The Globe and Mail reports on the role of a Canadian ambassador as a temporary CIA station chief in Iran, some 30 years ago.
The Globe writes:
Mr. Taylor, ambassador in Iran from 1977 to 1980, became “the de facto CIA station chief” in Tehran after the U.S. embassy was seized by students on Nov. 4, 1979, and 63 Americans, including the four-member Central Intelligence Agency contingent, were taken hostage.
…The request that he provide “aggressive intelligence” for the Americans was made personally by U.S. president Jimmy Carter to Mr. Clark, likely in a telephone conversation on Nov. 30, 1979, according to Prof. Wright.
Mr. Clark gave his approval, and informed his foreign minister, Flora MacDonald, who passed the request on to Mr. Taylor. He instantly agreed.
“I saw this [the hostage-taking] as something that wasn’t right,” Mr. Taylor said. “Anything in a modest way that I could contribute … looking for some sort of solution to this, I was quite prepared to do. I felt strongly about it. And I felt we could get away with it. They weren’t going to catch us.”
In the tumultuous period of the revolution, when various power factions were only establishing their place in the schema of future governance, the Iranian students who captured the US embassy and took hostages seem to have their own shadowy connections with one or more groups vying for control.
Anti-American sentiment though was genuine among many at the time, and its roots lie in the history of the 20th century.
In 1951 a highly popular politician, Mohammad Mosaddeq, managed to increasingly challenge the shah and at last put in place a democratic government which championed national sovereignty, therefore freedom from outside interference (which at the time meant British and Soviet action). In 1953 a US-led coup overthrew Mosaddeq and put the shah back in power. The coup was orchestrated and largely funded through covert operation which saw the CIA – as lead – work with the British Secret Service in what was dubbed operation Ajax.
The impact and trauma of this on Iran and Iranians can hardly be overstated. Following half a century of struggle for democracy and sovereignty, the country’s best attempts were denied via a US orchestrated coup. Prior to this, there was hope that the US could be a close ally: many people took seriously the US claims of opposing old style European imperialism and the right of nations to decide their own futures. So, to some extent the Mosaddeq’s ousting was seen as a betrayal from what was potentially a friend to independent government.
When the Shah took back his office, he, over time, concentrated greater power in his hands and reduced the constitution and parliament to near meaningless standards. He used his secret police, the SAVAK, to maintain control and was also dependent on the military and general security apparatus in his rule of the nation. These instruments were greatly aided through funding, training, and even at times handling by the US. So, not only had people lost a government that they could generally be happy with to be replaced by a monarch who, on record, would seek US guidance on at least some matters of domestic decision-making, they had to suffer a reign of regular terror funded and supported by the American government, which saw the Shah as its best friend in the Middle East.
This was the climate under which the 1978-79 Revolution took place. It was a period of chaos, of uncertainty with very active political factions from a wide band of secular and religious groups. The Shah fled the country for a second time (the first time during Mosaddeq’s government), and it was feared that further foreign interference would interfere with domestic politics. It is unfortunate that the US uses its embassies for covert activity, and so Iranian anxiety was felt toward the embassy of that time in the case that another coup was orchestrated from the embassy in Iran.
It’s important to know this history to realize what are some of the reasons for the Iranian students’ takeover of the US building. It did not come out of a vacuum. It was a response to an earlier incident in the 1950s that was regularly reinforced by SAVAK and other security repressions under the last Shah.
Below is a short documentary that reviews key points of the Mosaddeq government’s rise and fall under operation Ajax.
This is a video of a lecture by the philosopher Manuel DeLanda, discussing politics and power, economics, and military discipline. He ties these three subjects together in a concise and well referenced thesis reinterpreting economic history. DeLanda stresses the importance of abandoning a binary logic of political study in recognition of the heterogeneous nature of socio-political networks.
There is a clear correlation here with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari‘s theory of rhizomatic assemblage (see the book A Thousand Plateaus), as well as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri‘s interpretation of political power through the interrelated network of the multitude (see the book Empire). DeLanda introduces the subject by quoting from Fernand Braudel‘s ‘History of Economic Systems’ to support his argument. The lecture brings together the theories of diverse historians, economists, and political philosophers in an attempt to reframe our understanding of political history and economic power.
DeLanda states that a unitary understanding of economics, such as seeing capitalism as a homogeneous system is simplistic and faulty. He presents the works of some institutional economists, such as John Kenneth Galbraith, as sometimes more discerning, and he explains that we must realize that the market and capitalism are not one and the same. He argues that a multiplicity of economic systems have coexisted within European and Western history, and that it is not useful to view economic history as a migration from one homogeneous system to the next (such as from feudalism all the way to monopoly capitalism).
Furthermore, DeLanda explains the impact of military discipline on contemporary industrial and economic discipline. As an example, he states that management science taught in business schools is an extension and translation of earlier theories from military operations research.
Here are some related readings to learn more about the subject:
Manuel DeLanda, ‘A new philosophy of society‘
Fernand Braudel, ‘On History‘
Fernand Braudel, ‘Civilization & Capitalism: 15th-18th Century‘
Fernand Braudel, ‘The Mediterranean: Volume II‘
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, ‘Empire’
Michel Foucault, ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison‘
Immanuel Wallerstein, ‘Time and Duration: The Unexcluded Middle‘
Thorstein Veblen, ‘Conspicuous Consumption‘