October 31, 2004

It All Started in Tehran, Amir Taheri

October 30, 2004 -- When the Americans go to the polls on Tuesday they would do well to remember two events that have altered their lives forever. The first was the raid on the US Embassy in Tehran, and the seizure of American hostages on Nov. 4, 1979. The second was the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against New York and Washington.
The embassy seizure showed that Americans were no longer safe outside their homeland and that even diplomatic immunity would not protect them. The 9/11 attacks showed that the Americans were no longer safe even in their own homeland, and that no amount of military clout could protect them against enemies that recognized no bounds.
In a sense the Nov. 4, 1979 attack on the US Embassy in Tehran could be regarded as the opening scene of a long drama that reached its catharsis on Sept. 11, 2001.

Here is why.
The 1979 embassy attack came at a time that the administration of President Jimmy Carter was trying to prop up the new Khomeinist regime in Tehran. Carter had decided to support Khomeini in the context of the so-called “Green Belt” strategy developed by his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Bzrezinski.
That strategy was born out of the assumption that the US and its allies were unable to contain the Soviet Union, then expanding its zone of influence into Africa, the Indian Ocean region and, through left-leaning regimes, in Latin America.
To counter that, Bzrezinski envisaged the creation of a string of Islamic allies that, for religious as well as political reasons, would prefer the United States against the “Godless” Soviet empire. The second stage in Bzrezinski's grand strategy was to incite the Muslim peoples of the USSR to revolt against Moscow and thus frustrate its global schemes.
The Bzerzinski strategy had been partly inspired by the French Sovietologist Helene Carrere d’Encausse who, in her book called “The Fragmented Empire”, predicted the disintegration of the USSR as a result of revolts by Muslim minorities.
When the Islamic revolution started in Iran, the Carter administration saw it as the confirmation of its assumption that only Islamists could master enough popular support to provide an alternative to both the existing despotic regimes and the pro-Soviet leftist movements.
The Carter administration went out of its way to support the new regime in Tehran. A ban imposed on the sale of arms and materiel to Iran, imposed in 1978, was lifted, and a US presidential “finding”, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, was dusted up to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to defending Iran against Soviet or other threats.
Also to symboliZe support for the mullas, President Carter initially rejected a visa application for the exiled Shah to travel to New York for medical treatment.
Just weeks after the mullas’ regime was formed, Bzerzinski traveled to Morocco to meet Mehdi Bazargan, Ayatollah Khomeini's first prime minister. At the meeting, Bzrezinski invited the new Iranian regime to enter into a strategic partnership with the United States. Bazargan, concerned that the Iranian left might bid for power against the still wobbly regime of the mullas, was “ecstatic” about the American offer.
The embassy raid came just days after the Bzrezinski-Bazargan meeting in Morocco and, by all accounts, took Khomeini by surprise. It is now clear that leftist groups opposed to rapprochement with the US had inspired the raid.
Khomeini saw the incident as a leftist ploy to undermine his authority. He was also concerned about the possibility of the US taking strong military and political action against his still fragile regime. Deciding to hedge his bets, the ayatollah played a double game for several days, waiting to gauge American reaction.
According to his late son Ahmad, who had been asked to coordinate with the embassy-raiders, the ayatollah feared “thunder and lightning” from Washington. But what came, instead, was a series of bland statements by Carter and his aides pleading for the release of the hostages on humanitarian ground.
Carter’s envoy to the UN, a certain Andrew Young, described Khomeini as “a Twentieth Century saint”, and begged the ayatollah to show “magnanimity and compassion.”
Carter went further by sending a letter to Khomeini. Written in longhand, it was an appeal from “one believer to a man of God.” Carter’s syrupy prose must have amused Khomeini who preferred a minimalist style with such phrases as “we shall cut off America’s hands.”
As days passed, with the American diplomats paraded in front of television cameras blindfolded and threatened with execution, it became increasingly clear that there would be no “thunder and lightning” from Washington. By the end of the first week of the drama, that was to last for 444 days and ended the day Ronald Reagan entered the White House, Khomeini’s view of the United States had changed.
Ahmad Khomeini’s memoirs echo the surprise that his father, the ayatollah, showed, as the Carter administration behaved “like a headless chicken.”
What especially surprised Khomeini was that Cater and his aides, notably Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, rather than condemning the seizure and the treatment of the hostages as a barbarous act, appeared apologetic for unspecified mistakes supposedly committed by the US and asked for forgiveness and magnanimity.
Once he had concluded that the US would not take any meaningful action against his regime, Khomeini took over control of the hostages’ enterprise and used it as a means of propping his “anti-imperialist” credentials while outflanking the left.
The surprising show of weakness from Washington also encouraged the mullas and the hostage-holders to come up with a fresh demand each day. Started as a revolutionary gesture, the episode, soon led to a demand for the US to capture and hand over the Shah for trial. When signals came that Washington might actually consider doing so, other demands were advanced. The US was asked to apologize to Muslim peoples everywhere and, in effect, change its foreign policy to please the ayatollah.
Matters became worse when a military mission sent by Carter to rescue the hostages ended in tragedy in the Iranian desert. The A-Team dispatched by Carter fled under the cover of the night, leaving behind the charred bodies of eight of their comrades.
In his memoirs, Ahmad nicely catches the mood of his father who had expected the Americans to do “something serious” such as threatening to block Iran’s oil exports or even firing a few missiles at the ayatollah’s neighbourhood.
But not only none of that happened, the Carter administration was plunged into internal feuds as Vance resigned in protest against the attempt to rescue the hostages. It was then that Khomeini coined his notorious phrase “America Cannot Do a Damn Thing.”
He also ordered that the slogan “Death to America” be inscribed in all official buildings and vehicles. The star-spangled flag was to be painted at the entrance of airports, railway stations, ministries, factories, schools, hotels and bazaars so that the faithful could trample it under feet every day.
The slogan “America cannot do a damn thing” became the basis of all strategies worked out by Islamist militant groups, including those that, for doctrinal or political reasons, were opposed to Khomeini.
That slogan was tested and proved right for almost a quarter of a century. Between Nov. 4, 1979 and Sept. 11, 2001 a total of 671 Americans were seized and held as hostages for varying lengths of time in several Muslim countries.
Almost a thousand Americans were killed, including 241 Marines who were blown up while asleep in Beirut in 1983.

تبليغات خبرنامه گويا


For 22 years the United States, under presidents from both parties, behaved in exactly the way that Khomeini predicted. It took countless successive blows, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, without decisive retaliation. That attitude invited, indeed encouraged, more attacks. The 9/11 tragedy was the denouement of the Nov. 4 attack on the US Embassy in Tehran.

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