Iran: Another Old Friend

Many in the United States are not aware of their own government’s history. It’s not that we are stupid; it’s just that we are misinformed and misled. Selective events are highlighted in our history books while others are ignored.

So in upcoming entries, I will make an effort to highlight some of those lesser-known events, as they prove to be quite revealing. Let’s begin with a country that has been on the lips of our leaders in recent months: Iran.

Back in World War II, Britain occupied Iran to protect an oil supply route to its Soviet ally and to make sure the oil did not fall under Nazi control. They forced the ruling monarch, Reza Shah, to cede power to his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (referred to as ‘the Shah’), who was thought to be more susceptible to Western influence.

Britain retained control of Iran’s oil after the war through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which you might know better these days as British Petroleum (BP). However, in 1951, under the democratic leadership of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran’s Parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry.

Britain would have none of it. They responded by pulling their oil technicians out of the country, imposing a worldwide embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil, and banning the export of goods to Iran. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP) even took their case against Iran’s oil nationalization to the World Court, but the court found in favor of Iran controlling its own oil.

British intelligence officials continued to persuade the United States that they shared an interest in maintaining Western control over Iranian oil. In 1953, the newly-elected Eisenhower administration approved the proposal for a joint operation to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh, to be known by the code name Operation Ajax.

CIA director Allen Dulles approved $1 million to be used “in any way that would bring about the fall of Mossadegh.” Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA (grandson of Teddy) traveled secretly to Iran to coordinate plans with the Shah and the Iranian military, and by the night of August 19, 1953, the coup was complete. The parliamentary government had been overthrown and the Shah was installed as ruler.

Two days after the coup, CIA officials funneled $5 million to help the shah consolidate his power. Mossadegh was imprisoned for three years and then put under house arrest; other government officials were rounded up and killed or imprisoned. The shah continued his rule as a friend of the United States, but a growing enemy of the Iranian people.

His brutal secret police force, SAVAK, managed by the CIA, was designed to control all aspects of political life in Iran. It suppressed opposition to the Shah’s government and kept the people’s political knowledge as minimal as possible. Its interrogation office used horrific torture tools and techniques to break dissenters while its censorship office prohibited books and monitored students, journalists, unions, and academics throughout the country.

In 1979, after 26 years of brutal rule and Western favoritism, the Iranian people erupted into a revolution that formed an Islamic republic led by Ayatollah Khomeini. The US came to be known as “The Great Satan,” and relations between our countries have become extremely tense.

We tried to stage another military coup in the early 80s, without success. Then we proceeded to support another friendly dictator (Saddam Hussein) during Iraq’s invasion of Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. Since then, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran, which it continues to escalate today.

In 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made an admission rare to high-level government officials: “In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”

Blowback

The attacks of 9/11 were truly a vicious act, causing the deaths of about 3000 innocent civilians. Such an atrocity is condemned the world over and those responsible should most certainly be brought to justice. Following the attacks, many people (including the president) asked the question: “Why do they hate us?

Indeed, how could someone hate such a benevolent nation, promoters of peace and democracy the world over? Bush’s response to this question was that those involved are evil-doers that “hate our freedoms“. This sort of answer fails to address the root of the problem. While it may be comforting to pretend that our enemies ‘hate our freedoms’, it is not smart to ignore the history of the real world, which reveals more important lessons.

If someone were to ask me why the US was attacked on 9/11, the most concise answer I could give would be one word: blowback. You may be familiar with the term; it was coined by the CIA, meaning the unintended consequences of covert operations. Back in the early eighties, the CIA (along with Pakistani, Egyptian, French & British intelligence) was involved in recruiting, training, and arming extreme Islamic fundamentalists to fight a ‘holy war’ against the Russian invaders of Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden joined our call for resistance and accepted our military training and equipment, along with countless other mujahideen “freedom fighters” (as Reagan called them). After Afghanistan had been bombed to ruins and the Russians suffered a Vietnam-like defeat, the US turned their backs on the death and destruction they had helped to create.

With the country of Afghanistan left in a power vacuum, the Islamic militant groups struggled for power in civil war (using the arms we provided), eventually leading to the rise of the Taliban, whose extreme views caused the deterioration of Afghan rights and freedoms, especially for women.

Bin Laden continued to get angered by US policy abroad…its support for Israel’s military occupation, the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, etc. The last straw for him was after the Gulf War, when we kept American military bases in Saudi Arabia to support its authoritarian regime. Saudi Arabia is bin Laden’s home country, but more importantly, it is the holy-land of Islam, in which bin Laden would not tolerate an ‘infidel’ presence (viewed as similar to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan).

Since then, bin Laden has declared jihad (holy-war) on the United States, the deadly consequences of which we all witnessed on September 11th. So we are badly mistaken if we think that we in the US are entirely blameless for what happened on 9/11. Believing it was a random act of aggression by people that ‘hate our freedoms’ is not only dishonest; it is a way of evading responsibility for the ‘blowback’ that US foreign policy has created.