The Academy Award winning movie “Argo,” which tells the story of six US Embassy staffers who hid in the Canadian Embassy in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis has incited diverse reactions.
The movie tells a short chapter in the long and tense relationship between the US and Iran. These relations are currently more tense than ever. Who would have believed that this tense and strained bilateral relationship would last for 33 years? This represents a long period of disputes, diplomatic estrangement, and indirect wars. The past three decades have witnessed significant changes in the reality of the revolutionary phase and the geo-political map; leaderships have changed, countries have fallen, and alliances have shifted. Despite all this, Tehran has not changed much. In fact Iran has become fiercer in its tendency to resort to violence, and its desire to expand its influence. The Soviet Union has collapsed and China has changed, while even Vietnam and Cuba have become more open to Washington. The regimes of figures like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi have been toppled. Many international relations concepts have changed, particularly our understanding of globalization and communication. Even concepts like influence and sovereignty have completely changed.
However the old Iran, as envisioned by Khomeini, remains the same. It previously hated the ‘Great Satan’ as a result of a mixture of history, ideology, and politics. However it presently hates the US because it believes that this Great Satan is preventing it from fulfilling its ambition of possessing nuclear weapons and dominating the region. It is completely natural for a superpower to block an “enemy” state from possessing nuclear weapons that can destroy oil fields and ignite the world or which could be used to arm terrorist organizations. It is also normal for a superpower to confront an “enemy” state’s ceaseless attempts to gain regional domination, establishing an aggressive regional bloc that will one day pose a threat to its security and interests.
During the Iran hostage crisis, we believed that this was an expression of pent-up anger and it was completely predictable that the US Embassy would be a prime target. However three decades later, Iran is still Iran, despite many attempts by Iranian figures to reform the ideology of its leaders and ensure that the country enjoys international respectability. All such attempts met with failure. The first attempt was by the first president of the Islamic Republic, Abulhassan Banisadr, and his story exceeds even that of Argo in terms of drama. For twenty years, Banisadr—side by side with Khomeini—struggled against the Shah, and he was loyal to the Iranian Supreme Guide. He also won the presidential elections against seven opponents but only remained in office for one year after Khomeini accused him of incompetence in confronting the Iraqi forces. He went into hiding and fled the country, with some reports claiming that he fled via the Turkish border disguised in a military outfit. There was also Mohammad Khatami, the fifth president of Iran who came to power with around 70 percent of votes. There have been hundreds of politicians, religious figures, and intellectuals that have been persecuted, despite the fact that they form the heart of the regime and took part in the revolution. They all failed to alter the political mentality of Tehran.
We are currently witnessing a worse era in Iranian governance, particularly as the star of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is in the ascendancy, dominating the state’s key political, intelligence, and economic institutions. Today, the IRGC is behind the fires that have been ignited in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza.
The movie “Argo” takes place during the first year after the Iranian revolution. Back then, we were optimistic, particularly as the ousted Shah had been full of paranoia and dreamt of military domination and restoring the Persian Empire. He spent the last decade of his rule clashing with Gulf States that existed in a state of heightened concern, particularly during this phase of British withdrawal. However we were doomed to disappointment for when Khomeini took over we discovered that he suffered from precisely the same disease. He explicitly and unashamedly announced his project to expand Iranian influence into the Arab region. This time, however, it was in the name of Islam. Khomeini’s project has led to a Sunni–Shi’ite dispute, the likes of which the world has not known since the collapse of the Umayyad Empire more than 13 centuries ago.
Iran may be a fierce military power but it is also a poverty-stricken and failing country.