Historical Perspective on Iran

by Phil Anderson

In the last several articles I wrote about our aggressive, militarized foreign policy and how it leads to conflicts and disastrous wars. The current saber rattling with Iran is a classic example. Over the last seven decades our belligerence and interference in the internal affairs of Iran are illustrative of the mistakes we have made all over the world. Knowing this history, it is not hard to understand why we are considered the “great Satan” by Iran.

This is all verifiable history – not ideological or political cherry picking. Since World War II the U.S. has overthrown a democratically elected government, bribed officials, interfered in elections, supported a repressive regime, imposed economic sanctions, and stationed military forces on their border to threaten Iran. Iran, with one exception, has not actually threatened the U.S. in any significant way.

It is significant that we have not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980. But our  threatening military actions have been frequent. In 1988, the an American warship shot down an Iranian commercial airliner over the Persian Gulf killing 290 people. Since 2003, we have been illegally flying surveillance drones over Iran. The Iranians captured one in 2011 and have shot down others before the one last week. We have aircraft carrier battle groups off the Iranian coast. The notion that Iran is “provocative” in its behavior and we are the aggrieved party is ludicrous.

Ironically, the U.S. helped Iran create its nuclear program which we now oppose. In 1957 the U.S. sold Iran its first nuclear reactor. After 1967, this included weapons grade enriched uranium. The participation of the U.S. and European governments in Iran’s nuclear program continued until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. An aside: this vividly illustrates why the only way to be safe from a nuclear war is to get rid of all nuclear weapons. A nuclear armed ally can become the “enemy” very quickly.  

A  short review of the history puts the current controversy in perspective. Prior to World War II, the U.S. had little diplomatic involvement with Iran. In 1941 England and Russia invaded Iran, deposed their pro-Nazi monarch, replacing him with his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iran became a wartime supply route to the USSR. American troops were involved in supplying war material to the USSR. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979.

From 1951-53, the democratically elected Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, tried to nationalize Iranian oil. The British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company company received 85% of the Iranian oil profits with only 15% going to Iran. The Iranian parliament unanimously voted to nationalize Iranian oil production. The British retaliated with an embargo on Iranian oil. Initially the U.S., under President Truman, advocated for a negotiated settlement. With the election of President Eisenhower, the CIA and British intelligence manufactured a coup to replace Mossadeq. This was accomplished in 1953

During the Cold War the Shah was an anti-communist American ally. Although a secular advocate for modernization, the Shah ruled by fear. His secret police (SAVAK) were brutal in suppressing opposition. The U.S. military and CIA were involved in creating and training the SAVAK. During this time Iran was a major recipient of American military aid. Iran was a typical case of the U.S. cold war policy of supporting any anti-communist no matter how corrupt or repressive the government. 

Secular and religious opposition groups forced the Shah to leave Iran in 1979. Following a national referendum, the Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed on April 1st. This resulted in  the Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini coming to power. In November Iranian students seized 52 American embassy employees. The hostages and held them for 444 days. and this incident still influences American behavior toward Iran. In our minds the Islamic fundamentalist theocracy ruling in Iran became what President George W. Bush called the “Axis of Evil” along with Libya and North Korea.    

From 1980 to 1988, Iraq and Iran fought a brutal war. An estimated 500,000 Iraqi and Iranian soldiers died. The Reagan administration mostly supported Iraq with weapons sales, military and economic aid, and military intelligence. We sold Iraq chemicals for making chemical weapons. Reagan also sold Iran weapons (the Iran Contra scandal) but the overall policy was to prevent Iran from winning the war. The Reagan administration pursued economic sanctions against Iran while removing Iraq from the list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” and establishing full diplomatic relations with Saddam Hussein’s government. Note: recall what happened to our relationship with Iraq in 2003.

Economic sanctions can be another form of warfare. Sanctions can have severe impacts on the stability of target countries. Civilians are harmed and die due to lack of medicine, food, and other necessities. The Clinton administration imposed a total embargo by American companies in Iran in 1995. The next year, Congress passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions act, designed to prevent other countries from making large investments in Iranian energy. 

The current controversy over Iran’s nuclear program started in 2002. The U.S. accused Iran of a clandestine nuclear weapons program to develop a uranium enrichment plant which Iran denies. The U.S. has lead efforts by the UN and European countries to counter Iranian nuclear ambitions with sanctions and embargoes. In 2015, European countries negotiated a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions. The Trump administration pulled out of this agreement and re-imposed the sanctions in 2018. 

Americans need to be aware of this history. We have messed around in Iran for seven decades. Iran was not then, and currently is not a threat to us in any meaningful way. Too often our actions toward other countries have been aggressive and threatening and the outcomes have not been good for anyone. 

Too often we have been lied to in the run up to a senseless war. Today the advocates of “regime change” are spinning the same lies that got us into trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we are to avoid another disastrous war, the American people must demand peaceful solutions. Contact your representatives today. Demand peace.