The ensuing chaos opened the door for Britain's rival, Bolshevik Russia, to make deep inroads into Iran. As Iran collapsed into a failed state, Reza Khan, an unknown Cossack commander, led a coup with British support. Within a few years, he overthrew the Qajar Dynasty, established himself as Shah, and took steps to balance Iran's foreign relations. He would go onto rule in the style of a military dictator and build a strong centralized state for the first time in Iranian history. His eventual alignment with Nazi Germany would see the allied powers remove him in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The history of Iran's Constitutional Revolution period serves as a poignant reminder of the unpredictable consequences of foreign intervention in Iran and the Iranian people's steadfast opposition to foreign domination. The Trump administration would do well to heed its lessons.
Secretary Pompeo's twelve demands are reminiscent of that bygone era, amounting to a call for Iran's blanket surrender on issues ranging from its civilian nuclear program, regional influence and territorial sovereignty in terms of giving inspectors free reign to any site in the country. Rather than leave room for diplomatic compromise, the administration has opted for economic warfare and a goal of regime collapse—a strategy devised by Trump's close allies Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, Emirati ruler Mohammed bin Zayed and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Trump administration has also reportedly teamed up with Israel to form a "joint working group" focused on "internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran." Such an approach promises dangerous escalation with the Islamic Republic, whose Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei once declared on an anniversary of the death of Mohammad Mossadegh, the prime minister ousted in the 1953 U.S./UK coup: “We are not liberals, like Allende, whom the CIA can snuff out.”
Iranians have long achieved political self-assertion with respect to foreign powers. Secretary Pompeo's meeting with largely fringe and fragmented Iranian opposition figures does not change the fact that the administration's approach hurts ordinary Iranians, sabotages the political opposition in Iran and empowers the most diehard theocrats in Tehran.
If Washington is sincere in supporting the aspirations of the Iranian people for improved civil liberties, human rights, and prosperity, it must recognize such progress can only be realized through grassroots organic political change—not on the heels of Trump and his autocratic regional allies.
Sina Toossi is a Research Associate at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).