January 7, 2020


Hardliners in the U.S. and Iran Are Each Other's Best Friend (Pankaj Mishra, January 7, 2020, Bloomberg)

This pungent historical irony has been verified right from 1953, when the United States overthrew Iran's elected secular leader, creating the soil in which a religious ideology could flourish. It then watered this soil for decades by supporting a corrupt, inept and brutal despot, the Shah of Iran. The CIA, in particular, helped the Shah's murderous secret police to create martyrs for the coming revolution.

When the revolution erupted in 1979, the United States, instead of heeding the demand of Iranians, and dumping the hated Shah, chose to mollycoddle him. It was American hospitality to the Shah that provoked hard-line Iranian students to occupy the U.S. embassy in Tehran and take 52 hostages.

The Iranian Revolution was still a fragile affair, with many potential outcomes, when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980. The urgencies of national consolidation against a vicious and initially successful invader was what empowered Ayatollah Khomeini and other hardliners; they also overturned Khomeini's deep-rooted Islamic objection to the Shah's nuclear program.

By choosing to back Saddam Hussein against Iran, the United States played an inadvertently stalwart role in strengthening Islamic revolutionaries during a calamitous eight-year-long war that spawned, among others, the legend of Soleimani.

The U.S. became more directly helpful to Tehran after 9/11. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military toppled regimes that had long plagued the Iranian regime (Iran had come close to a full-scale invasion of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan before 9/11).

Then, while the U.S. struggled against two lethal counterinsurgencies, Iran expanded its sphere of influence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Its network of proxies across the Middle East grew even stronger, as Islamic State emerged out of the ruins of the American invasion of Iraq, and the U.S-backed Saudi Arabian assault on Yemen created a strategic opening for closer ties between Iran and Yemen's Houthi rebels.

This list omits the way our democratization of the Middle East benefited the Shi'a of Lebanon as well.

Posted by at January 7, 2020 12:00 AM