Treason doth never prosper: what ’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Sir John Harrington
Prosperum ac felix scelus
(Successful and fortunate crime is called virtue)
I just read an interview with Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Those of you over a certain age might remember him from the time of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980; a thin man with large glasses and a trim moustache, the non-clerical face of revolutionary Iran.
Bani-Sadr is living in exile in France, as he has since 1982. He was a strong advocate of democracy and human rights, which put him at odds with the mullahs running Iran at that time. He and his family had to flee for their lives.
The interview is about the nuclear deal between Iran and the western powers, led by the U.S. In Bani -Sadr’s opinion, the deal is essentially a capitulation by Iran on all major points, which the mullahs have covered up by mistranslating the main points of the agreement into Persian for their government controlled news media. Apparently the Iranians are celebrating a better deal than they actually got.
That’s fine, but for me it is only one of the significant parts of the interview. While making a point about the poor judgement of the mullahs he speaks of two previous failures. One is their insistence in prolonging the Iran-Iraq war after they had gained the upper hand. The other is the 1980 hostage crisis, when Iranian students, encouraged by elements of the government, stormed the U.S. embassy and took the staff hostage. The significant section:
“In a longer-term sense, the Lausanne agreement no doubt adds to the sense among ordinary Iranians that, yet again, the regime has put the country in such a dangerous position. For the third time since the 1979 revolution, the regime has prolonged a political crisis to the point of defeat. The first, of which I had first hand knowledge, was the dangerous game played during the occupation of the American embassy in Tehran, the release of the hostages and the “October surprise” that bolstered Ronald Reagan’s election as U.S. president. The second was during the Iran–Iraq war, when the regime failed to end the war at a point of strength in 1981 and 1982 and instead ended it in defeat in 1988.” (Emphasis mine)
Here Bani-Sadr repeats what he wrote in his autobiography, My Turn to Speak, which focused on his political career. A portion of the book covers the covert deal struck between Iran and high level representatives of the Republican Party. The Republican negotiators were none other than George H. W. Bush, later Vice President under Reagan and then President himself, and William Casey, later head of the CIA. Bush and Casey offered a covertly friendly relationship with a Republican administration in the White House, including military support, if the Iranians kept the hostages in Iran till after the 1980 election. As it turned out, this offer became the Iran-Contra scandal, with the Reagan Administration covertly selling anti-aircraft missiles to Iran and using the proceeds to illegally support the Contras in Nicaragua.
Bani-Sadr is not alone in pointing the finger at the Republicans. Yassir Arafat and Bassam Abu Sharif of the Palestine Liberation Organization also acknowledged being approached on this subject by a Reagan associate, John Shaheen. Shaheen told Sharif and Arafat that he wanted the PLO to act as a go-between with the Iranians to keep the hostages from being released. The quid pro quo was recognition by the Reagan administration. Arafat declined to participate, but found out that Shaheen, Casey, and Bush had found back channels directly to the Iranians. Many years later Arafat told ex-president Carter about the treasonous dealings that had gone on behind his back.
In a federal court hearing in 1988 (U.S. vs. Rupp, Docket 88-CR-112) the issue at hand was bank fraud by a pilot and former CIA agent named Heinrich Rupp. Rupp testified that he had flown Bush and Casey to France in October 1980 for secret negotiations with the Iranians over the hostage crisis. Another witness in the case, an arms merchant named Richard Brenneke, testified that he was present at a meeting between Casey and Cyrus Hashemi, a representative of Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, a mullah in the Iranian governing council. Hashemi was later involved in the dealings known as Irangate. The initial offer was that the U.S. would deliver $40 million to French intermediaries, who would then purchase arms and transfer them to Iran.
Of course, the negotiations between the Carter Administration and the Iranians stalled in late October, and Carter couldn’t overcome the hostage handicap.
For Bani-Sadr it was just an aside, an example to make a point about a pressing contemporary issue. For me it is reopening an old wound. The election of Ronald Reagan was based on an act of gross treason by Bush and Casey (among others), who ended up at the highest levels of the U.S. government. That act begat more treason in the secret government-within-a-government that ran the Iran-Contra operation. Our government continued down a road of foreign intervention that brought us to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the present maelstrom in the Middle East.
As the writer and former military officer Andrew Bacevich pointed out in his book The Limits of Power, we faced a decision point in 1980. We could follow the path of intervention in the Middle East and imperial dominance in general; business as usual, headed down a dead end street. Conversely, we could have gone down the path of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and a foreign policy that acknowledged the interests of ordinary people in other countries. There are reports that people in military and intelligence circles were horrified by President Carter’s ideas for a foreign policy based on human rights and ethics. His famous speech, dubbed the “Malaise Speech” by hostile politicos, didn’t use the word “malaise,” but offered a vision of a more democratic, cooperative, and energy independent nation. It must have been a terrifying prospect for the oil companies and military contractors, along with big business interests in general.
Here’s a key sentence: “Point one: I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this Nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977—never. From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation.”
You should read it and, perhaps, weep for what might have been.