The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

88 NOVEMBER 2019 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL It could have been much worse, as my cautionary tale of the diplomacy and power politics surrounding the Treaty of Turkmanchai in 19th-century Iran indicates (October 2017 FSJ ). The Iranians’ attack on the Russian embassy in 1829, in response to a harsh and unwelcome Russian dictat and perceived threats to Iranian honor, resulted in the death of the ambassador and his staff when the Cossack guards panicked and opened fire on the crowd. Being obnoxious may be the only way to get attention, although doing so goes against all the values of our Service. In hindsight, when it was clear in October 1979 that the Ameri- can administration was going to admit the shah despite the best advice of its own people, our response at the embassy should have been: “Fine. You have ignored our advice and left us exposed. Tehran is in chaos, and the so-called government has no power to protect us. Now we are ordering an evacuation. To hell with your Cold War calculations.” Instead, those of us “experts” who supposedly understood conditions in Tehran sat quietly waiting for the ax to fall. There was a failure less of leadership than of “followership.” By our silence we betrayed ourselves and our colleagues. What began as a 1970s-style student sit-in (with a few handguns to back it up) soon became a full-scale international crisis that would eventually destroy the Carter presidency and make it almost impossible for the United States and Iran to reach anything resembling a normal relationship. On the American side, officials continue to sermonize about Iran’s “malign behavior” and dismiss questioning voices as delu- sional. On the Iranian side, the mindless chanting of empty slogans continues, and the authorities commemorate Nov. 4, 1979, as a victory and pretend that the embassy seizure was an act to be proud of. They will not admit, despite all evidence, that it was a shameful action that did enormous harm to Iran and its people. n Khomeini understood how to use the occupation to cement control of the new state by his closest allies, clerical ideologues sharing his harsh vision of Iran’s future.