has fueled the “Islamic Revolution,” posing a critical threat to regional and global stability, including US national and homeland security and economy?
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me (at least) twice shame on me?