Richard Helms, unsung hero re Iran?

Richard Helms unsung hero re Iran?

 

Shah of Iran

As previously written, part of the long shadow cast by foreign policy in the Nixon administration has come from Nixon, Kissinger and Gerald Ford’s unwillingness or inability to understand domestic unrest in Iran. In a reciprocal cause and effect, their intransigent unwillingness in the 1970s to acknowledge the extent of the Shah’s unpopularity among his own people corresponded to their unwillingness to make U.S. policy toward Iran genuinely reflective of American interest.

The release of embassy cables by wikileaks casts new light on U.S. relations with Iran in the 1970s, with the unexpected twist of a new unsung hero for the epoch, Ambassador Richard Helms.

 

The condensed version of this story is that former Director of Central Intelligence Helms apparently learned something from the shameful CIA episodes in Cuba, Vietnam and Chile. Better late than never, although as Bob Haldeman might have put it, “TLsub2”—too little, too late.

The Nixon administration’s coziness with the Shah of Iran, little publicized by Nixon’s people at the time, has already been highlighted by a February 1972 cable from the U.S. ambassador in Iran urging that a shipment of fighter planes for the shah be expedited. Such friendly overtures to the shah were not impeded by ample warning from the U.S. embassy that the shah was under attack by his populace.

Predictably, this alliance between administrations of two countries disconnected from their people came to a head in a foreign policy disaster, a disaster which seems to have been foreseen by Helms.

In a lengthy cable on March 4, 1975, Helms warned Washington of the trouble brewing in Iran. This, be it noted, was the period when the White House was occupied by President Gerald Ford, the man who famously said in debate with Jimmy Carter that the Soviet Union did not dominate Eastern Europe.

Helms’ cable, declassified by the State Department, is crisp, clear and to the point, refreshingly clear of cant about our friends on or near the Peacock Throne. Helms summarizes the shah’s light-bulb idea of creating a one-party system as it deserves:

ALL IRANIANS OF VOTING AGE ARE EXPECTED TO EXPRESS ALLEGIANCE TO NEW PARTY OR RISK BEING VIEWED AS OPPONENTS OF SHAH AND EVEN TRAITORS WHO SHOULD LEAVE IRAN OR GO TO PRISON. SHAH EXPLAINED IRAN’S RETURN TO SINGLE PARTY SYSTEM AS NECESSARY BECAUSE QTE SHAMEFUL UTTERANCES UNQTE BY SOME IRANIANS SHOWED NEED FOR IRANIANS TO CLOSE RANKS IN EFFORTS TO ACHIEVE QTE GREAT CIVILIZATION, UNQTE AND BECAUSE OPPOSITION PARTIES HAD FAILED. ELECTIONS SCHEDULED FOR SUMMER WILL APPARENTLY BE HELD, BUT IT IS NOT CLEAR HOW THEY WILL BE ORGANIZED. NET RESULT IS TO MAKE IRANIAN POLITICAL SYSTEM LESS FLEXIBLE. INTERNATIONAL REACTION

WILL PROBABLY RANGE FROM INDIFFERENCE TO CHARGES OF INCREASED TOTALITARIANISM.

 

Further enhancements of dictatorship are clearly in the offing:

SHAH’S LENGTHY STATEMENT AT HIS MARCH 2 PRESS CONFERENCE, FROM WITH CORRESPONDENTS FOR FOREIGN MEDIA WERE EXCLUDED . . . ESTABLISHED IRANIAN RESURGENCE PARTY. NEW PARTY WILL

ABSORB RULING IRAN NOVIN PARTY, LOYAL OPPOSITION MARDOM PARTY, AND THE ULTRA-NATIONALIST PAN IRANIST PARTY AND ITS SPLINTER GROUP THE IRANIANS PARTY. PRIME MINISTER HOVEYDA IS TO BE SECRETARY GENERAL FOR A PERIOD OF AT LEAST TWO YEARS. SHAH WILL LATER PROPOSE CHAIRMAN OF NEW PARTY’S EXECUTIVE BOARD AND PRESIDENT FOR ITS POLITICAL BUREAU.

 

The picture does not get any sunnier as the shah and Helms continue:

ONLY REQUIREMENTS FOR MEMBERSHIP IN NEW ORGANIZATION WOULD BE LOYALTY TO (1) MONARCHY, (2) IRAN’S CONSTITUTION, AND (3) SIXTH OF BAHMAN (SHAHPEOPLE) REVOLUTION. . . HE URGED ALL IRANIANS ELIGIBLE TO VOTE TO ENTER INTO NEW POLITICAL STRUCTURE OR CLARIFY THEIR POSITION. BY THIS HE MEANT THAT THOSE WHO COULD NOT AGREE WITH THE THREE PRINCIPLES SHOULD LEAVE IRAN OR GO TO PRISON AS TRAITORS UNLESS THEY OPENLY EXPRESSED THEIR DISAPPROVAL AND WERE NOT ANTINATIONAL. IF DISAPPROVAL IS IDEOLOGICAL, PERSON WOULD REMAIN FREE

IN IRAN BUT QTE SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY EXPECTATIONS UNQTE. FULL PARTICIPATION IN IRAN’S PROGRESS WOULD OBVIOUSLY REQUIRE MEMBERSHIP IN THE IRAN RESURGENCE PARTY. HE SAID IT WAS HIS EXPECTATION THAT WORKERS, FARMERS, AND TEACHERS WOULD BE THE FIRST GROUPS TO ANNOUNCE THEIR LOYALTY TO THE NEW PARTY.

Helms’ comment is trenchant:

COMMENT: ABOVE ALL, SHAH’S ACTION IN RETURNING TO SINGLE PARTY SYSTEM OF 1964-67 PERIOD SHOWS HIS EXTREME SENSITIVITY TO CRITICISM AND STRONG DESIRE TO RECEIVE OVERT EVIDENCE OF POPULAR SUPPORT. AFTER HE EXPERIMENTED WITH TAME OPPOSITION PARTIES IN 1956-64 PERIOD WITH POOR RESULTS, SHAH THEN TURNED TO HASSAN ALI MANSUR’S PROGRESSIVE SOCIETY TO CREATE IRAN NOVIN PARTY AS INSTRUMENT TO IMPLEMENT HIS SIXTH OF BAHMAN REVOLUTION. MARDOM PARTY WAS SUBSEQUENTLY REJUVENATED TO STIMULATE IRAN NOVIN TO PERFORM MORE EFFECTIVELY. DESPITE CONSTANT STATEMENTS OF LOYALTY TO SHAH AND HIS PLANS FOR IRAN, PARTIES HAVE APPARENTLY NOT PLEASED HIM.

. . . EVEN ACTIVITIES OF GELDED OPPOSITION HAD PROVED TOO CRITICAL FOR SHAH’S TASTE. NEVERTHELESS HIS PAST STATEMENTS INDICATED CONTINUING SUPPORT FOR COCCEPT OF MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM IN IRAN, AND IMPERIAL DECISION TO INSTITUTE ONEPARTY STATE REPRESENTS 180-DEGREE SHIFT IN POLICY WHICH ALSO APPEARS TO NEGATE EARLIER PROMISES OF FREER ELECTIONS LATER THIS YEAR. KEY SECTION OF SPEECH IS COMMENT THAT HE HAD HEARD QTE SOME REALLY SHAMEFUL UTTERANCES, WHICH IN NOW WAY SHOULD BE EXPECTED FROM AN IRANIAN. THIS SCENE, OF COURSE, HAS ALWAYS RECURRED WHEN IRAN HAS BEEN ENGAGED IN THE DEFENCE OF ITS RIGHTS AT A HISTORIC JUNCTURE. THIS SITUATION IS INTOLERABLE, UNQTE UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES WE DOUBT THAT MUCH CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM WILL EMERGE FROM THE IRANIAN RESURGENCE PARTY.

The conclusions are sadly prescient:

IN OPERATIONAL TERMS LITTLE HAS CHANGED, FOR DESPITE FACADE OF QTE ME-TOO UNQTE OPPOSITION PARTIES SHAH HAS ALWAYS CALLED THE TUNE AND ONLY RULING IRAN NOVIN PARTY HAD ANY IMPORTANCE. PRIME MINISTER HAS BEEN LEAD DANCER, AND HIS SELECTION AS SECGEN AT JANUARY PARTY CONGRESS HAD TIED IRAN NOVIN PARTY EVEN CLOSER TO SHAH. IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE OF NEW MOVE HAS BEEN FLOOD OF STATEMENTS OF LOYALTY TO SHAH, CONSTITUTION AND REVOLUTION, BOTH BY GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS. THERE IS CLEARLY NO VIABLE ALTERNATIVE FOR

IRANIANS WHO WANT TO PARTICIPATE ACTIVELY IN IRAN‘S DEVELOPMENT AND SHARE ITS PROSPERITY. ALL DIFFERENCES OF VIEW ON HOW TO IMPLEMENT SHAH’S PLAN FOR IRAN WILL BE SUPPRESSED UNTIL NEW PARTY DEVELOPS AN IDEOLOGY AND ITS LEADERSHIP IS CONSTITUTED.

 

INTERNATIONAL REACTION WILL PROBABLY VARY FROM INDIFFERENCE TO INCREASINGLY SHRILL CHARGES OF TOTALITARIANISM. IRAN’S IMAGE AS COUNTRY IN WHICH ALL ELEMENTS WERE BEING TAPPED IN DEVELOPMENT PROCESS MAY SUFFER UNLESS NEW PARTY’S MEMBERSHIP COMES FROM BROAD SPECTRUM. IT APPEARS THAT EARLIER SUCCESSFUL IRANIAN POLICY OF COMPROMISE AND COOPERATION HAS BEEN REPLACED BY QTE TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT UNQTE STANCE IN DEALING WITH OPPOSITION.

IN SUM, GIVEN EXISTING STRICT DEGREE OF POLITICAL CONTROLS, SHAH’S DECISION TO MELD ALL POLITICAL PARTIES INTO ONE APPEARS TO OFFER LITTLE IN WAY OF IMPROVEMENTS TO IRANIAN POLITICAL SYSTEM WHILE ADDING SEVERAL DISADVANTAGES BOTH DOMESTICALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY.

 

Note:

Newly released tapes continue to disclose Nixon’s problems with ethnicity in the U.S. They have long been written about, notably in the vibrant and colorful How the Good Guys Finally Won, by Jimmy Breslin. Breslin’s touching narrative about Italian-American congressman Peter Rodino (D-N.Y.), an honorable man, is worth reading on its own.

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