Iran-Contra Part 2: Iran

Written by: Colin Offenbacker

When we last left off , The Reagan administration had just been stopped by the US congress from funding the Nicaraguan revolutionary collective known as the Contras directly.

In this week’s blog were going to explore a little of the background of Iran, and how it was that they came to be on the Reagan administrations radar. An international relationship that would ultimately lead to the political controvercy known to us as, Iran-Contra.

This week, Iran-Contra Part 2: Iran.

Last week I mentioned my love for proper context when examining historical events. I would argue that the same is true when it comes to looking at political events, especially historically significant political events. This part of the Iran-Contra affair is one that really needs a serious set up to get at least a partial grasp on why things happened the way the did.

We’re going to jump back in time again. This time were going all the way back to 1953. In the U.S. McCarthyism is in full swing against communism and all the way on the other side of the globe Iran is going through some interesting political change as well.

The nation of Iran has been in an interesting place since the end of world war 2. The nation has a democracy in place and the Elected Prime Minister of Iran is a man by the name of Mohammad Mossaddegh. He is a member of the political party known as the Iranian National Front, a technically pro-democracy group with some rather socialistic tendencies.

He has been involved in government as a member of Parliament for a number of years but has only been Prime Minister for about a year.

In keeping with his parties strangely nationalistic though still democratically socialist ideals Mossaddegh makes a move that would spell his ultimate demise, he nationalizes the oil industry, the economic cornerstone of the nation.

Since world war 2, the oil industry in Iran was not only mainly built but also mostly run by western nations like the United Kingdom and the United States. This move to nationalize the industry forcibly expelled these nations out and choked off there control of the oil.

Enter Operations Ajax or if you’re from the UK, Operation Boot. This was a joint covert operation to overthrow the Prime Minister carried out by the former Iranian monarchy with help from both the US and the UK. It’s important to note that this was the first time the United States had ever covertly deposed a foreign government during peacetime.

Known to the west as the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, Prime Minister Mossaddegh was other-thrown and a member of the former monarch was installed as ruler.

His name was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a pro-American, anti-communist monarchical dictator, better known to most of the world simply as “The Shaw”.

The Shaw is a total fascinating individual, who lived a very interesting life and is more than deserving of his own deep dive show, but for now I’ll just have to keep that in my back pocket and save it for a rainy day.

Under the Shaw’s rule, Iran marked the anniversary of 2500 years of “continuous” Persian monarchy, dating back to the founding of the Achaemenid Empire by none other that Cyrus the Great. Unfortunately we need to leave him here and jump all the way to the mid 1970’s.

The Shaw has been in power now for quite a while and he has started to make some serious enemies, as monarchical dictators often do. In 1979 the Shaw left Iran on what he called a vacation, only he never really came back. He bounced around from one side of the globe to the other, but after a cancer diagnosis, which might have actually happened somewhere between 1974-1979 he reached out the the United States, seeking the worlds best medical care.

President Jimmy Carter was opposed to admitting him given the growing unrest to his leadership back in Iran but ultimately folded under pressure, primarily from Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller. Even before he was in the states a religious leader by the name of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had seized power during the Iranian Revolution and established a totally new government, an Islamic Republic.

This new government and the revolutionaries were certainly no fan of the west, particularly the United States. Once they heard of the Shaw coming to the US for his Cancer treatment, they’re anger grow to the point of bursting. Soon mass protests were being staged outside the US embassy in Tehran, and on November 4th 1979 a large group of them attacked the embassy, broke in and took 63 people hostage. Before anyone really knew what was happening they took 3 more hostages from the Iranian Foreign Ministry bring the total up to 66. In a few days the Ayatollah had released a total of 14 of those hostages leaving a total of 52. Those 52 would end up being held for 444 days.

The Carter administration tried numerous things to try and negotiate the release of the hostages but even after a military extraction plan failed before it even actually started, Carter, and his administration were left totally embarrassed in front of the American public, paving the way for his Presidential challenger, Ronald Reagan. I think we all know how that election turned out.

After the election the Iranian government had started to feel the pressure from not only American economic intervention but also the international community at large, and only hours after President Reagan had been sworn into office, the negotiations between the United States and Iran had yielded fruit and the hostages were on their way home.