(Rome) Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 resulted in the overthrow of the US-supported Pahlavi dynasty at that time under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Iranian Revolution was a violent and widely popular overthrow of a ferocious US-inspired regime installed following the CIA-organized coup d’état of the democratically elected government led by PremierMohammad Mossadegh on August 19, 1953.
Eventually led by the Ayatollah Khomeni, the Islamic revolution was supported by various Islamist and leftist organizations and student movements. Demonstrations against the Shah had commenced in October 1977 and intensified in January 1978, some of which I witnessed firsthand since the hotel I lived in was in the lower town, near Tehran University and many foreign embassies, where major demonstrations took place. Led chiefly by leftwing youth of the MUJAHEDIN, armed guerrilla of the People’s FEDAI, and the Communist TUDEH Party, plus various Islamist organizations and the powerful organization of the Bazaarists, the revolutionary movement developedfrom general unrest, widespread poverty and the terror of the notorious secret police, SAVAK.As protests grew in intensity, I watched people on the street surround trucks of young troops who threw down their guns and jumped down to join the crowds. In other places instead a more hardened military opened fire and reports circulated of thousands of victims.The revolutionitself emerged from a widespreadcampaign of civil resistance including both secular and religious elements. Between August and December 1978 strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country. The Shah left Iran for exile onJanuary 16, 1979, leaving power in the hands of a regency council and an opposition-based prime minister.
Invited back to Iran by the government,Ayatollah RuhollahKhomeini was greeted on his return to Tehran by several million Iranians.Shortly after,the royal reign ended definitively when rebels overwhelmed troops loyal to the exiled Shah in armed street fighting, bringing Khomeini to official power.Iran voted in a national referendum to become an Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979 and approved a theocratic-republican Constitution. whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country in December 1979.
(Note:I was not in Iran as a journalist. I was first the interpreter for a rather mad and unrealistic, Italian lawyer-businessman-entrepreneur—the uncle of my Italian son-in-law—and his associates. I did not know Farsi. Iranians in our milieu spoke English or some other languages I knew. The Italians did not speak other languages. As time passed my role was upgraded: I became the spokesman for the Italian group, even though I have no business sense whatsoever and did notunderstand what it was offering or even what I myself was doing.Nonetheless I was named an associate and a stock holder of a company that had zero assets. I was also named Iran representative and a huge apartment in midtown was rented as residence for my wife and me(which we never lived in) and the office for visiting Italian businessmen. A partnership was created with an Iranian company where I had an office and a beautiful secretary. Meanwhile there was no money in the coffers and no work to be performed in the office. My chief job was to accompany the “boss” to appointments with Iranian companies where at first he presented long-winded speeches, saying actually nothing, and asked me to translate word for word, which I condensed to one or two sentences while I still had no clue as to what we were doing … in the end my drinking boos dispensed with his presentation and told me to relate the spiel. So, I had plenty of time to follow the developing revolution. When I told the Italian businessmen that the castle was about to fall, they answered that a regiment of US Marines would put things back in order. Apparently the many European companies working there believed the same. This is not the place to tell some of the stories, dreams and tragedies taking place among the foreigners then exiting from Tehran.
The Islamic Revolution has been called a surprise to the world since it lacked some of the historical causes of revolution (defeat at war, financial crisis, peasant rebellion or a disgruntled military).However, it was not a surprise to the working class Iranians I got to know, many of whom recalled bitterly the CIA coup and deposition of Premier Mossadegh. Though the country was changing and modernizing, it is not true that Iran was enjoying relative prosperity. The poor were very poor, the rich very rich. I had never seen such a vulgar display of wealth anywhere in the world as I saw in the great villas at the top of the mountain on the slopes of which the great city of Tehran rests.Therefore the warm welcome to revolutionary change;the excessively rich left the country post haste, many settling in Los Angeles.An anti-Western theocratic dictatorship replaced the pro-Western monarchy and America’s ex-Gendarme in the Middle East. Nor was it a “relatively non-violent revolution” as it has been labeled: or was its aftermath. Animosity to the monarchy was great, as was the animosity of the theocratswho came to power to the leftists who had fought for the revolution.
The Islamic Revolution paralyzed Washington. No one seemed to realize that the Shah’s glass kingdom was disintegrating. While the SAVAK continued to torture subversives in the Evin Prison and martial law became more severe and curfews longer,manifestations mushroomed throughout the country and the military was more divided. The Shah lost control of the nation. Yet Westerners waited for the US to move. German and French and Italian and Dutch crews drove out of downtown hotels each morning to their work sites in the mountainous surroundings as if nothing of great significance were underway.
Paradoxically in the later period I attended a meeting and lavish buffet in a downtown building organized by the Bechtel Corporation to celebrate the opening of a huge office in Tehran with over one hundred employees. Close to political power and the CIA in the USA, the Bechtel engineering and construction company headquartered in San Francisco, 50 Beale Street, is dedicated, in its own words, “to making money”. But in cahoots with the CIA it also helps to overthrow foreign governments judged unfriendly to US interests. Iran had what Bechtel and the USA wanted: oil and minerals. It was in this context that the American Bechtel Corporation, to great fanfare, opened its offices in Tehran and presented forty (40) forty of the over one hundred people who were to staff it.
Bechtel Corporation is one of the world’s biggest “private” companies. Bechtel has completed tens of thousands of projects across the world. It participated in the construction of the Hoover Dam, the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the Alaskan pipeline and the Washington D.C. and San Francisco mass transit systems. It develops, constructs and operates telecommunications projects, construction management software, water systems, petroleum and chemical plants, pipelines, nuclear power plants, mining and metal projects and civil infrastructure projects. In 2015, the company with some 55,000 employees had $32 billion of gross revenue in some 100 countries.
Still, Bechtel and the US government could not control Iran, something Washington cannot accept.Nor has it ever accepted the loss of Iran! Mossadeghhad made a bid for independence. The US-CIA eliminated him.
But then, the surprise: a generation later Islamic Iran rose up and defeated the US-controlled Shahinshah Pahlavi, his powerful army and vicious SAVAK. This time Bechtel’s men vanished overnight. Today, I note, Iran is not even listed among the one hundred countries where Bechtel works to further American interests. Bechtel’s history is not a clean slate. Its story is one of duplicity but also of incompetence.
Meanwhile, in Iran, chaos continued to reign. After all it was revolution!
Washington had had confidence in the Shah’s American-armed military forces that had made Iran an apparent powerhouse and the leading regional power. The entire West seemed as surprised and incredulous as were the businessmen I was associated with, who had counted on the US Marines to put things right. It couldn’t happen here, they all thought.
The Iranian Revolution was a severe blow to US power in the Middle East from which the world power has never recovered. The miscalculations, misjudgments and blindness to reality concerning Iran of 25 years ago have led the USA down erroneous paths ever since.
In February anti-American students occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and its personnel became hostages. This was Iran’s sweet revenge for the US-organized coup d’état that overthrew Premier Mossadeghin 1953 because of his nationalization of Iran’s oil (read Iran and think oil!) and re-installed the amenable Shah on the throne.
The American hostages stayed put for over a year. New Iran didn’t know what to do with them. It didn’t know how to negotiate. The fundamentalists were busy making the Islamic republic and Khomeini learning to control power. What did the young revolutionaries, the Mujahadeen and the Socialists and the Communists care? What did they care about diplomatic and international rules and niceties? This was not a tea party; this was revolution.
Iranians exulted again at the fiasco of the US military attempt to rescue the hostages. Another slap in Washington’s face. And how they seethed on the banks of the Potomac. All their assessments were wrong, all attempts to salvage something from the disaster wrong, wrong timing, wrong policies.
In 1980, American-armed Iraq conveniently attacked Iran in chaos, while Washington turned up the heat and upped its own confusion by secretly selling arms also to Iran. Yep, the US sold arms to revolutionary anti-American Iran! In order to pay for the dirty war against the new leftwing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The Iran-Contras scandal. La drole de guerre! America arms both sides. Until Iraq launched its chemical warfare, killing tens of thousands of Iranians.
Nonetheless, Iraq could never defeat Iran, no more than American armies today or its Blackwater mercenaries could defeat ancient Iran whose history reaches back to the beginnings of time. From the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, from villages of the Elbruz Mountains to the magic fountains of Isfahan, Iran is solidity. Iran is durability, part of our cultural heritage. This is territory of ancient peoples, according to some theories the location of the mythical Garden of Eden.
Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s connections in the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) made of Bechtel the dominant player in the business of nuclear power after it was chosen by the United States Government in 1959 to build the first nuclear power plant in America thanks to Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s close friendship with Steve McCone. The two men had made millions together as partners in the California Ship Building Company which built warships for the U.S. military during World War II. McCone becameU.S. Deputy to the Secretary of Defense in 1948 and Under Secretary of the Air Force (1950-1951). However, McCone’s position as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was the most significant in Bechtel’s future. The company further lowered the barrier between private industry and the federal government when Kenneth Davis, a former Bechtel vice president of nuclear reactor development went on to become U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy and head of the AEC under Reagan. It became more difficult to tell where the public sector began and the private one left off..
U.S. Intelligence links
“Bechtel’s first connections to U.S. intelligence were with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which used Bechtel (which at the time was building oil pipelines in Saudi Arabia) as a cover to monitor events in the Middle East. Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s financial advisor, John Simpson was close to CIA deputy director John Foster Dulles. Collaboration between the CIA and Bechtel was instrumental in the toppling of both Iran’s Mossadegh and Indonesia’s Sukharno. In both cases pro-Western, repressive regimes were the successors—Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, and Suharto in Indonesia. (A case of collaboration of Bechtel and US attacks on the Non-Alligned Nations movement).
After Stephen Bechtel Sr.’s friend Steve McCone served as the chair of the AEC, John F. Kennedy made McCone director of the CIA (1961-1965) McCone was no friend to democracy during those years as he oversaw the CIA during a scandalous period of American history scarred by the assassination of President John Kennedy.
One of Bechtel’s most lucrative relationships may have been its connections to the Export-Import Bank. Stephen Bechtel’s friend Henry Kearns was the head of the Bank and appointed Stephen Bechtel Sr. to the advisory board. During Stephen’s tenure on the board, the Export-Import Bank lent hundreds of millions of dollars to several different countries for the financing of Bechtel-related projects.
Other Bechtel-government links have included:
George Schultz. Shortly after assuming a top position in Bechtel, President Reagan named him hisSecretary of State.Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, was a former Bechtel general counsel. W. Kenneth Davis was a Bechtel vice-president for nuclear development before he was appointed as Reagan’s Deputy Secretary of Energy and head of the Atomic Energy Commission.William Casey a former Bechtel consultant served in a number of government positions including chairman of the SEC under Nixon, head of the Export-Import bank under Ford, and director of the CIA under Reagan.Richard Helm, who later became a ‘consultant’ to Bechtel, had earlier been a CIA director under Nixon.William Simon, Nixon’s Treasury Secretary, was hired by Bechtel as a consultant.
Bechtel plays a major role in the struggle to control the world’s water supply. Bechtel and its peers secured rights to control theproduction and distribution of this essential resource and foresee huge profits in the future when, as experts predict, water becomes a significantly scarce ‘commodity’.Bechtel and other large corporations have obtained legal title to much of the world’s water supply through the process of privatization whereby goods and services previously considered part of the public domain become the exclusive property of a wealthy class of elites. This latest appropriation of the ‘commons’ is done within a legal framework designed, developed, and enforced by international governmental agencies that are dominated by the very same wealthy elite that profit from the legislation it implements. Furthermore, the rules and regulations mandated by these multilateral agencies trump the laws of sovereign states. This process is an affront to democracy because it disempowers the citizenry of sovereign nations to influence the legislation that affects them. Bechtel, a privately-held U.S. corporation, is a major force in this process of privatization and, through its connections in the government and multilateral institutions, is undermining America’s ability to defend the interests of its citizenry.
Bechtel built the Alaska pipeline and the trans-Canadian pipeline. Beginning in the 1940s Bechtel laid the foundations for virtually all of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s oil from the trans-Arabian. Bechtel built Occidental’s oil pipelines in Colombia as well as in Libya. Bechtel won loan guarantees for Saddam Hussein’s proposed Aqaba pipeline in Iraq which were later scuttled. Bechtel also built major rigs in the North Sea off the shores of Scotland and Norway and the crude oil extraction facilities in the Athabscan tar sands of Alberta, just to name a few of the fossil fuel projects.
The Bechtel company thus rests on the most capitalist cornerstone: making money. As such its activities have been intertwined with US imperialism. ThisBechtel Empire was born from the womb of OSS-CIA and the Republican Party under Presidents Reagan and Nixon.
Still, Bechtel and the US government could not control Iran, something Washington cannot accept.Nor has Washington ever accepted the loss of Iran! Mossadegh had made a bid for independence. The US-CIA eliminated him.
But then, surprise: a generation later Islamic Iran rose up and defeated the US-controlled Shahinshah Pahlavi, his powerful army and vicious SAVAK. This time Bechtel’s men vanished overnight. Today, I note, Iran is not even listed among the one hundred countries where Bechtel works to further American interests. Bechtel’s history is not a clean slate. Its story is one of duplicity but also of incompetence.
Meanwhile in the late 1970s in Iran, chaos continued to reign. After all it was revolution!
Washington like Bechtel had had confidence in the Shah’s American-armed military forces that had made Iran an apparent powerhouse and the leading regional power. The entire West seemed as surprised and incredulous as were the businessmen I was associated with, who had counted on the US Marines to put things right. It couldn’t happen here, they all thought.
The Iranian Revolution was a severe blow to US power in the Middle East from which the world power seems to have never recovered. The miscalculations, misjudgments and blindness to reality concerning Iran of 25 years ago have led the USA down erroneous paths ever since. Today the USA is tempted to try again.
1.My special thanks to and recognition of William Bowles in London for his detailed research into the Bechtel story, much of which I have used here and to which I hope I have added another dimension.
- One anecdote: On our first Alitalia flight, Roma-Tehran, which always entailed one stop, either in Baghdad or Beirut, my entrepreneur boss, a former Vatican lawyer, a drunkard, and leading stockholder of “our” company registered in Switzerland sans assets, after some six scotches suggested as we landed in Baghdad, “Why don’t weget off here and check out the (famous) banks in this wonderful city.” A drunken proposal at the time, I now wish we had done it.
- The loquacious “Avvocato” (lawyer), as he liked to be called, never questioned me as to how I condensed his rambling ten-minute presentations into thirty-second translations. Sober, he was convinced that English was much more concise than Italian; drunken he thought English simply lacked the words of the vast vocabulary of Dante’s Italian.
- The Avvocato excelled at midnight foot-races after an evening of scotch-vodka-wine combinations; with his short fattish legs pumping furiously he beat me every time, a former football running back.
Gaither Stewart is a veteran journalist, his dispatches on politics, literature, and culture, have been published (and translated) on many leading online and print venues.
First published in The Greanville Post