Monday, January 13, 2020

America Invades...Iran?

Major General Soleimani
1957 - 2020

On January 3, 2020 Major General Soleimani was killed near Baghdad in a drone strike authorized by President Trump.  On January 7, 2020 Iran launched multiple missiles into American bases n Iraq.  On the morning of January 8, 2020 a Ukranian Airlines jetliner taking off from Tehran's airport was shot down by Iranian defense forces killing 176 passengers and crew.

The leftist media quickly began hyperventilating over the possibility of blaming the start of World War III on President Trump.  Many have suggested that Trump acted in a wag the dog fashion attempting to distract from his recent impeachment by the US House of Representatives -- ignoring the fact that Trump seems actually to have authorized the killing of Soleimani back in June of 2019 long before his December impeachment.

The mainstream media, seemingly convinced that the world began last week, is generally awful at putting recent developments in US / Iranian relations into any kind of an accurate historical context.  This week, for example, I heard a report on KUOW (the NPR station in Seattle) that declared that the "US Army shot down an Iranian passenger jetliner in 1988."  That is false.  It was the USS Vincennes that launched that fateful missile in 1988.  Naturally we discussed this in our work America Invades.

We also noted that the US government paid $130 million in compensation for the tragic shoot down of the jetliner.  How much will the Iranian government pay to compensate the victims of the 2020 tragedy that they caused?

In 2014 Stuart Laycock and I published America Invades: How We've Invaded or Been Militarily Involved with Almost Every Country on Earth (  Our chapter on Iran detailed American military involvement with Iran over many years but omitted the Iranian Nuclear Arms Deal which was consummated in 2015.  Nor did we foresee the ascension of President Trump and the unravelling of the Iran Nuclear Deal.  We did the best we could in 2014.  Here is our Iran chapter in full...

"Persia, the ancient land of Xerxes and Darius, Iran has been, in more recent times, the land of the shah and the Ayatollah Khomeini. It’s not going to come as a shock to many Americans that we have long been involved with the country, sometimes in a friendly sense, sometimes less so.

Howard Baskerville
1885 - 1909
To begin with, it was definitely in a friendly sense. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Iran, or Persia as it then was, found itself squeezed between two empires, the Russian (and after the Revolution, Soviet) Empire to the north and the British Empire to the south and east. America, by contrast, with much less influence in the region, was seen as something of a safe alternative. Americans like Arthur Millspaugh and Morgan Shuster held high rank in the country offering advice on modernizing and westernizing. Americans opened schools and colleges. One American at the time even fought and died for constitutional democracy in the country. Howard Baskerville, born in North Platte, Nebraska, became a teacher at the American Memorial School in Tabriz. In 1909, aged twenty-four, with royalist forces besieging the city, Baskerville led a volunteer force against them. He was killed by a sniper, but even today he is honored in Iran.

H. Norman Schwarzkopf
1895 - 1958
During World War II, Iran was vital to Allied victory. After the Anglo-Soviet occupation of the country, about eighteen billion dollars’ worth of American lend-lease material poured through Iran on its way to the Soviet Union. Our Persian Gulf Command took control of US efforts in the country, organizing improvements to infrastructure to help the flow of war supplies and setting up a plant at Abadan near the coast with the 17th Air Depot Group where aircraft could be assembled before onward transmission to Tehran and then the Soviet Union. American influence was seen elsewhere as well. For instance, in 1942, H. Norman Schwarzkopf (not the leader of Operation Desert Storm—but his father) was put in charge of organizing the Iranian police force.

Tehran Conference 1943
And, of course, the principal Allied leaders of the war, FDR, Churchill, and Stalin all met for a wartime conference in Tehran. FDR had  own in from Cairo on November 27, 1943. FDR mixed martinis for Churchill and Stalin. FDR asked Stalin how he liked his drink. Stalin answered that it was Okay but cold on his stomach.

Stalin pressed the Western allies to commit to opening up a second front. FDR settled on Dwight Eisenhower to be the supreme commander in Europe, responsible for Operation Overlord. Little discussion was given over to the question of post-war Iran or the Persian Gulf.

After the war, Iran emerged as the fourth largest oil exporter in the world, supplying 90 percent of Europe’s petroleum. In the early 1950s with the Cold War raging, people in the UK and US governments and intelligence agencies started to get nervous about what might happen in Iran.
Iran shared a thousand-mile border with the Soviet Union and had an active Communist (Tudeh) party. The crisis really began, however, when Mohammad Mossadeq, the democratically elected prime minister, looking to take more of the profits from Iran’s oil, started to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a move deeply unpopular with Britain, which imposed sanctions.

Kermit Roosevelt Jr.
1916 - 2000
In 1953, President Eisenhower authorized a CIA-led coup against Mossadeq in favor of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Kermit Roosevelt jr. (Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson) was put in charge of Operation Ajax, and funds were used by the CIA to recruit Iranian mobs, which eventually helped drive Mossadeq from office. Eisenhower subsequently awarded Kermit Roosevelt jr. the National Security Medal in a closed-door ceremony in December 1953.

In the period after the coup, we helped build up the shah with military and other aid, and the shah became a firm partner of the United States in the Cold War. Our Military Assistance Advisory Group in the country, for instance, had widespread involvement with Iran’s military and security structures prior to the 1979 revolution.

Shah of Iran
1919 - 1980
In 1973, Iran accounted for 10 percent of world’s oil output and was a vital strategic interest for the United States and the rest of the West. A 1978 National Intelligence estimate had confidently reported that Iran was not in a “revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.”  In 1979, the Iranian revolution broke out, and soon the shah was gone from Iran forever.

So much has happened between the United States and Iran since the revolution that this can only be a summary of some of the main events.

In 1979, American hostages were seized in Tehran after the US embassy was stormed. The CIA working closely with the Canadian ambassador managed to “exfiltrate” six Americans under the noses of the Iranian militants. Ross Perot also hired a retired ex–Green Beret officers to free two of his EDS employees from Iranian kidnappers. Fifty-two Americans remained in custody. President Jimmy Carter authorized Operation Eagle Claw, an attempt to rescue the hostages using navy helicopters and a Delta Force under the command of Colonel Charles Beckwith. Carter’s secretary of state, Cy Vance, resigned over the decision. In the early hours of April 25, a helicopter rotor struck a Lockheed C-130 on the ground causing a massive explosion. The bodies of eight Americans were left in the Persian desert. The mission’s failure severely weakened the Carter presidency.

And then the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of the Reagan years nearly brought down Carter’s successor. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, another hostage crisis was brewing with Iran’s ally Hezbollah.

Because of its problems with post-revolution Iran, the United States tended to favor Saddam’s Iraq in the brutal Iran-Iraq War that he launched and which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and claimed over a million lives. US and Gulf Arab support for Iraq led to huge tensions with Iran in the Persian Gulf and eventually actual violence.

In an attempt to put pressure on Iraq’s Gulf allies, Iran commenced attacks on their oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. In response, in Operation Earnest Will, America agreed to offer naval protection to tankers reflagged under the Stars and Stripes and took a number of other actions as well.
In October 1987, after a missile hit the Sea Isle City, a Kuwaiti-flagged oil tanker, we launched Operation Nimble Archer against two Iranian oil rigs, which had been used to coordinate attacks on merchant shipping. After four warships shelled the platforms, US Special Forces boarded them and planted explosives.

During Earnest Will, in early 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine and was almost sunk. Operation Praying Mantis was launched four days later.  US forces again attacked and destroyed two Iranian oil rigs, and when the Iranian navy tried to counterattack our forces, the Iranian frigate Sahand disabled another Iranian frigate, destroyed the missile patrol boat Joshan, and sank or damaged a number of other Iranian patrol boats. Iran’s fleet was not big, and by the end of the action, half of it was sunk or severely damaged.

USS Vincennes
On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian commercial jet liner with 290 passengers, all of whom were killed. The USG agreed to pay over $130 million in compensation. The Iran-Iraq War came to an end shortly after this tragedy.

In the State of the Union address George W. Bush delivered on January 31, 2002, he accused Iran of forming part of “an axis of evil” in the world. In August of 2002, evidence emerged that Iran was building a uranium- enrichment facility in Natanz and a secret heavy water production plant in Arak. In June of 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran. In power, Ahmadinejad used rhetoric widely against countries such as the United States and Israel. Iran claimed its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, but Iran’s support for Shiite forces in Iraq opposed to the United States and for Hezbollah and Hamas inevitably raised concerns about whether the Iranian nuclear program was in reality mainly designed to create nuclear weapons.

Over the years, Iran has been the target of assorted US surveillance and intelligence operations, and it has been speculated that the United States has had contacts with groups mounting cross-border operations into Iran, as well as other activities inside Iran.

In 2010, the Stuxnet worm targeted cascades and centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in Iran and is reputed to have delayed the process by as much as two years. It is widely speculated that United States and Israeli intelligence organized the Stuxnet operation. Has the American battle cry evolved from “Send in the Marines” to “Send in the Nerds”?

Recent negotiations have raised hopes that problems over Iran’s nuclear program might be solved peacefully, but little is certain at this stage."

For much more on American military involvement around the globe

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...