“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
On 4 November 1979, during the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran, a band of militant students seized the American embassy in Tehran and held a number of American embassy staff hostage for 444 days. The horrific ordeal, engineered as payback for the US government allowing the deposed Shah to enter the US, shocked the nation, as Americans held their breath, anticipating the future of their hostages.
President Jimmy Carter’s chances for re-election looked slim. A disastrous economy and what appeared to be a never-ending Hostage Crisis tarnished his hopes for a second term. Ronald Reagan won the election, and a few minutes after he was inaugurated, the hostages were released. Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime had, in effect, manipulated the results of the 1980 US elections by ensuring Reagan’s victory. The nation, overjoyed by the return of the hostages, never stopped to question this peculiar turn of events. Why were the hostages released only minutes after Reagan was inaugurated? The question was later answered in a series of allegations brought to light by President Carter’s former National Security Council team member, Gary Sick, and others, in what has been dubbed as the “October Surprise”.
According to the October Surprise investigation, negotiations between the Reagan-Bush camp and Iranian officials had taken place a few months before the elections to delay the release of the hostages until after the Republicans had won. Worried that an early release would allow Carter another victory, William Casey, Reagan’s campaign manager, engineered a serious of hush-hush meetings with Iranians in Madrid and Paris. In exchange for delaying the release of the hostages, Iran was assured a large shipment of arms delivered by the Israelis. Writing in the New York Times (15 April 1991), Sick states:
From Oct. 15 to Oct. 20, events came to a head in a series of meetings in several hotels in Paris, involving members of the Reagan-Bush campaign and high-level Iranian and Israeli representatives… [T]he Iranian representatives agreed that the hostages would not be released prior to the Presidential election on Nov. 4; in return, Israel would serve as a conduit for arms and spare parts to Iran… Between Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, Israel sent a planeload of F-4 fighter aircraft tires to Iran in contravention of the US boycott and without informing Washington.
Members of the Reagan-Bush camp have vehemently denied any involvement whatsoever, but Sick lists a number of sources who were present at the negotiations and have validated the October Surprise theory. The case for the October Surprise is plausible and widely accepted, and important in that it sheds light on not only the illegal maneuverings of the Republicans during that time, but their perpetual contradictory dealings in foreign policy in general.
Twenty-five years after the Hostage Crisis, Iran finds itself put in the hot seat by US Republicans. President George W. Bush included Iran as part of the “axis of evil” along with Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria, and other countries. Iran has been a focus of attack in recent months as a result of news reports indicating Iran’s desire for acquiring nuclear weapons, and its possible role in harboring and assisting al-Qaeda operatives.
Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami
Iran has long been considered a “terrorist” state by the US for its support of pro-Palestinian groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas. Iran considers them as “resistance” and “opposition” groups, rather than “terrorist” organizations. During the US invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, there were clear-cut warnings from the Bush Administration to Iran warning that any interference would result in dire consequences. In January 2002, Bush voiced his worry that Iran may be attempting to destabilize the interim Afghan government in an effort to further its own interests in the region. As the BBC reported (10 January 2002), “His [Bush’s] blunt comments reflect US concerns that Iran is trying to challenge the authority of the interim government in Afghanistan, and may be giving safe haven to al-Qaeda leaders fleeing US and allied military troops there.”
During the initial phase of the US invasion of Afghanistan, there were hopeful signs that Iran was cooperating in seizing al-Qaeda officials that may have filtered across the border into Iran and placing them in custody, but now doubts have emerged as to whether these operatives may be finding a safe haven there, instead. Further allegations of Iran’s involvement came to light as a result of the recent 9/11 Commission investigation which claims that Iranians helped many of the 9/11 terrorists to easily pass through Iran. A recent Newsweek article (26 July 2004) claimed that:
US intelligence believes that in faraway Tehran, the hard-line Islamic clerics who now exercise near total control over Iran directed their border guards to help jihadists coming from Afghanistan. And sometime between October 2000 and February 2001, according to the forthcoming final report of the 9/11 Commission, eight to 10 of the muscle hijackers of the September 11 plot were among those who benefited from this Iranian good-fellowship.
However, Iran has shrugged off these allegations, claiming that they are unfounded and based on typical fiery election-year rhetoric. No direct links between Iran and the events of 9/11 have been found, and it is unlikely that there are any. However, based on the commission’s report, the question many have asked is whether Bush’s adamant focus on Iraq was misplaced, and whether Iran should have been the actual target of a thorough probe.
So far, the worry of the Bush Administration has been that Iran has only benefited from both the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran had nothing but contempt for the Afghan Taliban rulers, and considered Saddam Hussein its archenemy. Both were removed from power by the US-allied forces, as Iran simply sat back and enjoyed the destruction of its enemies without having to do a thing. Iran remains as an influential power in the Middle East, which has greatly worried the Administration, which who views Iran’s current position as a possible threat in its efforts to democratize the region.
Iran’s ambitions are inevitably focused on influencing the future governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, which it hopes will resemble its own theocracy. On the flip side, however, the current US presence in the region has posed a danger to Iran, since a possible “free” and “democratized” Afghanistan and Iraq could set the tone for the future of the region, and endanger Iran’s ambitions. However, the Iranian government is also aware that given the turbulent situations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rising anti-US sentiment and violence that is taking place is further indication that the United States is deeply buried in its own mess, and tough talks of pressuring Iran and the rest of the “axis of evil” nations will only be met with harsh criticism and opposition from the United Nations and member states.
More worrisome to the Iranians is the Bush doctrine and the Republicans’ ambitions for “Americanizing” the Middle East. The roots of this philosophy can be linked to the “Project New American Century”, (PNAC) established in 1997, which proposed how to deal with Iraq and other “aggressor states” and calls for military superiority in the region. The supporters of the plan include the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, whose ambitions include an overall American dominance.
As D. Lindley Young explains in the Modern Tribune (11 April 2004): “...It [PNAC] is interpreted around the world as the manifesto for global domination starting with the democratization of the Middle East ostensibly to make America safer.” The plan, under the guise of introducing democracy, proposes a strong military US presence in the Middle East in efforts to demolish possible anti-US violence at its roots. Whether an American-style government is what Middle Easterners want is beside the point (as is obvious with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq). The US and allied forces have only endangered themselves further as a result of both invasions, invoking an ever-increasing anti-US sentiment which is growing more apparent every day as insurgent violence escalates in Iraq. In turn, the government in Tehran is banking on this anti-Western sentiment to continue influencing and wielding its power of politics in the region.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has been towing the line, providing full-fledged support to the US in its “war against terror”, and it is now considered a steadfast US ally. Libya and Syria appear to be lying low, which leaves the ever unruly, wayward child of the Middle East, Iran, as the US’s number-one target. Coupled with the allegations stated in the 9/11 Commission report linking Iran to possibly assisting al-Qaeda operatives hiding in the country to recent reports that Iran is attempting to advance its nuclear weapons program, Iran is now in a position of being pressured by the US to adhere to its rules or suffer the consequences. So far though, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s call to place sanctions on Iran until it abandons its nuclear weapons ambitions have proven unpopular amongst the world community, many of whom (including longtime US ally, Great Britain) have diplomatic ties with Iran. And future calls of anti-Iran pressures will continue to fall on deaf ears.
Another Bush victory in this year’s elections could spell a show of further threats and admonitions that will prove ineffective and insubstantial, and seem only designed for “show”. Iran remains an untouchable force in the region, a fact of which the US is aware and plans to use to its own advantage when necessary. Since the 1979 Hostage Crisis and the events surrounding the October Surprise, the Republicans and the Ayatollahs’ regime have engaged in an on-again/off-again, under-the-table “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” politics which will remain intact, just as they did during the Reagan era. Old enemies die hard.