How do you define the relationship between Iran and the United States? It’s contentious with a checkered history. Iran is currently in a proxy power struggle within the Middle East. It is attempting to establish equilibrium in the region with the Sunni-Shii’te sectarian struggles. In doing so, it is in proxy wars with Saudi Arabia. This fine balance of power has interjected the United States into the Middle East. The US relationship with the Middle East is rooted in WWII and the Cold War. It is only through the lens of history that one can begin to understand the current situation in this region.
The geo-politics of WWII brought the US into an active role within the Middle East. The United States supported the British Empire in thwarting Nazi Germany from increasing its sphere of influence. Not only did the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia get support from the US, but it brought an increased ally in Persian Iran.
Mohammad Mossadeq was the duly elected Prime Minister of Iran. In the aftermath of WWII, the Cold War brought a new set of challenges to the global balance of power. Iranian oil reserves were being brought to Western markets via the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Iran soon viewed the British oil relationship as exploitive and moved to change it. Mossadeq saw his role as Prime Minister as an opportunity to bring a stronger social safety net for the Iranian citizenry. In the conflict to “equalize” AIOC with the British; Mossadeq’s Government nationalized Iraninan oil. This decision marked the demise of the Government by outside influences.
The Cold War was in full proxy conflict between the West & Soviet Bloc by the 1950’s. The nationalization of the AIOC brought the British Government to appeal to the United States against the current Iran Government. Mossadeq was deemed a Socialist that was pandering to the USSR; at the expense of Western Allies. The US was convinced that the Middle Eastern sphere of influence was being challenged by the Communists through Mossadeq.
President Eisenhower understood the threat of Communist influence as a direct proxy power play in the Cold War. With this understanding, President Eisenhower chose to intervene in Middle Eastern Iran via clandestine action. TPAJAX, Operation Ajax, brought the CIA to depose Mossadeq’s Government. Kermit Roosevelt Jr spearheaded the operation that toppled the elected Iran Government and installed the autocratic Shah of Iran in it’s place.
The Shah soon ran a dictatorship that became closely allied with the United States and the West. The USSR was thwarted in the region and oil flowed into the West in an idealized manner. The dictatorship of the Shah abused it’s absolute power and Iran saw a large amount of internal persecution. Within this context the Shii’te majority in Iran fomented with discontent with the situation.
Under the struggle of persecution from the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini rallied the Shii’te majority that inevitably led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Shah was deposed and a Constitutional Government was created. This Government was Sectarian in nature and antagonistic to the United States. During the Revolution, the United States lost it’s proxy and gained an enemy when Iran invaded the US Embassy. Iran continued to lash out with state sponsored “terrorism”.
Within this antagonism, the United States allied with another Dictator; Saddam Hussain of Iraq. The US promoted Sunni Iraq into conflict with Shii’te Iran. The Iran-Iraq War soon ensued with chemical weapons being used and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. This US antagonism also created the environment for the Iran-Contra Scandal with the Reagan Administration.
In the 21st Century, Iran continues to solidify it’s control to protect it’s sovereignty and increase it’s sphere of influence. Iran has been an active player in proxy wars in Syria & Yemen; let alone promotion of groups such as Hezbollah. The Middle Eastern sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shii’te is a political situation rooted in the past intervention of the United States. As US Administrations move forward, the lens of history cannot be overlooked in any analysis and action.