Recent events have led to a lot of talk about Iran, and it's politics.
While many of us know the "story of Iran" from the time of the Islamic Revolution onward, very few of us know how we got to that point.
To put it in short form, Iran was ruled by Kings (or "Shahs") over the ages. Iran was one of the first nations in the Middle East to espouse democratic reforms in the 1950s. There is a long history of "blood for oil" and Western interference before, in-between, and since.
The Imperial British had created (yes, CREATED) Afghanistan to buffer against the Imperial Russians at the turn of that Century. They fought a war with Persia (Iran) to recapture the city of Herat (Afghan city). In the 19th Century Britain continued to assert control over parts of the Persian Gulf. Oil was the new fuel driving the Imperial British machine, and the Gulf was critical to British success - as was Persia and Persian oil.
A "Constitutional Revolution" in 1907 laid the seeds for increased public freedoms in Persia, but this dream was not realized. In 1908 the Monarch died, after having agreed to the new freedoms. His son (Mohammed Ali Shah) assumed the throne. There were many conflicts between constitutional reformers and the Shah, but eventually foreign powers decided the result: The Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 was a plan to sub-divide Iran/Persia into "spheres of influence".
Reza Shah assumed rule of Iran after some years of turbulence. He was a reformist, with a penchant for modernizing the nation. He was known as an "anti-communist", but often clashed with the Persian clergy.
Reza's son - Mohammad Reza Shah assumed the throne after his father, and was "partner" to one of the defining acts of Middle East politics: In WW2, British and Russian forces invaded Iran to secure an oil supply for their countries. Knowing the young Mohammad was a "big fan" of the West (Britain), they placed him in charge of the country. This young Shah remained ruler until 1979, and is THE Shah we refer to when discussing the "Shah of Iran" (whom the Islamic revolutionaries overthrew in 1979).
The Shah was initially very "hands off", and the Iranian Parliament and Prime Ministers made much progress. At around this time, the British began to realize that Iran was a key to their growing economic powerhouse... In 1951 Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq acquired the vote required from the parliament to nationalize the British-owned oil industry (the Abadan Crisis). The Brits fought the changes with propaganda and espionage, but the changes continued. Mossadegh was briefly removed from power by the Shah in 1952 but was quickly re-appointed, due to a populist uprising in support of the PM. In 1953 a failed military coup led to the PM ousting the Shah. A short while later the British asked the CIA to help them remove Mossadegh. The CIA dispatched Kermit Roosevelt Jr. to play the usual games. He staged two coups, with the second one successfully overthrowing Mossadegh. The coup — with a strong propaganda campaign designed to turn the Iranians against Mossadegh — forced Mossadegh from office, and was cause for much anger among Iranians. Mossadegh was arrested and tried for treason against his beloved land.
With Kermit's move, the first fateful blow by the West, against Middle East peace was struck. For our greed for oil, we usurped a popular leader in a democratically elected government, and replaced him with an autocratic ruler (the Shah) who would do our bidding (ie: the oil). The oil was extracted from Iran at a pittance, with little to nothing going to the state. The UK government actually increased the tax paid by the British state-run oil company (in effect keeping the money for themselves), just so that 15% of the profits would not return to Iran (the value agreed to by both sides). The other stipulation in the deal was that the Iranians could never actually see the books of the British oil company to ascertain the truth.
The decades since have seen the "fruits" of the CIA/MI6 labors. An Islamic revolution against the hated Shah. The destabilization of an entire reason by a vitriolic and anti-West regime. The constant threat to Israel. The funding and supply of literally thousands of criminal/terrorist outfits.
The events of today may seem like a "revolution" in Iran... a move to more "freedom", but the only "freedom" is perceived by untrained Western eyes, and by stakeholders in the conflict.
Many cry out for intervention. Many of these are the very same conservatives who, like the 1950s Republicans chose to back the autocratic Shah. Mr. Obama has chosen a wise route by telling everyone that Iran's people should decide it's fate. Intervention would be folly, and he has done much to repair America's reputation in the region already. While we all wish for a democratic uprising in Iran, it can only come from within - to spare us all the grief we've seen in the region the past 60-some odd years.
Funny how history often comes back to bite us in the ass, isn't it?