I have just reread “Revolutionary Iran, a history of the Islamic Republic” by the late Michael Axworthy, who was a leading expert on Iran in the UK Foreign Office.

Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Its population is well educated and instinctively pro Western.  70% of Iranians said in an opinion poll a few years back that they would favour better relations with the West.

The terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11 came from America’s ally Saudi Arabia, and not from Iran.

 Yet it is Iran than has had to endure the most severe western trade and investment sanctions over the last 30 years, while Saudi Arabia is courted assiduously by both Trump and Biden Administrations.

Iran was supportive of the US in the wake of 9/11, and allowed US planes to over fly Iran during initial US actions  against the Taliban in Afghanistan  who were sheltering the 9/11 terrorists. Yet President Bush included Iran in the “axis of Evil”  in the speech he gave in response to 9/11. I do not understand why he did this.

This   negative US attitude to Iran may be due to the fact that Israel has developed back channels for cooperation with the Saudis,  while the Iran/Israel relationship is marked by enduring hostility. But the US should consider itself free to develop its own foreign policy without always adopting the Israeli view. In any event, the Israeli position has not been consistent. Israel helped Iran in its decade long war with Iraq.

The policy of sanctioning Iran dates back to legislation passed by the US Congress in 1996, and has become ever more severe since then.

 When one looks at the failure of US sanctions in changing the politics of Cuba, and the continuing failure of US sanctions against Iran, one must question the efficacy of sanctions as  a diplomatic tool.

In recent times the Iranian regime has indeed become more and more oppressive, with liberal us of execution as a means of dealing with opposition.

 But there have been times when the Iranian leadership was open to compromise. Khatami and Rafsanjani were open to compromise, but these opportunities were not taken up in any sustained way by western governments. In the early years after the Islamic revolution, election were somehat free and fair, but the 2009 elections were rigged.

There is a long standing democratic tradition in Iran, dating back to the democratic constitution of 1906.

Unfortunately that 1906 constitution was overthrown in 1908 by the then Shah, with help from the Russians and the British, who felt they could more easily do business with an autocratic regime. A similar exercise in supressing Iranian democracy was undertaken by the last Shah with aid of the British and the Americans in the 1950s. Again the outsiders felt they could get better access to Iranian oil from autocrats than from democrats.

Axworthy deals extensively with long and  bloody war that followed from an Iraqi attack on Iran.

This book filled a major gap in my knowledge of the Middle East, and I recommend it.

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