Iran IV: America’s Dictator

Hey folks. We’re getting on with it, but research and length got away from me again, and it’ll be another episode before we’re edging up towards Revolution.

For now, though, we’ve got the reign of the Shah. Here’s our boy at his coronation in ’67 with the incredibly British commentary that Pathé apparently monopolized:

The Shah’s greatest eventual antagonist was already pricking the king in the early 1960s, though. We usually see the Ayatollah Khomeini like this:

But he was a seminary student, once:

And, as soon as he grew the beard out, always bore a striking, striking resemblance to Sean Connery:

But while we’re more-or-less used to Khomeini’s glowering brows and (I’m just noticing now) sensual pout, his more liberal counterparts in the fluid Shi’ism of mid-1960s Iran have pretty much never been on our radar screens.

Here we’ve got Mahmud Talaqani, or Taleghani, depending on who’s doing the spelling, the also-Ayatollah who founded the Liberation Movement of Iran along with Mehdi Barzagan, one of Mossadegh’s proteges.

Talaqani was into liberationist, socialist Islam way before it was cool. Talaqani hammered out the early road with the politician Barzagan, but the guy that (Ervand Abrahamian and Michael Axworthy tell me) was the real ideologue of the Iranian Islamic left and a major part of the ’79 Revolution itself was Ali Shariati Mazinani:

We’ll have a whole host of other figures to get to next time, but for now, listen to the show, share it, tell your friends about it.

And last but never least, references.

Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations. New Press, 2013.

Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran: Between Two Revolutions.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 January 1975:

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 June 1976:

Axworthy, Michael. Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Baraheni, Reza. “Terror in Iran.” The New York Review of Books, 28 October 1976.

Byrne, Malcolm. “The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup.” The National Security Archive, last modified 29 November 2000,

The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly and Charles Melville. Vol. VII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Weidenfeld1963.

Fatemi, N. S. 1985. “The Anglo Persian Agreement of 1919.” Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol II: 59.

Katouzian, Homa. The Political Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1981.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Wiley, 2003.

Roosevelt, Kermit. Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Rothschild, Emily. “The Boom in the Death Business.” The New York Review of Books, 2 October, 1975.

Steel, Ronald. “Impossible Dreams.”  The New York Review of Books, 12 September 1968.


Audio Acknowledgements

Doctor Turtle. “Grow Grotesque.”

“Eisenhower Speaks about the Murder of JFK.” YouTube.

“Iran Military Assistance Advisory Group, 1962.” The Big Picture. YouTube.

John Foster Dulles Interview“, Longines Chronoscope, (YouTube).

Persian Folk Music.” Traditional Music Channel. YouTube.

Premier Ali Amini of Iran in His Office.” CriticalPast. YouTube.

President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.” CBS. YouTube.

President John F. Kennedy’s ‘Peace Speech’ at American University.” C-SPAN. YouTube.

The Shah of Iran and President Kennedy.” YouTube.


Conversation with Robert Morris of the More Freedom Foundation

I’ve been telling you folks about and pitching you on Rob Morris, who runs the More Freedom Foundation and its YouTube channel, for a couple of weeks now.

Rob’s a principled conservative. Like with actual principles, for a change

Well, we got together yesterday and sat down to talk about his new essay and video series, Everybody’s Lying About Islam, along with Iran and Mexico and a whole host of other stuff.

This turned out real well, and we’re thinking about doing some more collaborations real soon.

And for everybody who didn’t hear this live or get to participate in the pretty active livechat, if you’ve got any questions or comments you want to let us know about or have us address, leave them here or on the SFD Facebook page or on the video on YouTube itself.

Enjoy, guys.


SFD Short—Liberal Arts

This is the fourth short, adapted from something I wrote way back in the day when I was still fighting the good fight.

Back when I was in the Peace Corps. I told you guys I was in the Peace Corps, right? Peace Corps.

I told you folks last week that I’d be having a talk with Robert Morris of the More Freedom Foundation on YouTube Live this week. Well, turns out my internet here in Guadalajara absolutely will not support the Live part of that. So we’re still gonna chat, but we’re gonna record ourselves and I’ll slap the whole thing together afterwards.

In case you missed it last time:

Robert runs a YouTube channel called the More Freedom Foundation and his latest project is a series of short videos called Everybody’s Lying About Islam and it is dynamite. Try the first one on here, and watch the rest of them right afterwards:

Keep one eyeball on SFD’s or my social media and I’ll let you know where and how it’ll be.

SFD Short—Forgetfulness

This is the third short and the first entirely new one, although I’ll get it typed up and post it like any other blog and then link it here sometime this week.

The big news this time though is that sometime next week I’ll be having a long conversation with a guy named Robert Morris on YouTube Live that’ll become, soon after, a talky episode of SFD.

Robert runs a YouTube channel called the More Freedom Foundation and his latest project is a series of short videos called Everybody’s Lying About Islam and it is dynamite. Try the first one on here, and watch the rest of them right afterwards:

Keep one eyeball on SFD’s or my social media and I’ll let you know when the live thing’s going on. Either way, it’ll end up as a podcast and you’ll be able to get it however you normally do.

SFD Short—Looking at History from the Outside

The next one of these, I think, or the next two (who knows!) will be totally new, but this one, like the last one, does what it says.

New intro on this one, but I might shorten it up, given that the eps are shorter.

Let me know how you guys are liking (or hating) these, and I’ll dial them in accordingly. Also might have an interesting collaboration coming up, so keep your eyes and ears open for that one.


SFD Short—Historical Optimism

Hey folks, does what it says on the box.

It looks like I might end up in law school this fall, so there’s a fair chance the show is winding down. But I’m going to fill up the interim with episodes, and to that end, I’ll be taking some of the stuff I’ve written (that fits) over the last four years and making short little shows with it. We’ll see how it goes, and if it’s not your bag, just stick to the main eps.

Cheers, guys.

Sick of Sin

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
—Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est

 Giving It Up (Kind Of)

A couple of announcements here at the top. The blog’s going to be on hiatus for a few weeks, because I’m traveling around Mexico for Semana Santa and a little reporting. After I get back, though, I’m going to put a pin in the regular Monday roundups. They’re draining, especially in terms of the unremunerated time that I’d otherwise be putting towards the podcast, and I’m not really seeing the numbers that would support keeping them up. So I’m going to keep this one brief, and I’ll only get back into it if something really strikes me as both important and not being covered elsewhere.

And in the unlikely event that you were relying on SFD for a roundup, then Doug Muder at the Weekly Sift and the guys at Crooked Media are your best options. Pod Save America will give you as much as you can handle twice a week, and I think Lovett or Leave It might be the best audio anything anywhere.

Aside from these Monday things, I’m going to really drill down on the next Iran shows, and that usually results in a blog or two. And I’m going to be trying some other, shorter-format podcast things, so the site’ll be active going forward.

Continue reading Sick of Sin

If You’re Gonna Care About Anything

I have a good friend named Maya Gebeily who works for Agence France Press out of Beirut and who’s been working out there for almost four years now. She’s been to bombings, she’s reported from Mosul, and now she and her colleagues and doing what they can to cover the most recent set of attacks in Syria. She’s got a newsletter, and it’s worth reading and every link in it’s worth clicking.

If you’re gonna care about anything, care about this:

It might also behoove you to know this:


Iran III: Guns of August

Well, we finally made it. I thought I’d blow from the ancient Persian Empire straight through to the plot of Persepolis in one episode, but just like with Guatemala, things got away from me. This time, though, we’re getting to the coup in August 1953 and looking forward to its consequences as they echo down through Iranian history to the present.

Alright, let’s take a look at some faces. Here we’ve got the Eisenhower crew dead-set on destroying Iranian democracy:

John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower.

Allen Dulles, JF’s younger brother and head of the CIA.

And Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, who’d been head of the CIA under Truman and became Undersecretary of State under Eisenhower. He used his later role in the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala to get a well-paid spot on the board of directors of the United Fruit Company.

And here’s Kermit Roosevelt, the American spy in Tehran who put the whole thing together, and without whom the whole thing would have fallen apart after the first failed attempt.

“Beetle” Smith was a slimeball and the Dulles brothers, however much they might have been ostensibly protecting “democracy” against “communism,” seem to have slipped pretty quickly into the ‘power corrupts’ camp.

Roosevelt, though, I don’t know. He was definitely the lynchpin of the coup, but he wasn’t an ideologue, and the excitement he recorded as he passed into Iran was understandable. He wasn’t the cynical CIA man here to put down a fledgling democracy, but the newest patriot of the Roosevelt family, convinced that he was fighting the good fight. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but whereas in the aftermath of AJAX the Dulles brothers were already looking hungrily towards Guatemala, Kermit turned down the opportunity to run that operation and later went on record condemning pretty much every attempt the CIA made to replicate its ‘success’ in Iran.

And here’s some impartial British coverage of events:

Continue reading Iran III: Guns of August

War on Islam

Wittingly, or, as seems increasingly likely, unwittingly, Trump is gearing up to start a war that his advisor Steve Bannon hopes will decide the fate of the world in a conflagration between Christian Capitalism and Islam.

Some of the preparation has been big in the news. They’re cutting the budget of the State Department, whose operations have already been crippled by the so-far incompetent Rex Tillerson and the refusal to fill key positions. Likewise, Trump’s proposed budget looks for an almost ten percent increase in the Defense Department’s year-over-year spending, giving it a larger proportion of the government’s discretionary cash than it had even during the Reagan administration.

Some preparations have been a little less-well publicized, like the way that almost a thousand American marines moved into Syria and may be coordinating with Russian forces there. And while Trump’s now saying that he might not torpedo the nuclear deal with Iran, he’s been pretty good so far about coming through on campaign promises, and that was one of them.

Now it might seem absurd, imagining that Trump, Bannon, and Co could conjure a war out of nowhere, but our last two major wars were made exactly that way, sui generis. We experienced a terror attack on 9/11, yes, but we didn’t invade Saudi Arabia, where the attackers were from and from where they received much of their funding. Instead, we attacked first Afghanistan and then Iraq, neither of which had launched 9/11. The Taliban had hosted al-Qaeda, sure, but so had, to a greater extent, Pakistan, and a goodly number of other countries. Iraq, meanwhile, had no connection, and we’ve still got troops there 14 years later. I don’t want to re-litigate the Bush wars, but just to point out that even on September 12th, 2001, a foreign war, let alone two, and against those particular countries, would have sounded just as nuts as it does now.

Continue reading War on Islam