Erfan Fard

Iran’s 1979 Revolt: Huyser’s Mission and US Policy

National Archive / Jimmy Carter and the Shah of Iran, 12/31/1977.

Forty-five years ago, the world witnessed a seismic shift in the political landscape of the Middle East with the Islamic Marxist Revolt of 1979 in Iran. This period was not only a turning point for Iran but also a crucial juncture in U.S. foreign policy. At the heart of America’s complex and multifaceted response was General Robert Huyser‘s mission, an embodiment of the U.S. strategic dilemma during this turbulent time.

Sent by President Jimmy Carter, General Huyser’s role was to engage with the Iranian military and ensure their alignment with the U.S. interests following the Shah’s inevitable departure. This task was delicate and fraught with uncertainties, reflecting the U.S.’s desperate bid to maintain a foothold in a rapidly changing Iran.

Huyser’s mission was also tasked with exploring the feasibility of a military coup as a last resort. This element of the mission was a stark indication of the U.S.’s strategic priorities, which were primarily focused on safeguarding its interests in the Persian Gulf, particularly during the tense era of the Cold War.

The U.S. approach to Iran during this period was anything but straightforward. While it appeared that Carter had betrayed the late Shah, the reality was far more complex. The U.S. policy under Carter recognized the Shah’s waning influence and was an attempt to adapt to the shifting political sands in Iran. This included support for Shapour Bakhtiar‘s government and simultaneously considering a military coup, highlighting the U.S.’s readiness to shift alliances in response to changing dynamics.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no conclusive evidence that the Carter administration actively supported Khomeini. The U.S. was certainly aware of his rising influence, but their strategy seemed more focused on managing the unfolding crisis rather than directly backing Khomeini.

However, the ultimate outcome of the U.S.’s efforts was far from what had been intended. The primary objective of Huyser’s mission – to support a stable transition and keep the Iranian military aligned with U.S. interests – was not realized. The mission significantly underestimated the revolutionary momentum and the sway of Khomeini. The collapse of the Shah’s Kingdom and the establishment of the Islamic Republic under Khomeini marked a dramatic shift not only in Iran-U.S. relations but also in the geopolitical dynamics of the region.

The aftermath of the revolt and the U.S.’s role in it reveal the inherent complexities and challenges of foreign policy, especially in a volatile region like the Middle East. The Huyser mission demonstrates the limitations of external influence in the face of a strong, grassroots revolution. It underscores how misjudgments and misunderstandings can lead to unintended consequences, even with strategic planning and intelligence.

In retrospect, the U.S.’s involvement in Iran during this critical period serves as a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of international politics. It highlights the importance of a nuanced and well-informed approach to foreign policy, one that is adaptable and sensitive to the unique socio-political dynamics of each country.

As we reflect on these events, it’s crucial to understand that foreign policy is not just a game of chess played by superpowers. It involves real people, complex histories, and often unpredictable outcomes. The story of General Huyser and the U.S.’s involvement in the 1979 Iranian Revolution is a testament to this intricate dance of diplomacy and strategy, offering valuable lessons for current and future generations of policymakers.

45 Years Post-Shah: The Middle East’s Quest for Stability and the US’s Evolving Role

As we mark the 45th anniversary of the Shah’s departure from Iran, the Middle East’s landscape continues to grapple with the quest for stability. This historical pivot point remains a crucial subject in the US intelligence community‘s analysis, with a heightened focus on counterterrorism and counterproliferation. Today, the region faces a complex web of challenges, from the activities of Iran-backed militias to the geopolitical power plays involving major world powers.

Before January 16, 1979, the United States could rely on a dependable ally in the Middle East: Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. The Shah’s Iran was not just a regional powerhouse; it was a nation that maintained cordial ties across the Arab world and with Israel. The Shah was even navigating the diplomatic intricacies of engaging with the USSR and China. However, despite these promising dynamics, US intelligence, including the DIA and CIA, failed to anticipate the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, a lapse that signaled a significant shift in regional politics.

Fast forward to today, the Middle East remains a region fraught with tension and conflict. The stability of critical areas such as the Persian Gulf and Red Sea is perpetually under threat, primarily due to the activities of Iran-backed terrorist groups. These groups, supported by transnational networks like the IRGC and Quds Force, continue to wage proxy wars, particularly against Israel. The Iranian regime’s propaganda machine labels these actions as “Islamic resistance,” but their core objective is to sustain Tehran’s aggressive and expansionist policies.

In the current political landscape, US President Joe Biden, known for his staunch opposition to Apartheid and his celebration of Communism’s collapse, faces a conundrum. His administration’s efforts to revive the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) with Iran have been fraught with challenges. The revival of this agreement, which aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for lifting sanctions, has proven to be a complex and controversial endeavor.

The Middle East’s turmoil goes beyond international diplomacy and nuclear deals. The region is a hotbed of conflicts fueled by wars, terrorism, sectarianism, and tribalism. In Iran, public discontent simmers beneath the surface, while the regime’s hardliners ponder the succession of their aging Leader, Ali Khamenei. Khamenei’s tenure, which began in 1989, has seen the US cycle through six presidents, illustrating the stark contrast between the two nations’ political systems.

As the Biden administration approaches the end of its term, a shift in US policy towards the Middle East appears unlikely. The upcoming 2024 election looms large, with questions about the continuity of current policies and the potential for new strategies by presidential candidates. The US intelligence community continues to work diligently, aiming to counter Iranian influence and maintain American dominance in the region through its alliances. However, the effectiveness of these efforts and the potential for new approaches remain uncertain.

The departure of the Shah 45 years ago was akin to removing a pillar of stability from the region, leading to a descent into radicalism and unrest. While the notion of “regime change” in Iran is a controversial and often avoided topic in Washington, the prolongation of the current regime poses a continuous challenge to achieving peace and stability in the Middle East.

In conclusion, the Middle East’s quest for stability, 45 years after the Shah’s departure, is more than a regional concern; it is a global issue that requires nuanced understanding, strategic foresight, and collaborative international efforts. As the US and other global players navigate this complex terrain, the lessons of history and the realities of the present must inform their approach. Only then can we hope to see a Middle East that moves beyond the shadows of past turmoil towards a future of peace and stability.

In sum,

The persistent turmoil and unrest in the Middle East, including the rise of Islamic Terrorism, can be largely attributed to the mullah’s regime in Iran. Their influence in regional conflicts is undeniable. A Regime Change in Iran is a crucial step towards establishing peace and stability in the region. However, it’s important to recognize that this idea remains controversial and often avoided in political discussions in Washington DC. Additionally, it’s important to emphasize that aligning with Terrorist groups like the MEK doesn’t absolve or erase the mullahs’ actions. A holistic and principled approach is essential for real & lasting change in the region.”

[ Regime Change, Book, Erfan Fard]

About the Author
Erfan Fard is a counter-terrorism analyst and Middle East Studies researcher based in Washington, DC. He is in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran, Counter terrorism, IRGC, MOIS and Ethnic conflicts in MENA. \He graduated in International Security Studies (London M. University, UK), and in International Relations (CSU-LA), and is fluent in Persian, Kurdish, Arabic and English. Follow him in this twitter account @EQFARD
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