Now that the Democratic Party has committed itself to warmed-over Carterism in its platform document, the comically titled “Strong At Home, Respected In The World,” and Mickey Kaus has contributed a ringing endorsement worthy of the Man From Malaise (“We survived Carter and we’d survive Kerry”), it is important to remember just what we owe Jimmy Carter: a resurgent global Islamic radicalism, emboldened and directly aided by the Khomeini regime in Iran that he did so much to set in place.
A sobering reminder of just how much Carter is responsible for Iran’s now sclerotic but still tenacious mullahocracy comes from Steven F. Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute in his new book, The Real Jimmy Carter (Regnery).
Modern Islamic radicalism, of course, was born in Egypt in the 1920s, when Hassan Al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, the primary progenitor of Hamas and Al-Qaeda. And even Al-Banna’s movement was a reassertion of the political Islam that dated all the way back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and which had just gone into momentary eclipse when the caliphate, the seat of the political/religious successor of Muhammad, was abolished by the secular Turkish government in 1924. Although Islamic radicals achieved many partial successes in the five intervening decades, the Khomeini revolution was the first success of this newly assertive movement on a national scale — and its effects on the global movement have been incalculable.
And Carter was instrumental in this victory. Hayward tells the full story of how Carter, through passivity and indecision, allowed the situation in Iran to drift out of control. He notes that Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and the American ambassador in Tehran, William Sullivan, “repeatedly assured Pahlavi that the U.S. backed him fully, but in fact that backing extended little beyond private verbal cheerleading.”
What’s more, despite the fact that Islamic radicalism was fifty years old by the time Khomeini became a serious threat to the Shah, and that Khomeini himself had been a political force in Iran for years before he came to power, “the CIA,” says Hayward, “not only hadn’t read any of Khomeini’s writings but didn’t even have copies of them.” As one State Department official put it, “Whoever took religion seriously?” According to Hayward, “Neither the State Department nor the intelligence community took Islamic fundamentalism seriously, while American scholars on Iran deprecated the idea that the clergy would participate directly in forming or running a government.” The chief of staff to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, William Miller, even recommended that the U.S. support Khomeini, who he thought would be a “progressive force for human rights.”
Manifesting the same misunderstanding of the real nature of Islamic radicalism that still dogs the State Department and other agencies today, Brzezinski embarked on a plan to strengthen Islamic radicalism for the geopolitical ends of the day. According to political analysts and Iran experts Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi and Elio Bonazzi, Brzezinski “instituted a plan to train fundamentalist Afghan Islamic mujahidin fighters in Pakistan under CIA supervision” — for which Carter’s successor Ronald Reagan is often blamed. Zand-Bonazzi and Bonazzi also point out that “the other major Islamist terrorist force active today is also the product of misguided policies of the Carter administration, which deliberately destroyed the Shah of Iran and allowed the Islamic Revolution to take place. Hamas and Hizbollah are direct emanations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, responsible for killing hundreds of Americans (recall the 1984 attacks on the US embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut) and Israelis.” Although Hamas and Hizbollah existed before Khomeini, he was instrumental in their becoming and remaining significant forces.
And Khomeini owed his own political life to Carter. As the peanut President himself put it when Pahlavi made a final appeal for help to regain his throne in February 1979, “F—k the Shah.”
The bottom line? “Khomeini’s regime,” says Hayward, “executed more people in its first year in power than the shah’s SAVAK had allegedly killed in the previous twenty-five years.” Whether Khomeini in the early Eighties sent a thank-you note to the man now basking in glory as “America’s greatest ex-President,” who was by then down in Plains licking his wounds and beginning his path to the Nobel Prize, is not known. But should Kerry be elected, Khomeini’s spiritual heirs, locked in a mortal struggle with a new movement for secularism and democracy in Iran, may start getting all sorts of new reasons to express their gratitude to the man in the White House.