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40 5 AMERICAN EMPIRE IN CHAOS When the tide of misfortune moves over you,even jelly will break your teeth. —Persian Proverb Aquarter century after the 1953 Anglo-American coup overthrew Iran’s democratic government, the pro-U.S. regime collapsed in a popular revolution. In mid-January 1979 Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi left his kingdom, never to return. On February 1, seventy-six-year-old cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini returned after fourteen years in exile in Turkey, Iraq, and briefly in France. On April 1, following a landslide vote on a new constitution, Ayatollah Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic republic. He had already announced the constitutional future of Iran on March 13, 1979, during the referendum campaign: “Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission.We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.”1 America’s grand strategy, which had been evolving since World War II, was in trouble. That grand strategy began with the 1953 coup, which reimposed the Pahlavi family’s absolute rule. The objective was to create an American security system in the Middle East to guarantee oil supplies for the industrialized world and to challenge Soviet power inWest Asia, North Africa, and beyond. The American security system was to be anchored in Israel, a state created when the British relinquished their mandate in 1948,2 and Iran, a U.S. proxy after the 1953 coup. American aid sustained the Iranian regime after the 1953 turmoil. The total amount of assistance from Washington in that decade was $1.135 billion—more than $600 million in economic assistance and $500 million in military aid. Only Imperial Designs_13448.indd 40 3/12/13 2:44 PM AMERICAN EMPIRE IN CHAOS   41 a quarter of this total was in loans. All the military and more than half of the economic assistance was in the form of grants.3 Several years after Iran’s revolution, a U.S. military strategist,Thomas L. McNaugher , wrote that “Iran remained the critical buffer between the Soviet Union and the Gulf”and U.S.policy must be based on this fact.4 America had to think all the time about “its interests in the Gulf with ideas grander than the mere defense of oil wells” if the Soviets were to be denied any opportunity to acquire influence , or the ap­ pearance of influence, over the flow and price of oil. McNaugher was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and known for his close links with the military-industrial complex. He would rise to become a vice president of the RAND Corporation, a military-strategic think tank founded in 1948 and largely financed by the U.S. government. Given McNaugher’s association with the global policy and defense establishments, his views on America’s aims need to be taken seriously: The United States must make clear to Moscow that Iran as a whole is critically important to the interests of the United States and that Moscow should not regard as irreversible any Iranian move toward the Soviet camp. The United States must also devise a diplomatic strategy that provides Iran with alternatives to greater reliance on the Soviet Union. If it is too soon for the United States and Iran to deal with one another, then U.S. allies should be encouraged to forge links with Tehran.5 The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a huge shock to American strategy. The Soviet Union was active in the region and apparently on the ascendancy following the 1978 Communist coup in nearby Afghanistan. Israel had taken a hit in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the toughest for the country since its creation. The Arab oil embargo, from October 1973 to March 1974, had delivered a strategic blow to the United States and its allies; the State Department described it as a “major threat.”6 It was a direct retaliation against“the U.S.decision to re-supply the Israeli military during the war.” The embargo was also extended to other industrialized countries supporting Israel. In addition to the economic cost, the Arab action had political consequences . European countries and Japan began “to dissociate themselves from the Middle East policy,” a development that “created a strong rift in the Atlantic alliance.”The State Department later admitted that America had been forced to negotiate an end to the...


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