MISSION TO IRAN by William H. Sullivan


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Career diplomat Sullivan was tapped as Richard Helms' successor as US ambassador to Iran because he'd had a lot of experience (most recently, in the Philippines) with authoritarian governments headed by ""forceful personalities."" The core of his otherwise standard ambassador-in-the-fray story is the ignorance that shaped American policy. He figured out some of the problems even before he got to Iran, Sullivan claims, by developing some skepticism about the Shah's gung-ho industrialization plans (given the shaky social base) and some doubts about the behavior of American military sub-contractors (who showed no signs of preparing to phase themselves out). And though Sullivan apparently spent most of his time in Teheran's showcase suburbs, he says he was acutely aware of the poverty on the other side of town. When he also realized that the Shah's ""forceful personality"" was a front for a vacillating, slightly mystical, and otherwise unsteady autocrat, he began to sense that something had to give. He charts some of the immediate causes of the Shah's fall: the decision to pressure Iraq into expelling the Ayotollah Khomeini; Carter's human rights policy (as executed by the State Department's Patricia Derian) which treated the Shah as a pariah and further paralyzed him: etc. Once the fighting in the streets broke out, Sullivan saw that the Shah was doomed, and he recounts the Shah's half-hearted efforts to negotiate some compromise with yesterday's side-lined politicians. But while prepared for the Shah's inept response to the crisis, Sullivan was mystified by Washington's. Meeting with Carter before taking his post, Sullivan had been impressed by his plainspokenness and familiarity with Iranian policy issues; at the same time, he had encountered resistance to the president's plans among State Department bureaucrats. Now, Brzezinsky seemed in command as Sullivan's cables were ignored and a stream of emissaries turned up to bolster the Shah's resolve. Sullivan became convinced that the only solution was a reconciliation between the military and the Ayatollah's followers before the military structure collapsed entirely; instead, General Huyser was sent to make sure the military would throw its allegiance behind a civilian government appointed by the Shah. At the same time, Brzezinski kept asking about the chances for a military coup, which Sullivan considered an absurdity. When Washington kept assuring the new, ineffectual prime minister, Bakhtiar, of its support, Sullivan had had enough. By the time he left Teheran, Bakhtiar had fallen, the American embassy had been attacked once, and Sullivan was warning that if the Shah were allowed into the US, hostages might be taken; Sullivan was home by the time that came to pass. Though none of the main lines of this story are new, they vividly confirm many suspicions.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1981
ISBN: 0393333876
Publisher: Norton