What is it about Iran with us? A national schizophrenia? A disinterest in looking farther back into our national past than Mork and Mindy? What? For example, an article titled “Ayatollah Calls Trump ‘True Face’ Of the U.S.” appeared New York Times. Thomas Erdbrink, reporting from Tehran on what the Ayatollah actually said, did what a reporter for the indispensable Times is supposed to do — and on site! So far, so good.
But then (read carefully now) Erdbrink segued into some context, beginning with “The history of animosity between both countries is long and deep,” followed by what we think of Iran – four words: sponsor of terrorist organizations. “Iran has also been held responsible by the United States for several terror attacks, most decades ago. One of them, of course [?!], was the seizure of 54 members of the American Embassy staff in Tehran for 444 days during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iran has also been accused of involvement in a 1983 bomb attack at a Marine barracks in Lebanon, where 241 service personnel died…. Iran denies the accusations.
“Iran has pressed several claims against the United States. Iran holds the United States responsible for having supported Saddam Hussein with intelligence, funds and weapons after he attacked Iran [Note: Iraq attacked Iran.] in 1980, dragging both countries into a [sic] eight-year war where thousands of Iranians and Iraqis died. [Deaths as would be typical in eight-year wars.]
“In 1988, an American naval vessel, the Vincennes, shot down an Iran Air commercial plane, flying over the Persian Gulf [yes, Persian Gulf] to Dubai, in the united Arab Emirates. All 290 people aboard died. Iran called the attack deliberate and the United States called it a mistake. Under a settlement … the United States offered no apologies and was order to pay around $60 million in damages to families of the victims.” That’s it on the Times’s “history of animosity.”
Really, that’s it? …
No mention of the genesis of the history of animosity? Such as that in the mid-1950s the US and the UK colluded to overthrow a democratically elected government in Iran. What a nice thing it would have been if we had nurtured that nascent Middle Eastern as a product of the shining example of America’s vaunted exceptional mission in the world. Instead, it was let’s take the oil from the wogs. And they’re barely civilized, not like us. (Oh, did they have a glorious civilization while the Europeans were living in huts? Who knew? Who cares?)
Here is one succinct (but ungrammatical) summary of the event: “Mohammad Mosaddegh (16 June 1882 – 5 March 1967) was an Iranian politician. He was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 until 1953, when his government was overthrown in a coup d’état aided by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service.
“An author, administrator, lawyer, and prominent parliamentarian, his administration introduced a range of progressive social and political reforms such as social security and land reforms, including taxation of the rent on land. His government’s most notable policy, however, was the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later British Petroleum and BP). [Nationalization done in order to fund the new government’s social and political reforms. And we must lazily wonder: however did the British manage to control the oil under Iranian soil since 1913. A referendum of the people of Iran?]
“Many Iranians regard Mosaddegh as the leading champion of secular democracy and resistance to foreign domination in Iran’s modern history. Mosaddegh was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, organized and carried out by the CIA at the request of the British secret service (MI6), which [unilaterally] chose Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi to succeed Mosaddegh.” (Wikipedia)
This happened on President Eisenhower’s watch. Ike’s biographer Stephen Ambrose had this to say in 1990 (excerpted): “Mossadegh [a variant transliteration of his name] headed a government that had seized the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (British owned) and then broken diplomatic relations with London. The British had retaliated by setting up a de facto blockade of Iranian oil; meanwhile the British, along with American oilmen, told Ike that Mossadegh was a communist. (These days, instead of communist it would be the snappier “state sponsor of terrorism.”] In the spring of 1953, Foreign Secretary Eden came to Washington, to propose a joint effort between the British Secret Service and the CIA to topple Mossadegh. Eisenhower was receptive….
“It was the CIA’s first big-time coup. The aim of their plot [code name Ajax] was to depose Mossadegh and bring the Shah back to power; the means were out-and-out bribes for the Iranian Army officers….
“… Ajax had to have the approval of the President…. Establishing a pattern he would hold throughout his presidency, he kept his distance and left no documents behind that could implicate the President in any projected coup.
“Ajax was a great success. The Iranian Army arrested Mossadegh, the Shah returned, he cut a new oil deal that gave the American oil giants 40 percent of Iran’s oil, Eisenhower announced an $85 million aid package for Iran, and everyone was happy – except the Iranian people, and the British oil executives, who lost their monopoly….
“The methods used were immoral, if not illegal, and a dangerous precedent had been set. The CIA offered the President a quick fix for his foreign problems. It was there to do his bidding; it freed him from having to persuade Congress, or the parties, or the public … at the expense of also greatly extending the risks of … getting into deep trouble.”
What followed after the colluders then set up the Shah as emperor of Iran? He (and we as consultants, surely) established his dreaded secret police army called Savak, to keep in line anyone who might not welcome this national catastrophe in the proper spirit. A fog apparently fell over these events here in the Western Hemisphere, à la the Times and pretty much everywhere else – it seems clear that the unwashed between our coasts are ignorant of what you would think would be an important part of the story – but you can bet that the Iranians (and their oil-rich neighbors) remembered it and Mosaddegh clearly, and still do: the great-grandfathers, grandfathers, and father, and mothers of today’s Iranian people. That festering injustice of 1953 and crimes of the corrupt and vicious police state came to a boil among the populace after another quarter of a century, in 1979. One of the first things the Islamic Revolutionaries did was get at the CIA and State Dept. files in the US embassy. Hmm, I wonder why….
(Four years later Ike happened to be my Commander-in-Chief as I sat on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific overseeing the planning of potential nuclear air strikes against two countries with which we were not at war — a little endeavor not officially disclosed to the American people, but everyone seemed to know. Including the Soviets and the People’s Republic of China. They may have taken umbrage; our intelligence thought so. So unfair of them to take it personally against us.)
The United States has a long record of pretty much manufactured unilateral aggression against foreign sovereign states since the mid-nineteenth century. To leave out our Central and South Latin American adventures: concessions obtained by force in China … American gunboats forcing a passive nineteenth-century Japan to admit the West … the Mexican-American War (grabbing our New Mexico and California) … the Spanish-American (and Cuban and Philippine) War….*
Trying to run NATO — created essentially to counter a postwar threat from — right up to the Russian border? Today we trembling Americans are faced with all sorts of threats, typically depicted as existential. (Is it maybe time to institute a coastal watch force, on the lookout for enemy landing craft?) However did all these threats arise? Could it be that we ourselves had a really big hand in their creation? That we are now the major threat in the world? I ask you.
* Spain itself never recovered from the shock to its centuries-long cultural identity and pride – witness the writings, at the time, of Ortega y Gasset and especially Unamuno, his masterpiece telling titled Tragic Sense of Life.