The subject of U.S. military and political intervention around the world is a very controversial subject. Some say that the United States has a responsibility to keep the world stable by using military force to quell incidents in far off lands. Others say that the United States should not be the policeman of the world and that it costs too much money.
The focus of this post is not to take one side or another on this issue. This post is only serving to show the reader a few of the many events that have taken place throughout the history of the U.S. Most people in the U.S. have not heard of these events and how they relate to the modern geopolitical climate.
U.S. military policy is really more than just the “big wars” like WWI, WWII, Vietnam, etc. There are dozens and dozens of times the U.S. has intervened around the world. Sometimes the consequences of intervention were only local, other times this intervention had global implications. The topics covered today are of the latter.
Today, I will focus on two countries, Iran and Afghanistan. These countries are in the news a lot today. The origins of U.S. intervention in these countries occurred during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which will be covered in a later post. These events also began in the presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and ended in the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-1989). The ramifications would affect presidents H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, Obama, Trump, and, most likely, many presidents to follow.
So, without further ado, here are some short summaries of the major events of U.S. intervention in Iran and Afghanistan…
Today Iran is hostile to the United States and its interests. This has been the case since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. This event marked a change in government from rule by a secular Shah to rule that amounts to a theocracy, or religion and government intertwined. The religion of the ruling government in Iran is Shia Islam and the religious rulers are known as Ayatollahs.
In 1953 the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) of the United States conducted a coup in order to place Reza Shah Pahlavi in control of the government at the expense of then-Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq. Mossadeq worried the C.I.A. as he was claimed to have socialist and communist ties. The wild C.I.A. program known as “Operation Ajax” was largely conducted by Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Operation Ajax was very successful and the Shah was firmly in power until his health faded at the end of the 1970’s. The Shah’s decline led to a power grab by radical Shia Islamists who have controlled the government ever since. The anti-U.S. sentiment of the revolution led to the infamous “Hostage Crisis” in which 52 American diplomats were held for 444 days from November 4, 1979 until January 20, 1981 when President Reagan was sworn into office.
In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan in order to prop up the communist regime in power. The Soviets brutally took hold of Afghanistan, fighting a menagerie of fighters who were often, in other times, hostile to each other. Some of these fighters were moderate in their belief in Islam, many were quite radical. In a very complicated situation some in the United States government saw a way to take a shot at the Soviet Union.
The mortal enemy of the United States, the Soviet Union supported communist troops in the Vietnam war. Supporting the rebels in Afghanistan seemed to be a way to get some revenge against the USSR. The C.I.A. began to give money and weapons different groups of the rebels. The most important weapon was the Stinger Missile, which helped the rebels shoot down the lethal Soviet attack helicopters.
The support of the rebels did worsen the situation in Afghanistan for the Soviet Union. Internal politics and economic woes had a lot to do with it as well. The Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed not long after that.
This was in a time before Islamic terrorism was a huge deal in the world. It was known that these radical Islamic elements could pose a future problem, but the USSR was a much bigger problem for the U.S. government so some in the government hedged their bets and went with the radicals.
Fast forward a decade and a half later, and you have these elements in Afghanistan that are causing huge problems for the United States. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born son of a wealthy construction magnate, was well known to United States officials by the 1990s. He, and others from traditional Islamic regions went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. More than a few of these “Afghan-Arabs” would turn their fight towards the United States.
Afghanistan was generally ignored by the United States after the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989. The Taliban, strict radical Islamists, took over the country and offered safe haven to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network after bin Laden was forced to leave Khartoum, Sudan due to pressure by the United States government.
The Islamic terror network al Qaeda is responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The United States military has been fighting in Afghanistan ever since.
BOOKS TO READ
These summaries on U.S. intervention in Iran and Afghanistan are the very basics that you should know. You need to understand that these events happened and U.S. intervention was a major player in them. You can interpret these events in different ways. These books are all great reads and are very informative. I highly recommend at least one of them. Overthrow is the best overview of U.S. intervention if you don’t know what the heck I was talking about at all. Kinzer does write in an anti-interventionist fashion but regardless of your politics, it is a vital book to own.
Ghost Wars by Steve Coll
Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile
All The Shah’s Men and Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer
C.I.A.- Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner