When I visited Iran as a weak and unobserved young man a little over half a century ago, I was very impressed by the White Revolution. There were serious traffic jams in Tehran, which I thought speak for both modernity and the prosperity of the masses. The city, at least in the northern part, seemed to have a European aspect. Women were emancipated, albeit more elegantly dressed than in the West, and did not seem to suffer any restrictions in their daily lives. Of course, the landscape through which I had traveled to Tehran was different; But modernization and secularization had to start somewhere and, I thought, would inexorably spread throughout society. In my opinion, they were irreversible processes that could not be resisted; Anyone who did this was likely as successful as Canute in telling the waves to retreat.
His Imperial Majesty, the Shahanshah (King of Kings), was still firmly seated on his throne – as was the other King of Kings, His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie. I witnessed the arrival of the imperial elite for a glittering garden party at the palace, and I saw an impressive number of apparently very wealthy people who took pride in their wealth. What I did not see was that the tiny fraction of the population they represented, or how they got by their wealth. As Bastiat pointed out a long time ago, there is always the seen and the invisible; I wasn’t smart enough to realize that the latter was at least as important as the former, and I still believed that the evidence that turned out to be dangerous before my eyes was all the evidence there was and wasn’t curious about others to search .
However, I wasn’t part of any intelligence organization, so my misunderstandings didn’t matter. But American intelligence is sometimes accused of suffering from misunderstandings similar to mine, which they communicated to the highest levels of American policymakers in order to guarantee the “flaws” of American policy that resulted in no preventive action against them what was seized was the emergence of a hostile, dangerous and aggressive regime with a deeply regressive ideology.
The author of this book, a scholar of Iranian descent, disagrees with this view in his account of the fall of the house of the Pahlavi. It focuses more on internal developments in Iran and, accordingly, more responsibility for the dissolution (if any) than American politics (it can really be said that the process has a final dissolution). The Americans could influence events in Iran, but not control them. Because people are incalculable, the powerful are seldom as powerful as they think they are.
The Shah that emerges from these pages would be almost a tragic figure if they made us feel better about him as a person, that is, as a living being and not as a mere policy maker. He was a swayer by nature, placed by inheritance and a fate beyond his control into a position where swaying would ultimately prove fatal. In addition to self-doubt, however, he was also prone to asserting himself, oscillating between the two, withdrawing from crises and demonstrating himself and boasting when things seemed to be going well. He believed that he had both a right and a duty to truly rule for the sake of his country instead of governing, but while he had the ideas of an autocrat, he also had those of an ordinary decent person who made fun of the spill made of a lot of blood, the only way in the end that he could (and possibly not) keep his throne.
He was intelligent and shrewd, and his accomplishments could not be neglected. He succeeded in wresting control of Iranian oil first from the British and then from the international oil consortium that followed them. He played the oil market with great skill. He initiated an important land reform that really benefited the peasantry, expanded education, and had a full understanding of the importance of technology in modernizing Iran that was necessary if it were to be anything other than a dependent state. His foreign policy was flexible, pragmatic and smart. He needed the Americans, but didn’t trust them (or anyone else) and realized that there were no friendships in politics, only common interests. This should be confirmed in the most terrifying and tragic way in his final years in exile, which this book is not concerned with. Where there is no friendship, there is no gratitude for services rendered.
His failures were at least as great as his successes and in the end more important from the point of view of his personal fate. He so undermined political life in Iran to wield power as a true autocrat that there were two poles: sycophancy and conspiracy against him. Sycophantine is a terribly addicting drug, undoubtedly a permanent temptation of the powerful (and therefore a good reason to cut political terms); you can never have enough of it, nor can it ever be outrageous enough.
Unfortunately for the Shah, no one is sycophantic in principle, in fact sycophants tend (rightly) to despise themselves, fully aware that they are acting out of the most naked self-interest. There is no rat that leaves a sinking ship faster than a sycophant who leaves a lost cause. A sycophant takes the risk of preserving his skin, but not his master.
According to the author, the current regime in Iran repeats the Shah’s mistakes in form, if not in substance: namely, the creation of an authoritarian regime with a very slim social base of beneficiaries.
A constant in the Shah’s policy was to increase the size and power of his armed forces, which he could rely on to maintain his regime, which in his own eyes was benevolent. He was constantly looking for American weapons, which Americans (contrary to the assumption of many people) were reluctant to provide, and realized that they were unnecessary for the external defense of the country and useless for the maintenance of order within the country. They therefore viewed it as a waste of money that should have been spent on social development, under the equally false assumption that a reading by Tocqueville and not by Walter W. Rostow could have disapproved that social development would by itself reduce resistance against the rule of the Shah. On the contrary: reactionaries are likely to last longer than reformers, even though they too often get sticky ends.
Nonetheless, the Shah managed to build up his armed forces, although – as the Americans had foreseen – they ultimately proved useless. Because the Shah wanted them to be his personal instrument, he shared and ruled his generals, whom he had definitely chosen as King Lear had chosen Goneril and Regan, and with the same bottom line. His armed forces defended his regime as much as a child’s toy soldiers defended a house against burglars, that is, not at all. Assigning positions and turning a blind eye to the subsequent corruption of those who hold them is not a way of creating lasting loyalty.
The Shah imagined that the Iranian people would be grateful for the undisputed advances that his regime brought, at least temporarily. But people are not like that. They take progress for granted as soon as it occurs. Old problems that were soon forgotten are immediately replaced with new ones. A man stuck in a traffic jam doesn’t think he rode a donkey half a generation ago; He thinks, “This is hell, why can’t they build real roads?” Moreover, the inevitably uneven distribution of the benefits of progress inevitably leads to resentment, and if there was one thing the Shah’s regime was good at, it was to stir up resentment. For example, one might have assumed that following the bombing of the Rex cinema in Abadan by terrorists who sympathized with the Ayatollah Khomeini (then still in exile) and killed more than 400 people, the regime could have scored a propaganda victory. Instead, the regime managed to blame this horrific terrorist attack in place of the cruel and vicious Khomeini by insisting on holding a glittering party to celebrate the anniversary of the 1953 coup that overthrew the Mossadeq government.
According to the author, the current regime in Iran repeats the Shah’s mistakes in form, if not in substance: namely, the creation of an authoritarian regime with a very slim social base of beneficiaries. Its main advantage over the Shah’s regime is that it has some sort of ideology, albeit a primitive and stupid one, but at least with a cadre of true believers to defend it that the Shah never had. One day the forces of modernization and secularization will take revenge on it: Perhaps my fundamental belief from more than half a century ago was only misplaced in time!
There is only a brief but concise and suggestive description of the consequences of the revolution in Iran. The moral qualities of the Ayatollah Khomeini can be grasped by the fact that, although the armed forces were assured immunity from the punishment of the revolution, which they did not interfere, hundreds with Khomeini’s consent (and, presumably, his deletion) unceremoniously were executed). When asked what the allegation of “spreading corruption on earth” meant, the judge in the case, another psychopathic clergyman, Sadegh Khalkali, Chief Justice of the Revolutionary Courts chosen by Khomeini, replied, “What are you guilty of?”
Let’s not be too complacent. One more remembers the Black Lives Matter supporters’ slogan that silence is violence. There are charges against the Commission for which some in our society do not want a defense.