Mari Salberg

University of Oslo

Mari Salberg
Staff Page:

US Foreign Policy Towards Iran 1969–1980: Failed Policies and Foiled Perceptions

Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran was a close ally and an essential part of the United States' strategy for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. The revolution capsized the US policy. Despite US efforts to rescue the pieces of the special relationship, this failed when major anti-American hostility in post-revolutionary Iran culminated in a hostage crisis where 52 Americans spent more than a year in captivity in Teheran. The perpetrators were supported by the new Iranian regime under the religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran was suddenly perceived by American policymakers as a major threat.

The problem with how to perceive and react to the events in Iran posed a new challenge for the superpower. Iran's role as a regional and Cold War asset was eradicated. Cooperation on crucial strategic issues such as oil and arms ceased. And the political implications of the situation spread from the bilateral to the regional and eventually to a much broader international level, where it remains today, thirty-five years after the revolution.

I believe that one important reason why the situation in Iran spiralled out of US policymakers' control was the lack of accurate perceptions of the situation before, during and after the revolution. I will closely examine the relevant American archival material to test this hypothesis. What were the perceptions of Iran from 1969 through 1980, and in what way did this influence the US foreign policy? How and why were these perceptions formed in key actors in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter? Much of the archival material for the period prior to the revolution has been declassified, but not sufficiently examined in this context. This study will fill that gap.