(Photo source: National Security Archive, Iran Documentation Project)
Stupid, like Jimmy Carter’s offer of refuge to a dying Shah in 1979, after the US Embassy in Tehran had already been taken over briefly in February by Iranian militants who knew little and cared less about diplomatic conventions and immunities – a prelude to the infamous hostage drama that began in November of that year. Stupid, like if the Bush Administration allowed the current covert war in Iran to become overt, with pictures of smoking American guns to wave in front of the American Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy. Stupid, like leaving your diplomats exposed should Israel decide to pull off a daring air raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, like it did against Saddam Hussein’s reactor in 1981.
Diplomats – especially those representing countries that are, what shall I say, activist (?) like the United States – are always exposed when their country does something against the country that they are ostensibly supposed to conduct relations with. In the best of times, American diplomats are the face of the US Government in ___ (fill in blank country). When times are tense, those same diplomats can become the most convenient American target available. When you have a few people hanging out on a limb in a country like Iran in 1979, it’s not the time to poke the hosts in the eye. Which is what Jimmy Carter (bless his heart, I truly like him as an elder statesman) did when he opened the door to the Shah.
I remember keeping ears attuned to the news out of Washington, during the years when I exposed my family to life in the Arab world. Don’t get me wrong: we enjoyed our years in North Africa and the Middle East, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But there were times when the administration’s (of either party) attitude toward, say, establishing the American Embassy in Jerusalem vice Tel Aviv could get the “street” riled. Nice to have a little advance warning, if only to batten down the hatches.
So in the twilight months of the George W. Bush era, it appears that the Administration is giving serious thought to establishing a diplomatic presence in Tehran. For practical purposes, like treating Iranian visa applications. Okay, I’m all for it. Gives us a chance to show the good citizens of Tehran that Americans do not all sprout Great Satan horns, and allows Americans to see life in Iran for themselves.
One proviso, though: keep VP Cheney away from the “ATTACK” button, and make it clear to Israel that they are not to send their bombers east. Or has that already been done? Prudent planning would call for that, but since when has the Bush regime shown any prudent forethought? My advice to the American Foreign Service Officers who might get sent to Tehran: stay tuned to the news and have your “bug out bag” ready (my name for a little pre packed and pre-positioned kit with essentials should shouting people start coming over the wall of the Interests Section). And watch “Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper,” the fact-based 1981 TV movie about how a few American diplomats and dependents escaped the hostage drama by averting the takeover and finding refuge with their Canadian counterparts.
Remember: when the US Government does something stupid, it’s handy to have friends locally.