on 6 July 2009
Shawcross tells several interlocking stories well in "The Shah's Last Ride".Firstly it is about the Shah's medical history and how his diagnosis of leukaemia(which eventually killed him)got wrapped up in the internal politics of Iran-the Shah decided he couldn't trust Iranian doctors and so saught treatment elsewhere.Later,it descends into very black farce as one of the richest men on earth,then or since,who you would have thought would get the best medical treatment available,ended up getting treated appalingly.
Secondly,he tells the tale of the love-hate relationship between the US and Iran,and to a lesser extent the contempt the west privately had for Shah Reza Pahlavi.Westtern countries were more than happy to sell Iran any weapons system imaginable,and to satisfy the (very expensive)tastes of the Iranian nouveau riche,but they thought of the Iranian ruling class as a violent,brutal but necessary bunch of thugs and thieves.Western fear and paranoia vis-a vis Iran was amply reciprocated by the Iranians,both before and after the 1979 revolution.
Of course,the Iranians had plenty of reasons for their fear of the outside world.In the 20th century,Iran had been invaded by Britain and the USSR,had shahs and prime ministers overthrown at the behest of Britain and the USA,and at the time of the revolution,had US servicemen and technicians resident there who were covered by US,not Iranian,law.As the outside world only seemed to want to exploit Iran,why not return to a native idea unspoilt by outsiders ie Islam?
He then tells the tale of the new revolutionary government's fear of the outside world.Iranians seemingly are born with the idea that foriegn governments and(strangely enough)journalists have magic powers,and that anything and everything that happens in Iran is somehow their doing-as mentioned above,they have plenty of evidence for this position..The Khomeini government took these attitudes into the worlds of diplomacy and international relations,and so voluntarily entered into a state of seige against the rest of humanity-and this attitude antedates the Iran-Iraq war of 1980.The confrontation between Khomeini's Iran and the USA-and,eventually,between Iran and just about everyone else-stems from this attitude.
The Islamic Republic that emerged from the ashes of the Shah's Iran endures till today,and this is just about as good a description of the revolution in Iran as you'll get (another excellent read on the subject is Ryszard Kapuscinski's "Shah Of Shahs").The enduring impression this book leaves is of a sad,frightened man who's world has collapsed around him and he cannot understand why.Well worth a read.