Hating us

Let me heartily recommend Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men, a gripping and disturbing narrative of how the CIA staged a coup to overthrow Iran's last true democratic leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953. Kinzer makes a persuasive case for how the importance of that event cannot be understated, whether you are thinking about our relationship with the Middle East, the nature of the Cold War, or how America's power is extended in the world.

With a small staff and several million dollars, the CIA fundamentally altered the course of Iranian history, proving that for all its pretty talk, the United States would be a fickle friend to emerging democracies in the global contest with the Soviet Union. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is Harry Truman's firm stand against undermining the fledgling Iranian democracy. While certainly troubled by potential Soviet designs on the country, Truman bucked the British colonialists and steadfastly refused to employ U.S. power against popular will in Iran. It was only with the election of the less engaged Eisenhower that the covert action hawks were able to have their way and proceed with the coup. Sound like familiar themes?

Truman recognized that the path to democracy for post-colonial nations was a delicate one, and that true diplomacy and resolve could produce transitions both fruitful and favorable to American interests. The legacy of our duplicitous conduct in Iran has resulted in neither. For 50 years, Iran has suffered under the weight of tyrannical regimes, enabled in part by a bitter political culture produced by the betrayal of 1953. Not to mention the billions of dollars with which the US propped up the Shah's regime. And Iran has probably done more than any other nation in the Middle East to keep the homefires of fanatical anti-Americanism burning over the last quarter century. The rhetorical underpinnings of the assault now being unleashed against the West were well developed in Iran when Osama bin Laden was still on the CIA payroll.

So it is quite remarkable that this tortured country has again produced a movement that, by all accounts, looks to complete the democratic project stifled in 1953 and again in 1979. And yet, American policy has failed to address the complexities of our history and relationship with Iran. It has also failed to address the significance of the democracy movement and what this would mean for American security. Instead, we get "axis of evil" on one hand and a scattered focus on Iran's nuclear violations on the other. The nuclear issues are serious and need to be addressed, to be sure, but we will lose a mighty opportunity if we ignore Iran's popular sentiment again and focus only on its leadership.


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