By: Stephen Merrill
Is Iran truly a country so bent on murdering innocent Americans it embraces its own nuclear annihilation, unlike any other nation now or previously, utter, complete defeat at war?
This is the claim made by the pro-warfare wing of the Republicrat Party, seven out of eight candidates seeking the Republican nomination for President. It is a given within this frightened circle that Iranians are willing to commit mass suicide as a people just to make a negative point about the “freedoms” enjoyed in the United States.
The warfare candidates in their many words on the subject betray little personal knowledge of Iranian history or proclivities. The main evidence cited in favor of a US military attack on Iran is the rants of the staged showman of the mullah empire, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even he has never stated that Iran is willing to die as a nation just to launch one nuclear attack of its own on Israel or the United States. With an impoverished economy, a strong protest movement, no known weapons of mass destruction and no direct capacity to deliver a nuclear missile even close to Tel Aviv, Iran seems an odd nation for the West to be so frightened of.
It was only fifty years ago the US Congress- Industrial-Pentagon Machine attacked demon North Vietnam for its war to reunify the nation, split apart by WWII and by years of French imperial domination. In 1964 it was a plain certainty in Washington, D.C. the Vietnam War the nation was prosecuting was the unfortunate burden of Americans, especially young people subject to the military draft. The alternative was to have Communist China and the Soviet Union consume all of Southeast Asia within its godless, combined empire. This would lead to the communists winning the global cold war in the end. Even the United States may eventually fall to the Soviet-Sino monolith. Therefore, this was a quite necessary war in Vietnam, well worth fighting.
After the US ended its puppet government in South Vietnam and withdrew, North Vietnam quickly unified the country by force in 1974. What occurred thereafter was quite different from the Pentagon’s longtime vision.
Vietnam engaged in three land wars with China, its traditional enemy. Rather than falling to communism, Southeast Asia became the center of globalization, free trade and capitalism. The Soviet Union never exercised influence again in Southeast Asia after the Americans withdrew from Vietnam. The Soviets went on to their own disastrous foreign invasion in Afghanistan. At times during the 1980’s it appeared the Soviet Union was on the brink of war with China.
The government of Ho Chi Minh still rules Vietnam today under so-called communism, now as a de-facto ally of the United States. If there were any negative effects on the United States by the unification of Vietnam under Ho Chi Ming, none are apparent, despite our wasting of untold lives and treasure for more than a decade. The fears and dire predictions could not have been more wrong.
Learning no lessons from the Vietnam fiasco, the US in 2003 went on to invade another nation, Iraq, based on unfounded fears. The US withdrawal this year from Iraq has been followed by the prospect of immediate civil war and chaos across the ethnically divided nation we leave behind. No actual gains from the Iraq War can be cited. Had he not been deposed by the US invasion of Iraq already, Saddam Hussein would have been the most unlikely Middle East dictator to survive this year’s Arab spring revolutions.
Is the new saber-rattling fixation on Iran by US leaders setting America up for yet another disastrous foreign war based on false assumptions? Is a trumped up new war with Iran the way the coming implosion the US dollar is going to be covered over by our failed elite?
Iran: Crossroad of Empires: Center of Learning, Arts and Diplomacy
Human civilization was born to present knowledge along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in Mesopotamia, circa 10,000 B.C, Assyria and Babylonia, present day Iraq and Iran. Millennia later, the region also came to be called Persia by European geographers. The proper name of the nation, Iran, was firmly established diplomatically across the world in 1935.
A warrior people known as the Menes were the first to consolidate the Iranian plateau and the surrounding regions. As an ethnic group the Menes were called “Aryans”, more like Vikings than Mongols. Largely under the rule of King Cyaxares (633-584 B.C.), the Medes finally put an end to centuries of war. The Menes victory at Niniva in 612 B.C. destroyed the remnants of the archenemy Assyrian Empire. See http://www.art-arena.com/medes.html The Menian Empire at its peak stretched from Turkey to Afghanistan.
Another warrior people led by Cyrus the Great (559-530 B.C.), starting in Iran, built the greatest empire known to the ancient world. The last ruler of the Medes, Astyages, was defeated and captured by Cyrus in 549 B.C. Cyrus’ armies went on dominate most of the Middle East, including Egypt and parts of Europe. The empire was named after Cyrus’ mentor, the Achaemenian Empire.
Cyrus’ imperial successor, Xerxes, led the invasion of Greece beginning in 481 B.C. in retaliation for an Athenian attack on the forces of Emperor Darius at the Battle of Marathon a number of years earlier. Despite the heroics of the King Leonidas led Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, Xerxes’ armies marched through the whole of Greece sacking Sparta and Athens. See http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/300-spartans-battle-thermopylae-herodotus-real-history#sect-background
There was something quite unique about the Achaemenian Empire for its deadly brutal times. Cyrus did not engage in the mass extinction of defeated peoples as practiced by all earlier dynasties. Cyrus and his successors allowed a degree of self-governance in defeated lands, even allowing local religions to remain in place. Many of the cities captured by the Achaemenians greeted the new emperor as a savior. As recounted in the Old Testament, Jewish leaders in Samaria, fighting for survival among hostile peoples, referred to Cyrus as the “Lord’s Annointed” for his peaceful ways. See http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/264-cyrus-the-great-in-biblical-prophecy Cyrus was a builder of cities and the guarantor of safe commerce between nations.
It was Greek Macedonia in the person of Alexander the Great that ultimately defeated the Achaemenian Empire. The greatest general ever used brilliant cavalry tactics to overwhelm much larger Persian armies led by Darius at the Battles of Issus and Gaugamela, ending forever the use of chariots as a platform of war. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gaugamela Alexander campaigned successfully until his death three years later in 331 B.C. from illness, age 32 with no heir to the several thrones he held.
During his reign Alexander in part adopted from Cyrus the policies of magnanimity and generosity that had expanded and improved the Achaemenian Empire. The formula proved once again to be a catalyst to empire building.
Following his death, Alexander’s Middle Eastern empire devolved into three parts before coming apart altogether. In the region of Iran the Seleucids inherited power, but suffered a decisive defeat to the Romans in 189 B.C. at the battle of Magnesia. Though Iran never came under the direct control of Rome the region was not to be united again until a people from the north like The Medes, the Parthians led by Mithridates I (171-138 B.C.), slowly stitched together a new Iranian empire.
The Parthians battled with Rome for the next three hundred years over Syria, Mesopotamia and Armenia, with no lasting results.
With the rise of the Sassanians in 124 A.D. from an internal rebellion under new King Ardeshir, power and empire in Iran switched once again to peoples native to Babylon and Mesopotamia. At the height of the Sassanian Empire, Ardeshir’s son Shapur, in 259 A.D., defeated the Roman emperor Valerian at the battle of Edessa where more than 70,000 Roman soldiers were captured. Beset on all sides from war and pillage the Sassarians became a martial form of governance as they ruled Iran for 400 years.
A return to great culture would come to Iran, this time from the first successful invasion from the west. It was led by Moslem King Omar in 635 A.D., the Second Caliph, successor to Prince Mohammad himself, the Founder of Islam and Messenger of Allah. Arab armies over a period of twenty years steadily overwhelmed Sassarian defenders. Though parts of Iran remained independent for centuries not converted to Islam, most of the nation was made a leading part of the greater Muslim Caliphate during the Seventh Century. http://irane-man.tripod.com/Islam.html
The Seventh and Eighth Centuries are known in the Middle East as the Golden Age of Islam. Scientific advances in agriculture and architecture were made possible by the spread of the Arabic language and new commerce from Egypt to China. In Iran, scholars took up the works of the Greeks and the Romans at a time in history when literacy had all but disappeared from Europe. Iranian art, especially in the form of carpets, became a world renounced luxury item and remains so today.
In the 13th Century the Mogols overran Iran as it did in so many nations. Hologu Khan became Mongol ruler of Iran in 1256. After the death of Genghis Kahn the Mongol empire in Iran melted away in the surrounding Moslem culture as it did everywhere else.
However, the most eventful age for Moslem society was to occur in the related fields of religion and politics in Iran during the Sixteenth Century.
King Ismail I was a Sunni Moslem aristocrat who fought his way to power across Iran by 1510 A.D. with the conquering of the City of Herat and the founding of the Safavid Empire that would last for more than two centuries. Ismael ended all connection with what remained of the Sunni Caliphate.
Moslem Shiism, a belief in a divergent path for divinity as the heir of Mohammad, had existed since the time of Omar. Mohammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, is the arch saint of shiism together with his sons Hassan and Hussein. They and their successors are thought to be true divine messengers of Islam. Under shiism, the missing heir of Ali and his sons, Muhammad Al-Madhi, is believed to return one day in the future to rule alongside Jesus a newly unified Moslem Caliphate under divine rule.
Shias believe the Imams are selected by Allah, not by men. Abu Bakr and Omar’s succession as rulers of the Caliphate by the agreement of Moslem elders was illegitimate to Shias. Under shiism, Imams are anointed by divine decree as revealed to Muhammad who appointed his cousin Ali as his spiritual successor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shia_Islam
Though shiism in Iran does practice several masochistic rituals, nothing in the religion indicates a suicidal mentality. Shiism does not adopt any eternal enemy, as shown by its vision of Islam and Christianity uniting in the end of things. Nothing in shiism would indicate a blood feud with Jews or any other religious group, other than Sunni Moslems. There is no fixation on death or war.
Though a religious belief small in number at the start of the new Iranian dynasty, Ismail adopted shiism for his palace and forcibly imposed it throughout the empire. Ismail was primarily a nationalist. His hatred of fellow Sunni aristocrats was well known and practiced widely. The conversion of the nation to shiism dovetailed with Ismail’s desire for everything Un-Sunni. Even today, Iran remains 90% Shia, Iraq 60% Shia. This division of the Moslem world five centuries ago is possibly the major dynamic in Middle Eastern geopolitics today.
In 1722 A.D. the Safavid Empire evaporated under an invasion from the east by an Afghan warlord and from the west by its longtime enemy, the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Invaders from Russia also joined in the division of Iran.
Yet, led by a Turkman from Isfahan, Nader Khan, Iran was quickly re-conquered by Shias driving away the Ottoman invaders by 1735. Emperor Khan, considered a dictator, was assassinated in 1747. His empire broke up after his death.
There followed half a century of civil war in Iran between the rival Zand and Qajar factions. Finally in 1795 the Qajar leader Agha Muhammed Khan, emerged victorious. He was crowned “Shah” in Tehran in 1796. http://www.art-arena.com/qajar.html At the dynasty’s peak Iran returned to the studies of science and commerce that had so well served the nation in past times.
Over the Nineteenth Century the Qajar dynasty lost its northern provinces in two disastrous wars with Russia and was severely pressured from the east and the west by Great Britain. Iran was occupied by warring forces throughout World War I, British, Russian and Ottoman armies leading to the end of Qajar rule. In a 1925 peaceful coup failed Shaw Ahmad Mirza was replaced by Reza Shaw Pahlavi, a popular ruler. http://www.iranchamber.com/history/qajar/qajar.php
During his sixteen year rule Shaw Pahlavi modernized education founding the University of Tehran among others. He also brought greater national independence to Iran along with increased administrative capacity and an expanding economy. He established a Parliament with some independent powers.
Near the start of WWII Shaw Pahlavi sought an accommodation with Hitler’s Germany. This led to the invasion and occupation of Iran by British and Russian forces in 1941. The popular Shaw was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, a man thought to be weaker and more pliable toward the interests of the Allies.
Successor Mohammad Shaw Pahlavi outwardly followed his father’s policies of reform and modernization, however over time he became a repressive dictator. There was a moment ten years into his reign when it seemed the newest Shaw’s rule had come to its end.
A longtime opponent of the Shaw’s father, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq, became the most popular political figure in post-war Iran and a direct challenge to authoritarian rule. Dr. Mossaddeq was a strong nationalist determined to keep control of Iran’s oil resources from Western control and to follow a non-aligned course in the cold war.
As Prime Minister of Iran in 1952 Mosaddeq quit the government when the Shaw refused to grant him the control of the military. Mosaddeq was then reinstated as Prime Minister by the Shaw to quell popular demand. In early 1953, Mosaddeq arranged a national referendum for new Parliamentary elections. After being sacked again by the Shaw for this extra-constitutional power play, Mosaddeq was returned to the post of Prime Minister again due to widespread social revolt supporting his earlier election to office. A few months after the national referendum, it was instead the newest Shaw that fled Iran under threat, presumably into permanent exile.
Yet, the Pahlavi dynasty was not destined to end the same way it began, with a peaceful transfer of power to a much more popular leader.
The new Shaw’s biggest supporters, the United States and Great Britain, pulled off a reversal of fortunes within just a few days during the pivotal time of crisis. It was a long-planned coup directly approved for implementation by the Dwight Eisenhower US administration shortly after taking office. The hope was to keep Iranian oil cheap to the West and the sovereignty of Iran to a minimum. Unlike similar 20th Century CIA plots, this one actually worked.
In mid-August, 1953 as the Shaw ran and Mosaddeq dissolved the Parliament, employing the Shaw’s patrons in the Iranian military, its own extensive network of Iranian operatives and a new $5m slush fund from Washington, D.C., the CIA coup won the disorganized war in the streets with the pro-Mosaddeq supporters. Many average Iranians supported the Shaw simply out of natural instinct and a fear of chaos. Key to the tide of sentiment was a series of bombings in Tehran and elsewhere attributed to communist supporters of Mosaddeq, but in truth committed by US/British operatives. Mosaddeq was jailed by the Shaw’s superior military forces and the means of national communication and commerce were seized once again by the Shaw’s forces. See http://www.iranchamber.com/history/coup53/coup53p1.php
For the next twenty-six years Shaw Mohammad Pahlavi intensified his dictatorial rule in Iran founding his own secret police known as the SAVAK. Abduction, torture, murder, theft and intimidation were the SAVAK’s calling cards for the Shaw’s perceived enemies. To the shame of the United States and the West the Shaw’s brutal regime remained a close Middle Eastern ally, including extensive military aid to Iran, till the bitter end with the dithering President Jimmy Carter.
For most Americans Iranian history begins with the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the successful 1979 Islamic revolution against the second Shaw Pahlavi.
Ayatollah Khomeini was a Shiite leader openly opposed to the Shaw’s rule. In his view, Iran should be governed by a theocratic regime, Allah speaking through his imams. Most of Khomeini’s career was spent in exile in Iraq, the other Shia nation. He made an odd couple with Saddam Hussein as his host in the late 1970’s.
Khomeini stirred rage at the Shaw through a clandestine network of audio-tapes distributed by clergy and revolutionaries back home. By 1979 the national revolt against the Shaw paved the way for his return to Iran. After a few intensely murderous months from SAVAK, the Shaw fled Iran going to the United States (for medical treatment). Though torn by his Christian beliefs, President Carter never did denounce the Shaw or ever call for his removal from power. US aid to the Shaw remained in place till the end.
Khomeini formally took power in Iran in the wake of a national referendum with a single question: Islamic Republic: Yes or No. He wrote a Constitution that appointed an advisory Parliament and a powerless elected President, but granted unrestrained power to the Clergy with a single, Allah chosen Imam guiding the nation. Khomeini ruled Iran often with an iron fist until near the time of his death in 1989.
In November, 1979 the United States Embassy in Iran was attacked by Islamic “students” who held fifty embassy personnel as hostages for more than a year. The largest achievement of the hostage episode was to help elect Ronald Reagan as the US President in 1980. The hostages were released on the day of the Reagan Inauguration.
Internal opposition to Khomeini in Iran began quickly with the Ayatollah’s strict codes for genders and dress. His US hostages were not popular with the more sane elements of Iranian society. Had it not been for his old ally Saddam Hussein, Khomeini could have easily gone the way of previous failed rulers of Iran rather quickly. Instead, Saddam crazily invaded Iran in September, 1980 with the agreement or connivance of the United States, solidifying the nation of Iran in a deadly struggle with a foreign tyrant.
Despite some early defeats, Iran became more than a match for Saddam’s armies. After Iraqi forces were expelled from Iran in a near route in 1981, the war became a deadly standoff along a WWI type battle front in eastern Iraq. Weapons included nerve gas and mustard gas. The dead on each side mounted to well over one million. Still in hopeless stalemate, Iran and Iraq finally signed a peace treaty in 1988, nothing at all accomplished by the war.
Khomeini was succeeded by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a peaceful transfer of power.
Khamenei’s rule had been uneventful until his candidate for re-election as President in 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ended up being beaten at the polls according to most objective observers by another authorized candidate, Hashemi Rafsanjani. The election result was rigged however to show a substantial Ahmadinejad victory.
Rafsanjani’s supporters continued to surprise. They took to the streets of Iran spontaneously demanding a new election and eventually demanding the downfall of the Islamic Republic. It is known as the Green Movement. The regime replied with deadly brutality, extending to torturing, raping and killing innocent protesters in prison. Thousands died in the crackdown. The new Obama US administration took a firm seat on the sideline throughout the revolt in Iran. Finally, the protesters went back underground.
Today, Iran, a nation of 71m people, is still a third world country largely dependent on State oil revenues to fund an all- powerful, brutal central government. Oil money also funds a host of food and fuel subsidies for the public that are seen to keep a lid on dissent. The strategy appears to be failing as President Ahmadinejad’s popularity continues to plummet, now even among the poor, as inflation and unemployment ravage the economy. The Green protest movement remains underground, but undoubtedly has millions of sympathizers. With Ayatollah Khamenei about to reach his 74th birthday in poor health, a huge collision between the forces of repression and freedom is already worked into the calendar in Iran.
Iran, along with the US, is a leader in the world when it comes to the number of official executions. It is a police state through and through. Though it has a large land army, Iran has only 280 fighter and bomber aircraft with half of that number nonoperational, a force smaller than Saudi Arabia’s air force, smaller than the fighter wings of a single American carrier. The Iranian Navy, the force fear-mongers see blocking the Straits of Hormuz at any moment, has a force that never has and never will compare to the United States Fifth Fleet which has patrolled the Persian Gulf for decades. The entire navy of Iran could be sunk within a few hours of the start of hostilities with the US in the Gulf with few US ship casualties likely.
Iran’s nuclear bomb making is quite real, but still not successful. Supposed arch-enemy Israel has as many as 200 nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to Tehran. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s greatest enemy, is thought to have up to a dozen nuclear weapons. Pakistan has at least 100 nuclear weapons. Even Turkey has dozens of NATO nuclear weapons defending its soil. Iran is the odd man out in the nuclear arms race in the Middle East, along with Iraq, the only large nation without a nuclear deterrent. There is no prospect that Iran could launch a nuclear missile to US soil ever. Iran lacks by far the technical sophistication to mastermind a nuclear explosion a continent away or even next door.
The US has greatly enhanced its covert efforts against Iran during the Obama administration. Nuclear scientists are being assassinated. All Iranian official institutions, especially the military, are wracked by foreign cyber attacks. Shortly, it will be an international crime to conduct business in the Iranian currency or with its banks or to boy Iranian oil.
What of Iran Today?
So, through a longer, more balanced prism than most Western journalism allows for, what can be said of the intentions and inclinations of the Islamic Republic of Iran of today? Is it indeed a suicidal nation committed to total war and mass destruction like never before seen on this earth?
A few important facts are clear. Some foreign policy conclusions can be fairly drawn.
Iran is a nation that has always been fiercely independent. The many empires that have ruled in Iran were not the great powers, Turkey, Egypt, Rome, Russia and later Britain. All other Middle Eastern nations were under domination from these large foreign powers sometime during a substantial period of their history. Iran under Cyrus the Great became itself the dominant empire up until its time, an empire known unusually for its fair dealings and compassion to the people Cyrus and his successors came to rule, including the Hebrews of ancient Israel. An excellent analogy can be drawn between the life works of Cyrus and those of American figures like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Though a crossroads for war many times, greater Iran has not invaded and occupied another nation since the time of Cyrus and his imperial descendants, some twenty-five centuries ago. Iran’s people have shown great resilience in defying and shaking off dictatorship, a quality still quite apparent in the Green opposition to the Islamic Republic today and the ferocious 1980’s war with Saddam Hussein. But there is nothing from Iranian history showing a suicidal streak, nothing at all. Iran is the most educated Moslem nation in the region.
Iranians have the longest of all histories, by far most of that time spent as a united, independent people. In contrast to the many long periods of repression past and present, Iranian society has flowered during the several periods that science, learning, increased commerce and peace came to Iran. Iranians are a people proud of their heritage, proud of their unique place in Islam. Iranians long for peace and greater freedom like the rest of humanity does. Yet, they as a people are fierce in their independence and their loathing of domination from foreign powers. It is a quality common to Americans also.
Plainly, the best hope for Iran and its people, and its enemies for that matter, would be a return to the humanity of Cyrus and also to the modernizations led by Dr. Mossadeq and by Reza Shaw Pahlavi in the mid-20th Century. Such a path would involve the application of Shia Islam in its benevolent, tolerant forms. It would also seem to require an Iran largely secure in its integrity from external attack.
These are the kinds of goals more advanced and democratic nations should be shepherding for Iran as best they can. The obvious tools are diplomacy, commerce, treaty-making, student exchanges and, most importantly, an example of peace and freedom for Iranians to aspire to. If history is any judge, these very methods should work better with Iran than in most areas of the Middle East.
Yet, policy from the West today is to demonize, sanction and threaten the Islamic state as few modern nations have been provoked. Iran is alleged to be the aggressor nation. But it is the United States, and on occasion NATO, that has invaded Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, El Salvador, Panama, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq twice, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, just since WWII. The United States has not been attacked by a foreign government since 1941.
These Western policies seem particularly self-destructive when used against such a proud people like Iranians. How would the people of the United States respond to the acts of warfare already underway against Iran, if launched against them? In an earlier era, would foreign aggressors have found greater national security from provoking and invading the US and its people? Or would the aggressor nations have found themselves instead in a deadly struggle with no end possible short of their utter defeat in this foreign land of crazed killers? A ragtag American army under Andrew Jackson at New Orleans destroyed the finest fighting force of the greatest empire on earth at the time. No sane invader has attacked the United States since.
That same choice of empire is ours in Iran, the Middle East and beyond. The wise choice to make is to change to policies advancing peace, tolerance, commerce and diplomacy: the same foreign policy that founded this nation and served it so well for so long.
Stephen Merrill is a trial lawyer practicing in Anchorage, Alaska. He was a founder of the Tidewater Virginia Libertarian Party in 2001, the most successful Libertarian Party affiliate in the nation. He is now a founder of the Anchorage Tea Party, Occupy Anchorage and an officer with the Alaska Libertarian Party.