Monday, October 03, 2011

Deja vu all over again: Iran

This drivel just keeps coming back. It wouldn't matter except that its purveyors are considered Very Serious People, especially by Republican presidents, though Democrats are not immune.

International relations professor Stephen Walt points to a piece of current imperial folly that a couple of neo-cons are peddling about how the U.S. should deal with Iran. These are the same dangerous clowns who were sure that invading Iraq would bring hearts and flowers to the greater Middle East. Now they have more snake to sell. No worries here -- if we just push those dumb wogs a little harder, they'll give up their stupid assertion of national pride and do what the United States bids. From Walt:

Pollack and Takeyh also fail to see the irony -- or it is hypocrisy? -- in their own prescriptions. They say at the beginning of their piece that the US must "compel Iran to relinquish its nuclear ambitions, adhere to prevailing norms on terrorism and human rights, and respect the sovereignty of its neighbors" (my [Walt's] emphasis) Yet with a straight face they then proceed to outline a menu of options designed to violate Iran's sovereignty for as long as it takes to produce the government there that we want. And yet we wonder why Iran's leaders don't see us as especially principled or worthy of trust.

In 2003 New York Times writer Steven Kinzer tried to educate the U.S. public about the 1953 coup carried out by the C.I.A. that removed Iran's Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. This event that remains the searing fount of Iranian preceptions of the United States: when Iranians sought to control their own energy resources, Washington overthrew the man Iranians had elected and imposed a dictatorial monarch. No wonder that all Iranians, very much including their own democratically oriented "Green" activists, want no part of a Western order for them not to develop nuclear technology that they believe they are entitled to.

Kinzer's account of the coup is a little over done for me. I don't admire C.I.A. man Kermit Roosevelt's imagination and daring, so I don't really care about the play by play. But I do appreciate Kinzer's exposition of the historical (racist?) ignorance with which the Brits, whose oil fields had been taken over by Iran's people, and most United States officials viewed that ancient country. Westerners have some dim idea that China and perhaps India are modern expressions of complex ancient civilizations. But when it comes to Persia/Iran (and even more the core Middle Eastern lands), we dismiss proud histories as if they had never been.

Mossadegh was a vexing irritant to the West because he belied their stereotypes that they were dealing with a primitive people. When Britain tried to condemn Iranian nationalization of the oil fields at the United Nations, the sophisticated Iranian Prime Minister (he was a lawyer) knew what to do.

Mossadegh loved [the U.N. complaint] so much so that he resolved to come to New York and present his case in person. This was a master stroke. The most eloquent figure Iran had produced in many centuries would now take to the world stage, and he would present not just the case of one small nation against one big company, but that of the wretched of the earth against the rich and powerful. Mossadegh was about to become the preeminent spokesman for the nationalist passion that was surging through the colonial world. ...

"The government of the United Kingdom has made abundantly clear that it has no interest in negotiating, and has instead used every illegitimate means of economic, psychological and military pressure that it could lay its hands on to break our will." Mossadegh declared. "Having first concentrated its warships along our coasts and paratroopers at nearby bases, it makes a great parade of its love for peace."

[He went on:] Our actions are described as "insensate" and our people as "deluded." We have been "precipitate," "arbitrary," and have made life "intolerable." Our legislative process is described as one of "hustling." We are damned as "intransigent" and accused of presenting ultimatums. Our grievances are dismissed as "wild accusations." We are "ridiculous" and exhibit "base ingratitude." We are "intemperate." "exploiters" of our own people, and save our own necks by inflaming our people against foreigners. Our aims are "illusory" and our means of achieving them "suicidal." Our case is presented as one of the lame leading the blind in pursuit of a phantom.

In sum, Mossadegh was guilty of self-respect and assertion of national sovereignty. He blunted the attack on Iran at the United Nations; he had to go.

And so the C.I.A. got rid of him. Here are some of Kinzer's observations on the consequences of that decision. Kermit Roosevelt was brought home to report on his feat.

Roosevelt concluded his White House briefing by warning that the CIA should not take his success in Iran to mean that it could now overthrow governments at will. The Dulles brothers, however, took it to mean exactly that. They were already plotting to strike against the left-leaning regime in Guatemala and asked Roosevelt to lead their coup. He declined. ...

Not that Roosevelt ever thought his operation was wrong ... but apparently its very success raised his alarm in some way.

Within Iran and the developing world:

Its most direct result was to give Mohammad Reza Shah the chance to become dictator. He received enormous amounts of aid from the United States--more than $1 billion in the decade following the coup--but his oppressive rule turned Iranians against him. In 1979 their anger exploded in a shattering revolution led by Islamic fundamentalists.

...Operation Ajax taught tyrants and aspiring tyrants there that the world's most powerful governments were willing to tolerate limitless oppression as long as oppressive regimes were friendly to the West and to Western oil companies.

The United States is still thrashing around amidst the wreckage of empire, vacillating between trying to maintain control of peoples seeking their own ways and outright imposition of rulers we think are "friends." We ask "why to do they hate us?" Kinzer's account of the Iran coup answers that for one proud people and suggests explanations for many more.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails