Author’s note: at no point in this piece do I condone the actions of the Iranian Government in regards to international terrorism or domestic curtailing of rights. I offer an explanation as to why Iran views the west as it does and why it will continue to do so. As a believer in the non aggression principle I absolutely condemn any violence or terrorism from both sides especially against civilians.
Iran is a cut and dried issue for many: they are evil people who hate our freedoms, our equal treatment of women, our non following of Islam and Sharia law. They hate us because of Israel, they hate us because we are free, they hate us because we are capitalists. In short they hate us for reasons that, Israel aside, have nothing to do with them. They are a nasty piece of work, and deserve to have all the sanctions and embargos we can put on them, and for many bombs too. Iran is trying to get a nuclear weapon so it can threaten the west.
Looking at this attitude it seems incredibly one sided, almost blinkered. The kind of mindless views North Koreans are taught about the west – they are just evil people who hate us. Yet speaking out against this orthodoxy gets you aggressively silenced.
Next to no one hates others for no reason at all, even less so in international politics. Those who paint Iran as hating the west for no reasons or for petty, ridiculous ones such as hating our freedom are being either intentionally misleading or hopelessly naïve. Iran’s enmity to the west and the US in particular stems from its history. At the end of this piece I will include a (brief-ish) timeline of a history of Iran from 1900 which I will refer to in this piece to show my arguments.
Iran certainly does not hate America for its freedom or capitalism, it hates America because the direct threat the US poses to Iran’s own freedom. Americas first main involvement in Iran was 1953 (see timeline) where it overthrew the democratically elected Iranian leader instead imposing a pro western dictator upon Iran. Twenty six years with the Iranian revolution the US attempts another military coup that fails, one year after the Iranian revolution against the Shah, the Iran Iraq war began, where America funded and aided the Iraqis. In 1988 the US shoots down an Iranian passenger jet mistaking it for an Iranian military aircraft. Since 1995 the US has imposed trade sanctions against Iran as well as funding groups inside and outside Iran that oppose the current regime, in violation of the 1981 US Iran agreement.
Is it any surprise that a country that has seen the US attempt two coups against firstly a democratically elected government (successful) and then a popular revolution (failed) fears the US. Is it any surprise Iran fights back when it is surrounded and isolated by US military bases (see picture) as well as hostile Arabic states . Just who exactly is the aggressor when the US impoverishes a nation via sanctions, supports those who invade it and sponsors groups working against it?
Is it not double standards for US presidents to be able to label Iran an axis of evil and openly talk about military strikes against it, and yet to portray Iranian statements against the west or Israel as the comments of evil madmen? Does no one think that Iranian politicians, like our own, have to say some things to placate and impress their own people? As the Shah showed, no dictator can act as they please, angering the people.
Moving on to Nuclear weapons as Lee Jenkins notes the number one priority for Iran is survival/self preservation. Iran will have noted from past US exploits that non nuclear countries like Iraq are invaded, whilst nuclear North Korea is left alone militarily. A case in point is Libya, who the west heavily befriended and convinced to scrap plans for WMDs, then turned on and supported a revolution when it suited them. (As an aside US foreign policy toward the middle east as a whole is horrifically skewed and short-termist, it supported and funded the ba’arthist coup in Syria in 1949, the party that is now facing a revolution of its own. It armed and trained Afghanistan in 1979-1989 only to invade it in 2001, similarly it armed trained and supported Iraq in 1980-88 then invaded and occupied in 2003) But back to Iran, the signals clearly sent from US foreign policy are: get a nuke or we are getting as involved in your country as possible. Iran is not stupid, as much as the west likes to make out that its leaders are crazy, the rhetoric they use is comparable to the rhetoric used by leaders such as George Bush against them. Iran will not use a nuclear weapon aggressively against Israel because the leaders of Iran are not suicidal idiots. They quite enjoy living, being able to rule a country is quite fun. Why would they trade that for the guaranteed destruction of them, their families, their country and any hope of continuing to spread their message and beliefs, any hope of fulfilling their objectives.
Iran benefits heavily from being the wounded party, playing the victim card. It attempts to attract sympathy as well as domestic support from being the victimised country. Any hope of playing the victim would be demolished if they made an aggressive military strike and would absolutely hand the moral high ground as well as all support to Israel and the US.
Lee further points out
‘Iran is also in a bad neighbourhood. It’s surrounded by nuclear armed states; Russia to the North, Pakistan, India and China to the East, Israel to the West, and the ballistic missile submarines of the US battle fleet to the South. Why, it asks, should it be denied nuclear weapons?’
A plethora of experts have spoken out about the damage an attack against Iran would do to the US and Israel, including Former US military intelligence office and UN weapons inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter, the highest ranking officer in the United States military the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan, mongst others.
Iran feels the need to get a Nuclear bomb because of the threats to its sovereignty posed by the US and its allies. It fears the US because America has a history of attempting regime change, of funding its enemies and of supporting groups within Iran opposed to the government.
So what about funding terrorist groups, surely this shows that Iran is evil and just out to destroy Israel and the west does it not? Imagine you were a country that was isolated from everyone, put under damaging economic sanctions, unsure when the next time your enemies would bomb your facilities, assassinate your scientists or possibly attempt to wipe you out. If all you heard coming from opposition media was the desire to see you destroyed, if foreign leaders publically debated with their opponents exactly how much they should attack you and if those enemies had histories of launching coups against you to put in leaders they preferred. Not only would you desperately want a nuclear bomb to deter them from this, but you would be cross right? You would want to fight back any way you can. When Al Qaida flew planes into the twin towers America invaded two countries and has spent around $4 trillion on its war on terror. While I condemn the violence and terrorist tactics Iran resorts the point I wish to make is that they are done for a reason. The US is not blameless on the terrorism front either, declassifying alleged Iranian domestic terrorist groups like the MEK as no longer terrorists (after having considered them a terrorist organisation since 1997, and with some controversy over funding for those who lobbied for them to be removed) and funding terror groups in Iran to help precipitate regime change. Israel’s hands are not clean in this affair either and their actions with the MEK further question why they are no longer designated a terrorist group. In cases like this there is no right and wrong, good and evil. Both sides are doing awful things. It is too simplified to look at the west as ‘good’ and Iran as ‘evil’
Lee Jenkins again points out ‘Once Iran has its nuclear weapons, it won’t need Hezbollah and Hamas to distract Israel anymore. Far from being assets, they’ll become an expensive hobby and a liability.’
So to sum up. Iran is a state like any other, when foreign politicians talk tough against them, they have to talk tough back. There is also much to be made of the case of Iranian politicians trying to distract from domestic problems (caused by western sanctions). They hate the US, and the west in general, and while they certainly have cultural differences with us their main reason for violently opposing America, Israel et al are their repeated interventions in Iran, stemming back from the first coup against Iran America started in 1953. Sanctions, state sponsored terrorism, as well as threats and actual attacks has left Iran feeling bitter, wounded, scared and alone.
Iran doesn’t hate us for no reason. Continued sanctions, threats of and actual military action will only push Iran further away from us, make it more eager to get nuclear weapons, and attract more and more people in sympathy to it would are willing to commit terrorist acts for it. The path to rebuilding US – Iran relations is a long one. We will never properly have peace with Iran until we have a culture that realises it is not a mindless aggressor, that we started this game of military chicken. We are the ones that initially were in the wrong, and that every bit of foreign military action simply makes this situation worse.
A brief history of modern Iran and the west: (including a look at the US embassy hostage crisis)
(To skip boring information working out who had the right to Iranian Oil go straight to 1951 when things hot up)
1901: William Knox D’Arcy buys from Shah Mozzafar al-Din Shah Qajar of Persia. The exclusive rights to prospect for oil for 60 years in a vast tract of territory including most of Iran. In exchange the Shah received £20,000 (£1.6 million today), an equal amount in shares of D’Arcy’s company, and a promise of 16% of future profits
1905: Iranian Constitutional revolution, a big factor was huge public opposition to the selling off of Iranian national assets such as oil rights
1908: D’Arcy’s fortunes had dropped and he had been forced to sell most of the rights to the Burmah Oil Company. Soon after receiving orders to abandon the project workers in Iran hit oil.
1913: Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later to become BP) has been created as a subsidiary of Burmah Oil Comapny and oil begins to flow from Abadan, then the worlds largest oil refinery. The British Government takes a controlling interest in the company
1928-32: Iran attempted to renegotiate the terms of their deal. Their basis for this was that Iran’s ‘national wealth was being squandered by a concession that was granted in 1901 by a previous non-constitutional government forced to agree to inequitable terms under duress.’ Iran was receiving 16% of the net profits from Oil taken from its region. APOC had a history of cutting off all money owed to Iran if it’s demands were not met at negotiations. In negotiations Iran asks for 25% of shares in APOC
1931: Evidence of APOC mistreating Iran were shown when its profits fell 36% due to the depression so it cut its royalty to Iran by 76%
1933: Involvement by the Shah of Iran leads to an agreement to reduce APOC control to 100,000 square miles (allowing APOC to choose the miles) guaranteeing a minimum annual payment of £750,000 to the Iranian government s the company’s operations were exempted from import or customs duties. Iran surrendered its right to annul the agreement, and settled on a complex and tediously elaborate arbitration process to settle any disagreements that would arise. This has been generally agreed to be a very bad deal for Iran, and was a very bizarre move for the Iranian Shah who had been adamant on cancelling the whole of APOCs project, and seems more than a little suspicious
1951 Iran democratically elects Mohammad Mosaddegh as prime minister. Mosaddegh who nationalised Iranian Oil Facilities. A fantastically popular move domestically. Britain takes Iran to the world court and loses, it then attempts to blockade the gulf and halt trade. Britain attempts to get the US to assist via regime change but Truman was not interested.
1953 A key year, where modern US Iran relations can be said to properly stem from. Eisenhower takes office and Britain is successful in convincing him for the need for regime change under the pretext of the Cold War and the threat of communism in Iran. The CIA is sent to engineer a coup codenamed operation Ajax. The Shah who’s power had been weakened under the Democratic regime is now given full control of Iran
The Shah becomes increasingly autocratic. His secret police ‘SAVAK’ http://www.fas.org/irp/world/iran/savak/index.html were described as Iran’s “most hated and feared institution” and were trained by the CIA including Major General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Norman_Schwarzkopf and Mossaad They tortured and executed thousands of political prisoners and violently oppressed dissent.
The Shah was also seen as attempting to drive Islam out of Iran which was 90% Muslim. It was at this point that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became an active critic of the Shah’s White Revolution and publicly denounced the government. Khomeini was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months. Upon his release in 1964 Khomeini he continued to publicly criticize the United States government. The Shah exiled Khomeini first to Turkey, then to Iraq and finally to France. While in exile, he continued to denounce the Shah.
By the 1970s protests and violence were a regular occurrence with the Shah declaring martial law and banning demonstrations leading to a general strike. This ultimately led to the overthrowing of the Shah
1978 The revolution begins in January with major demonstrations against the shah
1979 The year the US sees modern Iran US relations begin. The Shah falls in January. Ruhollah Khomeini returns to run the country. In November students seize US embassy personnel from the same embassy where the CIA engineered the 1953 coup. Khomeini supports the students who hold 52 people captive for 444 days releasing them in January 81. President Carter had indeed sent a Nato general to instigate a military coup against the new Iranian regime but it failed.
The demands of the students were as follows
Return the Shah to Iran (US Iran had an extradition treaty that required this as the Shah was an indicted criminal in Iran)
Return the Shah’s wealth to Iran
Promise from the US not to interfere in Iran’s affairs
An apology for the US’s past involvement in Iran
(Note: While I can never condone taking of hostages or breaching diplomatic immunity and invading an embassy, these demands do not seem particularly onerous or difficult for the US to achieve. The first and second were actually required by agreements signed between Iran and the US before the incident. The third and fourth just shows exactly how much resentment there was toward the US there was/is in Iran because of its interference in a sovereign nation. When there were 52 peoples lives at stake it seems ridiculous for the US to refuse to honour its signed agreements, promise to not interfere with another country and apologise for overthrowing a democratically elected Iranian Government. The taking of hostages was wrong, but so was the US’s absolute refusal for so long to meet a very easy set of demands, the first two of which it was already technically legally obliged to))
1980 Iraq invades Iran without provocation. The war lasts 8 years with over 500,000 Iranians ending up dead. The US plays both sides, providing Iraq with money, intelligence and technology including satellite technology. The US pressured gulf states to give Iraq billions in loans, and gave licence for materials for Iraq’s WMD program to be exported. Weapons were also sent via CIA fronts in Chile and Saudi Arabia directly to Baghdad. Between 1986 and 1989, some seventy-three transactions took place that included bacterial cultures to make weapons-grade anthrax, advanced computers, and equipment to repair jet engines and rockets. The US continued its support despite Iraq using chemical weapons against Iran and its own Kurdish seperatists. The US also armed Iran to ensure that neither side was ultimately victorious.
1985 Iran-Contra Affair: U.S. holds secret talks with Iran and makes weapons shipments, allegedly in exchange for Iranian assistance in releasing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. With revelations that profits were illegally channeled to Nicaraguan rebels, this creates the biggest crisis of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
1987 Following the mining of a U.S. Navy frigate, U.S. forces engage in series of encounters with Iranian naval forces, including strikes on Gulf oil platforms. The engagement was code named “Operation Praying Mantis”. The battle, the largest between surface forces since World War II, sank two Iranian warships and as many as six armed speedboats.
1988 On patrol in the Persian Gulf, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger jet that it had mistaken for a hostile Iranian fighter aircraft. U.S. Navy Captain Will C. Rogers III ordered a single missile fired from his warship, which hit its target and killed all 290 people aboard the commercial Airbus.
1989 Khomeini dies one year after the war ends. He ended as a dictator, imposing censorship, crushing political dissent and removed womens guard. Replacing SAVAK with the revolutionary guard. He is replaced by Khamenei
1995 President Clinton imposes oil and trade sanctions on Iran for alleged sponsorship of “terrorism”, seeking to acquire nuclear arms and hostility to the Middle East peace process. Iran denies the charges.
2002/3 U.S. President George W Bush, in his State of the Union address, describes Iran as part of an “axis of evil”. The U.S. accuses Iran of seeking to develop a secret nuclear weapons program and refuses to rule out the “military option” in dealing with Iran.
2005/6 The United States is openly attempting to “promote democracy” in Iran by budgeting $3 million for various Iranian groups. Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations called the plan “a clear violation” of a 1981 U.S-Iranian agreement in which the U.S. pledged “not to intervene directly or indirectly, politically or militarily in Iran’s internal affairs.”