The Mystic Who Lit the Fires of HatredIran's Ayatullah Khomeini seized his nation and shook all Islam.
from Time Magazine when it pronounced
Khomeini "Man of the Year" in its January 7, 1980 issue
The dour old man of 79 shuffles in his heel-less slippers to the rooftop and waves apathetically to crowds that surround his modest home in the holy city of Qum. The hooded eyes that glare out so balefully from beneath his black turban are often turned upward, as if seeking inspiration from on high--which, as a religious mystic, he indeed is. To Iran's Shi'ite Muslim laity, he is the Imam, an ascetic spiritual leader whose teachings are unquestioned. To hundreds of millions of others, he is a fanatic whose judgments are harsh, reasoning bizarre and conclusions surreal. He is learned in the ways of Shari'a (Islamic law) and Platonic philosophy, yet astonishingly ignorant of and indifferent to non-Muslim culture. Rarely has so improbable a leader shaken the world.
Yet in 1979 the lean figure of the Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini towered malignly over the globe. As the leader of Iran's revolution he gave the 20th century world a frightening lesson in the shattering power of irrationality, of the ease with which terrorism can be adopted as government policy. As the new year neared, 50 of the American hostages seized on Nov. 4 by a mob of students were still inside the captured U.S. embassy in Tehran, facing the prospect of being tried as spies by Khomeini's revolutionary courts. The Ayatullah, who gave his blessing to the capture, has made impossible and even insulting demands for the hostages' release: that the U.S. return deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to Iran for trial and no doubt execution, even though the Shah is now in Panama; that America submit to a trial of its "crimes" against Iran before an international "grand jury" picked by Khomeini's aides. He claimed that Iran had every legal and moral right to try America's hostage diplomats, an action that would defy a decision of the World Court, a vote of the U.N. Security Council and one of the most basic rules of accommodation between civilized nations. The Ayatullah even insisted, in an extraordinary interview with TIME, that if Americans wish to have good relations with Iran they must vote Jimmy Carter out of office and elect instead a President that Khomeini would find "suitable."
Unifying a nation behind such extremist positions is a remarkable achievement for an austere theologian who little more than a year ago was totally unknown in the West he now menaces. But Khomeini's carefully cultivated air of mystic detachment cloaks an iron will, an inflexible devotion to simple ideas that he has preached for decades, and a finely tuned instinct of articulating the passions and rages of his people. Khomeini is no politician in the Western sense, yet he possesses the most awesome--an ominous--of political gifts: the ability to rouse millions to both adulation and fury.
Khomeini's importance far transcends the nightmare of the embassy seizure, transcends indeed the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. The revolution that he led to triumph threatens to upset the world balance of power more than any political event since Hitler's conquest of Europe. It was unique in several respects: a successful, mostly nonviolent revolt against a seemingly entrenched dictator, it owed nothing to outside help or even to any Western ideology. The danger exists that the Iranian revolution could become a model for future uprisings throughout the Third World--and not only its Islamic portion. Non-Muslim nations too are likely to be attracted by the spectacle of a rebellion aimed at expelling all foreign influence in the name of xenophobic nationalism.
Already the flames of anti-Western fanaticism that Khomeini fanned in Iran threaten to spread through the volatile Soviet Union, from the Indian subcontinent to Turkey and southward through the Arabian Peninsula to the Horn of Africa. Most particularly, the revolution that turned Iran into an Islamic republic whose supreme law is the Koran is undermining the stability of the Middle East, a region that supplies more than half of the Western world's imported oil, a region that stands at the strategic crossroads of super-power competition.
As an immediate result, the U.S., Western Europe and Japan face continuing inflation and rising unemployment, brought on, in part, by a disruption of the oil trade. Beyond that looms the danger of U.S.-Soviet confrontation. Washington policymakers, uncertain about the leftist impulses of Iran's ubiquitous "students"--and perhaps some members of Iran's ruling Revolutionary Council--fear that the country may become a new target of opportunity for Soviet adventurism. The Kremlin leaders in turn must contend with the danger that the U.S.S.R.'s 50 million Muslims could be aroused by Khomeini's incendiary Islamic nationalism. Yet if the Soviets chose to take advantage of the turmoil in Iran as they have intervened in neighboring Afghanistan, the U.S. would have to find some way of countering such aggression.
Khomeini thus poses to the U.S. a supreme test of both will and strategy. So far his hostage blackmail has produced a result he certainly did not intend: a surge of patriotism that has made the American people more united than they have been on any issue in two decades. The shock of seeing the U.S. flag burned on the streets of Tehran, or misused by embassy attackers to carry trash, has jolted the nation out of its self-doubting "Viet Nam syndrome." Worries about America's ability to influence events abroad are giving way to anger about impotence; the country now seems willing to exert its power. But how can that power be brought to bear against an opponent immune to the usual forms of diplomatic, economic and even military pressure, and how can it be refined to deal with others in the Third World who might rise to follow Khomeini's example? That may be the central problem for U.S. foreign policy throughout the 1980s.
The outcome of the present turmoil on Iran is almost totally unpredictable. It is unclear how much authority Khomeini, or Iran's ever changing government, exerts over day- to-day events. Much as Khomeini has capitalized on it, the seizure of the U.S. embassy tilted the balance in Iran's murky revolutionary politics from relative moderates to extremists who sometimes seem to listen to no one; the militants at the embassy openly sneer at government ministers, who regularly contradict one another. The death of Khomeini, who has no obvious successor, could plunge the country into anarchy.
But one thing is certain: the world will not again look quite the way it did before Feb. 1, 1979, the day on which Khomeini flew back to a tumultuous welcome in Tehran after 15 years in exile. He thus joins a handful of other world figures whose deeds are debatable--or worse--but who nonetheless branded a year as their own. In 1979 the Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini met TIME's definition of Man of the Year: he was the one who "has done the most to change the news, for better or for worse."
Apart from Iran and its fallout, 1979 was a year of turmoil highlighted by an occasional upbeat note: hopeful stirrings that offset to a degree the continuing victories of the forces of disruption. On a spectacular visit to his homeland of Poland and the U.S., Ireland and Mexico, Pope John Paul II demonstrated that he was a man whose warmth, dignity and radiant humanity deeply affected even those who did not share his Roman Catholic faith. Despite his rigidly orthodox approach to doctrinal issues, the Pope's message of peace, love, justice and concern for the poor stirred unprecedented feelings of brotherhood.
The election of Conservative Party Leader Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of Britain was perhaps the most notable sign that many voters in Europe were disillusioned with statist solutions and wanted a return to more conservative policies. At year's end her government could claim one notable diplomatic success. Under the skillful guidance of Thatcher's Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, leaders of both the interim Salisbury government and the Patriotic Front guerrillas signed an agreement that promised--precariously--to end a seven- year-old civil war and provide a peaceful transition to genuine majority rule in Zimbabwe Rhodesia. There were other indications of growing rationality in Africa, as three noxious dictators who had transformed their nations into slaughterhouses fell from power: Idi Amin was ousted from Uganda, Jean Bedal Bokassa from the Central African Empire (now Republic), and Francisco Macias Nguema from Equatorial Guinea.
Southeast Asia, though, as it has for so long, endured a year of war, cruelty and famine. Peking and Moscow jockeyed for influence in the area. China briefly invaded Viet Nam and then withdrew, achieving nothing but proving once again that Communists have their own explosive quarrels. Hanoi's Soviet- backed rulers expelled hundreds of thousands of its ethnic Chinese citizens, many of whom drowned at sea; survivors landed on the shores of nations that could not handle such onslaughts of refugees. In Cambodia, the Vietnamese-backed regime of Heng Samrin was proving little better than the maniacal Chinese- supported dictatorship of Pol Pot that it had deposed. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians still faced death by starvation or disease as the year ended, despite huge relief efforts organized by the outside world.
In the U.S., 1979 was a year of indecision and frustration. Inflation galloped to an annual rate of 13% and stayed there, all but impervious to attacks by the Carter Administration. The burden of containing inflation eventually fell on the shoulders of new Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. His tough fiscal measures, including higher interest rates and a clampdown on the money supply, do promise to restrain price boosts--but only after a distressing time lag, and at the cost of making more severe a recession that the U.S. seemed headed for anyway in 1980. President Carter's energy program at last began staggering through Congress, but a near disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania raised legitimate questions--as well as much unnecessary hysteria--about how safe and useful nuclear power will be as a partial substitute for the imported oil that the eruption in Iran will help make ever more costly. The conclusion of a SALT II agreement wit the Soviet Union--more modest in scope than many Americans had urged, but basically useful to the U.S.--led to congressional wrangling that raised doubts about whether the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty will even be ratified in 1980. The SALT debate put a substantial strain on U.S.-Soviet relations, which were deteriorating for lots of other reasons as well.
For much of the year, Carter appeared so ineffective a leader that his seeming weakness touched off an unprecedentedly early and crowded scramble to succeed him. Ten Republicans announced as candidates for the party's 1980 presidential nomination; at year's end, however, the clear favorite was the man who had done or said hardly anything, Ronald Reagan. On the Democratic side, Senator Edward Kennedy overcame his reservations and declared his candidacy, but early grass-roots enthusiasm about his "leadership qualities" dissipated in the face of his lackluster campaigning, his astonishing incoherence, and his failure to stake out convincingly different positions on the issues. At year's end Carter was looking much stronger, primarily because his firm yet restrained response to Iran's seizure of hostages led to a classic popular reaction: Let's rally round the President in a crisis.
None of these trends could match in power and drama, or in menacing implications for the future, the eruption in Iran. A year ago, in its cover story on 1978's Man of the Year, Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, TIME noted that "the Shah of Iran's 37-year reign was shaken by week upon week of riots." Shortly thereafter, the Shah fell in one of the greatest political upheavals of the post-World War II era, one that raised troubling questions about the ability of the U.S. to guide or even understand the seething passions of the Third World.
Almost to the very end, the conventional wisdom of Western diplomats and journalists was that the Shah would survive; after all, he had come through earlier troubles seemingly strengthened. In 1953 the Shah had actually fled the country. But he was restored to power by a CIA-inspired coup that ousted Mohammed Mossadegh, the nationalist Prime Minister who had been TIME's Man of the Year for 1951 because he had "oiled the wheels of chaos." In 1963 Iran had been swept by riots stirred up by the powerful Islamic clergy against the Shah's White Revolution. Among other things, this well-meant reform abolished the feudal landlord-peasant system. Two consequences: the reform broke up properties administered by the Shi'ite clergy and reduced their income, some of which consisted of donations from large landholders. The White Revolution also gave the vote to women. The Shah suppressed those disturbances without outside help, in part by jailing one of the instigators--an ascetic theologian named Ruhollah Khomeini, who had recently attained the title of Ayatullah and drawn crowds to fiery sermons in which he denounced the land reform as a fraud and the Shah as a traitor to Islam. (An appellation that means "sign of God." There is no formal procedure for bestowing it; a religious leader is called ayatullah by a large number of reverent followers and is accepted as such by the rest of the Iranian clergy. At present, Iran has perhaps 50 to 60 mullahs generally regarded as ayatullahs.) In 1964 Khomeini was arrested and exiled, first to Turkey, then to Iraq, where he continued to preach against the idolatrous Shah and to promulgate his vision of Iran as an "Islamic republic."
The preachments seemed to have little effect, as the Shah set about building the most thoroughly Westernized nation in all of the Muslim world. The progress achieved in a deeply backward country was stunning. Petroleum revenues built steel mills, nuclear power plants, telecommunication systems and a formidable military machine, complete with U.S. supersonic fighters and missiles. Dissent was ruthlessly suppressed, in part by the use of torture in the dungeons of SAVAK, the secret police. It is still not clear how widespread the tortures and political executions were; but the Shah did not heed U.S. advice to liberalize his regime, and repression inflamed rather than quieted dissent.
By 1978 the Shah had alienated almost all elements of Iranian society. Westernized intellectuals were infuriated by rampant corruption and repression; workers and peasants by the selective prosperity that raised glittering apartments for the rich while the poor remained in mud hovels; bazaar merchants by the Shah-supported businessmen who monopolized bank credits, supply contracts and imports; the clergy and their pious Muslim followers by the gambling casinos, bars and discotheques that seemed the most visible result of Westernization. (One of the Shah's last prime ministers also stopped annual government subsidies to the mullahs.) Almost everybody hated the police terror and sneered in private at the Shah's Ozymandian megalomania, symbolized by a $100 million fete he staged at Persepolis in 1971 to celebrate the 2,500 years of the Persian Empire. In fact, the Shah's father was a colonel in the army when he overthrew the Qajar dynasty in 1925, and as Khomeini pointed out angrily from exile at the time of the Persepolis festival, famine was raging in that part of the country.
But the U.S. saw the Shah as a stable and valuable ally. Washington was annoyed by the Shah's insistence on raising oil prices at every OPEC meeting, yet that irritation was outweighed by the fact that the Shah was staunchly anti-Communist and a valuable balance wheel in Middle East politics. Eager to build up Iran as a "regional influential" that could act as America's surrogate policeman of the Persian Gulf, the U.S. lent the Shah its all-out support. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger allowed him to buy all the modern weapons he wanted. Washington also gave its blessing to a flood of American business investment in Iran and dispatched an army of technocrats there.
The depth of its commitment to the Shah apparently blinded Washington to the growing discontent. U.S. policymakers wanted to believe that their investment was buying stability and friendship; they trusted what they heard from the monarch, who dismissed all opposition as "the blah-blahs of armchair critics." Even after the revolution began, U.S. officials were convinced that "there is no alternative to the Shah." Carter took time out from the Camp David summit in September 1978 to phone the Iranian monarch and assure him of Washington's continued support.
By then it was too late. Demonstrations and protest marches that started as a genuine popular outbreak grew by a kind of spontaneous combustion. The first parades drew fire from the Shah's troops, who killed scores and started a deadly cycle: marches to mourn the victims of the first riot, more shooting, more martyrs, crowds swelling into the hundreds of thousands and eventually millions in Tehran. Khomeini at this point was primarily a symbol of the revolution, which at the outset had no visible leaders. But even in exile the Ayatullah was well known inside Iran for his uncompromising insistence that the Shah must go. When demonstrators began waving the Ayatullah's picture, the frightened Shah pressured Iraq to boot Khomeini out. It was a fatal blunder; in October 1978 the Ayatullah settled in Neauphle-le-Chateau, outside Paris, where he gathered a circle of exiles and for the first time publicized his views through the Western press.
Khomeini now became the active head of the revolution. Cassettes of his anti-Shah sermons sold like pop records in the bazaars and were played in crowded mosques throughout the country. When he called for strikes, his followers shut down the banks, the postal service, the factories, the food stores and, most important, the oil wells, bringing the country close to paralysis. The Shah imposed martial law, but to no avail. On Jan. 16, after weeks of daily protest parades, the Shah and his Empress flew off to exile, leaving a "regency council" that included Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, a moderate who had spent time in the Shah's prisons. But Khomeini announced that no one ruling in the Shah's name would be acceptable, and Iran was torn by the largest riots of the entire revolution. The Ayatullah returned from Paris to a tumultuous welcome and Bakhtiar fled. "The holy one has come!" the crowds greeting Khomeini shouted triumphantly. "He is the light of our lives!" The crush stalled the Ayatullah's motorcade, so that he had to be lifted out of the crowds, over the heads of his adulators, by helicopter. He was flown to a cemetery, where he prayed at the graves of those who had died during the revolution.
Khomeini withdrew to the holy city of Qum, appointed a government headed by Mehdi Bazargan, an engineer by training and veteran of Mossadegh's Cabinet, and announced that he would confine his own role during "the one or two years left to me" to making sure that Iran followed "in the image of Muhammad." It quickly became apparent that real power resided in the revolutionary komitehs that sprang up all over the country, and the komitehs took orders only from the 15-man Revolutionary Council headed by Khomeini (the names of its other members were long kept secret). Bazargan and his Cabinet had to trek to Qum for weekly lunches with Khomeini to find out what the Ayatullah would or would not allow.
Some observers distinguish two stages in the entire upheaval: the first a popular revolt that overthrew the Shah, then a "Khomeini coup" that concentrated all power in the clergy. The Ayatullah's main instrument was a stream of elamiehs (directives) from Qum, many issued without consulting Bazargan's nominal government. Banks and heavy industry were nationalized and turned over to government managers. Many of the elamiehs were concerned with imposing a strict Islamic way of life on all Iranians. Alcohol was forbidden. Women were segregated from men in schools below the university level, at swimming pools, beaches and other public facilities. Khomeini even banned most music from radio and TV. Marches were acceptable, he told Italian Journalist Oriana Fallaci, but other Western music "dulls the mind, because it involves pleasure and ecstasy, similar to drugs." Fallaci: "Even the music of Bach, Beethoven, Verdi?" Khomeini: "I do not know those names."
In power, Khomeini and his followers displayed a retaliatory streak. Islamic revolutionary courts condemned more than 650 Iranians to death, after trials at which defense lawyers were rarely, if ever, present, and spectators stepped forward to add their own accusations to those of the prosecutors; death sentences were generally carried out immediately by firing squad. An unknown but apparently large number of other Iranians were sentenced to life imprisonment. Khomeini preaches the mercy of God but showed little of his own to those executed, who were, he said, torturers and killers of the Shah's who got what they deserved. Some were, including the generals and highest-ranking politicians, but the victims also included at least seven prostitutes, 15 men accused of homosexual rape, and a Jewish businessman alleged to be spying for Israel. Defenders of Khomeini's regime argue with some justification that far fewer people were condemned by the revolutionary courts than were tortured to death by the Shah's SAVAK, and that the swift trials were necessary to defuse public anger against the minions of the deposed monarch.
As usually happens in revolutions, the forces of dissolution, once let loose, are not so easily tamed. Iran's economy suffered deeply, and unrest in at least three ethnic areas--those of the Kurds, the Azerbaijanis and the Baluchis--presented continuing threats to Tehran's, or Qum's, control. Many Western experts believe Khomeini shrewdly seized upon the students' attack on the U.S. embassy, which he applauded but claims he did not order, as a way of directing popular attention away from the country's increasing problems. It gave him once again a means of presenting all difficulties as having been caused by the U.S., to brand all his opponents--believers in parliamentary government, ethnic separatists, Muslims who questioned his interpretations of Islamic law--tools of the CIA. When the United Nations and the World Court condemned the seizure, he labeled these bodies stooges of the enemy. It was Iran against the world--indeed, all Islam against the "infidels."
When Bazargan resigned to protest the capture of the hostages, the Ayatullah made the Revolutionary Council the government in name as well as fact. Then, during the holy month known as Muharram, with popular emotion at a frenzied height as a result of the confrontation with the U.S., Khomeini expertly managed a vote on a new constitution that turned Iran into a theocracy. Approved overwhelmingly in a Dec. 2-3 referendum, the constitution provided for an elected President and parliament, but placed above them a "guardian council" of devout Muslims to make sure that nothing the elected bodies do violates Islamic law. Atop the structure is a faqih (literally, jurisprudent), the leading theologian of Iran, who must approve of the President, holds veto power over virtually every act of government, and even commands the armed forces. Though the constitution does not name him, when it goes fully into effect after elections this month and in February, Khomeini obviously will become the faqih.
How did the Ayatullah capture a revolution that started out as a leaderless explosion of resentment and hate? Primarily by playing adroitly to, and in part embodying, some of the psychological elements that made the revolt possible. There was, for example, a widespread egalitarian yearning to end the extremes of wealth and poverty that existed under the Shah--and the rich could easily be tarred as clients of the "U.S. imperialists." Partly because of the long history of Soviet, British and then American meddling in their affairs, Iranians were and are basically xenophobic, and thus susceptible to the Ayatullah's charges that the U.S. (and, of course, the CIA) was responsible for the country's ills. Iranians could also easily accept that kind of falsehood since they had grown used to living off gossip and rumor mills during the reign of the Shah, when the heavily censored press played down even nonpolitical bad news about Iran. When Khomeini declared that the Americans and Israelis were responsible for the November attack by Muslim fanatics in Mecca's Sacred Mosque, this deliberate lie was given instant credence by multitudes of Iranians.
By far the most powerful influence that cemented Khomeini's hold on his country is the spirit of Shi'ism--the branch of Islam to which 93% of Iran's 35.2 million people belong. In contrast to the dominant Sunni wing of Islam, Shi'ism emphasizes martyrdom; thus many Iranians are receptive to Khomeini's speeches about what a "joy" and "honor" it would be to die in a war with the U.S. Beyond that, Shi'ism allows for the presence of an intermediary between God and man. Originally, the mediators were twelve imams, who Shi'ites believe were the rightful successors of the Prophet Muhammad; the twelfth disappeared in A.D. 940. He supposedly is in hiding, but will return some day to purify the religion and institute God's reign of justice on earth. This belief gives Shi'ism a strong messianic cast, to which Khomeini appeals when he promises to expel Western influence and to turn Iran into a pure Islamic society. The Ayatullah has never claimed the title of Imam for himself, but he has done nothing to discourage its use by his followers, a fact that annoys some of his peers among the Iranian clergy. Ayatullah Seyed Kazem Sharietmadari, Khomeini's most potent rival for popular reverence, has acidly observed that the Hidden Imam will indeed return, "but not in a Boeing 747"--a reference to the plane that carried Khomeini from France to Iran.
Iran and Iraq are the main Muslim states where the majority of the population is Shi'ite; but there are substantial Shi'ite minorities in the Gulf states, Lebanon, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Khomeini's followers have been sending these Shi'ites messages urging them to join in an uprising against Western influence. The power of Khomeini's appeal for a "struggle between Islam and the infidels" must not be underestimated. In these and many other Islamic countries, Western technology and education have strained the social structure and brought with them trends that seem like paganism to devout Muslims. In addition, Muslims have bitter memories of a century or more of Western colonialism that kept most Islamic countries in servitude until a generation ago, and they tend to see U.S. support of Israel as a continuation of this "imperialist" tradition. With Khomeini's encouragement, Muslims--not all of them Shi'ites--have staged anti-American riots in Libya, India and Bangladesh. In Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, a mob burned the U.S embassy and killed two U.S. servicemen; the Ayatullah's reaction was "great joy." In Saudi Arabia, possessor of the world's largest oil reserves, the vulnerability of the royal family was made starkly apparent when a band of 200 to 300 well- armed raiders in November seized the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, the holiest of all Islamic shrines, which is under the protection of King Khalid. The raiders appeared to have mixed religious and political motives: they seemingly were armed and trained in Marxist South Yemen, but were fundamentalists opposed to all modernism, led by a zealot who had proclaimed the revolution in Iran to be a "new dawn" for Islam. It took the Saudi army more than a week to root them out from the catacomb-like basements of the mosque, and 156 died in the fighting--82 raiders and 74 Saudi troopers. In addition, demonstrators waving Khomeini's picture last month paraded in the oil towns of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. Saudi troops apparently opened fire on the protestors and at least 15 people are said to have died.
Such rumblings have deeply shaken the nerves, if not yet undermined the stability, of governments throughout the Middle East. Leaders of the House of Saud regard Khomeini as an outright menace. Egypt's President Anwar Sadat denounced Khomeini as a man who is trying to play God and whose actions are a "crime against Islam [and] and insult to humanity." Nonetheless, the Ayatullah's appeal to Muslims, Sunni as well as Shi'ite, is so strong the even pro-Western Islamic leaders have been reluctant to give the U.S. more than minimal support in the hostage crisis. They have explicitly warned Washington that any U.S. military strike on Iran, even one undertaken in retaliation for the killing of the hostages, would so enrage their people as to threaten the security of every government in the area.
The appeal of Khomeini's Islamic fundamentalism to non- Muslim nations in the Third World is limited. Not so the wave of nationalism he unleashed in Iran. Warns William Quandt, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: "People in the Third World were promised great gains upon independence [from colonialism], and yet they still find their lives and societies in a mess." Historically, such unfulfilled expectations prepare the ground for revolution, and the outbreak in Iran offers an example of an uprising that embodies a kind of nose-thumbing national pride.
Selig Harrison, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the overthrow of Iran's Shah "is appealing to the Third World as a nationalist revolution that has stood up to superpower influence. At the rational level, Third World people know that you cannot behave like Khomeini and they do not condone violation of diplomatic immunity. But at the emotional level, mass public opinion in many Third World countries is not unfriendly to what Khomeini has done. There is an undercurrent of satisfaction in seeing a country stand up to superpower influence."
The Iranian revolution has also had a dramatic impact in Western economies. 1979 was the year in which the world economy moved from an era of recurrent oil surpluses into an age of chronic shortages. Indeed, it was a year in which the frequent warnings of pessimists that the industrial nations had made themselves dangerously dependent on crude oil imported from highly unstable countries came true with a vengeance. For more than three centuries the industrial West had prospered thanks partly to resources from colonies or quasi-colonies. Now a great historical reversal was at hand.
"If there had been no revolution in Iran," says John Lichtblau, executive director of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, "1979 would have been a normal year." The strikes that accompanied the revolution shut off Iranian production completely early in the year. Through output resumed in March, it ran most of the time at no more than 3.5 million bbl. a day--little more than half the level under the Shah. Khomeini made it clear that no more could be expected. In fact, Iranian output has dropped again in recent months, to around 3.1 million bbl. a day. Oil Minister Ali Akbar Moinfar says it will go down further because "at the new price levels, Iran will be able to produce and export less and still cover its revenue needs."
The cutback in Iran reduced supplies to the non-Communist world by about 4%. That was enough to produce a precarious balance between world supply and demand. Spot shortages cropped up, and the industrial West went through a kind of buyers' panic; governments and companies scrambled to purchase every drop available, to keep houses warm and the wheels of industry turning, and to build stockpiles to guard against the all-too- real prospect of another shutdown in Iran or a supply disruption somewhere else.
The lid came off prices with a bang. OPEC raised prices during 1979 by an average of 94.7%, to $25 a bbl.--vs. $12.84 a year ago and a mere $2 in 1970. Moreover, oil-exporting nations shifted a growing proportion of their output to the spot market, where oil not tied up under contract is sold for whatever price buyers will pay. Before the Iranian revolution, the spot market accounted for only 5% of the oil moving in world trade, and prices differed little from OPEC's official ones. During 1979, anywhere from 10% to 33% of internationally traded crude bought by the industrial countries went through the spot market, and prices shot as high as $45 a bbl.
The runaway price rises will fan inflation in the U.S., Western Europe and Japan. Affected are not only the price of gasoline and heating oil but also the cost of thousands of products made from petrochemicals--goods ranging from fertilizers and laundry detergents to panty hose and phonograph records. Oil price hikes will bear on apartment rents and the price of food brought to stores by gasoline-burning trucks. The price boosts act as a kind of gigantic tax, siphoning from the pockets of consumers money that would otherwise be used to buy non-oil goods and services, thus depressing production and employment. In the U.S., which imports about half its oil, a 1980 recession that would increase unemployment might happen anyway; the oil price increases have made it all but inevitable.
At year's end OPEC had almost come apart; at their December meeting in Caracas its members could not agree on any unified pricing structure at all. So long as supply barely equals demand, there will be leapfrogging price boosts; four countries announced 10% to 15% price hikes last Friday. In the longer run, the disunity could lead to price-cutting competition, but only if the industrial countries, and especially the U.S., take more drastic steps to conserve energy and reduce imports than any they have instituted yet--and even then OPEC might come back together. It is presumably not in the cartel's economic or political self-interest to bankrupt its major customers, especially since many of OPEC's member states have invested their excess profits in the West. Yet even moderate nations like Saudi Arabia, which have fought to keep price boosts to a minimum, argue that inflation price hikes will be necessary as long as oil prices are tied to a declining dollar.
A still greater danger is that the producers may not pump enough oil to permit much or any economic growth in either the industrial or underdeveloped worlds. The producers have learned that prices rise most rapidly when supply is kept barely equal to, or a bit below, demand; they have good reason to think that oil kept in the ground will appreciate more than any other asset, and the Iranian explosion has demonstrated that all-out production, and the forced-draft industrialization and Westernization that it finances, can lead not to stability but to social strains so intense that they end in revolution. The result of a production hold-down could be a decade or so of serious economic stagnation. Oil Consultant Walter Levy sees these potential gloomy consequences for the West: "A lower standard of living, a reduction in gross national product, large balance of payments drains, loss of value in currencies, high unemployment."
Warns Mobil Chairman Rawleigh Warner: "The West can no longer assume that oil-exporting countries, and specifically those in the Middle East, will be willing to tailor production to demand. The safer assumptions is that the consuming countries will increasingly have to tailor their demand to production. And the factors that determine the ceiling in production are more likely to be political than economic or technical."
The West will be lucky if oil shortages are the worst result of Khomeini's revolution. An even more menacing prospect is a shift in the world balance of power toward the Soviet Union.
The Ayatullah is no friend of the Soviets. Far from it: while in his mind "America is the great Satan," he knows, and has often said, that Communism is incompatible with Islam. Tehran mobs have occasionally chanted "Communism will die!" as well as "Death to Carter!"
Indeed, Islamic fundamentalism could become a domestic worry to the Kremlin. Its estimated 50 million Muslims make the Soviet Union the world's fifth largest Muslim state. (After Indonesia (123.2 million), India (80 million), Pakistan (72.3 million) and Bangladesh (70.8 million).) For the Kremlin, Muslims represent a demographic time bomb. By the year 2000, there will be an estimated 100 million Soviet Muslims, vs. about 150 million ethnic Russians. Most of the Muslims live in areas of Central Asia, bordering on Iran, that were subjugated by czarist armies only a little more than a century ago--Samarakand, for example, fell in 1868. The Soviets have soft- pedaled antireligious propaganda and allowed the Muslims to maintain mosques and theological schools. Consequently, the Azerbaijanis, Turkmen and other Muslim minorities in the U.S.S.R. could eventually become targets for Khomeini's advocacy of an Islamic rebellion against all foreign domination of Muslims.
Yet Moscow can hardly ignore the opportunity presented by Khomeini's rise. An Iran sliding into anarchy, and a Middle East shaken by the furies of Khomeini's followers, would offer the Soviets a chance to substitute their own influence for the Western presence that the Ayatullah's admirers vow to expel. And the Middle East is an unparalleled geopolitical prize.
Whoever controls the Middle East's oil, or the area's Strait of Hormuz (40 miles wide at its narrowest) between Iran and the Sultanate of Oman through which most of it passes, acquires a stranglehold on the world's economy. The U.S.S.R. today is self-sufficient in oil, but it could well become a major net importer in the 1980s--and thus be in direct competition with the West for the crude pumped out of the desert sands. The warm-water ports so ardently desired by the Czars since the 18th century retain almost as much importance today. Soviet missile-firing submarines, for example, now have to leave the ice-locked areas around Murmansk and Archangel through narrow channels where they can easily be tracked by U.S. antisubmarine forces. They would be much harder to detect if they could slip out of ports on the Arabian Sea.
The conflagration in Iran, and the threat of renewed instability throughout the region, could open an entirely new chapter in the story of Soviet efforts to infiltrate the Middle East. So far, the Soviet leaders have played a double game in the hostage crisis. Representatives of the U.S.S.R. voted in the United Nations and World Court to free the hostages. At the same time, to Washington's intense annoyance, the Soviets have proclaimed sympathy for Iran's anger against the U.S. The Kremlin apparently wants to keep lines open to Khomeini's followers, if not to the Ayatullah himself, while it awaits its chance.
Meanwhile, Moscow has been acting more brazenly throughout the entire region of crisis. Around Christmas, the U.S.S.R. began airlifting combat troops into Afghanistan, reinforcing an already strong Soviet presence. Last week the Soviet soldiers participated in a coup ousting a pro-Moscow regime that had proved hopelessly ineffective in trying to put down an insurrection by anti-Communist Muslim tribesmen. At week's end, Washington charged that Soviet troops had crossed the border in Afghanistan in what appeared to be an outright invasion.
Who or what follows Khomeini is already a popular guessing game in Tehran, Washington and doubtless Moscow. Few of the potential scenarios seem especially favorable to U.S. interests. One possibility is a military coup, led by officers once loyal to the Shah and now anxious to restore order. That might seem unlikely in view of the disorganized state of the army and the popular hatred of the old regime, but the danger apparently seems significant to Khomeini; he is enthusiastically expanding the Pasdaran militia as a counterweight to the official armed forces. A military coup might conceivably win the backing of the urban intelligentsia, which resents the theocracy and Washington analysts think that even some mullahs might accommodate themselves to it if they see no other way of blocking a leftist takeover. Whether such an uneasy coalition could fashion a stable regime is questionable.
Another potential outcome is a takeover, swift or gradual, by younger clergymen in alliance with such Western-educated leaders as Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh. A government composed of those forces would be less fanatical than the Ayatullah but still very hard-line anti-U.S. Another possibility, considered by some analysts to be the most likely, would be an eventual confrontation between Khomeini's religious establishment and members of the urban upper and middle classes, who applaud the nationalistic goals of the revolution but chafe under rigid enforcement of Islamic law--and have the brains to mount an effective opposition.
A leftist takeover is the most worrisome prospect to Washington policymakers. The Mujahedin (Islamic socialist) and Fedayan (Marxist) movements maintain guerilla forces armed with weapons seized from the Shah's garrisons during the revolution. Both groups disclaim any ties with the U.S.S.R., and some Iranian exiles believe a dialogue between them and moderate forces would be possible. However, they are very anti-Western. A third contender is the Tudeh (Communist) Party, which has a reputation of loyally following Moscow's line. It is currently voicing all-out support of Khomeini because, its leaders disingenuously explain, any foe of America's imperialism is a friend of theirs. In gratitude, the Ayatullah has permitted them to operate openly.
Any of these potential scenarios might draw support from Iran's ethnic minorities, whose demands for cultural and political autonomy--local languages in schools, local governing councils--have been rebuffed so brusquely by Khomeini's government as to trigger armed rebellion. Iran, a country three times the size of France, was officially designated an empire by the Shah, and in one sense it is; its 35.2 millon people are divided into many ethnic strains and speak as many as 20 languages, not counting the dialects of remote tribes. The 4 million Kurds, superb guerilla fighters who live in the western mountains, have at times dreamed of an independent Kurdistan, and today have set up what amounts to an autonomous region. The Baluchis, a nomadic tribe of Sunni Muslims, boycotted the referendum on the Iranian constitution, which they viewed as an attempt to impose Shi'ism on them. The 13 million Azerbaijanis, a Turkic people, also boycotted the constitutional referendum and in recent weeks have come close to an open revolt that could tear Iran apart.
Some Washington policy planners have toyed with the idea of encouraging separatism, seeking the breakup of Iran as a kind of ultimate sanction against Khomeini. But the hazards of doing this far outweigh the advantages; true civil war in Iran would be the quickest way of destroying whatever stability remains in the Middle East. The lands of the Azerbaijanis stretch into Turkey and the Soviet Union, those of the Kurds into Turkey and Iraq, those of the Baluchis into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Successful secessionist movements could tear away parts of some of those countries as well as of Iran, leaving a number of weak new countries--the kind that usually tumble into social and economic chaos--and dismembered older ones. All might be subject to Soviet penetration. Anarchy in Iran could also trigger a conflict with its uneasy neighbor, Iraq, which shelled border areas of Iran three weeks ago. The geopolitical stakes there would be so great that the superpowers would be sorely tempted to intervene.
The options for U.S. policy toward Iran are limited. So long as the hostages are in captivity, Washington must use every possible form of diplomatic and economic pressure to get them released. The Carter Administration has all but said that military action may well be necessary if the hostages are killed. But if they are released unharmed, many foreign policy experts think that the U.S. would be well advised not to retaliate for the seizure but simply to cut all ties with Iran and ignore the country for awhile--unless, of course, the Soviets move in. Primarily because of the intimate U.S. involvement with the Shah, Iran has turned so anti-American that just about any Washington attempt to influence events there is likely to backfire; certainly none of Iran's contending factions can afford to be thought of as pro-U.S. Iran needs a demonstration that the U.S. has not the slightest wish to dominate the country.
The U.S. must try to contain the spread of Khomeini-inspired anti-Americanism in the Middle East. The best way to do that would be to mediate successfully the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations, to ensure that they will lead to genuine autonomy for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. The degree to which the Palestinians problem has inflamed passions even among Arabs who consider themselves pro-U.S. is not at all understood by Americans. Says Faisal Alhegelan, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.: "All you have to do is grant the right of Palestinian self-determination, and you will find how quickly the entire Arab world will stack up behind Washington."
There are also some lessons the U.S. can learn that might help keep future Third World revolutions from taking an anti- American turn. First, suggests Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard professor of government, the U.S. should stop focusing exclusively on the struggle between the U.S. and Communism and pay more attention to the aspiration of nations that have no desire for alliance with either side. Says Hoffmann: "To me, the biggest meaning of Iran is that it is the first major international crisis that is not an East-West crisis, and for that very reason we find ourselves much less able to react. There is very little attention given to the problems of revolutionary instability and internal discontent. Americans don't study any of this, and when such events happen, we are caught by surprise."
A corollary thought is that the U.S. must avoid getting tied too closely to anti-Communist "strongmen" who are detested by their own people. Says Selig Harrison: "We should not be so committed that we become hostage to political fortune. We should have contact will all the forces in these countries, and we should not regard any of them as beyond the pale, even many Communist movements that would like to offset their dependence on Moscow and Peking." Such a policy, of course, is easier proclaimed than executed. In some volatile Third World countries, the only choice may be between a tyrant in power and several would-be tyrants in opposition. But when the U.S. does find itself allied with a dictator, it can at least press him to liberalize his regime and at the same time stay in touch with other elements in the society.
Finally, Khomeini has blown apart the comfortable myth that as the Third World industrializes, it will adopt Western values, and the success of his revolution ought to force the U.S. to look for ways to foster material prosperity in Third World countries without alienating their cultures. Says Richard Bulliet, a Columbia University historian who specializes in the Middle East: "We have to realize that there are other ways of looking at the future than regarding us as being the future. It is possible that the world is not going to be homogenized along American-European lines."
It is, unfortunately, almost surely too late for any such U.S. strategies to influence Ayatullah Khomeini, whose hostility to anything American is bitter, stubborn, zealous--and total. But he may have taught the U.S. a useful--even vital--lesson for the 1980s. He has shown that the challenges to the West are certain to get more and more complex, and that the U.S. will ignore this fact at its peril. He has made it plain that every effort must be made to avoid the rise of other Khomeinis. Even if he should hold power only briefly, the Ayatullah is a figure of historic importance. Not only was 1979 his year; the forces of disintegration that he let loose in one country could threaten many others in the years ahead.