Past Mistakes in US Middle East Policy

What will the USA do if faced with situations that resemble others in the past?

The crisis with Iran:

To this day, many Americans are convinced that the USA did nothing that caused a hostile reaction from the Iranian radicals in 1979. We do not justify anything indeed; we seek only to explain:

Following the Iranian revolution and the overthrow of Muhammad Reza Shah, the U.S. embassy in Teheran was overrun on November 4, 1979 by militants claiming to follow the line of Ayatollah Khomeini. Fifty-two embassy staffers were taken hostages, precipitating a crisis that persisted for 444 days until January 20, 1981. The immediate impetus for the seizure of the embassy was the news that the ousted Shah had arrived in the United States for medical treatment. The militants demanded that he be returned to Iran.

In 1953 this same Shah had fled Iran following a botched coup by the CIA, which sought to remove the nationalist government of Muhammad Mosaddeq because it had nationalized Iran’s oil. The CIA and its local allies regrouped; the coup succeeded; and Muhammad Reza Shah was restored to the Peacock Throne. Hence, the notion that the Shah’s arrival in the United States was part of a plan to return him to power, although unsubstantiated, was not outlandish.

According to some experts, the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran was a manifestation of the internal struggle within the Iranian revolutionary regime. Through such public dramas, Ayatollah Khomeini consolidated his leadership, imposed rule by mullahs loyal to him, and eliminated other elements of the revolutionary coalition that overthrew the monarchy from access to power. Relatively little of that story was prominently reported in the American mass media.

At a press conference in February 1980 an exceptionally bold reporter asked President Jimmy Carter if the CIA’s restoration of the Shah to power in 1953 might have something to do with arousing the Iranian anti-American sentiment that expressed itself in the hostage crisis. Carter replied that this was "ancient history" and that it was not "appropriate or helpful" to discuss it.

The violence in Lebanon:

Another case shows to what extent some issues can be biased. In Lebanon, as we know, the US embassy along with the marines have suffered violent and tragic setback. Again, many Americans do not know why such violence was unleashed against them.

Let us go back to 1982. Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s Minister of Defence, was the godfather of the strategy of invading Lebanon to destroy Palestinian national sentiment and pave the way for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig hoped that this adventure would contribute to building an anti-Soviet strategic consensus in the Middle East, a miscalculation that was one of the factors that led to his resignation. After receiving a "green light" from the Reagan administration, Israel fabricated a pretext for launching its invasion.

The hostilities were concluded with an agreement that the PLO would evacuate its fighters from Lebanon while the United States would guarantee the security of the Palestinian civilians left behind. Between September 16 and 18 Maronite Phalangists commanded by Elie Hobeika raped, tortured, and murdered between 700 and 3,500 unarmed Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps under the eyes of Israeli forces who had occupied Beirut.

None of those involved was ever brought to account for the massacre. On June 18, 2001, twenty-three survivors of Sabra and Shatila filed charges in a Belgian court against Ariel Sharon for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Elie Hobeika was mysteriously assassinated in Beirut on January 24, 2002, two days after he met with Belgian senators and confirmed his willingness to testify against Sharon in the case.

The failure of the United States to honour its promise to protect the Palestinians and its alliance with Israel provoked anti-American sentiments among some Lebanese and Palestinians, which were manifested in attacks on U.S. forces when they returned to Lebanon after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. US naval vessels off the coast of the Shuf briefly participated in the Lebanese civil war in support of the Phalange. Meanwhile Israel, which had been for several years an active ally of the Phalange, still occupied a large portion of Lebanon. In April 1983 a car bomb at the U.S. embassy in Beirut exploded killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. Another car bomb at the U.S. marine barracks in Beirut in October killed 241 marines, the largest number of casualties suffered by U.S. armed forces since the Vietnam War.


Did these setbacks happen irrationally or were they related to the American political behaviour?