*The Fall of Heaven*

by on September 7, 2016 at 12:43 am in Books, History, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

I loved this book, the author is Andrew Scott Cooper, and the subtitle is The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.  It is the best book I know for understanding the Iranian revolution, and it is compulsively readable throughout.  Did you know for instance that the Ayatollahs were deeply disturbed by the presence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also Rhoda on Iranian TV?

Here is one excerpt:

Iran’s political and economic malaise gave a renewed sense of urgency to the Shah’s top priority, which was to settle the question of the Imperial succession once and for all.  His initial preference was for a European princess who could provide the House of Pahlavi with the luster of dynastic legitimacy.  He soon ran into trouble.  The Windsors rebuffed his interest in Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent, while his favorite, Princess Maria Gabriella, the Catholic daughter of the deposed King Umberto of Italy, was ruled out owing to opposition from the Vatican and Iran’s ulama.

And this, from the Shah himself:

“When everybody in Iran is like everybody in Sweden, then I will rule like the King of Sweden,” he declared.

I would describe this book as relatively sympathetic to the Shah, and also arguing that the oppressions and tortures of Savak are sometimes overstated.

This one makes my best non-fiction of the year list, and it will be in the top tier of that list.

1 Steve Sailer September 7, 2016 at 1:15 am

““When everybody in Iran is like everybody in Sweden, then I will rule like the King of Sweden,” he declared.”

Some Middle Eastern dynasties, such as the Aga Khan’s, have gotten increasingly Swedish-looking over the generations:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2416176/Aga-Khans-son-divorces-American-wife–buys-2-2m-Manhattan-apartment-start-new-single-life.html

2 chuck martel September 7, 2016 at 1:37 am

“the Ayatollahs were deeply disturbed by the presence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also Rhoda on Iranian TV”

What kind of impression would “Sex in the City” have made on them?

3 Thiago Ribeiro September 7, 2016 at 5:29 am

Arguably, the same one the 700 Club (and its anti-Islam invective) would, which shows us that, for all their shortcomings, they must have been sharp fellows.

4 Steve Sailer September 7, 2016 at 2:41 am

I remember when Iranians started showing up in large numbers in the Hollywood Hills around 1974 due to all the money being skimmed in Iran off the big rise in oil prices in 1973. It was a huge surprise to Washington when the Shah ran into trouble a few years later, but population shifts in Beverly Hills in the mid-1970s should have been a clue to the CIA analysts that there was a lot of embezzlement going on under the Shah’s regime and the embezzlers were getting out while the getting was still good.

5 Asher September 7, 2016 at 3:30 am

If there was a rise in oil prices, somebody was presumably making money off it. I can’t understand why this would be called “skimming”. Some Iranians presumably invested in the oil industry, some worked as managers or whatever, all of these people stood to make a lot of money even in normal times and certainly when oil prices rose. What would have happened to the money if it hadn’t been “skimmed”? It would have had to enrich somebody.

Anyway the “skimming” is a red herring here, you are not claiming that embezzlement is responsible for the revolution. Your claim is that the CIA should have noticed that wealthy people were fleeing Iran.

6 Steve Sailer September 7, 2016 at 3:36 am

“What would have happened to the money if it hadn’t been “skimmed”?”

Money made off Iranian natural resources could have been, say, reinvested in Iran rather spent in Beverly Hills?

It’s not like the Friends of the Shah invented the oil in Iran through their own personal genius and hard work, they were just rent-collectors who collected the rent and then spent it on Rodeo Drive.

7 Asher September 7, 2016 at 4:41 am

People who make money can do a lot of things with it. Rich Americans sometimes buy houses on the Riviera instead of making investments in the United States but that doesn’t mean the money was skimmed.

8 Roy LC September 7, 2016 at 5:40 am

Oh it was being skimmed, there was just so much of it in those days. It is still being skimmed, and a surprisingly large amount of that still foes into Westside real estate.

I disagree with Steve however, I think it is just the climate, SoCal has been drawing the populace of the Caucasian-Anatolian-Persian plateau disproportionately for more than a century now.

9 Art Deco September 7, 2016 at 8:52 am

C’mon. There were about 35,000 people living in Beverly Hills in 1975. How many of them could have been Iranian kleptocrats and how significant could that segment be at home in a country with a contemporaneous population of 36,000,000.

10 Steve Sailer September 7, 2016 at 3:46 am

Beverly Hills real estate ought to be an _extremely_ interesting topic to economic historians.

For example, I only recently realized that a lot of the smart money from Al Capone’s Chicago speakeasy operations wound up in Beverly Hills real estate. It took me 45 years to figure that out, even though the biggest mobbed-up fiasco in the history of Beverly Hills — Dean Martin’s Beverly Hills Country Club — unfolded under my eyes when I was a kid:

http://takimag.com/article/golfing_with_the_fishes_steve_sailer/print#axzz4JSvBLLAy

11 derek September 7, 2016 at 8:11 am

If you accept Balding’s conclusion the equivalent of China’s trade surplus is being surreptitiously moved out of country every year, what would that tell you about China? Indeed as you say people will take their money and do things, but the amounts matter. People respond to incentives as they perceive them, and if a good portion of the Iranian oil profits were moved elsewhere that meant that they participants had no confidence that they would keep that money if they left it in Iran.

12 MOFO September 7, 2016 at 10:40 am

I took that to be Sailer’s point as well, its not about the ‘skimming’ so much as the fact that people on the inside were getting out. I guess that would be revealed preferences or something.

13 Steve Sailer September 7, 2016 at 3:31 am

It’s an interesting empirical question whether you can forecast how big of a chance there is that a regime is going to get in trouble by how much its insiders buy up luxury properties in the West. It would seem like a useful thing for economists to study.

For example, the Shah’s sister bought the 157 acre Vineyard Beverly Hills property in 1977, which in retrospect, along with all the other Iranians flooding into Beverly Hills, seems like a sign that Washington missed that its ally was a house of cards being looted by its leaders.

On the other hand, the Arab zillionaire’s Sheik al-Fassi’s 1978 purchase of the 38 room mansion at 9577 Sunset Blvd. was more notorious at the time. The Sheik’s bad taste remodeling caused traffic jams and it was torched by an ex-employee on New Year’s Day 1980.

But the Saudi dynasty, despite countless predictions over the decades of its much-deserved demise, is still in power.

So, it’s hard to tell.

But that’s why this would be a good topic to for academics to study. Southern California alone is full of the extended families of third world and second world oligarchs so there’s no shortage of data points.

14 Ricardo September 7, 2016 at 8:58 am

Rich foreigners have many motives for acquiring real estate in the U.S. including tax evasion, hiding the fruits of corruption, and hedging against uncertainty and volatility in their home countries. Crooked Filipino politicians and oligarchs have been investing in American luxury real estate for some time now. Imelda Marcos was unsuccessfully prosecuted for shady investments in Manhattan real estate, a crooked businesswoman named Janet Napoles had put a $2 million unit at the L.A. Ritz-Carlton in her daughter’s name, and a former Supreme Court Justice may have owned homes in Florida and California that he did not disclose as required by law. For all the noise the U.S. makes about cracking down on tax havens, it is surprisingly easy to invest ill-gotten wealth in the U.S. Most recently, the New York Times reported that the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan is now owned by a Chinese insurance group with a highly secretive and opaque ownership structure.

15 Hoosier September 7, 2016 at 8:23 pm

And we pick up where we left off with the post about corrupt Brazilian billionaires from a few days ago. You travel the world from Iran, to Brazil, to the Phillippines and you can’t get away from it. Is there any country rich in natural resources where this phenomenon doesn’t happen? Norway maybe?

16 Roy LC September 7, 2016 at 5:06 am

The CIA at that time had too many problems post Church comission, to actually monitor what were thought were stable allies, and the policy at the time had devolved to just trusting the local US backed secret police: SAVAK, Somoza’s National Guard, tonton macoute, the DSC in Korea, etc…. It was just sort of assumed that not only would they provide us with what we needed to know without needing to worry about dirty hands, but also that they were stable and so entrenched that they could survive regime change.

This is why when we dumped Somoza in late 1978 the CIA and State just assumed that the National Guards would retain control of the country and not let the Sandanistas take over. “Somocismo sin Somoza” was not just US policy in Nicaragua it was what led to the fall of the Shah and our complete flat footedness in the region.

This was why the CIA, who had neutered the DIA after vietnam, had no clue what was going on in Korea at any point after the KCIA decided to kill Park and why no US Army officers on the ground had any clue what Chun Doohwan was up to during the rolling coup, despite the presence of tens of thousands of US soldiers in country. It also explains why we thought Doe was no problem in Liberia.

We finally did get to see what Somocismo sin Somoza looked like with the tonton macoute after Baby Doc ran away. That was very ugly. So maybe we got lucky, God looks after fools, drunkards, and…

The only other place was South Korea, but Chun wasn’t actually our guy and the CIA was clueless about what was going on after the Koreagate debacle in the mid 70s ruined all their channels of communication. Nobody had any idea that the DSC was already up and running by 77-78 and so when Park was killed 10-26-79 and the KCIA was purged we had nothing to go on. Of course 9 days later we just didn’t care. And trusting SAVAK must have taught somebody something.

17 Steve Sailer September 7, 2016 at 5:22 am

But in contrast to Nicaragua and South Korea in 1977, to gather evidence that the Shah was in trouble, you didn’t have to go to Iran, you just had to go to Rodeo Drive:

http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20087004,00.html

18 Roy LC September 7, 2016 at 5:27 am

That requires creativity, and what sort of CIA analyst finds himself in LA? But I would bet that if it happened in Falls Church they still would have still been clueless.

19 Thor September 7, 2016 at 3:35 pm

“That requires creativity, and what sort of CIA analyst finds himself in LA?”

A creative one! (And there weren’t too many, though Charlie Wilson’s War suggests that there were some creative ones on the sidelines.)

The CIA wasn’t much better when it came to the implosion of the Soviet Union either.

20 Roy LC September 7, 2016 at 5:32 am

Btw thanks for that people mag story, my Mom’s boss in Houston used Bijan cologne, I can still smell it in my mind.

21 Steve Sailer September 7, 2016 at 5:49 am

Here’s Bijan’s 2011 obituary:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/business/19pakzad.html

In the later 1970s, Bijan’s appointment-only shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills opened naive American eyes to a whole world of Oriental inequality.

22 Roy LC September 7, 2016 at 5:24 am

I will never forget 1998, when the BJP promised a bomb test in the election campaign, but after being elected in Feb the BJP still hadn’t finished forming a govt. until the end of March because of Sonia’s rearguard actions, and they had some local elections too. But in April I remember buying a copy of “India Today” before my flight home and it had a mushroom cloud on the cover and the caption was something like “When?” It was the chief topic of conversation everywhere I went on how it would be timed. Weirdly the only other thing I remember was a friend of mine explaining the looming onion crisis to our complete disbelief and saying because of this, the test wouldn’t happen till after monsoon.

But somehow the CIA got flatfooted there too. You could have called this just by reading newspapers at a midwestern university library.

23 MOFO September 7, 2016 at 10:49 am

I think its illuminating to try and name all the times the CIA wasnt caught flat footed by big events they should have known about.

The Korean war? The Soviet H bomb? Missiles in Cuba?

I really dont know the details, did they catch any of that stuff? Can anyone think of a big CIA intel win at all?

24 Peter Akuleyev September 8, 2016 at 3:15 am

By that logic we should be expecting regime change in Russia and China any day now.

25 Hesam September 7, 2016 at 6:13 am

I wonder if you have read Abbas Milani’s The Shah.

26 Tom G September 7, 2016 at 6:17 am

I wonder how many beheadings and girls forced into sex slavery under Obama’s Democratic patronage of Iraq will there have to be before Abu Ghraib replaces SAVAK in some elite’s review of post 9/11 (modern?) Iraq: “arguing that the oppressions and tortures of [Abu Ghraib] are sometimes overstated.”

In a war with troops untrained for guard duty, I think the Bush admin human rights Iraqi people results was much less than Obama’s results.
I claim that running away from Iraq puts moral responsibility on those Dems who chose to run away.

But the US and US allies are held to a hypocritically high perfection standard whenever there’s a Rep President, yet most abuses are tolerated for Dem Presidents.

27 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 7:10 am

“Patronage”, in this context, means not permanent annexation. I mean, Iraq is every bit a part of the USA as, say, NYC, but Obama (as conservatives like to point out his father was even anti-colonial!).

“But the US and US allies are held to a hypocritically high perfection standard whenever there’s a Rep President, yet most abuses are tolerated for Dem Presidents.”

Like Republicans and their ever-changing opinions on the deficit, you mean? Reagan-Bush I-Bush II deficits good, Clinton surpluses bad! Obama deficits bad!

If our allies in the war on terror weren’t the Wahhabists, someone could even be tempted to believe there have something like a barely rational point at least. As matters stand, this reboot of “they blame America first” is just pathetic.

“I claim that running away from Iraq puts moral responsibility on those Dems who chose to run away.”

Evidently “we” hadn’t killed and tortured enough people to make the Iraqis welcome us as liberators yet. Just a few more decades of occupation would have done the trick.

28 Art Deco September 7, 2016 at 8:35 am

I mean, Iraq is every bit a part of the USA as, say, NYC

I get the impression that your signature feature is chronic and blatant lying.

29 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 9:28 am

It maybe so. After all, I am not a SAVAK loyalist.

30 MOFO September 7, 2016 at 10:53 am

“Like Republicans and their ever-changing opinions on the deficit, you mean? Reagan-Bush I-Bush II deficits good, Clinton surpluses bad! Obama deficits bad!”

This strikes me as a useless tu quoque but even so, i dont remember a lot of R’s celebrating Bush II’s deficits, nor bemoaning Clinton’s surpluses.

31 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 12:12 pm

“This strikes me as a useless tu quoque”
What you mean is, “don’t hold me accountable when I lie”.

“dont remember a lot of R’s celebrating Bush II’s deficits, nor bemoaning Clinton’s surpluses.”
They “don’t matter” as long as they buy Republicans votes. Republicans were pretty confortable with them for Bush’s 8 years in charge.
“nor bemoaning Clinton’s surpluses.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/marketbeat/2011/09/13/same-alan-greenspan-who-warned-against-budget-surplus-now-warns-about-deficit/

More debt was good for us back then! It was a great time for cutting taxes (no, it didn’t magically make the country more money). Where was Republican concerns with the debt back then andmfor the next 8 years?

32 Mm September 7, 2016 at 4:27 pm

You mean the surpluses Bubba fought all the way-dragged there kicking & sceaming by Newt? No big fan of Newt but he was much more responsible for the surplus than Bill Clinton- Bill even gave a speech warning against the danger to the economy from the dangerous GOP plan to cut the deficit too fast.

33 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 8:51 pm
34 Mm September 8, 2016 at 6:19 am

Never got that correlation doesn’t equal causality thing? The fact is circumstances where not the same – Bubba was riding the tails of the RR engineered boom & could draft on it ( not to mention the inflated tax windfall from the dot come bubble). The GOP did do a poor job in the early 2000s, but they had the war on terror to finance (made worse by Bubba “kicking the can down the road” for years on Islamo-fascism). But the GOPs mistakes don’t therefore give Bubba credit for what he didn’t do of his own volition(only did it b/c Dick Morris told him to “triangulate” & approve GOP led changes). Moreover, isn’t Bubba a big part of the mortgage fiasco with the rule changes he ushered in? Not only was Glass Steagall changed but Bubba pushed the Feds to accelerated loans to poorly qualified borrowers to reverse claimed discrimination. If you give Bubba any credit for reducing the deficit then you have to give him blame for the changes to Glass Steagall.

35 msgkings September 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm

@Mm: or more accurately you have to ignore Glass-Steagall as it had very little to do with the 2008 crisis.

The whole partisan blame/credit game is so boring. Presidents get the blame for bad economies and the credit for good ones when both have little to do with them. The best set up seems to be Dem president Rep Congress, like 1994-2000 or 2010-present. Gridlock is good.

36 Tom G September 7, 2016 at 6:20 am

Tho Dem Pres Carter was the President while the Shah was losing power, the US allies were condemned far more than commies with similar or worse rights abuses were condemned.

37 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 7:25 am

If only we had helped the Shah to crush his own people… The Ayatollahs prevailed, but, like the first stage of the Russian Revolution, the revolution against the Shah was a national uprise. The Shah had his oil money and the SAVAK, the same way Ceauşescu had the Securitate. It was not enough. But fear not, we will always have Saudi Arabia.

Hey, maybe Saddam’s atrocities (after he displeased his American patrons, I mean) were “overstated”. But, as the slogan had it, “we” had to fight terrorists there (where there were none before 2003) instead of fighting them here. As we can see, Republicans xare a lot about the Iraqis’ safety…

38 Art Deco September 7, 2016 at 8:34 am

(after he displeased his American patrons, I mean)

He had no American patrons, except in your imagination. Iraq broke diplomatic relations with the United States in 1967. American ‘patronage’ consisted of an exchange of diplomatic personnel, a restoration of something resembling ordinary trade relations, and some agro credits. He was no more an American client than was Soviet Russia.

39 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 9:09 am

http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/08/26/exclusive-cia-files-prove-america-helped-saddam-as-he-gassed-iran/
http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/26/world/us-secretly-gave-aid-to-iraq-early-in-its-war-against-iran.html?pagewanted=all
“Starting in 1982 with Iranian success on the battlefield, the United States made its backing of Iraq more pronounced, normalizing relations with the government, supplying it with economic aid, counter-insurgency training, operational intelligence on the battlefield, and weapons.” — https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_support_for_Iraq_during_the_Iran%E2%80%93Iraq_war#Support

Once again reality stays true to its well-known liberal bias… It is funny you didn’t mention helping Saddam in his most famous pre-1991 endeavour.

“He was no more an American client than was Soviet Russia.”

Incidentally, since Anthony Sutton’s The Best Enemy Money Can Buy, this is exactly the mainstream Republican explanation of Democratic administrations’ dealings with the USSR (you know, Communists, Democratic, who can really tell them apart?). What about Republican administrations up to Reagan? See above “deficit” and “Republicans”.

40 Art Deco September 7, 2016 at 10:00 am

“Starting in 1982 with Iranian success on the battlefield, the United States made its backing of Iraq more pronounced, normalizing relations with the government, supplying it with economic aid, counter-insurgency training, operational intelligence on the battlefield, and weapons.”

Repeating someone else’s false characterization does not make it a true characterization. There was no economic aid, no training, no weapons provided.

41 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 10:37 am

“At one point during Mr. Gates’s testimony, Senator Bill Bradley, the New Jersey Democrat, asked whether the intelligence-sharing with Iraq had amounted to a “covert action” that under law should have been made known to the intelligence committees.”
It is kinda embarrassing for you now, but Republicans had their Iraq counterparts’ backs back then as surely as they have their Saudi counterparts’ backs now.

42 Chris September 7, 2016 at 1:21 pm

American policy was to provide just enough support to Iraq so that Iran would not win. As Kissinger said, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.” Realpolitik reasons pushed both Republicans and Democrats to give some support to Saddam.

Stating that this policy made America “Saddam’s patron” is so gross an exaggeration to make it false. All those Soviet T-72 tanks and MiG airplanes didn’t come from America. Unlike Syria, Iraq was not completely aligned with the Soviet bloc as it continued to purchase French planes and received French help with its nuclear reactor. But it was more aligned with Moscow than the West, and was a de facto ally of the Soviet Union under the terms of the 1971 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the two countries.

43 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 1:44 pm

“American policy was to provide just enough support to Iraq so that Iran would not win.”

You mean before we discovered he was a monster and while he was using the kind of weapons “we” pretend we never want to be used? And again “enough” meant lots of money, credit, weapons, intelligence and turning a blind eye.

44 Art Deco September 7, 2016 at 8:49 am

If only we had helped the Shah to crush his own people…

The only examples of successful institution of something resembling public contestation and deliberation in the Near East, and Central Asia have been in the following loci: (1) non-Muslim countries, (2) countries where established local monarchies made incremental concessions to local grandees in elected conciliar bodies, (3) in Lebanon, more often than not since 1926, (4) intermittently in Turkey since 1950, and (5) arguably in Pakistan since 1986.

The only countries in the region which had some sort of constitutional order during most of the period running from 1953 to 1978 were Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey, Kuwait, and Pakistan (and Pakistan was a mess throughout most of the period and Lebanon was in a state of anarchy at the end of it).

45 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 9:26 am

“The only examples of successful institution of something resembling public contestation (…) countries where established local monarchies made incremental concessions to local grandees in elected conciliar bodies”

What happens when “public contestation” becomes a threat to the regime? Either the regime gives up as in Hungary and in East Germany or it goes Chinese (Tiananmen Square, I mean, not cheap toys) or Romanian. You can say the Shah was overthrown because he was too nice (nicer than Saddam and our Saudi friends), if it makes you happy (it is funny how Conservatives can always find a way to praise autocratic rulers), but to win in 1976-1979 he would have had to crush his own people. Conservatives, maybe influenced by their own love affair with Saudi Arabia, basically blame Carter (“the President while the Shah was losing power”) for not having coached him along the way. “We failed our SAVAK friends” seems to be the motif here.

46 Art Deco September 7, 2016 at 10:04 am

Just what is the point of this blurt from you?

This isn’t that difficult to understand. Non-autocratic government is unsustainable in the Near East, North Africa, and Central Asia. It’s not globally and eternally unsustainable. It is, however, less sustainable there than in any other region of the planet except Equatorial Africa. Start with Stanley Kurtz discussion of social relations in Arab societies and the effect of that on the common understanding of public life to get some sense of what the hurdles are there.

47 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 10:27 am

“Just what is the point of this blurt from you?”

The point is obvious. If autocracy is the only way for our Muslims allies, we can just stop all the ridiculous posturing about “freedom” and how much we oppose dictatorships (as long as tney are not Sunni totalitarian regimes).

48 Bill September 7, 2016 at 7:37 am

Mary Tyler Moore is to an anti-Western, nativist Islamic Cleric

as

Shariah Law is to a Southern Politician.

However,

They both have one thing in common:

Girls to the Girls bathroom,

Boy to the Boys

49 derek September 7, 2016 at 8:17 am

Keep telling yourself that Bill. If you repeat it enough it will become true in your mind.

50 Bill September 7, 2016 at 11:11 am

Your comment reflects upon you.

51 rayward September 7, 2016 at 7:56 am

Even after all of the revelations of Saudi complicity with the 9/11 terrorists and the Iraqi insurgents who killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers, America’s foreign policy community continues to be dominated by those friendly to Saudi Arabia and hostile to Iran. For those who didn’t read Cooper’s first book, he recounts how America collaborated with Saudi Arabia to undermine the Iranian economy and the Shah. Here is one reviewer’s summary of Cooper’s first book: “No U.S. official emerges unscathed from Cooper’s analysis, but he judges Henry Kissinger especially harshly. Notoriously deficient in matters of oil and economics, Kissinger insisted on personalizing relations with the Shah, hoarding information, stifling critics and enhancing his own power, all at the expense of a genuine American understanding of the precariousness of the Shah’s throne.”

52 rayward September 7, 2016 at 8:58 am

For those not aware, Kissinger often brags that he isn’t an economist (something Geithner reveals in his memoir – Geithner, a Kissinger protege, also makes the point that Geithner isn’t an economist either). Maybe if Kissinger hadn’t been so “deficient in matters of oil and economics” the hostage crisis in Iran, 9/11, the Iraq War, and Sunni terrorism in the middle east would never have occurred.

53 dearieme September 7, 2016 at 8:15 am

I once gave a SAVAK man the bum’s rush. I don’t suppose I’d have tried that in Iran.
But then Iran was not the sort of country I’d have visited.

54 Art Deco September 7, 2016 at 8:31 am

and also arguing that the oppressions and tortures of Savak are sometimes overstated.

Freedom House’s contemporaneous assessment of Iran rated it at about the regional median as to how benevolently governed it was. Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Soviet Russia (overlord of the Caucasus and Central Asia) all received worse marks. And, of course, Iraq was a charnel house at the time.

But the Saudi dynasty, despite countless predictions over the decades of its much-deserved demise, is still in power.

The Shah’s penultimate prime minister putatively had this to say: “”You must know this and you must tell it to your government. This country is lost because the Shah cannot make up his mind.” Suggest this is the source of the difference.

And the demise of the House of Saud is ‘deserved’ only if something better awaits. Now, ask yourself what replaced the mild King Zahir Shah (and his odious cousin) in Afghanistan, what replaced the Shah, what replaced the political bosses in Syria in 1963, what replaced the Hashemites in Iraq in 1958.

55 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 9:40 am

“And the demise of the House of Saud is ‘deserved’ only if something better awaits.”

You can as well ask yourself what replaced Soviet puppets in Afghanistan. Tip: our freedom-loving Mujahideen friends, blown up Buddha statues, burqas and 9/11. But Reagan really showed the Soviets up!

56 dearieme September 7, 2016 at 9:53 am

Reagan wanted to end the Cold War. In that he was successful. Indeed, he even won it.

It seems such a long time since the US went to war about a vital American interest. The wars since have been intellectually frivolous.

57 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 10:23 am

“Reagan wanted to end the Cold War. In that he was successful. Indeed, he even won it.”

The Soviets were trying to reorganize their stagnant system since the 1960s at least with little to show for it. But, as a general point, it is fair: Reagan stood to the Soviets, it was the right thing and it exploited the weakness of the Soviet system. Regarding Afghanistan though, the facts are clear: either it was a mere side-show or the Taliban was, like the Saudis today, our indispensable partners in freedom and everything that happened afterwards, including 9/11, was necessary.

“It seems such a long time since the US went to war about a vital American interest.”
But what is vital? South Korea itself was not vital per se, only as a test of American resolve. Vietnam proved not to be vital for anyone, except the Vietnamese. Since then, we have had Granada, Iraq I, Iraq II and all those other apparently important crazy crusades. Afghanistan may be the exception: something had to be done and the local war lords wouldn’t be able to do it.

58 dearieme September 7, 2016 at 3:50 pm

“something had to be done” This is something so we must do it.

To turn what should have been a punitive expedition into a war of occupation was profoundly stupid.

The war of occupation was not remotely in the American national interest.

59 Thomas Taylor September 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Maybe, but I am not sure a punitive expedition would have prevented Osama and the Taliban from keeping using freely Afghanistan as a haven (it is not like we could just bomb Osama’s nuclear plants or his aerodromes and go back home). And again the local war lords just couldn’t be trusted to prevent the 90’s from repeating themselves. But I admit: the success, if there was any, was underwhelming, to say the least.

60 Richard Gaylord September 7, 2016 at 10:07 am

” Did you know for instance that the Ayatollahs were deeply disturbed by the presence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also Rhoda on Iranian TV?”. yes. it’s totally obvious that they would be.

61 Edgar September 7, 2016 at 10:47 am

Although I’ll give the non-fiction a try, The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah was such a powerful fictionalized accounts of the revolution it is worth notice. I would highly recommend it but here is a somewhat negative review: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/apr/03/house-of-mosque-kader-abdolah

62 Jacques René Giguère September 7, 2016 at 12:55 pm

“If Iranians were Swedish, I would behave like the king of Sweden.” How much did his behavior prevented Iranians from becoming swedes?

63 Chris September 7, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Important thing to remember about the Shah is that the CIA and other American agencies did not know he was dying of cancer at the time. If they had, they might have changed their assessment on the stability of the regime.

The big problem for the Shah is that he spent way too much money during the oil boom. His advisers told him that a lot of the windfall money should be saved for the future, as the boom would not last forever. Besides, spending it now would create huge inflation. Better to only spend some of it (in investments in Iran) that could be sustainable and not inflate the currency. The Shah disagreed as he wanted to turn Iran into an industrialized country within one generation. His advisers proved correct. Many of the industrial investments had to be cancelled after oil prices fell, and the inflation it caused turned the Tehran merchants and Westernized middle class against him.

The Shah seemed to be quite popular between 1953-1974. There was no popular resentment against the 1953 coup, probably because everyone knew Mossadegh was ruining the country and that his actual democratic credentials were quite low (he illegally remained as PM after the Shah first dismissed him, he cancelled parliamentary election results in rural areas where his support was low so that he could rule the Majlis with a bare minimum quorum filled with his urban supporters, and he ruled by decree instead of having the parliament legislate). However, by the seventies the Westernized middle classes wanted more say in government, and instead of making room for them, the Shah wouldn’t tolerate even a loyal opposition. At that point, the myth of Mossadegh’s democratic era took hold and the 1953 coup became the original sin that destroyed Iranian democracy (how a minority ruler who cancelled elections and ruled by decree was a stalwart of democracy was conveniently ignored).

None of these people expected they were going to be fooled into supporting a religious maniac who would institute his own form of dictatorship. The ayatollahs and conservative rural people had always been alarmed at the Westernization of Iran under the Shah.

The other big failure of the Shah was that the White Revolution, albeit successful in many ways, actually undermined the forces that most supported his regime (like the large landowners), bolstered the forces that often opposed it (the working class and intelligentsia), but failed to build a large enough group of new support (the landed peasantry) because land reform was not thorough enough. It greatly weakened the political coalition that supported him.

If the Shah had pushed the White Revolution more thoroughly to created a broad based landed peasantry, restrained his spending from the oil boom, and opened up the political process to accommodate the aspirations of the rising middle class, the Pahlavis would likely still rule today in some sort of constitutional monarchy. He came very close at getting it right, but ultimately fell short in each of the critical categories.

64 Harun September 7, 2016 at 2:47 pm

If you research the history prior to the Shah, you find that his father (I think) was a modernizing cavalry officer who took over in a coup, much like Kemal Ataturk.

He wanted a republic, but the conservative mullahs insisted he become a king!

He was overthrown by the allies in WW II…notice how we never hear about how evil that was when compared to 1950’s overthrow of Mossadegh (sp?)

65 Thiago Ribeiro September 7, 2016 at 4:46 pm

And badmouth the “Good War”?!

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