The Secret History of America's War With Iran

In David Crist’s book, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran,” U.S. foreign policy towards Iran and vice-versa is spelled out in such incredible detail that one should use a magnifying glass so as to not miss a beat. 

I like to fancy myself a pretty solid Iran savant, but Crist’s book has made me feel like a freshman that failed out of Foreign Policy 101. The depth of his book is unparalleled by anything I’ve ever read on the subject; for instance in 1983, the chilling detail of the “wild smile,” as witnessed by a Marine on guard duty, of the first driver to barrel into the U.S. embassy’s atrium in Beirut, right before detonating his massive payload that killed 241 Marines.

Crist’s book begins during the run up to the start of the Iranian Revolution and ends with the Obama administration’s first three years in office. One of the most fascinating things about his book is the detail of the shadow war that has been going on for years. We all know when Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or when further sanctions are levied against it. But things most have no idea about, such as the fact that the Shah never truly wanted to massacre his own people during their uprising against him, but was provoked to do so by the Carter administration, may strike a chord with those who have always looked at our dealings there with rose colored glasses.

Crist’s account of CIA failures and wild machinations of subversion is a window into just how off the rails the intelligence community was at the time. Particularly troubling is the story of Iran’s unsuspectingly adept intelligence service. As the CIA recruited Iranian spies around Europe, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) systematically assassinated these traitors; their only calling card, a body left in an alley with a gaping exit wound in the back of its head. One can only imagine the tenacity of Iranian intelligence today, since this classic spy game was taking place in the 1980s.

I highly recommend Crist’s book; if nothing else, it serves as a reminder that Iran cannot be poked without serious consequences, a lesson that in most cases throughout this 30-year shadow war, the U.S. has played the antagonist in an increasingly dangerous tale, and a warning that without compromise, history will continue to repeat itself.

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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