By: James Sherrod
On Thursday December 30th 2017, reporting began to emerge that protests had broken out in Iran. Political commentators, main stream media, verified twitter accounts, and even a handful of world leaders, have been quick to create a narrative around these protests. In a press conference on the 6th day of protests, United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said, “The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause”.
Are these protests really a romanticized underdog story of the common man’s fight for freedom? Is Iran a late bloomer in the Arab Spring? Are powerful political opponents fueling dissidence to topple an uncooperative Iranian regime? I have no idea, and one week is hardly enough time for the truth to emerge through endless attempts to spin and shape the actual events into whatever narrative is desired.
But if The United States should have learned anything by now, it is that situations in the middle east are never as simple as they seem.
In fact it may come as a surprise to many, especially those who recently became interested in politics, that the U.S. has a tangled history with the country of Iran. You may be familiar with the Obama administration’s $1.7 Billion dollar payment to the Iranian government. However, you may not know that 30 years ago, in one of the only scandals to hit the Reagan administration, the US was selling weapons to Iran.
Know as “The Iran-Contra Affair”, this lesson of history should be required reading for anyone forming opinions about US involvement in Iran, the CIA, and Russian interference. Iran was of interest to the United States because of its strategic location to Soviet Union during the Cold War. Prior to the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970’s Iran was a useful listening post for CIA surveillance projects against the Soviet Union. CIA operations such as Project Dark Gene and Project Ibex were carried out along a remote border of Iran with cooperation of the Iranian government.
However, an exceptionally volatile period in the middle east during the late 70’s and early 80’s deteriorated relations between the US and Iran. The Israeli conflict with The Palestine Liberation Organization came to a critical mass when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Iran responded by taking an active role against Israel in Lebanon while The Unites States remained dedicated to its relationship with Israel. This resulted in the US and Iran both having a conflicting military presence in Lebanon. Another result was the birth of the Islamic militant group known as Hezbollah. This Shiite resistance group took aim at the United states via suicide bombings and kidnapping in an effort to force the US to end their involvement in Lebanon. The American hostages taken by Hezbollah during this time are very important to the story, and we will come back to them.
While all of this was going on Iran was also fighting a war with Iraq.
As this conflict heated up The United States decided that the outcome of the Iran-Iraq War was too important to be left to the Iranians or the Iraqi’s. In the wake of deteriorated relations with Iran, the United States made, what would prove to be a painfully ironic decision, to support Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This was done by supplying Iraq with tactical intelligence about Iran. The United States also orchestrated a trade embargo on Iran by the name of Operation Staunch in an effort to halt the supply of weapons to the Iranian government.
Remember those American hostages taken by Hezbollah in Lebanon? The release of these hostages became less and less likely, and this was taken as a personal failure by President Reagan. In order to secure the freedom of these hostages by the Iranian backed Hezbollah, The United States agreed to secretly violate their own trade embargo and sell weapons to Iran. This placed the United states on both sides of the Iran-Iraq War, while violating both the trade embargo and the US foreign policy stance against negotiating with terrorists. The end result was The United States selling several shipments of TOW and HAWK missiles to Iran in exchange for the release of three hostages by Hezbollah. Soon after their release, three more American hostages were taken to replace them.
Unfortunately the scandal didn’t stop there.
The Cold War was still very much a part of American Policy in the 1980’s. The United States was committed to containing the spread of communism around the world. Specifically, Nicaragua’s communist government was viewed as an ally of the Soviet Union and a threat to the United States. In response the U.S. chose to fund and support a militant anti-communist group within Nicaragua known as Contra. However, horrific human rights violations committed by the Contra led to political pressure to stop funding the group.
In an effort to sustain their mission in Nicaragua the CIA sought a way around traditional budgetary funding. A probe by Attorney General Edwin Meese revealed that of the $30 million dollars Iran had paid for weapons, only $12 million was accounted for. It was then that National Security Councilman, Oliver North, revealed that the funds were diverted from the weapon sales to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. This, however, was not the only funding idea the CIA had.
In 1996 a series of articles written by investigative reporter Gary Webb were published called “The Dark Alliance”. In his series he outlined how a massive cocaine problem in the US was a result of drug trade from Nicaragua to Los Angeles that was being permitted under the watchful eye of the CIA. The money from the drug trade fueled the efforts of the CIA backed Contra to overthrow the communist government in Nicaragua. Garry Webb was found dead on December 10th 2004 with two bullet wounds to the head. His death was ruled a suicide.
The Contra War ended with the Tela Accord of 1989 in which 5 south American countries agreed to force out Contra bases within their borders. Surprisingly, the incumbent communist government of Nicaragua lost the subsequent election.
US-Iranian relations continued to deteriorate as the Iran-iraq War heated up.
In 1988 the US Navy shot down Air flight 655, mistaking the commercial aircraft for a military fighter plan, killing all 290 passengers and crew. Amazingly, despite both Iran and Iraq’s desire for war and the United State’s blunderous interventions a cease fire was reached on August 20th 1988. Three years later Iraq would annex Kuwait, triggering the US to take military action against the Iraqi regime they helped strengthen less than 10 years earlier.
This incredible history may seem complicated, but it is just a fraction of the global politics in the middle east. This article outlines a number of complications caused by one nation pursuing its own interests. There are nearly 30 separate military entities in Syria, including Iran. All pursuing their own interests, all causing their own complicated scandals. So, as the protests in Iran unfold, may your thoughts be guided by history, and your hearts filled with compassion for the innocent people trying to provide for their families in that environment.