President Jimmy Carter addresses the American people on the Iran hostage crisis, 1979
Opinion by L.Y.
On the 40th anniversary of Iran's revolution, an Iranian-born American attorney argues for the Iranian people, but against Iran's regime and U.S. anti-Iran sanctions
The people of Iran have been suffering under crippling sanctions for nearly 40 years and yet the deeply entrenched clerical establishment has only strengthened over time. The Trump Administration has now unilaterally backed out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) international nuclear agreement with Iran, citing "disastrous flaws." They have also imposed the toughest sanctions on Iran to date.
The first set of Trump sanctions took effect on August 8, 2017, restricting Iran's purchase of US currency, trade in gold, precious metals and sale of Iranian auto parts, commercial passenger air crafts and related parts and service.
The second set of sanctions took effect on November 4, 2017, further restricting the sale of oil and petrochemical products from Iran. This in turn strains the world supply of oil and worsens the already very difficult situation for the Iranian people. Since the latest sanctions were first put in place, the cost of living has skyrocketed and the rial fell against the dollar at an all time high of 190,000 rials to 1 U.S. dollar. The average family income is between 20,685,854 and 40,000,000 rials (the latter assuming you have dual income) where a bottle of milk now costs 15,000,000 rials. Meanwhile, a 2 to 3-bedroom apartment in Tehran rents for 60,625,000 rials.
If the aim of these sanctions is to cripple the Iranian population while strengthening the clergy, we can argue that the United States has succeeded.
In order to understand how we got here, we need to look at the roles played by the United Kingdom and United States. As far back as 1901, England drafted an agreement giving itself exclusive rights to Iranian petroleum, setting up refineries in Iran and in return giving Iran 16% of the net profits. Between 1925-1932, Iran attempted to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, which proved unsuccessful. In 1933, Reza Shah Pahlavi secured a new agreement that gave the British company Anglo Persian Oil Company (APOC) a new 60-year concession. The agreement extended the life of the concession by an additional 32 years, and negligently allowed APOC to select the best 100,000 square miles while awarding Iran an extremely low minimum-guaranteed royalty. Moreover, 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.
Iranians were rightfully furious.
By 1941, Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced to abdicate by the Allies after the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran and was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Like his father, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi maintained a close relationship with the west.
By 1951, the aggrieved Iranians voted to nationalize their oil and to expel foreign representatives from the country. They elected Mohammad Mossadegh as their Prime Minister to champion their objective. This of course upset Winston Churchill, who unsuccessfully lobbied President Truman to invade Iran. Eisenhower on the other hand was more than happy to orchestrate a coup d’etat, and in 1953, the CIA entered into a covert operation to overthrow Mohammad Mossadegh and to reinstate Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the throne. This later became known as Operation Ajax. They succeeded and Mohammad Mossadegh was placed under house arrest until he died. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was strategically placed in power by the West as their puppet and referred to as a "Twin Pillar" where he served as a primary guardian of US interests in the Persian Gulf (the other twin being Saudi Arabia). While westernized, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ruled with an iron fist. He created the SAVAK (secret police) with the help of the CIA and Israel's Mossad, which operated from 1957-1979. Its purpose was to torture and execute his opponents.
Iranians march against Shah Reza Pahlavi circa 1978
By 1977, different groups of Iranians started building momentum to overthow the United States-backed monarch. Among them were students, leftists and Islamic organizations. Protests commenced in October of 1977 and intensified by January of 1978. On January 10, 1979, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled Iran and 16 days later, Ayatolla Ruholla Khomeini returned to Iran after a decade of exile in France. He established the Islamic Republic of Iran, designating himself as the Supreme Leader.
At the time, Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States and arguably, the most honest and humanitarian to date. While he took a neutral role and decided not to get involved in Iranian affairs (something subsequent administrations know nothing about), his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinksi, Henry Kissinger (one the biggest war criminals to date) and David Rockefeller lobbied Carter to welcome the exiled Shah to the US and to conspire him to power. Carter rightfully expressed his concern with potential mob violence against US interests in Iran and refused. By October, he caved to pressure from the Republicans and allowed the Shah entry into the US for cancer treatment. The Islamic Republic in turn viewed this as a conspiracy to reinstate the Shah and Khomeini declared "The US, which has given refuge to that corrupt germ will be confronted in a different manner by us." Three days later, a mob of students overran the US embassy, seizing 66 American officials. They released the women and minorities, while 52 remained captive for 444 days.
After diplomatic efforts to secure the release of the hostages failed, Jimmy Carter attempted a doomed rescue mission to liberate them. Unlike any other president, he took personal responsibility for the failed mission. Simultaneously, he refused to sell more arms to Iran, citing their human rights violations. Unbeknownst to President Carter, G.H.W. Bush and William Casey agreed to supply Iran with more arms in secret meetings, which later resulted in the Iranian government releasing the hostages on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
39 years later, many Iranians abroad still scapegoat Jimmy Carter for the revolution, which didn't happen in a vacuum and which he certainly did not cause. Instead of taking issue with American and British interference, the propping-up of puppet governments and Iranian leaders selling out to western interests, they erroneously take issue with a man who did not allow the Shah of Iran refuge after fleeing his country. Perhaps their ill-placed contempt would be better served fighting decades of U.S. sanctions which have crippled the people of Iran while strengthening its regime. One could argue their anger would be more justified at Reagan’s administration giving arms to the regime and later supplying Saddam Hussein bombs, which rained on Iran for eight consecutive years. Perhaps these Iranians abroad, many of whom are educated and well-to-do, can lobby their government to cease sanctions, which have proven ineffective in Iran and elsewhere, Cuba and North Korea for instance.
As an Iranian-American looking at the big picture, I suppose I can't help but think that Mohammad Mossadegh was the only leader of Iran who didn't rape his country of its riches and only wanted the betterment of his people when he sought to nationalize our resources. More importantly, I question what the United States has to gain and which cards our government is now playing, for we know this country doesn't act out of mere benevolence. After all, I don't see how you can sanction a country while beating the drums of war and at the same time refuse entry to its population of 81 million who want to escape the regime you are allegedly trying to overthrow.