"THIS IS THE MOMENT to get rid of the centuries of American domination," said Iran's acting foreign minister, Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, the other day. Centuries? Actually, it only seems like centuries. Iran and the United States first came to know each other in World War II, when it was a matter of keeping the Germans out and maintaining the supply route to Russia. Let's make it 37 years of close acquaintance. As for domination, that's equally dubious. The tangled relationship with the shah's regime turned out to be a good deal more costly to the United States, in all respects, than any efficiently administered hegemony would have permitted.
Centuries: an interesting slip. Do you suppose that Mr. Bani-Sadr has confused the Americans with the Medes, who, according to Herodotus, did indeed exercise a rough but effective domination in the 7th century B.C.? One of the disadvantages of having a long and complicated history like Iran's is the difficulty of keeping all the national enemies straight. Or perhaps Mr. Bani-Sadr has mistaken the Americans for the British (they all look the same). The British had a certain influence in the Gulf region until 10 years ago. President Nixon, you may remember, thought that the shah ought to take over the British role in stabilizing the politics of the area. That's when the trouble started.
The United States possesses only 203 years of history, hardly allowing the Americans centuries to try to dominate anyone -- except, of course, each other. The U.S. Marines frequently point out that they once landed on the shores of Tripoli; the issue was piracy, an activity not entirely dissimilar to what is currently taking place in Tehran. But the mission was a brief one, and even the Tripoli assault lies 1,800 miles west of constituting intervention in Iranian affairs.
There was indeed a period of what you might call heavy American participation in Iranian politics. It ended not when the shah was overthrown, but five years earlier when he and his country suddenly began to get very rich. Like most revolutions, the Iranian example needs its foreign enemies to maintain its domestic support. But American domination, if that's what it was, lasted only briefly and had faded long before Mr. Bani-Sadr arrived. In Tehran, the rhetoric weapon seems to be getting out of hand -- along with the oil weapon and the money weapon.