Post by James G on Mar 17, 2018 22:21:49 GMT
Chapter One – Beginnings
During the second presidential debate, President Gerry Ford almost puts his foot in his mouth but stops himself from saying something that might come back to haunt him later. He recalls a pre-debate brief with his chief-of-staff, the young Dick Cheney, about Soviet Domination over Eastern Europe. There naturally was, and Ford confirms that there is during the debate. He adds that he wishes to see that end one day so that the Poles, the Czechoslovaks and others too no longer feel dominated by the Soviet Union.
Ford wins the presidential election. He takes Ohio and Wisconsin by tiny margins after his campaign has continued to improve since a bad start. Jimmy Carter actually wins the popular vote, but Ford wins the only game in town: the Electoral college vote. There is surprise yet everyone agrees that Ford has won fair-and-square.
Ford is sworn in for his second term. He is term-limited in 1980 but before then aims to do much domestically and abroad. The president keeps his pre-election cabinet and most senior appointments too. Dole is his VP, Kissinger at State, Rumsfeld at Defence, Simon at Treasury and Bush at the CIA. Critics claim more of the same though Ford declares that there will be positive change with his administration.
Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev has a fatal slip-and-fall on the steps in his apartment building in Central Moscow. He cracks his head and bleeds out before anything can be done. The jokes inside his country will say that the weight of his self-awarded medals helped bring the heavy man down.
A peaceful struggle for succession to replace Brezhnev sees the KGB Chairman get the nod: Yuri Andropov. His colleagues in the Soviet leadership restrain his powers as the new general secretary though those restrictions are something at once seen as challenges to be overcome by Andropov. He has no intention of being an equal with those on the Politburo. One immediate (non-fatal) casualty of Brezhnev’s demise is his hanger-on Chernenko: he is shown the door.
Talks between Panama and the United States over a renegotiation of the status of the Panama Canal come to an abrupt halt when General Torrijos – Panama’s ‘Maximum Leader’ – walks out in a huff. Kissinger denies claims afterwards that Panama was offered nothing as Torrijos says was the case. The US Senate is pleased; Ford is too for his own party especially, but the whole Senate as well, doesn’t want to see the transfer of the Panama Canal to Panama led by a military strongman.
Violent clashes between religious students and security forces in the Iranian city of Qom. A newspaper of the government of The Shah had published an article defaming the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini: a man whose son everybody ‘knew’ had been murdered by government agents a few months past. Sources differ on the number of killed in Qom, those being anywhere from two according to the government and up to seventy from what it said by senior religious figures.
The forty days process begins in Iran. Following traditional customs, forty days after the death of those martyred there will be memorial services for them: Khomeini has called for blood. The first series of memorials see riots nationwide with Qom and Tabriz erupting in violence. The Shah has the army send in and they do a terrible job of containing trouble… they effectively cause more. The riots target symbols of ‘the West’ too. Deaths occur with the numbers officially at six, unofficially in the hundreds. The Shah tries to concede to the demands of what is starting to become an organised opposition by firing members of his intelligence services but differing over a further, real response.
Once forty days is up, the memorials-cum-riots start again. Over fifty cities, including the capital Tehran, are hit by trouble. The army is present again, so too are organised rioters. New non-lethal riot control equipment sent by the United States for the soldiers has been misappropriated in the notoriously-corrupt Iran. The use of the army comes alongside promises from The Shah of liberalisation and an end to corruption: this seems to anger everyone. Meanwhile, hundreds are reported dead again by the opposition with the government downplaying the numbers below ten in a ridiculous falsehood.
The forty days are up again. Back come the protesters who fast riot and are met by the police then the army. You can set your watch by this now. It is nationwide and cannot be stopped. As to the latest round of riots, they are as vicious as before. The death toll is huge. There is an anti-Western / anti-American tone to the protests which is prominent among the ringleaders. In this round of violence, there are shots fired at the house of the prominent religious leader Ayatollah Shariatmadari – a rival of Khomeini who is across in Iraq – and one of his students is killed. Kissinger had been due to visit, sent by an anxious Ford who was concerned over Iran’s stability, but The Shah wavers back and forth over the impact of that and the US Secretary of State doesn’t come. Andropov, still with one foot in the door at the KGB when he isn’t supposed to, instructs his successor Chebrikov to pay more attention to Iran for any opportunities which might arise to protect the Soviet Union by the possible spread of influence to Iran.
The mood in Iran seemed to change come June. The ‘scheduled’ protests were meant to happen in the middle of the month but the opposition – religious and secular both – had been meeting with the representatives of The Shah. Shariatmadari had been among the leaders and there had come an apology for that shooting of one of his students. When the protests did occur, there was little of the previous violence. Khomeini was furious but he was abroad and not on the ground where he could direct events.
Under Bush’s directorship, the CIA makes it’s later infamous pronouncement to the White House that Iran ‘is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation’. The Shah was telling his friends in America that everything was fine: this was believed by those who wanted to hear such a thing. Kissinger came to Tehran for his visit with The Shah yet Iran’s leader still had the time to talk with the opposition and make further concessions to them.
Across in neighbouring Iraq, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko pays a visit to President Al-Bakr and met with the powerful Vice President who was Saddam Hussein. Tensions over the brutal treatment of the Iraqi Communist Party were eased over somewhat. In addition, to further help Iraqi-Soviet relations, Saddam accepted a request from Gromyko when it came to refusing the pleas from The Shah to have Khomeini thrown out of Iraq: Saddam was told this came from Andropov personally who wanted the Iranian exile to stay in Najaf rather than go aboard.
The Shah authorised his government to further treat with the opposition and allowed them to present their case. The secularists – with Sanjabi prominent among them – were given the opportunity to express what they wished to see as the future for Iran with changes made as to how it would be governed. Shariatmadari too was given a voice that Iran’s prime minister had instructed to listen too and treat with respect as the voice of the religious opposition was heard too. Others in Iran – such as the communists – weren’t treated the same way and those that were allowed to air their grievances were promised nothing in return.
In Moscow, the KGB was given express permission by the Politburo to take a more active role in Iran despite the apparent winding down of protests there in the country. There were indications that the Islamic movement was more powerful than suspected and this was seen as an area of concern for the Soviet Union should they manage to do the impossible and bring down The Shah. Andropov had worked to convince his colleagues of this and they prepared to agree for support to be given to the Iranian communists, the Tudeh. Risk on this matter was something seen as of little concern and any fallout from failure would fall upon the Iranians themselves. Security of the Soviet state was at this time the only interest of the Politburo as they aimed to maintain the geo-political balance of power should Iran collapse into chaos.
The pendulum swung back the other way. The troubles across Iran restarted due to unconnected events creating a perfect storm for a month of violence. The government had cut spending and this had the effect of releasing many young men from employment who were angry and ripe for recruitment by extremists to express their anger. There were protests underway in the city of Isfahan over the detention of a local religious leader who attracted many of these new recruits to an element of the religious opposition not linked to Shariatmadari. Tudeh protests too gained some of the disaffected willing to cause trouble and ultimately give the communists a bigger role in the future of the country with numbers that couldn’t be ignored.
Then there came the cinema fire in Abadan. Over four hundred died when arson destroyed the building, a symbol of Western culture subverting Iranians, and killed those inside when the doors were locked. At once, the cries of deliberate murder of those inside by ‘agents of The Shah’ came from Khomeini: any suggestion that it was rather convenient for him and his cause apparently had no substance to it. He called for their vengeance from across in Iraq where his voice wasn’t just heard by the faithful there but fast spread by word of mouth and audio recordings into Iran. Those being corrupted by the ideas of the West were now martyrs.
Iran was getting a new government and The Shah had more focus on that. He brought in an old hand who at once cracked down on corruption and promised that there would be democracy: the people would prosper. Sanjabi and Shariatmadari were given more room to have influence by the new prime minister including on how and when elections should commence; once their ideas came to The Shah though, he wasn’t that sure and dithered over whether such things should be carried out.
Summer heat, angry disadvantaged youngsters, long-standing widespread political discontent and agitators wanting a conflict with the forces of the state. Put them all together and what do you get? Answer: a country up in arms and revolution in the air.
The early part of the month saw a series of big marches in Tehran eventually turn violent as their daily presence caused an unauthorised use of force by the local commander in the city. The protesters were shouting for Khomeini, calling for his return from exile. A general disobeyed The Shah’s standing instructions that martial law didn’t mean what it did and had his men open fire when they ‘reacted’ to shots fired against them. They would call it Black Friday. As before, declaration would come afterwards inflating the numbers – Khomeini picked the number four thousand seemingly from the sky – but there had been a lot of killing done regardless of lies.
In response, more marches were planned to protest those deaths and The Shah reaffirmed his orders that they would be ignored so he could continue his process of talking with the opposition. As had been the case all year, this was done through intermediaries as The Shah was an ill man. That was hidden and those engaged in talks with his government were unaware of that. The problem was though that this would all be for naught because following Black Friday, there began the outbreak of strikes. First they were in the oil industry, export revenues which had made Iran rich, then among government workers. These were uncoordinated and only partially effective in the short-term: that wouldn’t be the case if they continued and there was a uniting of common cause.
Soviet interference in Iran’s affairs was now becoming significant. There were KGB spies watching Khomeini in Najaf – which Saddam knew about; he wanted to know what they knew as that was how the game of intelligence affairs was done – while the KGB had its locally-recruited network inside Iran expand and connect better with the Tudeh. Those communists weren’t Moscow-aligned (who needs perfection?) but they would do for now. Information was shared with them and weapons supplied: the latter being stolen Iranian ones, not direct Soviet arms.
President Ford had been most-displeased at the turn of events in Iran. He had been assured by the CIA and then Kissinger had given him an indication too – though the Secretary of State hadn’t committed himself there like Bush had – that the situation earlier in the year was getting better. Then it went worse than before. With revolution in Iran before being impossible and now looking possible, Ford was concerned. He met with his advisers and spoke with foreign leaders. There was consensus everywhere that things were doomed for The Shah but no one had ‘the answer’ to solve all of this. Contact with Iran’s leader itself was never the best too: the crazy man saw foreign conspiracies everywhere, especially from those whom had previously before interfered in Iranian affairs… like the United States. The inability to act in any meaningful way along with trying to deal with an unreasonable supposed ally frustrated the president.
The Shah declared an amnesty for exiles abroad, Khomeini included. No one in Iran seemed to care. He too ordered the army and the police not to break up strikers nationwide who were now coordinating despite geographical and political differences into a country-wide general strike. His latest idea was to wear them down. Concessions had been given to the opposition leaders and he believed that would satisfy them; with the strikers, they would go back to work soon… just because. Some of those strikers, like many of the unemployed, were joining with extremists though. There were also deserting soldiers: the Iranian Army was bleeding them, many who left with their weapons. Those extremist organisations growing in strength were religious radicals committed to the idea of Khomeini (his true motives not revealed) and the Tudeh. There were secular, constitutional and student groups as well, those opposed to the rule enforced by The Shah on principle and they were gaining support, yet nothing like the numbers of the preceding two. Opposition to Iran’s leader as multi-faceted and the only thing they had in common was to be rid of him. Supposedly keeping a check on all of this was the Iranian secret police. Where were they? The SAVAK had been hit with supposed reforms and been a political football that included a marked weakening of its previous power in some matters yet an unreasonable strengthening elsewhere. As with everything, The Shah was incapable of deciding anything firm on them and what he wanted from the SAVAK now.
Far away, unrelated to events in Iran, but with significance elsewhere to many, a new Pope was elected. The Polish national chosen to be the head of the Catholic Church after the unexpected death of his predecessor took the name John Paul II. His country was under Soviet Domination. He would want to do something about that in the future. The Soviet Union would later pay attention to him like they were with another religious leader at the moment: one being discussed much in Moscow.
A Persian Trotsky. That was the official KGB view of Khomeini following the reports which came from their intelligence activities within his immediate circle. A panel of experts had then brought those reports together and other information to come to the conclusion which KGB Chairman Chebrikov presented to the Politburo in Moscow. This man, the elderly politicians were told, was not just a threat to the rule of The Shah. He was a threat to other regimes in further Middle Eastern nations. He was a threat to the Americans with their position in the region. Above all of that, he was a threat to the Soviet Union too. His public statements on Iran were one thing; what was more important were his long-term goals. He was a fanatic, a man rooted in his religion that was fundamentally opposed to anything but his interpretation of what his God wanted for his fellow Muslims. Those people Khomeini wanted to act on the behalf of – professing his goal wasn’t power for himself; as if that was the case, really? – were spread all over the world including those in Moscow-aligned Afghanistan which neighboured the Iran from where he was exiled yet also those of the faithful in the parts of the Soviet Union where religion had never been fully stamped out. Once the presentation was finished, the Politburo considered their options. Ignore him? Have the Iraqis keep him in Najaf and unable to leave? Work to discredit him? Meet his challenge head-on? Or… get rid of him? These options were discussed. Andropov pushed for one of those options with the support of Chebrikov but the others weren’t so sure. There was thinking on this matter to be done and consideration having to be taking for the unwanted effects that might cause. How to solve a problem like Khomeini, if he truly was such a problem, would take some time to work out.
Down in Iran, whose borders with the Soviet Union were long and of great significance for the Soviets, the violence continued unabated. Student opposition groups fought with the authorities and the army after arming themselves. They ran riot (literally) inside Tehran, joined by mobs of teenage boys infused with religious zeal but also caught up in events, and attacked symbols of the hated ‘West’. Among those were the embassies of Britain and the United States: the former being burnt down and the latter being lucky not to suffer the same fate. Large parts of the Iranian capital were left on fire. This caused The Shah to fire his prime minister and appoint a military government. It was a step meant to project strength. The military lacked the authority to act though. In Tehran, they hadn’t responded to the rioters following those standing orders to not do so because the country was under martial law in name yet not in reality. That obeying of orders there had come when the army were under extreme duress when being attacked with petrol bombs and gun-shots. Elsewhere in the country, protests in support of the continuing strikes and the calls for the return of Khomeini weren’t matched by official armed interference either.
The Shah spoke to his people. He told them he would lead the revolution, not oppose it. He was also ordering arrests of those who were corrupt and once more made his promises of equality to all Iranians as part of his process of engaging with the opposition to him rather than fighting them. To Iranians, he looked weak, powerless and clutching at straws to save himself. To outsiders, it seemed like he was delusional and had finally lost control. Khomeini – who The Shah had promised last month could return from exile – instructed all Iranians to overthrow their ruler instead, sending the message through intermediaries while also trying to figure out a way out of the prison which Saddam was trying to make Iraq for him.
Unable to have direct dealings with Khomeini, who there was great distrust for yet also a secret yearning to have influence like his, the secular opposition which had formed into the National Front approached Shariatmadari. That religious leader had no interest in uniting with the political figures who were already disillusioned with The Shah and had turned that into a realisation that he had no interest in the future for Iran which they saw. Sanjabi at the head of the National Front had contacts made with the non-extremist student groups, including those promoting women’s rights too, and also reached out to the Tudeh. He was looking for an understanding, not an alliance. There were those Iranian communists thought of as moderates. Maybe they could all work together? There were fundamental disagreements in some areas yet agreement in others. Everyone wanted the same thing: The Shah to step aside from his leadership role. Should that happen, the thinking was that order could return to the country and that would rob Khomeini of his interest and his ability to keep stirring up trouble. This goal was something seen as possible… if only Khomeini was out of the picture. The KGB’s contacts within the Tudeh passed that thinking of those who wanted to be their allies and give them an opening onwards to Moscow.
Protests inside Iran against the rule of The Shah had been undertaken by a large number of people yet the vast majority of the population had stayed away from them. Their support for their ruler or wish for him to be gone wasn’t publicly expressed by them taking to the streets. That changed in December. The people came out onto the streets. There were millions of them now where there had been tens of thousands beforehand. Even if the security forces and the army had been ordered to turn on them, they wouldn’t have been able to, not with those numbers. As to that army, the figure who were deserting was previously alarming but now outrageous. Men walked away from uniformed service, some killing their officers first. Like the street protesters, their political views and the future which they wanted for their country were multiple but they were united in the cause of opposition to The Shah. He himself – who had declared last month that he would lead the revolution rather than oppose it – tried desperately to maintain his position as he made more concessions to the demands of the opposition leadership with political prisoners released and promises made on elections; he once again was seeking a new prime minister too with his deck-chairs on-the-Titanic approach. What troops were still in the streets were ordered back to let the demonstrations continue so there was only very little trouble between them and the people. Some soldiers were given flowers by the people to show no ill intent. The protesters chanted for Khomeini, a man who was all things to all people. He was still stuck in Iraq though when the mass protests started at the beginning of the month and so inside Iran it was another religious leader, this time Ayatollah Taleghani (Shariatmadari still refused to take any leadership role), who along with Sanjabi from the secularists formed that united front as they professed to lead the people… all the while with the communists from the Tudeh snapping at their heels to be allowed to play with the big boys.
Iran was bulwark against communism for the United States. The country was an ally of the Americans with relations on regional security, the global oil trade and vital military contracts too. President Ford had been coming under pressure for months from within to first not let The Shah fall then later to help get rid of him because his continued presence put the stability of Iran in a dangerous situation. To abandon The Shah wasn’t that much of an issue for Ford himself yet it was for others though such as his secretary of state Kissinger. The CIA were now doing the opposite of what they had previously been doing and saying that the country was past its revolution and heading for civil war if something wasn’t done as the various opposition groups were arming themselves ready to fight if they had to. It would only take one spark… However, Ford couldn’t make a decision on the matter when it came to actively supporting The Shah or turning on him. There were all sorts of theories about the motives of Khomeini and also the influence that outside forces such as the Soviet Union might have in all of this. The only thing that Ford could agree to do was send an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and to also warn American military personnel in-country – those contracted to maintain the expensive equipment which supposedly projected Iranian military strength – to be prepared to leave if ‘the unthinkable’ happened and civil war did come.
In Moscow, General Secretary Andropov had convinced his colleagues of the danger from the Persian Trotsky that was Khomeini. It had then taken some talking and deliberations for them to decide that he must be dealt with before he endangered them all. There had been rumblings from some of ‘adventurism’ and this drew back into the ill-feeling among certain Politburo figures of that taking place now in Iran after it was already occurring in Central America: Soviet arms and money, used by Cuban surrogates, was keeping the fight going against the American-backed regimes in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Chebrikov kept on feeding the reports though from Najaf of what Khomeini was supposedly planning and Gromyko told his colleagues of how the West had no interest in getting involved in Iran as long as there was nothing to point to a direct, overt Soviet interference that they could identify easily. A decision was taken to see the end of the threat from the Persian Trotsky.
Days before the New Year, The Shah appointed his newest prime minister, a National Front colleague of Sanjabi in the form of Bakhtiar and struck an agreement with him where the royal family would take a vacation from Iran. It was a vacation which The Shah wasn’t intending to be returning from. He was running away, he knew the game was up. The people wanted Khomeini and SAVAK told him that Iraq was letting the exile leave and helping him return to Iran. Sanjabi had told The Shah though that they in the opposition would make sure that they had Khomeini under control. Now as to Khomeini, he arrived in Tehran on December 31st. He was met by adoring crowds… and a bullet too. He died in Iran at Iranian hands with the gunman being identified as a supporter of The Shah. The shocked and outraged mob killed the assassin before he could talk. The Shah had always spoken of the all-powerful KGB being active in his country though this he, nor anyone else for that matter, could have been foreseen as something they would do.
Iran would now erupt into civil war.