During World War II, Allied soldiers occupied Iran, using the country as a way station to transport supplies from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet Union. This was Iran’s first exposure to Americans. “They arrived in our country with a certain innocence,” said the respected Iranian historian Kaveh Bayat, “and without any colonial pretenses.”
The Americans’ supply train would regularly pass through my father’s ancestral village, Arak, then a scenic oasis of green gardens and fruit orchards. “Whenever we heard the train coming,” my father once told me, “all the young boys in the village would run as fast as we could through the apple orchard to greet the passing Americans. They would smile and wave and throw us whatever gifts they happened to have – playing cards, chewing gum, lifesaver candies….For us they were like heroes from another world.”
So much has changed since then. Iran’s 1979 revolution did away with the pro-American, undemocratic regime of the Shah, bringing in its place the anti-American, undemocratic regime of the clerics. Relations between the United States and Iran have been officially non-existent since a group of radical students stormed the US embassy in Teheran – 25 years ago this week – taking sixty six Americans hostage for 444 days. Sixty years ago, Arak was a humble village known to US troops for its grapes; today Pentagon officials hone in on it as an industrial city that is integral to Iran’s worrisome nuclear program.
And yet few countries have a more paradoxical relationship than the US and Iran. While the Iranian regime continues to be belligerently anti-American, the Iranian people are overtly pro-American. While the governments in Teheran and Washington appear to be strategic archrivals, in the words of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “there are few nations in the world with which the United States has less reason to quarrel or more compatible interests than Iran.”