Jimmy Carter and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, 1978. White House photo.

It's been a good week for rightwing shitposter, convicted/pardoned felon, and habitual liar Dinesh D'Souza. Donald Trump, who D'Souza unironically compares to Lincoln, retweeted D'Souza's funny joke that it was perfectly fine that Democratic congressional leaders weren't informed in advance of the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani because after all, "Neither were the Iranians, and for pretty much the same reason." Haw haw, both are sworn enemies of the USA, how true this is!

Over the weekend, D'Souza departed from his usual schtick of explaining that Democrats love slavery and Jim Crow because history stopped in 1964, and offered a very smart historical take on the current unpleasantness, explaining that if only Jimmy Carter had propped up the Shah of Iran in 1979, Donald Trump wouldn't have to be fixing things now.

If nothing else, D'Souza stands in his complete wrongness as a pretty useful proxy for how Americans think about history and foreign affairs, especially the notion that US-Iran problems started with the Shah's ouster and the hostage crisis in 1979. Add to that the dubious idea that American presidents have the power to shape world events, and you might end up with a deeply stupid conclusion, like claiming Jimmy Carter singlehandedly allowed the rise of Islamic fundamentalist radicalism because he was weak. You might also have to be super dishonest and partisan to get there, too, which is Dinesh D'Souza's special talent.


To be clear, there's no real value in simply pointing out how very wrong D'Souza is, because his only game is stirring up rightwing anger and selling his distorted versions of history to the rubes. But it's worth looking at the actual history of the Iranian Revolution, since it really does, unlike D'Souza, offer useful context for what's going on right now. Pity that the "president" of the USA doesn't read, though.

For starters, there's the seriously bad take that "this whole thing started" in 1979. A whole bunch of people replied to D'Souza that a far better starting point for the Iranian revolution was 1953's CIA-run coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was deeply disliked by Great Britain because he'd nationalized Iran's oil industry. The CIA only officially acknowledged its role in the coup 60 years later, in 2013.

If you have 40 minutes, listen to this very good NPR program on how the CIA pulled it off; the NPR piece also has useful history on Iran's crappy rule by corrupt kings -- the Shahs -- prior to Mosaddegh, who was way into the whole throw out the British colonizers trend of the postwar period.



Fun fact: in 1953, the mullahs helped the CIA oust Mosaddegh, so they could have influence once the Shah was restored. By 1979, it was to the clerics' advantage to argue that a popular uprising would actually fulfill the democratic dreams of Mosaddegh. Iranians had a lot of nationalist nostalgia for Mosaddegh, and Khomeini and the leaders of the Islamic Revolution promised they'd bring back Iran's democratic glory days. Or at least be way better than the Shah, who was a prime example of the sort of murderous tyrant the US liked to ally itself with in the developing world.

As we say, quite a few people pointed out that the pivotal moment in US-Iran relations came in 1953, not 1979. D'Souza had a brilliant answer to that critique: He nitpicked the idea that Mosaddegh had been "democratically elected," then stopped replying at all.

What is a parliamentary system, anyway? You might as well quibble that Boris Johnson is not the democratically elected leader of the United Kingdom since really, the Queen appointed him after his party won the most seats in the recent election.

But sure, once the undemocratic Mosaddegh was ousted by the CIA, the Shah was restored to power. And let's not nitpick too much over the tiny detail that he "was not elected by the Iranian people." He was a king, and you don't vote for kings, stupid.

Now, as to whether Jimmy Carter "pulled the Persian rug out from under the Shah," that there is some bullshit. Fortunately for anyone who wants to read up, last January marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 revolution, and plenty of outlets published timelines of the events leading up to the rise of Khomeini and the Islamic Republic. Here's a pretty good one from the Brookings Institute.

The big takeaway is that, no, Islamic radicals didn't take over Iran primarily because Jimmy Carter betrayed the Shah. Iranians had been demonstrating and rioting against the Shah's authoritarian rule for years, and he had a nasty habit of sending the military and secret police to shoot into crowds, killing hundreds of protesters. Carter, like most US Presidents, had praised the Shah's Iran as "an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world" in December 1977, but as the cycle of protest and repression got worse, Iranians wanted the Shah gone.

By December 1978, millions of Iranians were protesting the Shah and demanding Khomeini return from exile in France. And Carter, like the Shah, saw the writing on the wall:

Only a week after he publicly reaffirmed U.S. support for and "confidence in" the Shah, President Jimmy Carter publicly hedges in press statements, noting that "We personally prefer that the Shah maintain a major role, but that is a decision for the Iranian people to make."

The Shah left Iran for good in January 1979, and Khomeini came back and took power. D'Souza doesn't suggest how Carter could have kept the Shah in power, because it's enough for the right to call Carter a weakling and leave it at that. Was the US supposed to bomb the demonstrators? Or maybe assassinate Khomeini? For that matter, the Shah was busy dying of cancer, a fact Carter and other Western leaders knew quite well. He died in 1980, but some right-leaning folks argue that somehow, Carter should have propped up the dynasty until the Shah's son was old enough to become a dictator in his own right. They say it nicer than that.

You can make an argument that what really "lost" Iran wasn't so much Carter's failure to support the Shah as his decision to let him come to the US for medical treatment, which inflamed the radicals against the US and directly contributed to the takeover at the US embassy -- if that hadn't happened, Iran would have a radical Islamist government, but Americans would likely have just shrugged instead of being obsessed with Iran.

Heck, maybe Carter should have just bombed cultural sites in Iran. That might have taught 'em a lesson.

[Brookings Institute / WaPo / BBC]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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