Monday, September 13, 2004

Op-Ed, Today/
September 13, 2004

We continue to live in interesting times where "the young," wrote Decoly, "delude themselves about their future; the old folks about their past."

Last May 6, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution "which, in effect, authorized a 'pre-emptive' attack on Iran. The vote was 376-3. Undeterred by the accelerating disaster in Iraq, Republicans and Democrats, wrote one commentator, 'once again joined hands to assert the responsibilities of American power.'"[1]

It is unthinkable for the superpower - and its believers - to leave Iranians to decide their own fate. The ignorant are taken in by tacitly racist reasoning: an oppressed people cannot liberate themselves without the help of the empire's humanitarian weapons of mass destruction. The learned espouse imperial intervention for convictions they secretly harbor. Convictions nakedly expressed by one of the greatest tribunes of Western civilization.

Referring to Palestinians before the Peel Commission of Inquiry in 1937 - at the height of the British colonial offensive which eventually crushed the first Palestinian intifada - Winston Churchill declared: "I do not agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right, I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place."[2]

Iran wasn't always ruled by an anti-American, virulently fundamentalist theocracy. Once upon a time, Iran had a parliament - and a real prime minister who was actually chosen and embraced by his people. Physically frail due to his advanced age, Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh was nonetheless a giant of a man who insisted to Iranians - and the world - that democracy can and should serve, feed, educate and clothe one's people.

He was a charismatic and driven man. At the pinnacle of his popularity, the name Mossadegh stood for moral purpose, independence and Iranian dignity. But dignity, moral purpose and independence are words that imperial powers do not always look upon with favor. Especially when the leader who lives the words leads a country overflowing with oil. And so the dignified man had to go.

"Neither by trusteeship nor by contract will we turn over to foreigners the right to exploit our natural oil resources," Mossadegh once wrote in a speech delivered to the UN Security Council in 1951, the year he was chosen by Time magazine - over Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower - as its Man of the Year. A full year almost to the day before Mossadegh expelled the last citizens of Britain - the erstwhile colonial tormentor of Iran - and less than two years before Mossadegh himself was ousted by a coup d'état sponsored by the US government, which despised Mossadegh's independence and craved Iran's oil, a coup supported by a humiliated British government, the erstwhile colonial tormentor of Iran.

Days after Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated in January 1953, the American ambassador to Tehran, Loy Henderson, "began contacting Iranians he thought might be interested in working to overthrow Mossadegh." The goal: to foment unrest in the streets of Tehran, destabilize the Mossadegh government and establish the pretext for a coup, which came close to exactly what took place in Iran.

The mob that "was decisive in the overthrow [of Mossadegh] was a mercenary mob," said Richard Cottam, who was on the Operation Ajax staff in Washington. "It had no ideology, and that mob was paid with American dollars."[3] Dollars that totaled, depending on which expenses are counted, "anywhere between $100,000 to $20 million."

After the coup, an international oil consortium was set up to ransack Iran's main resource. Five American companies took up 40 percent of the consortium, with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (which would later change its name to British Petroleum, or BP) - the company with which Britain previously plundered Iran's wealth - comprising another 40 percent. Lesser vultures Royal Dutch/Shell and Compagnie Française de Petroles formed the remainder of the consortium, which "agreed to share its profits with Iran on a fifty-fifty basis but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors."

Operation Ajax bought the American government 25 years of stable relations - with the Iranian potentate of Mohammad Reza Shah. On the 25th year of the Shah's brutal reign, outrage spilled over and forced the despised Iranian monarch to flee. Straight into the waiting arms of the United States government.

No one else then thought this conclusion possible - except, of course, the people of Iran.

In 1977, two years before the Shah was overthrown, the celebrated war reporter Robert Fisk and Ed Cody of the Associated Press had driven into a Shia village in war-torn Lebanon "to find the usual tea-drinking Palestinians sitting in a field beside the main road, their officer lecturing them about the need to move their mortar positions every 24 hours." Lebanon was then the prime battleground between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters.

The journalists noticed a gunman in the group who seemed different from the others. The gunman "wore a coal-black scarf - not a kuffiah - around his neck. And he appeared to speak no Arabic. His English, however, was almost perfect. The gunman asked Fisk and Cody to translate what his officer was saying to him. Cody, Fisk recounted, asked the gunman why he spoke no Arabic. "Because I am not an Arab. I am from Iran," said the gunman, who grinned at Fisk and Cody. "I am from the opposition in Iran. I have come to learn here how to fight. We understand a common cause with our Palestinian brothers. With their help, we can learn to destroy the Shah." Fisk and Cody held back their laughter. An Iranian training in Lebanon to overthrow (what was then) the most formidable dictatorship in the Middle East? Yeah right, thought the journalists. "And, of course," Fisk would later recount in his soul-searing book, Pity the Nation, "we were wrong."[4]

But no one, not even Iranians, would be able to predict the events set in motion by the overthrow of the Shah. Such as the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans at the US embassy by panic-stricken Iranians who feared the Shah would be re-installed by the US government; the takeover by fundamentalist Islamic clerics of the Iranian revolution; Iraq's invasion of Iran; the Soviet decision to invade Afghanistan; and "the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York."

All arguably connected and traceable, according to Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah's Men, the gripping account of the US-engineered overthrow of Mossadegh, to Operation Ajax.

The blood of hundreds of thousands spilled; an immeasurable number of lives lost - and for what? So that a has-been empire and a hyper-empire could slake its thirst for power and oil?

[1] "The warlords of America," John Pilger, The New Statesman, September 8, 2004.
[2] The clash of fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity, Tariq Ali, 2002, Verso.
[3] All the Shah's men: An American coup and the roots of Middle East Terror, Stephen Kinzer, 2003, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
[4] Pity the Nation: the abduction of Lebanon, Robert Fisk, 2002, Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books.

No comments: