The recent review of Abbas Milani's excellent new English edition of his book "The Shah" (Persian version "Negahi Beh Shah") got me to thinking about that particular past. Not how great it was so much, but more on the rarely tackled parallel universe of "What If?".
Note: Apologies to everyone who has one, but following on my new "trend of honesty" I am now returning the title of "Dr." back to actual Doctors. Iranians need to gain respect by being honorable. If American PhDs were hard to get, Iranians wouldn't have so many of them.
One of the most confounding questions about the fall of the Pahlavi micro-Dynasty, was how fast the Shah evacuated from Iran, and at what an equally fast pace The Islamic movement took over. By my count the final grab for power took just 3 days. About the only resistance anyone can recall was that mythical "last stand" by the Shah's version of an elite "Imperial Storm Troopers" (Guard-eh-Javidan) somewhere magial, called "Toop-Khooneh" (Infantry Armory?).
But yeah. 3 days. And the only color TV station blared, and Kayhan printed "SHAH LEFT!" (Shah Raft).
As much as the PR logic surrounding this "Glorious Victory" argues, I just cannot convince myself to forgive what I believe is the real reason the revolution won so handily. Or the mere failure of succession.
You or I would have most certainly "put our affairs in order" and ensured that the Monarchy was succeeded formally. Especially we would have insured this for all Iranians.
Had the Shah given his "Sorry folks, but I've got cancer and it's a bad one..." farewell speech and properly prepared Iran wit one last "Ceremony" of his succession (either to Reza who was 18 then, or even temporarily to Farah until Reza was old enough), that would have taken ALL the air out of Khomeini's ultimately empty balloon.
Note: Technically with the Shah's death Farah was legally the Shah's successor. But given no one really knows this, and there is no evidence of Farah's attempt to rule, then it never actually happened. which is also why this kind of past is called history.
Think about it, assuming Farah as the officially ceremonied Head of State (Interestingly we have all now come to know that apparently Farah has quite a head on her shoulders, as merely "pretty" as it was back then!), none of the "Darbar" would have fled as they did before and after the Shah left, and especially the military would have stayed intact, and I contend would have stood especially more resolutely in their defense of "Homaland", in response to "whatever" the Americans "advised" at that time. Simply, reason, and pragmatic survivalism, would have prevailed. Leading to the obvious necessary negotiation with Khomeini. But from a position of steadfast power. Not the weak precariousness of a full retreat.
Consider that Khomeini ONLY won Iran, because the Shah and his Darbar retreated. Khomeini did NOT win Iran because he had a better argument. As has been over advertised since the revolution. Islam is in fact NOT what the Iranian people wanted in 1979. It was a very basic and simple Freedom, from the only visible oppression they had to object to at the time, which happened to be the now far less damaging Shah and the far less brutal SAVAK.
Please don't get me wrong. I am not an overglorifying Monarchist. I'm just a drawn fictional character that just looks that way to you now. I am actually a "Ceremonial Monarchist". But that is another topic of discussion we can have at another time. One that prefers and requires Glenfiddich. Or we can go Irish and Jameson.
So, how do Iranians like their "freedom from the Shah" now? Clearly in 33 years, it sucks. Far far worse even than whatever the Shah did wrong in his mere 38 years in power. Yes, I too am now doing the same math that you are now doing:
"Wait, if the Shah was in power for 38 years, does that mean we ony have 5 more years of this crap?
The negotiation with Khomeini could have gone something like this:
Farah: [a Darbar advisor whispers something in her ear, she nods and says] "OK fine, lets get started. What do you want? What will it take to get your people off the streets?"
Khomeini: [not making eye contact with "that woman" tells Ghotbzadeh]"Tell her it will take the Pahlavis leaving Iran and giving power to the people"
Note: In the early days, Khomeini was only snorting "Democracy" and "Freedom" out of his pooz (snout).
Farah: [rolls her eyes at Khomeini's refusal to look her in they eye] "Well, me and my army will have to say ummm, No to that. But if you want, we can test your theory. Tell your people to stand down, get of the streets, and I'll give you the chance to make your case."
Khomeini: [Obviously flustered, starts twirling his eyebrow nervously while re-adjusting his now falling cloak of invisibility. Turns to Ghotbzadeh again and says] "Tell her, what do you mean by chance to make my case?"
Farah: [smiling now addresses Ghotbzadeh] "Tell him, we'll have an election in two years and see who wins."
Khomeini: [cracking the faintest smile, and now madly twirling his eyebrow, grabs ghotbzadeh by the tie] "Tell her one year."
Farah: "Done!" [whispers to her Darbar "Yes!"]
Khomeini: [Before Ghtobzadeh can say a word] "Done!" [whispers to himself "Yes!, Wait! What? Uh! Oh! Sh**!"]
The "Shooresh" (unrest) would have stopped, either side would have gathered their strength, and by February of 1980 Khomeini's sneaky shift (Editor, I said SHIFT) from Democracy to Mollahcracy would have been tested and successfully exposed.
And during the "Last Days of Disco", Iranians faced with the choice between Milani's other great book on "Modernity", and the dark cloud of a new "Qomish Inquisition", would have chosen one side over the other, or some kind of healthy balance between the two. Or more realistically, one that would have likely shifted back and forth, or occasionally briefly righted itself in future elections.
Because that's how Democracy works.
Note: While it probably does not need to be said, nevertheless the Hostage Crisis and more importantly the film "Argo" would never have happened. It is also very highly unlikely that Saddam would have attempted an attack on a fully intact Iran. Therefore the Iran-Iraq war would not have happened. This would have left Iran with it's "Bravest Generation" not erased, which would have left Iran with a far healthier, wiser, and reasoned demographic profile, than the current artifically damaged one. You know, the one that is filled with all those conflicted, uncertain, and unconfident "Youth".