Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Great Satan v The Axis Of Evil : Part 5 Of "Understanding Iran"

See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Or could this be the shape of things to come? Ryan Cocker, US Ambassador to Iraq met with his Iranian counterpart Hussan Kazemi Qomi in Baghdad in May 2007 to look for common ground to help the Iraqi Government to help to end the daily bloodshed. Whilst today Ahmadinejad, Iran's President arrived in Baghdad for two days of talks with Iraqi leaders. Iran is lending £500million to Iraq for projects which are to be handled by Iranian companies.

Halcyon Days

Prior to 1953, the USA had a close and friendly relationship with Iran. At that time the two world powers with a track record of interference in Iran's internal affairs were Britain and Russia. These two powers even divided Iran up into differing areas of influence between 1907 and 1917. Then they occupied Iran between 1941 and 1946, dividing the territory between themselves. When the Soviet Union was reluctant to leave after the 2nd World War, it was American pressure which secured their departure.

The Break-Up

In 1951, Iran nationalised the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and a tussle for power took place between the Shah and the democratic majority in the Majlis led by Mosaddeq. The Shah was initially obliged to flee Iran, but he was restored to power in a coup engineered by the British MI6 and the American CIA with Mosaddeq (Iran's nationalist and democratic hope) spending the remainder of his life in prison and then under house arrest. Whilst Iranians were used to such forms of action by Britain, they were deeply shocked and offended by the actions of the USA. The Shah allowed a Western Oil consortium to run Iran's Oil Industry with American involvement. America continued to be closely involved with the Shah's regime and supplied him with arms. As the Shah operated an increasingly oppressive regime, both he and the US Government became increasingly unpopular amongst Iranians.

Revolutionary Fervour

The 1979 revolution against the Shah's regime, initially united a wide range of differing interests inside Iran who all hoped to make considerable political advances with his departure. Ayatollah Khomeini's populist appeal rested on his being Anti-Shah, anti-imperialist, having a high Shia religious status and living a simple life-style (a sharp contrast with the Shah). Rather like Lenin during the Russian Revolution of 1917, he found that power could be taken by those who were organised and disciplined around the telling national ideology of its time. He was assisted by two important developments which are dealt with in the next section.

The Heat Rises

First, there was the student invasion of the American Embassy in Tehran in which apart from the hostages who were held, documents were seized whose contents were turned against the USA. As a consequence of hostage crisis, the USA instigated trade sanctions against Iran and ended diplomatic relations. Iran responded in kind. Whilst Khomeini was able to use the crisis to advance his version of theocratic beliefs and structures, a second dramatic event then occurred which he made considerable use of. Saddam Hussein's Iraq attacked Iran in 1980. This enabled Khomeini to mobilise Iran in a war which lasted until 1988. The West was seen to be sympathetic to Saddam Hussein's invasion. This made it easier for Khomeini's views on the immorality of Western life-styles, the need for Shariah law and his condemnation that the USA was the "Great Satan", to become part of Iran's conventional wisdom.

Both Sides Fan The Flames

In 1983 hundreds of members of a peacekeeping force in the Lebanon were killed at their barracks when truck bombs were exploded. The majority of these were US Marines. The US accused Iran of assisting Lebanon's Hezbollah in this and similar attacks, which had equivalents in other areas of the Middle East and were also focused against Israel. On the other hand, Iran tends to see bodies such as Hezbollah and Hamas as being freedom fighters on a par with the ANC in the period of its struggle against apartheid. When the USS Vincennes patrolling for America in the Gulf shot down an Iranian Airbus killing 290 people including children, this reinforced such feelings amongst the people of Iran.

Recent Tensions

In 2002, President Bush included Iran within his "Axis of Evil" speech. The USA then invaded a neighbouring nation, Iraq which Bush also claimed was part of this Axis. America has also accused Iran of using its nuclear energy programme as a cover for developing nuclear weapons in conflict with Iran's commitment to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty which it signed up to in 1968. The UN Security Council has adopted various targeted sanctions against Iran's nuclear programme and is currently examining whether it should update these. Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President has also upped the rhetoric in this dispute by saying that Israel should "be wiped off the map".

Are There Any Silver Linings?

A problem with the mutual boycott between the USA and Iran is that it blocks programmes such as the exchange of students, holiday visits and a general cross fertilization of ideas between the two nations. This makes it more difficult for views to emerge which help to bridge the gaps between the two administrations. There are, however, regular informal diplomatic links which operate via the Swiss and Pakistan embassies - and occasionally more direct approaches, including the one in the photo above. Deals eventually arose over the hostages and the USA has helped with disaster relief when Iran was hit by major earthquakes. Even the invasions of Iran's immediate neighbours has its plus side. Iran supported the Northern Alliance in Afganistan and fought a horrendous eight year war against Saddam Hussein. Althoughthe circumstances are difficult, the Shia of Iran can now visit their
holy shrines in southern Iraq which had been blocked to them by Saddam Hussein. Within the next year there is also the prospect of Presidential changes in both the USA and Iran which could lead to improved relations.

How Should The West Respond?

When Clinton was President, he made three major criticisms of the Iranian regime. (A) Iran was hostile to the (then active) Arab-Isreali Peace Process. (B) Iran actively supported international terrorism. (C) Its pursuit of a nuclear energy programme had the objective of developing nuclear weapons. From its vantage point of having bases and troops surroundingt Iran, the Bush regime presses these points even more vigorously and probably now makes more out of a further point. (D) This is the claim that Iran has a hideous human rights record, involving an excessive use of the death penalty and a harsh interpretation of Sharia Law. I will examine these matters in Part 6 and respond to the question "to what extent are these claims correct?".


Johnny Guitar said...

"Within the next year there is also the prospect of Presidential changes in both the USA and Iran which could lead to improved relations."

The elections could signal progress or they could lead to catastrophe. I would like to think though that the normalisation of relations could only come about as a result of Iran delivering on a few basic guarantees - namely democratisation, termination of support for international terrorism, an end to their appalling human rights record and the dismantling of any nuclear programme. The failure of them to make progress in any one of these areas and I would say they should be kept at arms length. Unfortunately, I'm not too sure if an Obama presidency would be as stern with Tehran as a McCain or Clinton administration. While good old Barack would be withdrawing troops from Iraq he seems to be suggesting that at the same time he would be striking up friendships in Iran. Hopefully the US electorate will prevent such a ridiculously populist half-baked plan ever coming around. As for the Iranian election…who knows?

Johnny Guitar said...

Oh Harry, I almost forgot to mention something that happened to me at the weekend. I was at the bookstore in Queen's University here in Belfast on Saturday morning. The shop has great section of political pamphlets - past and present - all of which are dreadfully organised. Anyhow, I clumsily knocked a few over and when I bent down to pick them up what was there? A number of Labour Party membership application forms! Not a common sight in this part of the world as you are well aware. Are there some party activists running a clandestine recruitment campaign over here at the moment?! Perhaps there is a god after all.

Harry Barnes said...

Johnny Guitar : That is a great story about the Labour Party membership forms. But were they filled on, or merely acting as relics like the pamphlets?

Hopefully, Parts 6 and 7 of my "Understanding Iran" will complete this series today and tomorrow. It should cover my own take on the type of issues you raise. It is all an expanded version of a talk I gave to the Derby Fabian Society!

Naj said...

Johny Guitar,

I don't believe America or Britain have any business pressing Iran for Democracy. That is for Iranian epopel to decide.

Also, America and GB have no businesss pressing Iran over human rights issues; if they are so effective in making nations change their hidious behavior, i think they should start 1) in Guantanamo Bay; 2) Abu Gharib 3) Saudi Arabia 4) Egypt ... should I count more?

Lastly, "international support for terrorism"???

Is Iran supporting the international terror or the US and the UK who have killed over 600,000 civilians in Iraq; who have inflicted tremendous psychological trauma on the people of IRan by threatening nuclear attack in DENSELY populated areas; who have supported 60 years of Israel's HIDIOUS crimes and apartheid in the name of "self-defense"?????????????

Perhaps, if you get down from the ivory tower of white western self-congratulations you will realize how hollow your claims ring!