Ghazvinian
© Twitter/KJN
Author John Ghazvinian
John Ghazvinian's superb new book appears at exactly the right time. As the Biden administration gingerly starts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, the mainstream U.S. media will continue its shameful tradition of distorting the truth, partly in response to the Israel lobby's attempt to sabotage America's return to the agreement. Ghazvinian's magisterial, fascinating survey is a calm, persuasive response to the dishonesty, indispensable to anyone concerned about what is still one of the greatest flashpoints in the world.

Ghazvinian is of Iranian descent — his parents left the country with him 46 years ago when he was a year old — and he has used his language skills to work in Iran's archives after getting limited permission. He was a journalist before he joined the academy — the author of a valuable 2007 book on the oil industry in Africa — and his impressive writing ability shines through, making this 667-page book a smooth read.

What stands out about U.S. policy toward Iran over the past 7 decades or so is the lethal combination of arrogance and stupidity. American policymakers fundamentally misunderstood that, as Ghazvinian puts it: . . . Iran is one of the world's oldest, proudest, and most enduring civilizations. . . Iran has had three thousand years of (mostly) continuous nationhood. . . It is also one of only seven or eight nations that were never colonized by European powers. . . Ghazvinian's account makes clear that Iranians will continue to resist U.S. efforts to impose "regime change" on them, whatever their view of their present government. What's tragic is that his thoroughly-researched account shows that hostility between the two nations is not eternal. In the early years of American independence, in fact, there was a distant but mutual respect. Iran was instead worried about its expansionist northern neighbor, Russia, and then, later, about Great Britain.

A key fact is that oil was found in Iran as early as 1908, a full 3 decades before it was discovered in Saudi Arabia. A British company started production, which enabled the Royal Navy to convert from coal before the outbreak of World War 1. Iran's oil was not only profitable for the misleadingly named Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, but was also a strategic necessity for the British Empire.
Motorcade
© Aul Slade/Paris Match/Getty Images
Eisenhower in Tehran 1959 Presidential motorcade
Meanwhile, Iranian oil workers lived in slums in the oil port of Abadan. British exploitation naturally prompted resistance, and in the early 1950s the popular and principled nationalist leader, Mohammed Mosaddeq, won election, and tried to negotiate a better oil deal with an intransigent Britain. After the talks failed, Iran nationalized the oil industry. Britain imposed a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil, and the struggle lasted for several years, attracting international attention; TIME magazine picked Mosaddeq as its "Man of the Year" in 1951. In the end, every Iranian knows how the U.S. joined Britain, and sponsored the 1953 coup that restored the young Shah (the Farsi word for "King") to power.
Roosevelt/Shah of Iran
© Everett Collection INC/Alamy Stock Photo
REZA PAHLEVI, SHAH OF IRAN, WITH PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT DURING THE TEHERAN CONFERENCE. NOV. 28-DEC. 1, 1943.
JOHN GHAZVINIAN WRITES: “THE 24-YEAR-OLD SHAH BITTERLY RESENTED ROOSEVELT’S REFUSAL TO PAY HIM A COURTESY VISIT WHILE HE WAS IN TEHRAN FOR THE BIG THREE SUMMIT WITH STALIN AND CHURCHILL. EVENTUALLY THE SHAH GAVE UP AND WENT TO THE SOVIET LEGATION TO CALL ON FDR. THE BODY LANGUAGE AT THAT MEETING—THE FIRST BETWEEN US AND IRANIAN LEADERS—SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT THE DIRECTION THAT IRANIAN FOREIGN POLICY WAS ABOUT TO TAKE UNDER THE NEW SHAH.”
American arrogance and stupidity continued. The U.S. ignored rising opposition to the Shah's dictatorial rule, and sold him vast quantities of modern weapons; 50,000 Americans lived in Iran, including a small army of military advisers. Mainstream U.S. media praised the Shah's rule; Ghazvinian reports that the autocrat gave TV personality Barbara Walters "Cartier silver and a diamond watch."

The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did not make his name among the Iranian people by his specifically religious pronouncements, but in a 1964 speech denouncing the Shah's decree that exempted American military personnel and their families from Iranian laws. An indignant Khomeini said: "They've given the people of Iran a status lower than that of American dogs." The Shah forced Khomeini into exile, but the opposition continued to grow, and some of the largest demonstrations in human history eventually forced the autocrat into exile in 1979.

Israel does not come on stage in Ghazvinian's narrative until relatively late. Israel supported the Shah, and Tel Aviv was also quietly sympathetic to the new clerical regime during the 1980s, (in part apparently because it did not want Saddam Hussein to win the awful Iran-Iraq war).

Israel's campaign against Iran really took off in the 1990s, when it started issuing dire warnings about Tehran's nuclear program. Ghazvinian convincingly rejects Israel's stated reasons for the hostility:
For Israel, the goal had never been to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb (something they knew Iranian leaders had little interest in). The goal had been to prevent a thawing of relations between Iran and the United States.
Ghazvinian's book is filled with insights you won't see in the U.S. mainstream media. He reports, for instance, that it was the U.S. that had first promoted Iran's nuclear program, under the Shah, and also explains that the program has important medical benefits. By 2009, for example, hundreds of thousands of Iranian cancer patients needed access to radiation therapy — but sanctions threatened to cut off the supply of fuel rods to the Tehran Research Reactor.

He argues that Israel's threats to attack Iran, which really took off under Benjamin Netanyahu from 2009 onward with some mainstream U.S. media complicity, were always bluffs. He points out: "Most of Israel's security establishment knew full well that the consequences of such an attack would be disastrous and the benefits minimal."

Maybe. But Israel's violent provocations, including the murder of nuclear scientists inside Iran, could have led to tragic accidents. Any historian of World War 1 will tell you that no one wanted the assassination of an Austrian Archduke in the Balkans to trigger a 4-year conflict that killed 40 million people.

Ghazvinian brings his book completely up the date with a compelling analysis of the Iran nuclear deal. He recalls how Barack Obama took office hoping to promote peace across the Mideast, and he shows how the campaign by Israel and its allies in the Israel lobby against the agreement is shot through with dishonesty. He ends by concluding that even though the deal did narrowly win Congressional approval in 2015, Netanyahu and the Israel lobby actually came out ahead:
Perhaps the most unfortunate effect of all this domestic [U.S.] political wrangling was that it destroyed any hope that the nuclear deal might become a building block to warmer relations between Iran and the United States.
Now the Iran deal is back on the international agenda, and Ghazvinian's work — which took him 10 years — is part of the debate. The Washington Post inexplicably assigned his book for review to a noted Iran hawk, who predictably criticized it sharply and unfairly.

Such a glancing blow will not damage this masterwork. Ghazvinian, in his introduction, says he wrote the book partly to "make the case for a more enlightened principle: that history can be a force for peace."

Let us give him the last word:
If this book accomplishes only one thing: it should be to help readers in both Iran and the United States understand that there is nothing inherently grotesque or untrustworthy about the "enemy" on the other side. . . What I hope every reasonable reader will conclude from this narrative is that the time is long overdue for a mending of fences. Though there are people in both countries — and indeed in other countries — who believe their interests are best served by perpetual antagonism between Iran and America, I believe most people reading these words will not share this cynical perspective.