Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Spectre of the 1953 Iran Coup

Many British and American citizens remain ignorant about the causes of the animosity between their countries and that most famous member of "the axis of evil", Iran. A process of mutual demonisation by means of fiery rhetoric and propaganda would have us all believe that this enmity has arisen out of a vacuum, as if Satan himself stirred the pot. Nothing could be further removed from the truth. The reality is that in the same way that other conflicts always have historical roots, this one too is firmly rooted in the past. A past that in the British case goes back to 1953 and beyond.

As Jonathan Freedman put it:
The Iranians have revealed just as much of themselves these past two weeks. First, they have offered a glimpse of the Anglophobia which - as the Guardian's Robert Tait reported in G2 - is deeply entrenched in Iranian culture, but which may come as a surprise to Britons, who tend to be more forgetful of our imperial past than those who lived at its sharp end. "They're obsessed by it," says Iranian specialist Dr Ali Ansari, noting that the resentment goes back not only to the British role in the 1953 coup which removed Iran's elected prime minister, but to the 19th century, when Britain used Iran as a protective buffer alongside India. While neighbouring Russia deployed hard military might, Britain has always relied on the blacker arts of power politics. Accordingly, says Ansari, "It's an easy sell in Iran to cast the English as the arch-manipulators."

A good summary of the 1953 coup and its ramifications can be found here:
A new book about the coup, All the Shah's Men, which is based on recently released CIA documents, describes how the CIA - with British assistance - undermined Mossadegh's government by bribing influential figures, planting false reports in newspapers and provoking street violence. Led by an agent named Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, the CIA leaned on a young, insecure Shah to issue a decree dismissing Mossadegh as prime minister. By the end of Operation Ajax, some 300 people had died in firefights in the streets of Tehran.

The crushing of Iran's first democratic government ushered in more than two decades of dictatorship under the Shah, who relied heavily on US aid and arms. The anti-American backlash that toppled the Shah in 1979 shook the whole region and helped spread Islamic militancy, with Iran's new hardline theocracy declaring undying hostility to the US.

The author of All the Shah's Men, New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, argues that the coup planted the seeds of resentment against the US in the Middle East, ultimately leading to the events of September 11.

We also hear a lot about these Iranian bloggers and their plight but rarely give them a voice. Here's one Iranian blogger about Ahmedinejad and the prospect of American military force against Iran:
We need to tell the 40 percent of people who favor military force:

-That Ahmadinejad for all of his rhetoric only represents one of many circles of power in Iran - he does not have the same power as an American president and is not the one who makes the final decisions.

-That the Iranian leadership is not insane. It is made up of fat, rich, comfortable akhunds who don't have a messianic death wish. They want to retain their power at any cost, not bring bombs down on their heads. They may not want to be America's friends, but that doesn't mean they won't curb their more radical tendencies as long as any reasonable offers take into account their own desire for self-preservation and regional influence. (This might also require the U.S. to curb its own radical tendencies).

-That Iran is not the bleak, repressive society of Saddam's Iraq, Khadafi's Libya or Kim Jong-il's North Korea. There is more political freedom in Iran than there is in Saudia Arabia, Egypt and other American allies in the Middle East. It is far from a perfect society but it is dynamic and changing.

More English language Iranian blogs here.

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