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Why Does the United States Dislike Iran? 

Don't Panic: Your War Questions Answered

At the end of my cliffhanger column two weeks ago, Meredith finally made out with McDreamy again, but still couldn't decide whether she wanted to be with him or with her boyfriend, Finn.

Oops! That was the season finale cliffhanger on Grey's Anatomy. My bad.

At the end of my cliffhanger column two weeks ago, I wrote about how, in 1979, the Iranian Revolution toppled Iran's repressive and incompetent US-backed monarchy and replaced it with Folgers Crystals a fundamentalist Shi'ite Muslim theocracy.

Note that revolutionaries who toppled Iran's monarchy weren't all Muslim theocrats. Some were Western-style democrats. Some were socialists. Some wanted constitutional monarchy. Much like the French Revolution, however, the Iranian Revolution splintered after the old government was overthrown. It was the post-revolutionary power struggle that saw the Islamic revolutionaries, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, emerge dominant.

That leads us to the event that, from the American perspective, is the main reason US-Iranian relations are in the toilet: the November 4, 1979, storming of the US Embassy in Iran by an organized gang of Islamic revolutionary students. Sixty-six Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days.

The immediate cause of the embassy seizure was that, in October 1979, President Carter had allowed the exiled shah of Iran to enter to the United States for cancer treatment. That pissed off Iran's Islamic revolutionaries very, very much. They wanted the shah returned to Iran so they could give him a fair trial before hanging him. The revolutionaries were probably also afraid. After all, in 1953, the last time the shah fled Iran, the US government violently engineered his return to power.

Taking over the United States' large compound in Iran was a way of ensuring that it could not be used as a staging ground for another coup. The Islamic revolutionaries referred to the embassy as a "den of spies."

Though the Carter administration didn't succeed in getting hostages returned during his term, his response has nonetheless served as the template for America's Iran policy ever since. Carter froze Iranian assets in the United States and cut off diplomatic ties.

He also encouraged an American ally to wage war on Iran. In 1980, Carter administration officials met with Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq and encouraged him to help pro-US Iranians mount a coup attempt against Iran's Islamists.

Saddam did them one better by sending his entire armed forces to invade Iran outright. The war lasted eight years and, by some estimates, killed more than 1 million people.

The Reagan administration, which took over from Carter in 1981, was so keen on using Saddam Hussein to inflict punishment on Iran that it actively supported Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iranians and his own internal Iraqi enemies. Reagan even sent a personal envoy to Baghdad to tell Hussein to ignore US congressional outrage at Iraq's WMD use. The envoy that the Reagan administration sent to Iraq? A former Ford administration official named Donald Rumsfeld.

Neither the American public nor American policy makers have acknowledged that the Iranian Revolution was largely the direct result of a quarter-century of selfish, anti-democratic US meddling in Iranian affairs. 1979 is fixed in American minds as the year the relationship went sour.

The closest the United States has gotten to officially acknowledging otherwise has been President Bush's partial acknowledgement in speeches that American Middle East policies of previous administrations were counterproductive (he, of course, refuses to acknowledge how awful his own have been).

Speaking to the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush said, "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."

Note how his phrasing dilutes American responsibility by blaming all "Western nations." Note how the words "excusing" and "accommodating" falsely imply that US policy in the Middle East has been passive.

Also ponder the phrase "did nothing to make us safe." What about what it did for them?

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