The real test for Iran, of course, is how it casts itself adrift from this ghostly regime. It's not that the priests are fools – that was a mistake Carter made – but that running a modern, powerful nation takes more than a degree in Islamic jurisprudence. Foreign affairs is where the Iranian revolution has always failed. It has consistently underestimated – or overestimated – its enemies, although fortune has smiled on her. The Iranian mullahs hated both the "Black Taliban" and the wicked Saddam, and the Americans came along and destroyed both these enemies.
So did the revolution win? Up to a point. It might well have failed in the early days when Khomeini's courts feared a counter-coup, which was the reason for all the firing squads. They had not forgotten how the CIA and MI6 destroyed Mohammed Mossadeq's democratically elected government in a coup in 1953. Operation Ajax, the Americans called it (the British chose the more prosaic Operation Boot), and I met the Brit who staged it. Christopher Montague Woodhouse was a gentle Greek scholar, and a ruthless guerrilla fighter under German occupation in Greece. More than 40 years later he recalled for me his own feelings of guilt. "I've sometimes been told that I was responsible for opening the doors to the Ayatollah – for Khomeini and the others," he said. "But it's quite remarkable that a quarter of a century elapsed between Operation Boot and the fall of the Shah. In the end, it was Khomeini who came out on top – but not until years later. I suppose that some better use could have been made of the time that elapsed."