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IKE AND THE IRANIAN HOSTAGE CRISIS
ORIGINALLY POSTED: November 5, 2011

November 4th. It was on this day in 1979 that Iranian students broke into the US Embassy in Tehran and began to hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The catalyst for the hostage-taking was President Carter's granting permission for the deposed Shah to enter the US for medical treatment. But one could argue that even though he had died ten years before, it was Eisenhower who was ultimately responsible.

In 1953, Eisenhower's first year as president, Iran was struggling to establish a democracy. The country had democratically elected its prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossaadegh implemented revolutionary changes and gradually edged the Shah out of power. One of those changes in particular riled up the British - the nationalizing of the British oil fields.

Previously, the Shah had a cozy relationship with the oil companies and provided them with a good deal - allowing them to siphon away the nation's resources with relatively little in the way of fair compensation. Mossedegh intended to change all that. He put the entire oil industry under national ownership. The west, in retaliation, began to boycott Iranian oil.

The Brits approached Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles with their concern over the impasse with Iran. Britain no longer carried a big enough stick to forcibly dissuade the Iranians from their effort to nationalize - it would have to be the Americans. The Brits knew, however, that their oil may not be a strategically vital enough issue to arouse American involvement. But communism certainly was.

Eisenhower was already worried that Mossadegh was far too tolerant of communist groups within the country and that there was a danger that the Soviets would begin to influence the increasingly unstable (in Eisenhower's view) prime minister, secure a foothold in Iran, and begin to slowly incorporate the oil rich Middle East into their sphere of influence.

With British urging, Eisenhower became alarmed enough to turn to the CIA and suggest the possibility of an arranged coup. The CIA obliged, and in one of their greatest early successes orchestrated the overthrow of Mossadegh and the restoration of the Shah to power. Mossadegh along with democracy were dispatched, the Brits recovered their oil fields, and the US acquired oil leases in the country as well.

The success of the operation would have far reaching consequences. First of all, that early success arguably bred a hubris within the CIA that led to a string of fiascos and failures including the Bay of Pigs. But more to the point of this entry, the overthrow would long fester in the memory of Iranians.

Twenty six years later, the Iranians overthrew the Shah again in the Revolution of 1979 and installed a theocracy with the Ayatollah Khomeini at the helm. And this is when the US made what would turn out to be a foolish tactical misstep - President Carter granted the deposed Shah permission to enter the country for medical treatment.

History now appeared on the verge of repeating itself, at least in the eyes of many Iranians. On Nov. 4th, Iranian students broke into the embassy to gather hostages. Hostages, they reasoned, could be used as leverage to safeguard the revolution and assure that America would not once again impose itself on the internal affairs of the nation and forcibly reinstate the Shah.

So in a way, Ike was responsible. And if you care to project even further into the future, Ike was debatably, somewhat responsible for the Gulf War. It was because of our deteriorating relationship with Iran during the hostage crisis that we began to supply Iraq with economic aid, intelligence, and weapons during the Iran - Iraq War. And, in part, it was this military aid and what he perceived as his relatively chummy relationship with the US that instilled Saddam Hussein with the confidence that he could invade Kuwait with impunity… And thus Desert Storm.

Such are the convoluted paths of history.

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