US should pay Iran reparations

David Swanson | Published: 00:00, Feb 09,2021 | Updated: 22:28, Feb 08,2021


Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi meets US president Jimmy Carter in 1977. — World Socialist Web Site

WHY would I say such an outrageous, treasonous, delusional, obviously-funded-by-Putin thing? Am I hoping to enrage war-crazed sadists who’ve seen too much television ‘news’?

Not at all. I want them to still be around when I say that it would actually be preferable for the United States to pay reparations to the entire rest of the earth.

Well, then, why would I say such a thing, and exactly what type of mental disorder would allow me to believe the Iranian government to be saintly perfection?

Ah, that’s the key question, isn’t it? Because, as we all know, in every court that has ever ordered anyone to compensate someone else, it’s been necessary to prove that the someone else was a flawless embodiment of paradise. Proving that someone was harmed has never been relevant at all. Nope. The burden of proof has always been on the victim to show that they have never once done any unpleasant thing to anyone. This is why reparations and compensation and restitution never ever happen. In fact these things don’t even exist as concepts. If they did, the following story might matter.

In the 1720s, the newspapers of the colonies that would become the United States wrote positively about the Persian empire, that place that 2,500 years ago held some 60 per cent of humanity. Various US ‘founding fathers’ like Thomas Jefferson sought models in Persian history. From the 1690s to 1800s, based on their school books, US children were unlikely to think of ‘xylophone’ with the letter ‘x’ and likely to think of ‘Xerxes.’ In a staple of US education for generations, Abbott’s Histories, four non-westerners were included. Three of them were Xerxes, Cyrus, and Darius. Examples from Persian history were tossed around in Congressional speeches. US towns named themselves (and they still are named) Media, Persia, Cyrus.

From the 1830s to 1930s Presbyterian missionaries from the United States lived and raised families in Persia with the goal of converting Christians there to a preferred flavour of Christianity. In that, they largely failed, but they succeeded in providing schools, medicine, and generally positive ideas about the United States.

From the 1850s to 1920s Persian newspapers promoted the United States as a model. Right up through the 1940s the Iranian government generally sought greater US influence in Iran, and the US government usually refused, usually contemptuously.

Iran, from the 1820s on was forced by Russia and Britain and other European nations into a cycle of debt and concessions. It was principally as an alternative to Russia or Britain that Iran was attracted to the United States, or at least to the idea it had of what the United States was. In 1849, with the United States never having had an ambassador in Iran, Iran began secret (don’t tell the British!) talks with the US minister in Constantinople. In 1851 they signed a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation. It was incredibly fair and respectful by comparison with European treaties with Iran, but it was never ratified. To my knowledge Iran did not ask a single Native American nation what good ratifying it would have done. In 1854, the Shah of Iran asked the United States to put US ships in the Persian Gulf and US flags on every Iranian ship, but the US government wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until 1882 that the US Congress could be persuaded to send any US representative to Iran, and then only because a key Congress member had a sister there as a missionary and potential victim of ‘Mohammedan fury.’ That representative would not be called an ambassador, due to Iran not being a European country, but his arrival in Tehran in 1883 was cause for a major celebration. Five years later, Iran sent its first envoy to Washington, where the US government generally refused to pay any attention to him and US newspapers were so cruel to him that he resigned after nine months.

In 1891, Iranians publicly rebelled against the Shah’s awarding of a tobacco monopoly to the British. In 1901, for 20,000 pounds, the Shah gave a Brit the right to drill almost anywhere for oil for 60 years. Meanwhile, in 1900, a new minister began representing Persia in the United States and significantly increased trade between the two nations, especially in Persian carpets. The Persian pavilion at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair was a great success (and gave the US the waffle cone).

In 1906, Persia saw a major popular uprising, including widespread use of the sit-in as a tool of nonviolent action (hey, Iran-hating auto worker with a good salary, I’m looking at you), and won the creation of a representative parliament. In 1907, Russia and Britain sought to divide Persia into zones for their respective control. The parliament (Majles) resisted, and the Shah tried hiring bands of thugs to instigate a coup against the Majles. The nation descended into civil war. In 1909, an American named Howard Baskerville became a hero still honoured in Iran when he was killed by the royalists.

In 1909, the Majles asked the United States to provide a treasurer-general to oversee the nation’s finances. W Morgan Shuster got the job. He became more than an accountant. He became a leader of the constitutionalist resistance to the efforts of royalists to overthrow the Majles. In this, he was not acting on behalf of the US government. When Russian forces demanded Shuster’s ouster, the Majles wrote to the US Congress for help, but Congress had no interest (it did get a good laugh). A violent coup followed. Shuster was out. A Russian puppet government was in. Back in the United States, Shuster was a star. Persian fashion was hot. The US Post Office took its motto from Herodotus’s description of the postal system of the Persian empire. But actual Persia was of no concern.

When Europe launched the insanity of World War I, Persia declared neutrality. This was simply ignored by both sides, which proceeded to use the place as a battlefield and to cut off supply lines, resulting in some two million Persians starving to death or dying of disease. When Christians massacred Muslims, with the complicity of US missionaries, the good impression those missionaries had made for decades were ruined. Persia nonetheless kept asking the US government for help and for the return of Shuster. In 1916, the Shah asked permission to hide in the US legation and to fly the US flag from the Imperial Palace — both of which requests were turned down. At the end of the war, Persia hoped for some justice out of the negotiations in Paris, but was shut out by British manoeuvring, including bribing the Shah. This left Iran without the chance to have its hopes in Woodrow Wilson shattered like the rest of the world’s, blame going instead to Britain. The US minister in Tehran handed out a public statement claiming that the United States had tried its best to get Persia included in the Paris Peace Conference. The country was shut down by pro-US riots. Read that last sentence twice.

The secret dealings of Britain with Persia, behind Wilson’s back, were a key argument in the US Senate for refusing to join the League of Nations. Persia offered the United States oil and continued to implore it to become more involved, but the US government had a higher priority, namely not offending the British. In 1922, the US state department sent a new financial advisor, but he was no Shuster. When a US oil company was finally chosen to work in Persia, it immediately was hit by the Teapot Dome scandal, and those plans collapsed. Then, in a case of mistaken identity combined with insane murderousness, a mob beat a US consul to death, and the US government insisted that three boys be killed as compensation, and so they were.

Iran kept reaching out to the United States, turning over its archaeological efforts to Americans, welcoming new missionaries and their schools. Up through 1979, many Iranian government officials were graduates of a US missionary school called the Alborz School.

The Shah flirted with Nazism. The theories of an ‘Aryan’ (Iranian) origin of a superior Nordic race — theories largely of US origin — were used by Nazi Germany to appeal to Iran. Yet Iran still declared its neutrality during the sequel to WWI, and it still didn’t matter. The Soviet Union and Britain invaded. Iran, of course, asked the US government to object. The US government, of course, ignored this. During the war, in fact, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin used Tehran as a place to meet while doing their best to ignore the fact that anyone lived there. Stalin was effectively the host. Even the Shah was not invited to a birthday party for Churchill. But when the great men left, Roosevelt sent the Shah a note saying he hoped the Shah would someday visit Washington. The Shah clung to that hope and pushed to make it real for years after. Meanwhile some 30,000 US soldiers were in Iran from 1943 to 1945 with the usual drunkenness and rape and apartheid flaunting of wealth in the face of hunger that has been the trademark of US bases around the world from that day to this.

Once the two world wars had ended, Iran began a golden age of democracy and relative well-being. It wouldn’t last long. In 1947, an Iranian democracy movement asked if it could hold a sit-in demonstration at the US embassy as a symbol of democracy. It was of course told to get lost. The US ambassador from 1948 to 1951 had extremely Churchillian attitudes towards the irrational natives, who were of course incapable of and unready for democracy. He and the Shah got on well. It was in 1949 that the Shah finally got his first of many visits to the United States, land of democracy. In 1950, Iranians learned of US complicity in British manipulation of their government, and persisted in criticising the United States in tones of shock and disappointment, using all the language of straying from principles that is so routine in this-is-not-who-we-are speeches from US politicians. Then the Iranians, despite Britain and the United States, elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.

For the first time in forever, an Iranian representative government had represented the wishes of the Iranian public, not those of a king or his foreign sponsors and handlers. This outrage was not to be tolerated. Mossadegh, like most Iranians, believed that Iranians, rather than Britain, should profit from Iranian oil. He nationalised the oil, and his fate was sealed. But before it was, he would appeal in every way he could to the world and to the United States. He compared his actions to the Boston tea party. He travelled to New York and eloquently won his case at the UN Security Council. He immediately headed for Philadelphia to pose with the Liberty Bell. He got himself made Time magazine ‘man of the year’. He also negotiated with the US to allow Britain to still play a major role in Iranian oil, but Britain threw that idea in his face. The oil was, after all, a British possession that had somehow found it way under Iranian soil. Gallup found that a full two per cent of the US public thought the US should take Britain’s side against Iran. My guess is that’s about the percentage of the US public that now know that the US did just that.

Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy, claimed he and the Central Intelligence Agency overthrew the Iranian government using $60,000. Norman Darbyshire of Britain’s MI6 claimed he spent over 1.5 million pounds and drafted the coup plans and assassinated the Mossadegh-loyal chief of police and talked Roosevelt out of quitting when their coup first failed. Colonel Stephen J Meade of the CIA, who was also involved in the 1949 coup in Syria that is largely erased from coup histories even by those who know about Iran 1953, claimed he was the US partner of Darbyshire in planning the whole thing. Indisputably this coup required electing Churchill in the UK and Eisenhower in the US, and Eisenhower appointing the Dulles brothers, who began planning the coup with the British before Eisenhower was inaugurated. It also required that Eisenhower, having campaigned on Cold War anti-communism, believe or pretend to believe his own propaganda and the ridiculous notion that Mossadegh was a commie sympathiser.

The coup at first failed, looking even less competent or threatening than the Beer Belly Capitol Putsch of 2021 in Washington. The Shah, whom the failed coup intended to install as dictator, looked ridiculous fleeing to Rome. But mobs on the streets and a visit of 28 tanks to Mossadegh’s house did the trick. Iran was liberated! The Shah returned! Democracy was out! Quoting Jefferson would now be left to various other Untermenschen banned from the Paris Peace Conference, such as Ho Chi Minh. Freedom was on the march! The Shah was empowered, armed, and turned into the world’s top weapons customer, and the United States into the world’s top weapons dealer. A philanthropic operation called SAVAK was established under the tutelage of the CIA and later the Mossad, specialising in torture and murder. All was right with the world, and the US government was finally paying attention to Iran and funnelling money into it. A leader even came to visit Iran for the first time (not counting FDR visiting Stalin), and it was vice-president Richard Nixon.

The Shah’s dictatorship learned well, bought weapons, provided oil, and even created a ‘two-party system’ so ridiculously copied from the US model that Iranians referred to them as the party of ‘Yes’ and the party of ‘Yes, Sir.’ US influence was finally in Iran as a reality rather than a dream. By 1961, there were 5,000 Americans living in Iran, and Hollywood was all over the cinemas and televisions, Newsweek and Time on the news stands. Many were less than pleased at finally having gotten what they’d spent so long asking for. Saying that out loud could get you killed, which may have been a big part of the problem. In 1964, the US got a Status of Forces Agreement to give US troops immunity for crimes in Iran. Many were enraged. But someone fearlessly spoke against that basing SOFA, a man known as Ayatollah Khomeini.

When the United States elected Jimmy Carter president, the Shah worried momentarily about the ‘human rights’ rhetoric, until realising it was just for show. The weapons kept flowing as before. Carter even visited the Shah and toasted him as an ‘island of stability’ one week before he was overthrown by a revolution with the slogan ‘Death to America’s Shah.’ The revolution, however, was mainly nonviolent. The Shah was not killed. He spent the better part of a year searching the globe for someplace to live. When Carter let him into the United States, Iranians feared the worst. They did not believe the Shah needed US medical treatment, because the Shah had hidden the fact that he was ill. They did believe that the United States would use its embassy in Tehran, as it had done 26 years earlier, to overthrow the Iranian government and re-install the Shah. So, Iranian students broke in and took over the US embassy, creating a hostage crisis, ending Jimmy Carter’s presidency, and initiating Day 1 of the history of US-Iranian relations in US media, for whom nothing prior to the hostage crisis ever happened. Iran, in 2021 US cultural understanding, came into existence in 1979.

In 1980, the despotic ruler of neighbouring Iraq, a man who had been brought to power with US assistance, Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran. The Iranian revolution, begun as a coalition including leftists and liberals as well as the religious, now moved in the direction of resembling what it had overthrown. It did so in the name of unity and survival. Ronald Reagan’s government aided both sides in the war, hoping to damage both sides and make money from both sides. Both sides unnecessarily prolonged the war. Both sides committed horrors. Iranian-backed militias blew up US marines in Lebanon. The US helped Iraq to know where to bomb people, and helped Iraq acquire and get away with using chemical weapons. The US also secretly sold weapons to Iran, because, just like the Israeli government, the US government had an agenda often at odds with its own propaganda. You, dear reader, are supposed to go on hating Iran and adoring Reagan, and quoting Reagan on ‘not dealing with hostage-takers,’ but the reality was Reagan selling weapons to Iran to try to free hostages in Lebanon and to get money for a war in Nicaragua that Congress had forbidden him to fight. The Bush Senior government finally persuaded Iran to get those hostages freed, by making promises it immediately and casually broke, without so much as an ‘I’m sorry.’ In fact, when the US shot down an Iranian passenger plane full of men, women, and children, Bush announced that he would never apologise for anything and didn’t care what the facts were.

He and every other US president since have, however, very much cared what Israel wanted. Iran offered the US an oil deal in 1995 and Israel killed it. On September 11, 2001, while people across the Middle East cheered, Iranians mourned. The president of Iran offered to come to the site of the World Trade Centre and condemn such barbarism. His offer was, of course, dismissed out of hand. Iran offered to assist the United States with its war on Afghanistan, and that offer was quietly accepted, used, and forgotten. Bush Junior then declared Iran a member of an Axis of Evil with the nation that had waged war on it, Iraq, and a nation it had virtually nothing to do with, North Korea. In 2003, Iran offered to negotiate away its nuclear programme, to allow full intrusive inspections, to accept a two-state solution in Palestine-Israel, and to keep participating in the ‘war on terrorism.’ Iran was told to go Dick Cheney itself.

Since 1957, the United States had been providing Iran with nuclear technology. Iran has a nuclear energy programme because the US and European governments wanted Iran to have a nuclear energy programme. The US nuclear industry took out full-page ads in US publications bragging about Iran’s support for such an enlightened and progressive energy source. The US was pushing for major expansion of Iran’s nuclear programme just before the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Since the Iranian revolution, the US government has opposed Iran’s nuclear energy programme and misled the public about the existence of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran. This story is well-told in Gareth Porter’s Manufactured Crisis.

When the United States assisted Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in a war against Iran in the 1980s, in which Iraq attacked Iran with chemical weapons, Iran’s religious leaders declared that chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons must not be used, even in retaliation. And they were not. Iran could have responded to Iraqi chemical attacks with chemical attacks of its own and chose not to. Iran says it is committed to not using or possessing weapons of mass destruction. The results of inspections bear that out. Iran’s willingness to put restrictions on its legal nuclear energy programme — a willingness present both before and after any US sanctions — bears that out.

When the Soviet enemy disappeared, new ones were quickly found. According to both former NATO commander Wesley Clark and former UK prime minister Tony Blair, the Pentagon made a list of several nations’ governments to be overthrown, and Iran was on it. In the year 2000, the CIA gave Iran (slightly and obviously flawed) blueprints for a key component of a nuclear weapon. In 2006, James Risen wrote about this ‘operation’ in his book State of War. In 2015, the United States prosecuted a former CIA agent, Jeffrey Sterling, for supposedly having leaked the story to Risen. In the course of the prosecution, the CIA made public a partially redacted cable that showed that immediately after bestowing its gift on Iran, the CIA had begun efforts to do the same for Iraq. In 2019, Sterling publishing his own book, Unwanted Spy: The Persecution of an American Whistleblower.

I can only make sense of one reason why the CIA hands out blueprints for nuclear bombs (and in the case of Iran planned to deliver actual parts as well). Both Risen and Sterling claim that the goal was to slow down Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Yet we now know that the CIA had no solid knowledge that Iran had any nuclear weapons programme, or if it had one how advanced it was. We know that the CIA has been involved in promoting the false belief that Iran is a nuclear threat since the early 1990s. But even assuming that the CIA believed Iran to have a nuclear weapons programme in 2000 (which the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate would later claim had been ended in 2003), we have not been offered any explanation of how providing flawed blueprints could have been imagined to slow such a programme down. If the idea is supposed to be that Iran or Iraq would simply waste time building the wrong thing, we run up against two problems. First, they would likely waste vastly more time if working without plans, as compared to working with flawed ones. Second, the flaws in the plans given to Iran were obvious and apparent.

When the former-Russian assigned to deliver the blueprints to the Iranian government immediately spotted the flaws in them, the CIA told him not to worry. But they didn’t tell him that the flawed plans would somehow slow down an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. Instead they told him that the flawed plans would somehow reveal to the CIA how far along Iran’s programme was. But how that would happen has never been explained either. And it conflicts with something else they told him, namely that they already knew how far along Iran was and that Iran already had the nuclear knowledge that they were providing. My point is not that these assertions were true but that the slow-them-down rationale was not attempted.

One never wants to underestimate incompetence. The CIA knew next to nothing about Iran, and by Sterling’s account was not seriously trying to learn. By Risen’s account, around 2004, the CIA accidentally revealed to the Iranian government the identities of all of its agents in Iran. But incompetence does not seem to explain a consciously thought-out effort to distribute nuke plans to designated enemies. What does seem to explain it better is the desire to point to the possession of those plans, or of the product of those plans, as evidence of a hostile threat of ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ which, as we all know, is an acceptable excuse for a war.

That we are not entitled to find out, even 20 years later, whether giving nuke plans to Iran was incompetence or malevolence, or to ask Bill Clinton or George W Bush why they approved of it, is itself a problem that goes beyond incompetence and into the realm of anti-democratic tyrannical governance by secret agencies.

We have no possible way of knowing a complete list of countries the US government has handed nuclear weapons plans to. Trump tried giving nuclear weapons secrets to Saudi Arabia in violation of the Non-proliferation Treaty, his oath of office, and common sense. The silver lining is that whistleblowers on giving nukes to the Saudis have apparently been listened to by certain members of Congress who have gone public with the information. Whether the difference is the individuals, the committees, the sides of Capitol Hill, the party in the majority, the party in the White House, the involvement of the CIA, the general culture, or the nation being given the keys to the apocalypse, the fact is that when Jeffrey Sterling went to Congress to reveal the giving of nukes to Iran, Congress members either ignored him, suggested that he move to Canada, or — with horrible timing — died before doing anything.

Ignoring Iran was a long Congressional tradition before the establishment of the tradition of claiming Iran is a threat to the world. Now lying about Iran is a major industry. The United States now imposes deadly sanctions on the entire nation of Iran, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Iran made an agreement for more thorough inspections than any other nation on earth to get sanctions relief. The United States violated and tore up the agreement, and now says that Iran had better change its ways if it wants the agreement back.

There are, not one, but two Iranian shah dynasties with descendants in the United States awaiting their turns.

One includes crown prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last dictator whom the United States imposed on Iran from 1953 to 1979. Pahlavi lives in Potomac, Maryland, (across the river from Langley) and openly advocates for an overthrow of the Iranian government (because 1953 has worked out so well?) or, as the Washington Post puts it, ‘runs an advocacy association that is outspoken about the need for democracy in his home country.’

Yet Iranians — like either saints or an abused spouse, you decide — persist in declaring their openness to negotiating with the US government. I, for one, apologise and propose reparations. At the very least, end the sanctions!, February 4. David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist and radio host. He is executive director of World BEYOND War and campaign coordinator for

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