They're doing a remake of A Thousand and One Nights at the White House and the State Department. The best story so far in Scheherazade II was the photograph of President Carter the Oval Office with the shah of Iran's kid. This royal adolescent was on a tour of the country, so the White House stopover was but one more chance to show that our government stands four square behind dad, the fellow holding on the tilting Peacock Throne.
As the Persian rioting moves toward civil war and then recedes only to move forward again, the State Department gives out its own Islamic fairytale statements such as, "The shah has emphasized that military rule is only temporary and he intends as rapidly as possible to move the country toward free elections and a new civilian directed government." In as much as the shah has been the next thing to an absolute monarch since 1953 when the CIA saved him from his own people, you would have to conclude he has had ample chance to have free elections these past 25 years and has no taste for it.
Yet one more snare and delusion is the White House contention that, according to a Washington Post report, "the biggest single weakness in his (the shah's) defenses is the lack of troops and equipment to control civil riots without resorting to violence . . . The shah recently conceded to American Embassy officials in Tehran that in ordering $20 billion worth of the latest U.S. weaponry, he overlooked the need for riot control forces and now is asking a crash effort to make up for lost time." Crash indeed, but there are those who would say the biggest single weakness in his Imperial Altitude's defenses is the disgust, distrust and anger of his own people.
An inherently unbelievable is the depiction by part of the U.S. mass media of the shah's opponents as an impossible combination of medieval, reactionary mullahs or Islamic priests with the Commies. We're told that this preposterous alliance has set about to destroy the shah's noble work of liberating the women of his traditional gender role bondage. Moreover, we're asked to believe such an absurd revolutionary effort is being directed by a fanatical old man with a white beard who lives the life of an exile in Paris.
"What Iranian authorities ignore and Western reporters do not seem to understand is that during the past 10 years an unprecendented interest in a radical interpretation of the Shiite sect of Islam has developed among politicized Iranians, particularly the new generation of theology students," writes Ehsan Omeed, professor of political science at American University, in Inquiry magazine (Nov. 13). "The revolutionary priests of Latin American and the Christian Marxists of the West have always had their counterparts in the Islamic world. What is new in the current radical Shiite movement of Iran is its widespread appeal across classes to Iran's merchants of the bazaar, religious leaders, students and professionals . . . The current radical Shiite movement in Iran grew in the face of widespread disillusionment with Western reformism and Soviet Marxism - two of the main sources of opposition ideology in Iran for 50 years."
One doesn't have to accept Mr. Omeed's analysis completely to come to the conclusion matters are a lot more complicated than our government would have us or, perhaps, even itself believe. One can't help but suspect a largely fictional picture of what's happening in Iran is being constructed because native American moralists in the government and without can't bring themselves to stand by the shah's throne without making a hero out of the man who is, as a ruler if not as an individual, a brute.
It may be that we'll have to continue to support the shah. We inherit our past and its burdens - which in this case includes a need for Iran's oil, an anxiety for the nation's strategic placement as well as the fact that we have sold and otherwise delivered a gigantic arms cache of the most advanced sort to that now trouble land.
In short, we may be stuck with the brute. If that be the case, we merely compound our problems by lying ourselves into believing our ally, the oriental despot of a classical mold, is some sort of pioneer parliamentarian. Not only do such self-induced delusions cloud the head and prelude clearsighted pragmatism, they also scotch any hope of some day worming and squirming toward a policy which comforms to our morals because we've denied the truth of what we've done to ourselves.