After the Shah
With the passing of the former Shah of Iran, many Americans will naturally speculate on its possible impact on the holding of the US hostages. But it would be a mistake to expect that event to bring about a sudden change in the political climate. It is true that the Shah's death removes any lingering fear in Iran that the United States would seek to put him back on the throne. But it does not diminish the persisting fear that the US continues to manipulate political events in Iran and would like to engineer a coup against the present Iranian government in order to bring to power a political group more to its taste. The savagery with which the Khomeini regime has come down against the Iranian military for an alleged plot against it shows the depth of Iranian suspicions.
The fact is that the hostage crisis continues to be central to the continuing contest for political power in Iran and is unlikely to be resoved before that revolutionary struggle has played itself out. On the face of it, the emergence of the zealous fundamentalist clergy over the religious moderates and the secularists would not seem to be moderate President bani-Sadr who has long sought to secure release of the hostages, and his power is now being eroded. The Islamic Republican Party has the dominating position in the new parliament, the Majlis, where it recently chose a hard-line cleric as speaker. It has also forced Bani-Sadr to accept a compromise choice for Iranian prime minister, and the expectation is that it will take a major share of the cabinet posts as well. The hard-line clerics thus seem to be gaining the upper hand.
If this is disappointing news for those who believe that Iran would be better served, at home and abroad, by a more moderate government, it nonetheless could help bring the hostage crisis to an end. Once a cabinet is in place, it is supposed to assume the powers of the now-governing Revolutionary Council. And if the Islamic hard-liners feel they are winning out in the political struggle and have sufficiently secured their hold on power in the government, they could be willing to give the hostages up. The American captives have been exploited for domestic political purposes, a process that should end once a decisive government has been established. Indeed, the continuing stalemate over the hostages is causing severe economic as well as political strains for Iran, and presumably is a diplomatic millstone which Ayatollah Khomeini and others wish to be rid of. The swiftness with which hostage Richard Queen was hustled out of Iran suggests that even the hard-line fundamentalists do not want anything to happen that would escalate the crisis. It is significant, too, that less and less had been heard about trading the hostages to secure return of the Shah to face trial in Iran.
In this sitution it seems clear that Us can only continue to exercise patience and restraint. It must do nothing to feed Iranian suspicions and in fact it must take every opportunity to assure the Iranian government that it is not interfering and has no intention of interfering in Iran's internal affairs.
As for the Shah of Iran, his passing will be the occasion for assessing an extraordinary era in Iran's history as well as the Us role in it. In recent months the dark side of the monarch's reign has been given a loud and strident airing. There is no doubt that the Shah became blinded to the religious and cultural values of his people and resorted to inhumane repression to keep himself in power. Corruption, greed, and brutality characterized his regime. That the Us should have given such uncritical support to the Iranian ruler over so many years is a blot on its own record and today is rightly questioned. Yet a balanced judgment has yet to be made. Surely th sentence of history will not ignore the Herculean effort of Shah made to lift his country out of medieval backwardness, to modernize it, and to thrust it to the fore as responsible guardian of peace and stability in the Middle East. The positive elements of his legacy remain to be sorted out and recognized.
In the final analysis, the life and rule of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi taught many lessons -- and the question is whether those who today condemn him most are learning them.