Carter Administration’s Dilemma: Iran’s Theocracy


By: Slater Bakhtavar

“I did not know it then – perhaps I did not want to know – but it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted … What was I to make of the Administration’s sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran? Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country.”

– Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, The Shah of Iran

These were the words uttered by the distraught Shah of Iran when, grieving, he reflected on his downfall just before his demise in exile. The tormented former “King of Kings” ardently nurtured a deep-rooted conviction that the Carter Administration, in cooperation with the British Secret Intelligence, ordered and ensured his fall.

During World War II, England and the Soviet Union jointly invaded Iran, dividing the nation into two zones of occupation as the English and Russians had previously done in 1907. In the North, the Soviets secured a viable supply route and in the south the British placed their oil interests under their direct protection. Reza Shah, father of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the Nation of Iran were humiliated by the subjugation of Iran’s domestic and foreign affairs to their conduct by foreign powers. King Reza Shah, who had implemented numerous progressive social and economic reforms, was ousted by British and Soviet forces and replaced by Mohammad Reza Shah, his twenty-year-old, inexperienced son. The British and Soviets, wielding little sympathy for the mass populace, occupied Iran.

In the North, the Soviets promptly and forcefully revived Iran’s Communist Party with the objective of undermining the royal regime and installing a centralized Communist government. With Soviet assistance, the Tudeh party constituted itself as a pro-Soviet Communist party with its central management in Soviet Union. Meanwhile in the South, the British set monarchists against religious fundamentalists, fundamentalists against nationalists, nationalists against monarchists, faction against faction, and tribe against tribe with a “divide and conquer” agenda. Accordingly, Iran sank into social disorder, political disarray and economic hardship. Under foreign domination by both the Communists and the British, the Iranian people welcomed an increasing role of the United States. By 1946, the Iranian government crushed the pro-Soviet Tudeh party that had been infiltrating the nation and threatening to divide Iran.

Increasingly, Iran became dependent on the United States as a counterinfluence to the Soviets and British. As early as December 1954 the Shah noted

“the potentialities of friendly and close relations between the people of Iran and the United States are immense. There is a deep and fundamental identity of national interests which overshadows everything else. We both believe that the individual is the central figure in society, and that freedom is the supreme blessing. . . Iran has a great deal in common, in convictions with the Western world regarding freedom and democracy.”

He branded his regime’s politics as “positive nationalism”.

In January 1963, the Shah announced democratic reforms as part of a six-point program called the White Revolution, a program of reforms to divide landholdings such as those owned by religious foundations, grant women the right to vote and equality in marriage, and allow religious minorities a greater share in governmental offices. Ruhollah Ayatollah Khomeini led a movement among radical fundamentalists to oppose equal rights for women and minorities and the reform policies of the Shah. On January 22, 1963, Khomeini dictated a vigorously worded declaration denouncing the Westernization of Iran and economic reforms and human rights as anti-Islamic.

However, the Shah did not per se attempt to “Westernize Iran”. Iran was since its inception a Monarchy. Instead the Shah sought a pro-Western policy to counter the Communist Soviet Union. Iran’s socio-economic and foreign policy objectives were closely tied to the capitalist world, in direct conflict with the communist ideology of Soviet Union and fundamentalism of surrounding nations.

In contrast, the Iranian fundamentalists sought to eradicate pre-600 A.D. Iranian culture and history and supersede it with an exclusive focus on post-600 A.D. This is in line with Khomeini’s decrees, such as one issued on March 21, 1963 in which he declared that Persian New Year (“Norooz”) celebrations be cancelled and that references to pre-Islamic Iran be eliminated. In 1964 Khomeini was arrested and exiled to Turkey. On September 5, 1965 he left Turkey for Najaf, Iraq, where he spent 13 years as an exile out of touch with the Iranian people and culture. On October 3, 1978 he left Iraq for Kuwait, but was refused entry at the border. After a period of hesitation in which Algeria, Lebanon and Syria were considered as possible destinations, Ayatollah Khomeini embarked for Paris. Once arrived in Paris, Khomeini took up residence in the suburb of Neauphle-le-Chateau in a house that had been rented for him by Iranian exiles in France. Subsequently, journalists from across the world visited the cleric, and the image and the words of Ayatollah Khomeini soon became a daily feature in Iran and across the world. The BBC and other agencies broadcast nightly interviews with Khomeini beamed into Iran, which incited the people against the Shah.

In November 1978 then President Carter nominated George Ball as a member of the Trilateral Commission. The commission acted under the direct control of the National Security Council’s Zbigniew Brzezinski, an ardent opponent of the Shah of Iran. This commission cultivated a clandestine Iran task force. While serving on this commissio,n George Ball championed cessation of United States support for the Shah and clandestine support for Rubhullah Ayatollah Khomeini who, albeit in exile, led a proletariat Islamic opposition. Pursuant to this agenda George Ball sought to garner the support of Robert Bowie, who was at that time the Deputy Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Meanwhile, Iran and British Petroleum commenced negotiations in Tehran, Iran concerning the renewal of a twenty-five-year-old extraction agreement. These talks collapsed because the British demanded exclusive rights in Iran’s future oil output and refused to guarantee purchase of the commodity. The disintegration of the these negotiations was domestically branded as a step towards nationalization of Iran’s oil for the first time since 1953. Subsequently, the Shah turned to prospective buyers in Germany, France, Japan and elsewhere. The Shah had increased Iran’s control over its oil resources, implemented progressive economic and social initiatives, undertook speedy process of capitalist reforms that focused on industrialization, increased Iran’s military capabilities and sought to build a strong, prosperous and independent Iran; however, his goals and policies became the bases for his eventual downfall.

In mid-January 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned and the monarchy collapsed on February 11, 1979. Subsequently, Iranians, many of whom believed in Ayatollah Khomeini’s promises of freedom and democracy, voted by a national referendum to become an Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979. They also approved a new constitution, and Khomeini became Supreme Leader of Iran. But Khomeini did not fulfill his pre-revolution promises to the people of Iran. Instead, he started to marginalize and crush the opposition groups and those who opposed the clerical rules. He ordered establishment of many institutions to consolidate power and safeguard the cleric leadership. During his early years in power he launched the Cultural Revolution in order to Islamize the whole country. Many people lost employment, and books were revised or burnt according to the new Islamic values. A newly established Islamic judicial system sentenced many Iranians to death and long-term imprisonment, as they were in opposition to those radical changes. The current regime continues many of the policies of the regime of the now-deceased Ayatollah Khomeini, including revising and eradicating Iranian history, culture and identity.

Perhaps the revolution and subsequent consequences would have never occurred if the Carter Administration had not taken the helm. No doubt, neither President Richard M. Nixon or President Ronald Reagan would have paved the way for the arrival of the current theocracy. Criticizing the Carter Administration’s handling of the crises in Iran, President Reagan said “I did criticize the President because of his undermining of our stalwart ally, the Shah, I do not believe that he was that far out of line with his people.” Former United States President Richard Nixon was the sole United States representative to attend the Shah’s funeral in Egypt.

To the present, many Iranians believe that the Carter Administration and the British intervened in 1979 and paved the path for the Shah’s demise. Sympathetic remarks about the revolution by high-level Democratic American officials, such as Bill Clinton, who dubbed Iran a “democracy”, and several former members of the Carter Administration, indicate the pretentious attitude of these officials. These officials should be reminded that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, erroneously labeled by foreign journalists as the “Leader of Iran”, exerts minimal control in Iran. Rather, pursuant to the Iranian Constitution virtually absolute power is in the unelected “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei.

Iran is an absolute theocracy and lacks the basic foundations of even a limited form of democracy. Perhaps, if the Carter Administration had not undermined the Shah of Iran, the regime itself would have implemented the proper foundations for a modern democratic republic or constitutional monarchy. Modern Iran could have been an “island of stability” in the Middle East. Without the Carter Administration’s misguided foreign policy initiatives, Iran, similar to Japan, Denmark, Spain or England, could today be a close U.S. ally with a hereditary monarch and a democratically elected President or Prime Minister.



Author Bio: Slater Bakhtavar is president and founder of Republican Youth of America, a frequent commentator and respected analyst on foreign policy issues, an attorney with a post-doctoral degree in International law, General Counsel of a national corporation and Attorney at Bakhtavar & Associates, PLLC.

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