IRAN: The Crescent of Crisis

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General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who is currently trying to decide whether he can strengthen his hold on the country by executing his predecessor. He has talked a lot about holding free elections but now seems reluctant to do so. "What worries me," say a Western diplomat, "is that there is another [Colonel Muammar] Gaddafi down there, some radical major or colonel in the Pakistani army. We could wake up and find him in Zia's place one morning and believe me, Pakistan wouldn't be the only place that would be destabilized."

The long night of remorse and recrimination over Iran has already begun in Washington. "There's been blood on the floor in some of the policy debates," admitted one State Department insider. 'Some people have been accused of virtual insubordination." The department and the White House were at odds over the issue, and the Administration imposed a virtual gag on Government Iran specialists in an effort to prevent them from talking to the press. In fact, there have been so many mistakes in U.S. policy that almost anyone involved in the subject in at least three previous Administrations probably deserves a bit of blame. The badly weakened CIA, which had only a handful of operatives in Tehran who spoke Persian, has once more been revealed as utterly inadequate. The U.S. embassy myopically refused to let members of the mission make friends with the opposition, lest this seem to undermine the Shah. Policymakers in Washington were guilty of the classic blunder of confusing a nation with its leader, however intelligent, well briefed and even intimidating he might be.

As for the Carter Administration, its own record revealed at least the appearance of confusion and paralysis. The Administration was so preoccupied with the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations that it practically forgot about Iran. Then the White House brought in an outsider, former Under Secretary of State George Ball, to do a crash study. Ball was appalled at the confusion. Even as Brzezinski was urging wholehearted support for the Shah, the President told reporters, "I don't know, I hope so," when asked if he thought the Shah could survive. U.S. dependents in Iran were told to stay there; then they were advised to leave through airports that were often closed and on airlines that were not operating. Whether valid or not, the appearance of such indecisiveness is a dangerous one for the U.S. to project to the world. A veteran American diplomat concludes from the whole Iran affair: "It's been a goddam disaster."

Regardless of whether the Shah leaves Iran, or whether Premier-designate Shahpour Bakhtiar succeeds in forming a government, the U.S. needs to establish a working relationship with whatever regime comes to power in Tehran. Some U.S. officials argue that Iran need not be a client state and perhaps should not be one. They point out that the U.S. does business with Algeria, Libya and Iraq, all of which have governments that are far more radical than the next regime in Tehran is likely to be. Iran will still need Western technology and Western markets for its oil.

For the entire crescent of crisis, the U.S. needs a variety of strategies. No single approach can be applied to a group of countries as disparate as these. One problem: the very nations that cry for U.S. leadership denounce U.S.

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