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Mission to Tehran.

Mission to Tehran.

Bruce Huyser.Harper & Row, $20.95. Air Force General Robert "Butch' Huyser, is the man Carter dispatched to Tehran in 1979 as part of his effort to forestall the demise of the shah. Mission to Tehran is Huyser's dramatic recounting of how that undertaking was doomed to failure, not least by an administration in Washington divided on policy and preoccupied with other foreign policy issues.

The general's mandate, whichwas provided in writing only with reluctance, seemed clear enough at the outset: to encourage Iran's military leadership to work together in support of the last civilian government under the shah, that of Shahpur Bakhtiar. "The Iranian military is the key to the situation,' his instructions read. "We are prepared to stick with them.' His instructions, however, were ambiguous on a key point: what the military leadership and the U.S. were to do if the Bakhtiar regime proved unwilling or unable to act in time to prevent a takeover by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Bakhtiar did fail, Khomeini took power, and the military coup that might have prevented the outcome did not occur and appears to have been little considered by Iran's military leaders.

Huyser seems convinced thatwhile a military coup should have been attempted as a last resort and could have succeeded, it would not have been necessary had Washington given him more unified support.

Ambassador William O.Sullivan, with whom Huyser reports he had a good personal relationship, was apparently operating under different guidelines. As Huyser tells it, Sullivan thought the military would collapse under pressure, "had no faith in Bakhtiar, actually thought a Khomeini Islamic Republic would be preferable to a military takeover,' and was encouraged in these views by the State Department, which Huyser sensed was marching independent of the White House.

Huyser's description of themilitary leadership would seem to support Sullivan's expectations of them. Much of his book is spent on his frustrating daily efforts to get the generals to embark on the planning he felt was essential to back Bakhtiar and to thwart the opposition's efforts to destabilize the economy and radicalize the streets. The shah had deliberately never allowed or encouraged them to work together as a team--no surprise, given the shah's lack of trust in those around him. Most of the generals, fearing for their own lives, nervously talked of leaving the country when the shah left. Pressing them for action, Huyser says he "felt like he was scolding children.' In addition, there was an endemic scapegoat syndrome and an assumption that the United States was supposedly capable of "waving the magic wand and all Iran's troubles would vanish.'

In Washington Huyser found theadministration at a loss as to what to do next. Summoned to meet the president a week before the end, Huyser was asked, "What do you think I should do about Ambassador Sullivan?' And on the day the Bakhtiar regime collapsed and the chief of the army was assassinated, Huyser, back at his command in Europe, was asked by Deputy Secretary of Defense Charles Duncan if he was willing to go back to Tehran and conduct a military takeover.

But Khomeini had already won.Bakhtiar went into hiding and eventually fled the country. With one exception, Iran's military leaders were imprisoned, executed, or fled. Looking back on that tortured period, one of its lessons must be to remind us of the limits of the capacity of any outside power, however influential or strong, to determine the direction that another country and its leadership take, especially a country with politics and culture that are as difficult for outsiders to comprehend as that of Iran. And that, of course, is something McFarlane et al. have just rediscovered.
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Author:Laingen, L. Bruce
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1987
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