35 Years Ago: An Iranian Revolution Thanks to Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter was the last Liberal Left president to attempt with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini what President Barack Obama is now attempting to do with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani: negotiate.

Rouhani, a Shi’a cleric, has learned his lessons well from Khomeini.

When Carter entered the political fray in 1976, America was still riding the liberal wave of anti-Vietnam War emotion. Carter was persuaded that the Shah was not fit to rule Iran. In his anti-war pacifism, Carter never got it that Khomeini, a cleric exiled to Iraq, was preparing Iran for revolution. His weapon of choice was not the sword but the media. Using tape cassettes smuggled by Iranian pilgrims returning from the holy city of Najaf, he fueled disdain for what he called “gharbzadegi” (the plague of Western culture).

In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech to members of the paramilitary Basij force at the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei says pressure from economic sanctions will never force the country into unwelcome concessions as nuclear negotiators resumed talks with world powers. Khamenei also blasted U.S. government policies, including threats of military action, but said Iran has "no animosity'" toward the American people and seeks "friendly" relations. (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)
In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader’s office on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech to members of the paramilitary Basij force at the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei says pressure from economic sanctions will never force the country into unwelcome concessions as nuclear negotiators resumed talks with world powers. Khamenei also blasted U.S. government policies, including threats of military action, but said Iran has “no animosity'” toward the American people and seeks “friendly” relations. (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)

Carter pressured the Shah to make what he termed human rights concessions by releasing political prisoners and relaxing press censorship. Khomeini could never have succeeded without Carter. The Islamic Revolution would have been stillborn.

Under Carter’s predecessor, Richard Nixon, the U.S. had enacted what became known as the “Twin Pillar Doctrine.” His approach was to establish American military substitutes in various regions, especially in Iran and Saudi Arabia, to deter the Soviet Union and provide protection for U.S. interests. Iran received such a designation and was thus guaranteed access to U.S. arms in abundance.

Carter perceived Khomeini as a religious holy man in a grassroots revolution than the founding father of modern terrorism. Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, said” Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint.” Carter’s Iranian ambassador, William Sullivan, said, “Khomeini is a Gandhi-like figure.” Carter adviser James Bill proclaimed on Feb. 12, 1979, that Khomeini was not a mad mujahid, but a man of “impeccable integrity and honesty.”

Just as Carter administration officials pursued a relationship with Khomeini, so did Barack Obama state during his first election campaign that he wanted to sit down without preconditions for talks with Iran’s president and leaders from other rogue states.

Farah Pahlavi, wife of the former Shah, told me during an interview in her home:

“My husband said to me that if Jimmy Carter keeps this up, ultimately Khomeini will come back and with him will come an Islamic revolution. The Russians will invade Afghanistan, Iraq will go to war against Iran, and who knows what horror will come upon the world.”

During the same interview, the empress talked about Carter’shuman rights issue:

“What happened to those who cared so much for human rights? How come when the Shah left, the Iranian people didn’t have any rights anymore? What happened to the women?…There is oppression which exists in the name of religion in Iran. What happened to those who cared?”

Asadollah Alam, appointed prime minister by the Shah in July 1962, was Pahlavi’s personal confidant. Alam and the Shah had been classmates at the exclusive Swiss boarding school, InstitutLe Rosey. He remained in office through major industrial and social reforms implemented by the Shah, sometimes referred to as the “White Revolution.” Alam wrote of the Shah’s concerns over Carter’s election in his diary: “Who knows what sort of calamity he [Carter] may unleash on the world?

In an interview with President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former president of France during the time of America’s first crisis with Iran, I was told that in 1979 he met with Carter in Guadalupe for a summit, as did Helmut Schmidt of Germany and James Callahan of Great Britain. Carter told this group of men that the U.S. was going to support Khomeini instead of the Shah of Iran. In essence, Mr. d’Estaing said he realized the U.S. was trading its strongest pro-Western Persian Gulf ally in favor of a terrorist Muslim cleric.

“I was horrified,” said d’Estaing. “The only way I can describe Jimmy Carter is that he was a ‘bastard of conscience.’”

Army Demonstration...The Iranian Islamic Republic Army demonstrates in solidarity with people in the street during the Iranian revolution. They are carrying posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian religious and political leader.   (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Army Demonstration…The Iranian Islamic Republic Army demonstrates in solidarity with people in the street during the Iranian revolution. They are carrying posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian religious and political leader. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Congress took on the task of human rights in 1961 as a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and the Nixon administration’s foreign policy debacles. A law was passed that established official prerequisites for the limitation or rejection of assistance for a nation or nations that repeatedly deny basic civil liberties for people. The law was an attempt to dissociate theU.S. from the unethical and abusive actions of beneficiaries of foreign assistance. Aid would no longer be dependent on a seeming pro-American stance; it would be given to those nations which valued human rights and self-determination.

What made pursuing a human rights agenda even more attractive to Carter’s foreign policy team was a congressional amendment to the Act in 1976 that made the president responsible for the determination of which countries were guilty of abusing the human rights of its citizens.

The escape clause giving the president more decision-making latitude lay in the words “extraordinary circumstances exist which necessitate a continuation of security assistance for such country.” This allowed a sitting president leeway to determine what aid to which countries was in the national interest of the U.S. Such wording made it possible for Carter to launch his campaign against the Shah of Iran while simply ignoring other abusive regimes such as the one in Indonesia and ultimately being instrumental in the Shah’s ouster.

With the election of Jimmy Carter and his stance against the Shah, the U.S. was suddenly deprived of level heads that would have provided access to Persian Gulf oil. A relationship that for decades had been friendly had become adversarial. A deviously clever, manipulative fanatic was suddenly in control of all decision-making in Iran, an old man who had no desire to negotiate with his sworn enemy—the “Great Satan.”

As the Iranians relentlessly pursued the Shah’s assets, purported to be stashed in American banks, Khomeini’s negotiators demanded a total of $24 billion dollars be transferred to a bank in Algeria. Just days before Carter was to leave office, Iran capitulated and agreed to Carter’s demands to pay off loans owned to U.S. banks. In marathon sessions new drafts were produced, new documents drawn, and the Bank of England was approved as the repository of escrow funds. Shortly after 4 a.m. on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 1981, the Carter administration relinquished $7.977 billion to the Iranians. According to one source, the transfer required 14 banks and the participation of five nations acting concurrently.

Since the talk of lessening sanctions on the Islamic republic, former President Carter has been surprisingly silent. Could it be that even he realizes the danger of a nuclear Iran?

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