For weeks now, the overgrown Tic Tac living in the White House has repeatedly threatened to put the kibosh on a landmark deal with the potential to rehabilitate a key country in the Middle East. Even as the rest of the world does their best to convince the wispy-haired sweet potato in the Oval Office that he’s being unreasonable, Trump’s volatile reaction to the so-called Iran Deal should come as no surprise.
No, not because Donald Trump is a grade-A dick. Trump’s plan to back out of the Iran Deal is just the continuation of a long-held United States tradition. If Iran is a little kid with a whole lot of lunch money, the United States is proud to be the pituitary case who holds Iran’s head in the toilet until he forks over the cash.
Okay, Just for a Quick Sec
What follows is — at best — a woefully under-informed, viciously glancing overview of the last 65 years of US-Iran relations. There have been books written, and movies made that cover this multi-faceted topic from every conceivable direction. I have experienced little-to-none of those because books are for nerds and movies are only worthwhile when they’ve got explosions.
That said, Iran’s culture and history are fascinating, and there are several Iranians much smarter than I who have lent their considerable wisdom to this ongoing conversation. If you want the real story behind the US-Iran relationship, I’d encourage you to check out those sources.
What Is the Iran Deal?
For those people who aren’t aware, the “Iran Deal” refers to Obama-era legislation that allows Iran to enrich uranium without the rest of the world pouncing on their ass. Up till now, the combination of “Iran” and “nuclear” in the same sentence was enough to make people start looking over their shoulder. Under the Iran Deal, the country is allowed to enrich their uranium just a little bit; enough to turn on the lights with a nuclear reactor, but nowhere near enough to build a big, scary bomb.
The deal is filled with a bunch of nit-picky regulations and safeguards, but the gist of the Iran Deal is this: if Iran agrees to disarm their nuclear arsenal (and submit to a bunch of inspections), the rest of the world will lift some brutal sanctions against them allowing the country to, you know, build an infrastructure.
That Doesn’t Sound Awful, So Why Is Trump So Pissed?
Trump has called the Iran Deal the worst deal in US history, and he’s given Congress until May 12 do the Iran Deal bigly.
Trump believes that the Iran deal is a bad idea for three reasons. One: Like Iran, the US is in the oil business, and we don’t need the competition. Two: Iranians are the bad guy in movies, so they must be evil in real life. Three: it’s just another part of his multi-stage master plan to make it the 1980s again.
Mostly, though, it’s the oil stuff.
1953: ‘You Only Thought You Could Determine Your Future’
For those who may not know, Iran is home to one heck of a lot of oil, more than 150 billion barrels. Even better, all that good crude is easily accessible. For most of the twentieth century, that oil was under the control of the United Kingdom. Then, in 1951, some upstart called Mohammad Mosaddeq tried to wrest control of the country’s oil reserves from the United Kingdom.
Mosaddeq was an interesting character. He liked to wear PJs all the time, He gave speeches from his bed, and he was known to weep openly. Honestly, except for the public crying, it seems like Mosaddeq had the right idea. Anyway, Mosaddeq’s zaniest idea was to try and renationalize Iran’s oil, putting control of the resource in the hands of the Iranian people.
That didn’t work for the UK or the United States. In 1951, we’d just gotten finished making the world safe for democracy in World War II. So, to celebrate, we decided to topple a burgeoning democracy. Plus, we needed the gas.
Over the course of all that Nazi-bashing awesomeness, the US and the UK burned through a totally healthy and not excessive amount of oil.
The point is, if the US and the UK wanted to rebuild their reserves without spending a bunch of money, they needed easy access to Iran’s oil. And why not? We killed Hitler, so we totally deserved it more than the people who owned it first. A duh.
Anyway, in 1951, the CIA began running fake news stories designed to turn Iranians against Mosaddeq. The Agency also started running stories in American papers that fueled anti-Iranian sentiment, which means that a) the US government is the reason your grandparents decided to start hating Iran, and b) Russia might be the Sammy Sosa of meddling, but we’re the Babe Ruth.
Anyway, once the US and the UK got involved, Mosaddeq suddenly began having trouble finding customers for the country’s oil. Iran’s economy went into a tailspin. With his support in the state weakened (and starving), the CIA and their UK brethren began supplying guns to supporters of the recently deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, this down-to-Earth fella:
A nasty, little coup in 1953 restored the Shah to power and stuck Mosaddeq with three year’s in the klink plus a lifetime of house arrest afterward. The United States, in turn, got a buddy in power. Iran got their burgeoning democracy burned to the ground in one fell swoop.
1979: Hey-o Ayatollah
For some reason, the whole coup mess really irritated the Iranian people. Like, a lot. The United States became Public Enemy Number One. That didn’t really matter, because we got the crude. The downside was the impulse toward democracy didn’t stop when Mosaddeq was deposed. It was like the Iranian people believed they should control their own destiny. Too bad they’re sitting on top of all that gorgeous, gorgeous crude.
Over the next 20 years, the United States continued to help Iran out with groundbreaking aid programs like forming a secret police force (no, not like the Nazis, a super sweet secret police force) and enforcing legislation that made Americans immune to prosecution in Iran. In 1979, the Iranian people had taken enough. They ousted the Shah and opted to install a religious cleric named Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
In November, a student sit-in at the US Embassy took a really violent left-turn that resulted in several hostages being taken and held for 444 days.
Fortunately, the CIA hired Ben Affleck to resolve the situation. Otherwise, it could have been much worse.
In spite of Bat-fleck’s best efforts, the US found it was no longer able to do business with Iran, so they decided to back a nearby dictator with a real love for expanding his territory, Genghis-Khan-style. You know, because we hadn’t already cocked up the situation enough. That guy’s name was Saddam Hussein, and he took the US baton and ran with it for eight brutal, bloody years. The war did an excellent job of destabilizing the fledgling Islamic Republic, because it’s hard to build schools when Saddam Hussein keeps blowing them up with American missiles.
Weirdly, the Iranian people came away from this whole experience hating the United States more than ever before. We didn’t bomb them; it was all Saudi Arabia.
The Super Fun 1980s
While the United States was doing piles of blow and listening to Huey Lewis, the people of Iran were watching any and all democratic reforms get re-shaped under the constrictive rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. Since anti-American propaganda helped solidify the Ayatollah’s control in the early days, he decided to keep up the fun, blaming America for his gross abuses of power.
Fortunately for the Ayatollah, the United States was always there to provide ample examples of our oblivious assholery. In 1985, we traded guns to Iran in exchange for hostages and money. (We turned around and gave the money to rebels in South America.) The Iran-Contra Scandal didn’t go great Republicans or the people of Iran.
In 1988, just for kicks, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane after mistaking it for a fighter jet.
Which Brings Us to the Iran Deal
In the intervening years, the Ayatollah has done his level best to keep Iran under control, while a group of reformers — like this guy — have been working to push the country toward democracy and economic stability. They still hate the ever-loving dog poop out of the United States, because frankly, we have a lot to make up for. Sure, their government is excruciatingly conservative, but it’s hard to argue that the United States didn’t contribute to that situation.
Up until the Iran Deal, the United States was happy to keep Iran in its Axis of Evil. Even as the US forged a reputation as an exporter of oil, it was good for us to have a cheap source of crude in our back pockets. Independent democratic nations are just too much trouble to do business with, after all.
If and when Trump kills the Iran Deal and restores economic sanctions against Iran, a whole lot of neat stuff will happen. The price of oil will skyrocket. Several companies like GE and Volkswagen will lose billions of dollars. Iran will also lose billions of dollars.
The rest of the world will be forced to back away from Iran, denying it the aid and income it so desperately needs. Even better, Iran will have much less trouble (and much more desire) to build a nuclear weapon, a scenario with the potential to alienate Iran from the rest of the world for another five decades.
Not to worry, we’ll be there to help buy all that juicy oil for cents on the dollar. See? Trump isn’t behaving like a reactionary putz; he’s contributing to the proud US legacy of gut-punching Iran at the exact moment when they look poised to take positive strides at home and on the world stage.