Puppet Regime, Proxy Forces and US Interests in Iran

  June 26, 2021   Read time 2 min
Puppet Regime, Proxy Forces and US Interests in Iran
Shah was generally considered to be a puppet ruler controlled by the US politicians. But this relationship was not indeed that simple. There were complications and even certain violations of the drawn lines by the Superpower.

By the time Carter was elected in 1976, Millspaugh’s comments about US failures in Iran were long forgotten. His talk of bureaucratic, intelligence and personal flaws, however, could easily have been a description of the problems that beset America’s relationship with Iran in the three decades after 1979. During this period, the various US policies towards Iran (it would be inaccurate to speak in terms of there being only one) have been characterised by extremes, punctuated by periods of studied aversion.

A key country in a turbulent region and the recipient of some of the most inconsistent treatment meted out during and after the Cold War, Iran has been, in turn, both one of America’s closest allies and an ‘axis of evil’ or ‘rogue’ state, targeted by covert action and contained by sanctions, diplomatic isolation and the threat of overt action. Moreover, since the attacks of 11 September 2001, Iran has played a significant role in the ‘War on Terror’ while also incurring American wrath for its links to international terror and its alleged pursuit of a nuclear-weapons programme. Yet, the highs and lows of this tumultuous and complex relationship are only part of the story. Beyond the rhetoric and recriminations, deep grievances, unmanaged expectations and policy failures, emerges an intriguing picture of a superpower’s struggle to craft and implement a coherent, viable and, above all, successful foreign policy.

Even before the period under investigation, intelligence failures were a known quantity in US–Iranian relations. What the US knew and how it targeted, collected, assessed, disseminated and acted upon the information it gathered plays a central part in this story. There is no doubt that serious problems existed. Significant HUMINT (human intelligence) and SIGINT (signals intelligence) gaps, evident in the late 1970s, widened during the 30 years of hostilities. Reliance on the Shah for information crippled analysis; later, trying to rebuild or develop new assets caused serious problems. Decades into estrangement, the US found that it had been unable to bridge these gaps to any real degree. Did these, however, amount to a systemic or systematic intelligence failure, or both? Could they have been more effectively addressed or overcome? The intelligence deficit extended to successive administrations’ capacity to assess the internal dynamics of Iranian politics. Policymakers and presidents often knew a lot about Iran (details of politicians, economic statistics, foreign policy machinations) but at the end of three decades, key players were still lamenting about how little the US understood Iran. Something had arguably gone badly wrong and should have been addressed more proactively.

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