Austin Bay

In November 1979, two weeks after Iranian voters approved his Islamic revolutionary constitution, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini identified the U.S. as the source of Iranian misery. The angry old cleric also swore that American corruption not only polluted Muslim nations but tainted the entire planet.

Khomeini called America "the Great Satan." The ayatollah's catch phrase generated hellfire headlines and hours of intense television commentary. On the Internet, "Great Satan" still rates its own Wikipedia page. A Google search produces devilish depictions of Uncle Sam but also brutally ironic references to anti-government demonstrations in 2009 and several biting editorial cartoons from that same year. The demonstrators are protesting the corrupt and polluted Islamic regime of Khomeini's follow-on clerical tyrants. In the cartoons, bewildered ayatollahs discover they are today's Great Satans.

The last three decades have hammered Khomeini and his revolution. Khomeini's personal fanaticism destroyed the broad popular support his revolution briefly enjoyed. A month after fingering America as the planet's demon, he assumed the Islamic constitution-approved role of supreme leader -- in other words, he became a tyrant.

Asking if Iran was worse off under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's corrupt secular regime or the Khomeinists' corrupt, failed and impoverishing dictatorship is a theoretical question. It is, however, a question nagging all failed revolutions.

As Cuba slid into hapless poverty, Fidel and Raul Castro faced it. Would 21st century Cuba have been better off economically if Fulgencio Batista had remained in power? The likely answer is yes. Bastista's crooked junta sported a diversified economy fueled by exports. The Castro brothers' crooked junta exported Marxist revolution fueled by cheap Soviet oil.

The shah pursued rapid economic modernization and development policies, with the goal of economic integration into the global trading system. Khomeini and his heirs disdained globalization as an American evil and instead pursued global Islamic revolution.

In any case, the corrupt legacies of both governments burden contemporary Iran.

Khomeini labeled the Castros' mentor, the Soviet Union, "the lesser Satan" because it was powerful, atheist and Russian. Khomeini loathed Marxist atheism, but whether led by czars or commissar, the Russian empire was an old Iranian enemy.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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