The Iranian revolution began in January 1978 and ended with the Shah's replacement by an Islamic fundamentalist government in February 1979. The subsequent seizure of the American embassy in Tehran, together with the failed rescue attempt and the Iran-Contra 'arms for hostages' scandal, represented a humiliating and painful period for American diplomacy, and is all the more remarkable for the extremely close relations previously enjoyed by the two countries. The traumatic collapse of the Pahlavi regime gravely damaged the power and credibility of the U.S. in a critical part of the world and led to a fundamental reappraisal of America's world-wide strategic commitments. This essay will analyse the long-standing relationship between Iran and the United States and argue that it was the peculiar nature and depth of this relationship, together with inter-agency conflict, which led to such a reversal of attitudes following the revolution.
THE ROAD TO REVOLUTION.
Iran, at the head of the Persian Gulf and stretching along its northern and eastern shores, has long served the western powers as a barrier against Russian ambitions toward the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Peninsula. In the nineteeenth century Persia, as Iran was formerly known, served as a pawn in the 'great game' between the British and Russian empires. However, following the Second World War Iran came under the influence of successive American administrations and became a valuable ally of the USA in its policy of containment against the USSR. Supplementing its strategic importance was its vast oil and gas reserves: possessing 10% of all known oil deposits and being the worlds second largest producer up until the revolution in 1979. Therefore, Iran, with its large population, massive oil reserves, and geo-strategic location, has continually been a target for foreign powers intent on moulding its destiny and exploiting its great wealth.