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Operation Iranian Freedom

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  • ummyakoub
    Operation Iranian Freedom by TARIQ ALI All the Shah s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Terror in the Middle East by Stephen Kinzer 08/02/03: (The Nation)
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2003
      Operation Iranian Freedom
      by TARIQ ALI

      All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Terror in the
      Middle East
      by Stephen Kinzer

      08/02/03: (The Nation) In Washington, the hawks and vultures are
      beginning to gaze at Iran with greed-filled eyes. The British attack
      dog is barking and straining at the leash. And the Israeli ambassador
      to the United States has helpfully suggested that the onward march of
      the American Empire should not be brought to a premature halt in
      Baghdad. Teheran beckons, and then there is always Damascus. The only
      argument summoned by the blood-mottled "doves" is that the occupation
      of Iraq should be sufficient to bring the Iranian mullahs to heel.
      Naturally, this latter view does not satisfy the would-be Shah or his
      followers in Los Angeles. The Young Pretender is appearing regularly
      on the BBC and CNN these days, desperate to please and a bit too
      eager to mimic his father and grandfather. Might the empire put him
      back on the Peacock Throne? And, if so, how long would he last?

      Neither party appears to be aware of all the recent traumas suffered
      by Iran or the fact that this is a nation and a people with a
      historical memory, something its poets have helped to preserve. But
      Iran has not forgotten that it was the United States and Britain that
      utilized king and cleric to bring about the regime change fifty years
      ago that destroyed Iran's fledgling democracy.

      When Ahmad Shamlu--the most gifted of modern Iranian poets--died in
      2000, more than 100,000 people, young and old, marched in dignified
      columns behind his funeral cortege while crowds lined the pavements
      to sing his poetry and emphasize that hope was still alive. At
      various times Shamlu, whose life mirrored the ups and downs of
      Iranian politics, had described his country as "a land where no birds
      sing, where spring never comes...a prison so huge that the soul weeps
      tears of shame at its own impotence."

      It was not always thus. There were short periods in the history of
      twentieth-century Iran when breakthroughs appeared possible. On each
      occasion the mass movements for change were either usurped or
      defeated. The Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11 shook the corrupt
      and degenerate Qajar dynasty, whose kings had virtually sold the
      country to the tobacco and oil interests of the British Empire. A
      parliament (Majlis) came into existence. It was accompanied in some
      regions by a peasant revolt against tax collectors and landlords, the
      only indigenous mainstay of the monarchy. Pro-democracy newspapers
      appeared, and Iranian intellectuals began to relish the modernist
      breezes blowing from Paris and Petrograd. Their relations with the
      clerics, some of whom had supported the constitutional upheaval,
      became increasingly tense. The court exploited these divisions and
      after a few years monarchist landlords, courtiers and state
      bureaucrats effectively sidelined the revolutionary democrats in the

      Not everything remained the same, however. In 1910, a young mullah
      named Ahmad Kasravi observed Halley's comet from the roof of his
      house in Tabriz. He was seduced by the "star with a tail." His
      curious mind did not rest till he had understood the mysteries of the
      universe and embraced "godless science." Kasravi decided to enter the
      citadel of reason. His celebrated books and essays were carefully
      constructed polemics against ignorance and the Shiite orthodoxy that
      encouraged it. His plea for wide-ranging reforms (including rights
      for women) angered the clerics. The mullahs accused him of heresy and
      apostasy, and in 1946 he was brought to trial for "slandering Islam,"
      but his detractors did not wait for the verdict. He was shot dead in
      open court, an early martyr in the struggle against obscurantism.

      The Shah and his British advisers had crushed the Constitutional
      Revolution, but the death agony of the dynasty could not be long
      postponed. The last Shah of the Qajar dynasty was soon removed by a
      military coup led by Reza Khan, a semiliterate officer of an old
      Cossack regiment, which had been created by czarist Russia and
      officered by Russians to protect the Qajar ruler and Russian
      interests. Following the 1917 revolution, the regiment lost its
      officers, who were replaced by locals. In 1921 the Soviet government
      denounced the "tyrannical policy" of the czars, canceled the Persian
      debt and renounced all concessions and extraterritorial privileges
      that had been accorded to the ancien régime. These unilateral
      renunciations highlighted the imperial depredations of the British
      and encouraged nationalism even inside the old Cossack regiment. That
      same year Reza Khan marched his troops to Teheran and took control.
      He was appointed minister of war. Four years later, he ordered the
      Majlis to abolish the Qajar dynasty.

      Reza had been inspired by the example of Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, who
      had foiled imperial designs and created a modern, independent state.
      But whereas Atatürk had abolished the Caliphate and declared Turkey a
      republic, his Persian impersonator, prone to flattery and corruption,
      had himself crowned king, with the hearty approval of the British.
      His halfhearted reforms were at best partial solutions that did
      little to alter the basically oppressive system. Reza antagonized the
      mullahs--who were sometimes publicly flogged--as well as the
      modernists. Like many dictators, he could read a subversive,
      antigovernment message in the most innocent of texts. Democratization
      was actively discouraged.

      It was Reza's wartime fondness for the Third Reich (the country's
      name was changed from Persia to Iran on the suggestion of the embassy
      in Berlin, since Iran was "the birthplace of the Aryan race") that
      led to his downfall. Not unreasonably, the British found this
      inconvenient. In 1941 they dumped Reza Khan and sent him into exile.
      His incompetent and weak-minded son, Mohammad Reza, was put on the
      throne. The new boy-Shah never forgot what had been done to his
      father. He learned the lesson that the key to a satrap's success lay
      in never crossing swords with his patron.

      The wartime occupation of Iran by Britain and the Soviet Union and
      their rivalry had created the space for the emergence of currents old
      and new: secular democratic nationalism and pro-Soviet Communism. The
      nationalists recalled the Constitutional Revolution and favored the
      immediate withdrawal of all the occupying armies and genuine
      political and economic independence for their country. Their leader,
      Mohammad Mossadegh, had, despite his birth (he was the son of a Qajar
      princess), always refused to do the bidding of the court. He resisted
      Reza Shah's autocracy, refusing to serve him in any capacity and
      suffering the consequences. Now, after the war, he fought for the
      independence of his country. For him this meant the withdrawal of
      Soviet troops from Iranian Azerbaijan and the nationalization of the
      British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

      The Communists of the Tudeh Party, for their part, while strongly
      opposed to the British presence, saw no contradiction between this
      and their blind defense of Soviet interests. Mossadegh alone stood
      for Iran, and many Tudeh members and supporters were compelled to
      back him. The political zigzags this entailed weakened the party's
      support in the population as a whole and its credibility among
      nationalist intellectuals. Despite this, the Tudeh Party continued to
      attract some of the finest intellectuals in Iran to its ranks.

      Stephen Kinzer's new book, All the Shah's Men, is an ode to
      Mossadegh, the blue-blooded politician whose integrity, coupled with
      his dedication to the political and economic sovereignty of his
      country, won him the support of his people--especially the poor in
      town and country--and the enmity of two powers, the decaying British
      Empire and its upstart American rival and replacement. Not that the
      two shared common economic interests. As early as 1943, Secretary of
      State Cordell Hull was writing to Roosevelt that apart from
      the "humanitarian" reasons to counterbalance Soviet and British
      influence in the region, there was a "more directly selfish point of
      view," which meant that "no great power be established on the Persian
      Gulf opposite the American petroleum development in Saudi Arabia."

      Accordingly, US military missions began to arrive in Iran from 1942
      onward. The aim was clear: to transform Iran's ragtag army into a
      tough instrument that could defend imperial interests in the region.
      But there were two major imperial powers, and as British dependence
      on the United States grew with every passing month of the war, they
      had little option but to agree to the ever-increasing US presence
      that had penetrated Kurdistan and Azerbaijan as early as 1943.

      Then, as now, rivalries between competing government departments in
      Washington sometimes hampered the overall project, but it was obvious
      to London that the United States would one day dominate Iran. (The
      single best account of US-Iranian relations remains James Bill's The
      Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations, which
      should be required reading for Foggy Bottom.)

      Mossadegh's stubborn nationalism ignited a mass mobilization that led
      to the flight of a frightened ruler in 1953 and the nationalization
      of an oil industry whose workers were treated like slaves. Kinzer (a
      longtime reporter for the New York Times) quotes an Israeli manager
      who worked alongside Iranian workers at the Abadan oil refinery and
      wrote in the Jerusalem Post:

      They lived during the seven hot months of the year under the
      trees.... In winter these masses moved into big halls, built by the
      company, housing up to 3,000-4,000 people without walls of partition
      between them. Each family occupied the space of a blanket. There were
      no lavatories.... In debates with British colleagues we often tried
      to show them the mistake they were making in treating the Persians
      the way they did. The answer was usually: "We English have had
      hundreds of years of experience on how to treat the Natives.
      Socialism is all right back home, but out here you have to be the

      Labour imperialism has a long pedigree, even though these days
      socialism isn't all right even back home and there is, of course, a
      new master. Labour Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison was determined
      to topple Mossadegh, but he was out of his depth. He assumed that
      gunboats and gurkhas would do the trick, but Harry Truman vetoed the
      adventure. His ambassador sent a dispatch arguing that Mossadegh "has
      the backing of 95 to 98 percent of the people of this country. It is
      utter folly to try to push him out."

      It was only after the victory of Dwight Eisenhower that an agenda of
      permanent counterrevolution (the predecessor of the current National
      Security Strategy) was implemented by the Brothers Dulles, and only
      then did Operation Ajax get under way. The secular democracy
      instituted by Mossadegh's National Front was destabilized by British
      and American intelligence operatives. Kinzer has carefully
      reconstructed the entire operation, paying great attention to the
      details and the personalities of the principals. Much of what he
      writes was well established many years ago. What is remarkable is
      that nobody now bothers to deny what took place, leading one to ask
      whether it will be fifty years before we are told that both Bush and
      Blair knew perfectly well that Iraq did not possess any weapons of
      mass destruction. At one point Kinzer is mildly critical of Mossadegh
      for not appreciating American fears of the Soviet threat and reacting
      accordingly. This goes against the grain of the book. Mossadegh's
      argument in his own defense before the Shah's kangaroo court (quoted
      approvingly by Kinzer) invalidates any other justification: "My only
      crime is that I nationalized the Iranian oil industry and removed
      from this land the network of colonialism and the political and
      economic influence of the greatest empire on earth."

      That is why the 1953 CIA coup put the Shah (who had fled to Rome)
      back on the throne. After his return he began a policy of systematic
      persecution of liberals, nationalists and Communists. His secret
      police, SAVAK, devised new forms of torture, and opposition politics
      was criminalized. A mass migration of sad and depressed intellectuals
      fled the country to organize resistance from Europe and North
      America. Inside Iran only the doors of the mosque remained open.
      Gradually the mosque became the only arena where opposition to the
      Shah could be discussed and organized. US backing for the Shah's
      dictatorship was complete, and even moderate oppositionists now
      became extremely hostile to Washington. In 1970, the poet Firaydun
      Tunakabuni expressed a near-universal view in Memoirs of a Crowded

      If I were a cartoonist, I would sketch the American in complete
      military uniform. He has one of his heavy, hobnailed boots on the
      back of Latin America while the other boot stands on the back of
      Southeast Asia. His left hand has a black man by the throat....

      When the storm finally arose and swept aside the Shah, it was the
      ayatollahs who took control. They had profited from the vacuum
      created in 1953. The clerical dictatorship that Khomeini imposed on
      his country turned out to be every bit as repressive as that of the
      Shah. The anti-imperialism of the mullahs was always the anti-
      imperialism of fools. The vision they offered was blurred from the
      beginning. The differences between Baathist and clerical repression
      are instructive. Although Saddam crushed all political opposition
      (liberal, Communist and especially religious), he did not interfere
      with the everyday life of Iraqis. During the past quarter-century,
      bars, discotheques and theaters sprouted all over Baghdad. The
      mullahs attempted to control every aspect of life. The religious
      police kept a permanent watch on young people, punishing
      infringements with fines, floggings or prison. This blanket cultural
      oppression turned large numbers of young people against the regime.
      Today there is a genuine hatred of the mullahs on the part of a
      majority of the population (60 percent of whom are under 25 years
      old), which has known only clerical rule.

      Experience, the best of teachers, has educated the people of Iran.
      Not even all-powerful ayatollahs can override the laws of biology. If
      left alone the Iranians will get rid of their bearded oppressors in
      their own way and in their own time. It might even be the dawn of an
      Islamic Reformation. Certainly the vibrancy of the country's
      filmmakers and the clandestine poems and texts that are being
      circulated are an indication of the change that lies ahead. If the
      Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld team decides to speed up the process, it's all
      but certain to create a giant mess that will only strengthen the most
      backward elements in the country. The interests of the empire rarely
      coincide with those of the people it is intending to "liberate,"
      especially when the people know that one reason they are in a mess is
      because of what the empire did in its own interests fifty years ago.




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