The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are back this Tuesday in Vienna. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It will be a long and winding road. Hidden agendas on both sides badly want the talks to fail – and will spare no effort towards that goal.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei could be interpreted as a stony realist, when he said that the talks will go nowhere. It’s as if the Supreme Leader had read Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, a crucial book by Martha Gellhorn Prize winner Gareth Porter, which is being launched this week in New York. In the book, Porter thoroughly debunks the whole narrative of the Iran nuclear dossier as sold to the world by the George W Bush administration, assorted neo-cons and the Israeli Likud.
And it gets much worse, in terms of prospects for a final deal to be reached this year. According to Porter, “the Obama administration has introduced the subject of ‘possible military dimensions’ into the nuclear negotiations. That means that the United States will be demanding an explanation for ‘evidence’ that the book shows was fabricated. That is a decision that could threaten the conclusion of a final agreement with Iran.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday last week, millions of people hit the streets in Tehran in a massive rally celebrating the 35 years of the Islamic revolution. How come?
For all its economic mismanagement, Iran’s illiteracy rate has been reduced to near zero. Women are active, participative voters (try even raising the issue in the House of Saud’s paradise). There has been remarkable scientific progress, even under harsh sanctions. Pursuing a civilian nuclear program is a matter of national consensus.
This piece – significantly, published by al-Arabiya, which is controlled by the House of Saud – at least tries not to sound entirely as cheap Arab propaganda, making a valid point about the real threat for the Islamic revolution coming from disaffected youth across Iran.
Yet this is not the key point. The Islamic republic won’t disintegrate tomorrow. What’s much more crucial is to revisit the key reasons why the revolution happened 35 years ago, and why, when it comes to Iranian geopolitical independence, it remains somewhat popular.
That may also shed light on why the West – and especially the United States – still refuses to normalize its relations with Iran. After all, what happened 35 years ago in Iran was never properly understood in the US in the first place. In geopolitical terms, this was the real “nuclear” revolution – one of the most far-reaching developments of what Eric Hobsbawm defined as “the short 20th century”.
And perhaps this is what the Supreme Leader meant about the talks going nowhere; certainly the case as long as Washington, especially, refuses to abandon the reductionism of Iran as a bunch of fanatics.
That Kissinger oil shock
As early as the presidency of Harry Truman, the US supported the Shah of Iran’s dictatorship, no holds barred. No wonder those days are sorely missed.
In 1953, after the CIA coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, the Shah – who lived mostly in the French Riviera – was “invited” to rule as a CIA puppet (John F Kennedy had met him in wild parties in the French Riviera and found him to be a dangerous megalomaniac). In return for re-establishing British “rights” to Persian oil, Washington self-attributed 55% for the concessions and the Brits got the rest.
The CIA trained the Savak – the Shah’s secret police. It was the best of times. The Shah not only excelled in his role of gendarme of political/economic US interests in the Persian Gulf; as he did not share Arab hatred of Israel, Tel Aviv had access to Persian oil (that ended after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power).
The Shah ruthlessly suppressed and persecuted every political party in Iran and even massacred Kurds (Saddam Hussein was taking notes.) He started to take his own propaganda seriously, including believing in the myth of being a new King of Kings. He became the number one cheerleader of the 1973 OPEC oil shock, to which he got the green light from none other than Henry Kissinger.
In a nutshell, this was a follow-up of the 1972 “Nixon doctrine”, when it became clear the US defeat in Vietnam was all but a done deal. That’s when Tricky Dicky started to promote gatekeepers all over the “free world”. And no region was more crucial than the Persian Gulf.
The Shah loved it. But he was always complaining that he didn’t have enough dough to buy all those weapons the industrial-military complex was offering him. So Kissinger – a David Rockefeller errand boy – squared the circle, with the rise of oil prices by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.
With this move, Kissinger instantly inflated the profits of US Big Oil – which at the time accounted for five of the Seven Sisters, and crucially boasted three that were Rockefeller-owned (Exxon, Mobil and Socal). At the same time, since Japan and then West Germany and the rest of Western Europe depended on Persian Gulf oil much more than the US did, Kissinger devised the perfect way to torpedo the devastating Japanese and German industrial and trade competition.
You won’t find any of this on Kissinger’s turgidly ambitious tomes, or on any US corporate media files for that matter. But that explains much of the world born out of the “oil shock”.
Like most US puppets – talk about hubris – the Shah never understood that he was just a puppet. His corporate multinational economic model as applied to Iran had the predictable effects; much like today (even in Europe and the US), a tiny minority consuming like there’s no tomorrow and a huge majority increasingly miserable, as the Shah bet on cash crops instead of an agrarian reform to guarantee the subsistence of millions of peasants – many of them illiterate, pious Shi’ites – who had been booted out of the countryside by American agribusiness, which dismissed them as a superfluous workforce.
These miserable masses inflated Tehran and other Iranian big cities, turning into the mass base for Khomeini’s revolution. And the rest is history.
Nothing is inaccessible
Then Jimmy Carter – that hick Hamlet – when still campaigning for the presidency against Gerald Ford in 1976, admitted in a debate that the Shah was a torturer. Two years later, as president, Carter now considered him “an island of stability” and “a friend”.
During the 1970s, it was “just” for Iran to carry out a nuclear program, among other motives to intimidate revolutionary Arab nationalism. Yet now, under an Islamic republic, a civilian nuclear program is an “existential threat”.
The Shah’s banker was David Rockefeller, never tired of extolling the “patriotism” and “tolerance” of his client, not to mention his modernizing drive – everything duly parroted by US corporate media even as Amnesty International and the State Department itself had Himalayas of documents proving the Shah was one of the top torturers of modern history. What mattered is that he brought excellent dividends for then Chase Manhattan.
One never lost money underestimating the cluelessness of US corporate media. When the Islamic revolution started, US media as a whole told the world that the Shah was undefeatable; that Khomeini and his followers were a minority of religious fanatics; and that the real motive for the revolution was that the Shah was a Great Modernizer (the Rockefeller script), rejected by those same Muslim fanatics. It’s fair to say this script is still being peddled today.
When the Shah fled Iran, the whole US media bought the fallacy of “going for a holiday”. When Khomeini boarded that Air France flight from Paris and arrived in Tehran in absolute triumph, no wonder no one in the US had a clue what was going on. US media preferred to mock Khomeini’s “fanaticism” – which at the time paled compared with Pope John Paul II, who considered women to be an inferior species.
The Iranian bourgeoisie – modern, social democrat, inheriting the political line of Mossadegh – managed to drive a lot of support from progressives in Europe. At a time when Le Monde was still a very good newspaper and not the sub-American trash it is today, one just needed to read the dispatches by ace correspondent Eric Rouleau to confirm it.
Khomeini, for his part, had the charisma (and that spectral voice on cassette tapes), supported by the only political organization tolerated by the Shah, the roughly 160,000 mullahs, who duly mobilized those wretched masses rendered useless by American agribusiness interests.
Yet, from the beginning, Khomeini negotiated with the bourgeoisie – as when he named Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister and Bani Sadr as president (a socialist and a Western-style modernizer). Only when the Shah system was totally eradicated did Khomeini go into overdrive to purge everyone but his religious followers – recreating, on a smaller scale, the Shah’s inferno, but in the name of Allah. Well, as Mao said, no revolution is a dinner party.
As for Jimmy “Hamlet” Carter, he never officially recognized Khomeini as the Iranian leader. Washington didn’t even try to talk to him. A whiff of geopolitical intelligence would have the Americans trying to share some tea when he was still exiled in Paris. But David Rockefeller and his parrot Kissinger would scream, so a cowed Carter retreated into his shell. After the Islamic revolution, Washington never returned the estimated US$60 billion the Shah, family and cronies stole from Iran.
This catalogue of disinformation during the 1970s and 1980s is now mirrored by the disinformation of all these past few years about the Iranian nuclear program. No wonder most Americans – and plenty of Europeans – remain clueless.
When Khomeini died – and I vividly remember every newspaper in Europe on June 5, 1989, sharing the front page between that and Deng Xiaoping ordering the Tiananmen massacre – the great philosopher Daryush Shayegan, a former professor at the University of Tehran, published a superb article in Liberation explaining the Big Picture, from the Shah’s “legacy” to Khomeini.
Shayegan wrote that both men, the Shah and the Imam, committed the same fatal mistakes and “incarnated, each their own way, two typically Iranian traits: cultural schizophrenia and the dream of grandeur”. So the whole drama was about two juxtaposed Irans: Imperial Iran and “the suffering Iran of the blood of the Martyr”. Both expressed an impossible dream and, “like the 12th century mystical poet Ruzbehan from Shiraz would say, the same ‘dementia of the inaccessible’.”
Today, 35 years after the Islamic revolution, what Iranians seek is hardly inaccessible: the end of Western sanctions and the end of sections of the West perennially treating the country as a bunch of religious “fanatics”.
Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan, other Asian nations, all Latin American nations, all African nations, all treat Iran as normal. Beyond the clash of “heroic flexibility” against American exceptionalism, if only the US establishment would finally get over it, and deal – realistically – with what happened in Tehran 35 years ago. Only then these talks in Vienna will go somewhere, and we may have a final nuclear deal in 2014.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at email@example.com.
This column originally appeared on Asia Times.