Sunday, June 04, 2006

Portrait of Ahmadinejad, Memories of Hostages

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president of Iran, was among the small group of University students who planned the take-over of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. He was deeply involved in the Revolutionary Guard during the 1980’s, which is thought to have organized and accomplished the murder of expatriate Iranians in many countries around the world during that period. He is not the slavering madman some would like to think, which does not mean he is no threat. In fact, he seems fully rational, according to the doctrine of his faith. It is the extreme views of his faith that make him seem irrational to us infidels.

Mark Bowden was a guest on C-span today for 3 hours, in a program that allowed him to spend a good deal of time reviewing his research for the book “Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam.” has two very informative reviews of the book, one by Philip Caputo, the other by Afshin Molavi, of the Washington Post organization.

Mr. Bowden relates that Ahmadinejad had argued for taking over the SOVIET embassy, and was voted down by his fellow conspirators. The group of students had conceived of the takeover as a way of reinvigorating the Islamist aspect of the movement that had dislodged the Shah. In this effort I judge they were materially aided by the sophomoronically moralistic assistance of Western Media. People who lived through that period should recall that President James Earl Carter decided to withdraw support from the Shah because of [Leftist Liberal Press] outrage over his authoritarian response to student unrest and crowds of Iranians demanding reforms. Thanks to the American Media, the U.S. public was reminded repeatedly that the Shah had (Gasp!) SECRET POLICE! The brute!

Let’s look at a little history for perspective.

James Earl Carter, who had famously spoken of leaving a candle burning in the window to signify America’s extreme annoyance at the 1979 Russian Invasion of Afghanistan had taken the even more aggressive and bold stance of withdrawing America’s athletes from the 1980 Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Moscow. The USSR had ham-handedly manipulated a series of increasingly bloody coups through the 1970’s, installing a series of murderous but malleable puppet regimes as a hedge against anticipated rising Islamic unrest.

Carter’s conspicuously impotent response to tens of thousands of civilian bodies blasted and burnt by Russian tanks, aircraft and 30,000 troops was at least consistent with his abandonment of the Shah. Even though Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had for decades been trying to modernize and gentle Iranian civil law — allowing minorities of all faiths to participate in elections, extending suffrage, education, and employment access to women, and reforming land distribution to the lower classes — those were PRECISELY the changes that outraged the conservative Imams, who had traditionally held decisive power in Persian culture. Yes, the Shah’s secret police and military were in fact used to suppress violent protests by these conservative groups. Estimates range from fewer than a hundred victims to several thousands killed by the Shah in maintaining order after his expulsion of Khomeini and his followers in 1964, just for example.

For comparison, the Iranian Revolutionary Government has each year imprisoned and executed many tens of thousands of dissidents, homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, Bahá’i, Communists, Marxists, insufficiently modest women, criminals, and other enemies of the Revolution. Thieves have the offending hand amputated. Adulterers and fornicators and homosexuals are commonly hung from conveniently mobile construction cranes. In the war with Iraq, the government sent many thousands of 12-year old unarmed boys to march through minefields in advance of the trained soldiers, using their “martyr brigades” to clear paths. A few celebrated authors in remote cities have been sentenced to death by “fatwa” for writings which are judged to be offensive to Islam, with all good Muslims encouraged to fulfill the sentence. These sorts of barbarisms illuminate the Shah’s need for secret police and harsh methods,

But Carter in his wisdom withdrew military and economic support from his regime, first pressuring him to make concessions to the “democratic groundswell” of the Iranian population. For months as various Iranian groups pressed for greater power and mobs destroyed theaters showing immoral western movies, luxury hotels, stores, resorts, and other symbols of non-islamic decadence, the Shah responded with deadly repression. Carter’s administration vacillated and equivocated, first threatening to withhold essential fighter aircraft parts and arms shipments, then promising to support him “to the hilt.” As US support wilted, his ministers began to turn against him, and army officers and troops reconsidered their loyalties.

In January 1979 the terminally-ill Shah fled the country. The government collapsed and the Ayutollah Khomeini returned triumphantly from France. Carter gutlessly fended off the Shah’s request for a visa to get treatment for his cancer, finally allowing him to enter a new York hospital in October ‘79. This simple humanitarian gesture to the dying Shah enraged the Iranian militant revolutionaries. The Ayutollah Khomeini exhorted his followers to demonstrate their displeasure with the U.S., Israel, and all enemies of Islam. It was in this frenzy that the takeover of the embassy was planned and done.

This brings us back to the opening, and Bowden’s descriptions of the scheming by Ahmadinejad and his fellow conspirators. They evidently conceived of the takeover as being similar to university sit-ins they had seen in the US newsreels — Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Yale... even Columbia in 1969, where the militant students had been brazenly armed with shotguns, bandoliers, and handguns. Almost all had been handled by the authorities with kid gloves, so that the protesters had successfully and BLOODLESSLY (well, mostly) managed to seize international attention for their protests. More to the point, they’d managed to extort concessions from administrations unaccustomed to keeping a change of underwear in reserve for student conferences.

In any case, however benign the plan may have been in conception, the problem was always the utter gutlessness of the Carter administration in its response. This was not a university dean’s office, being occupied by a bunch of spoiled middle-class turdlings looking to amplify their Stridex-scented fantasies. It was the sovereign territory of the United States of America, invaded by armed belligerents. This was a violation not just of American territory, but a breaking of diplomatic covenants held sacred among nations for many centuries, even in the carnage of World War. It should have prompted Carter to something more drastic than a flurry of protest notes and a belated and pathetically bungled rescue attempt.

That the Ayutollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Government encouraged and publicly acquiesced to this violation helped make Iran a pariah among nations, unable to establish official diplomatic ties and the standardized treaties necessary for normal economic trade, for the last three decades. Carter’s wavering, timid, and cowardly indecision begat mounting boldness in all of his foes, as they perceived that he was unable to bring himself to DO ANYTHING to oppose their adventures. Crisis begat crisis, begat escalating adventures, until only the most extreme and costly responses could have any hope for success.

A little more boldness in the moment might have made an enormous difference in the direction of events in the Middle East.


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