Islamic Revolution and Anti-America Campaign

  October 10, 2021   Read time 2 min
Islamic Revolution and Anti-America Campaign
There is no doubt that Imam Khomeini’s handling of the hostage taking gave a great lift to the Islamic Revolution and carried it past dangerous shoals where it might have foundered

The shah’s unexpected overthrow for a time greatly dismayed official Washington, but this was soon offset by the U.S. belief it could work with the shah’s successor, Ayatollah Khomeini. After all, the Khomeini regime comprised for the most part religious figures, who presumably could be counted on to oppose communism. At this time Washington’s greatest fear was that the Soviet Union would capitalize on the shah’s overthrow to preempt the former privileged position of the United States in Iran.

U.S. hopes that a modus vivendi could be worked out with the clerics were dashed once the hostage seizure took place. The arrest of some sixty U.S. diplomats by Iranian radicals, and their subsequent imprisonment in the U.S. embassy in Tehran, was an appalling act, violating every standard of international diplomacy. That the Khomeini government not only failed to free the hostages but cynically exploited the situation seemed incredible.

The hostage seizure had come about as part of a spontaneous action by a group of radical students. Only later on, seeing the potential in the situation, did Khomeini exploit it. Basically, the ayatollah’s aim was to use the incident to offset a dangerous situation that was developing within the revolution: It was factionalizing as various groups began to maneuver for advantage, each bent on taking charge of events.

To unify ranks, Khomeini resorted to the tactic of identifying the enemy. He made the case that the United States was on the point of intervening militarily. The revolutionaries were then admonished to cooperate or be devoured by the “Great Satan.” That the ranks closed forthwith is testimony to Khomeini’s correct analysis.

But Khomeini did not leave the situation there; he was able to cap this victory by yet another bold stroke. He cited Washington’s nonintervention as proof of the impotence of the West and of the corresponding power of his revolution. He claimed that the United States was incapable of standing up to the might of Islam; it could not free its hostages even by military means, he boasted. The apparent impotence of the world’s strongest power seemed irrefutable evidence of the correctness of the ayatollah’s contention.

The United States certainly was hamstrung in its attempts to wrest the hostages from the students, but this was due to fear of provoking a clash with the Soviet Union. Iran is one of the few areas of the world that is part of the spheres of influence of both superpowers. Any move by one of them to invade the country was certain to encounter opposition from its rival. Moreover, the Soviets had a treaty with Tehran that gave them the right to invade whenever a third party entered Iran and threatened Soviet security.

Had the United States put troops into Iran in the late 1970s, that certainly would have triggered the intervention provision of this treaty; the Soviet army would not have tolerated the appearance of a U.S. army on its doorstep. Khomeini certainly understood that this was the situation. Therefore, his boasts that he would turn Iran into a graveyard for U.S. military forces—should they dare to invade—were a sham. Invasion was never a possibility.

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