Note: Originally posted in the PI Window on Business Blog on February 2nd, 2011 under the title “Unintended consequences: Like Vietnam which triggered the Six Day War, is the present day Mideast crisis an unintended consequence of U.S. policy regarding Iran?”
In researching this story, the details surrounding Operation Ajax came to light, when for the first time in history and, at the prompting of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the United States openly overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran led by Mohammad Mossadegh.
In an excerpt from a website that is dedicated to the former Iranian Prime Minister, who is quoted as saying “If I sit silently, I have sinned” the following concerning his vision for the country was shared:
Mossadegh envisioned an Iran that was independent, free and democratic. He believed no country could be politically independent and free unless it first achieved economic independence. As he put it, “The moral aspect of oil nationalization is more important than its economic aspect.” He sought to renegotiate and reach an equitable and fair restitution of rights of Iran but was faced with intransigence by the company. To put an end to 150 years of British political interference, economic exploitation and plundering of Iran’s national resources, Mossadegh engineered the nationalization of the oil industry.
In reading the above, one cannot help but be reminded of the American Revolution in which the forefathers of the greatest country on earth also sought to free themselves from British rule and the unwelcome involvement in an emerging nation’s affairs. Where would the country be today, if that patriotic revolution had been quashed?
What are even more compelling and complex questions center on the fact that with the success of Operation Ajax in 1952, did America forever undermine it’s ability to legitimately champion democracy in the Middle East and as an unintended consequence set into motion the events that eventually led to 9/11 and the current crisis in Egypt?
On the February 16th, 2011 segment of the 49th Parallel Forum these, as well as other questions will be tabled in what is bound to be one of the most memorable Internet radio shows ever!
In her book “Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences,” Judith Klinghoffer contends that the Six Day War, which transformed the Middle East, split the left and gave birth to Neo-conservatism, was an unintended consequence of the Vietnam War.
Her conclusions were based on the premise that in 1967 Moscow created the crisis in the Mideast as a result of Washington’s escalation of hostilities in Vietnam.
Given Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami’s proclamation that “all these protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Yemen are inspired by Iran’s Islamic revolution,” and that these countries are “de facto rocked by the aftershock of the Iranian revolution,” one might conclude that Iran is fanning the flames of extremism in other regions in response to amongst other things U.S. policy regarding the country’s nuclear program.
Using incendiary prose such as the Muslim world is now witnessing the end of the era of “Western-backed dictators,” it is hard to discern if the Ayatollah’s words are opportunistic rhetoric or, is the signal of a much broader influential undercurrent in which the consequences extend to previously stable regions of the Mideast?
Now while some will undoubtedly point to the fact that Egypt like a Mount St. Helen’s, has been a dormant explosion waiting to happen, the question is why now and who, similar to Moscow’s fanning the flames of unrest in 1967, has the most to gain by the current crisis?
In our contemplation regarding who benefits, let’s first think about Egypt’s importance for just a moment. In 1979, the country was the first to sign a peace accord with Israel leading to what can be considered relatively speaking close ties with Mubarak. According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mubarak has played an instrumental role in honoring that peace agreement after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
Mubarak has also served as a mediator in the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Despite Israel’s commitment to continue the talks, even without Egyptian mediation, the absence of such a strong Arab ally will undoubtedly alter the scales of the negotiation.
I have to ask again, of all the country’s in the Mideast, who has the most to gain from the crisis in Egypt?
Whether as an active initiator or convenient benefactor, the U.S. cannot afford to elide the possible breadth of Iranian influence. A contemplation that hasn’t escaped some, such as Matthew Lee whose January 30th article (Analysis: For US, Egypt crisis recalls 1979 Iran) would seem to suggest that the Ayatollah’s pronouncement’s are more substantive than mere extremist puffery.
Somewhat paralyzed by the uncertainty of the situation in Egypt, it is the corresponding similarities to the circumstances just prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, that transformed what was once a strong ally into a threat to US security and the world in general, that has policymakers in 2011 concerned.
Being mindful of this history, the U.S. is trying to maintain the delicate balance between coaxing the transformation of the country to a full democracy while ensuring that the intervening void does not open the door for extremist, anti-American groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to take the helm.
But what kind of democracy would the U.S. consider to be acceptable, because as you are about to find out, not all democracies are created equal.
In the case of Iran, the at times questionable and ultimate ineffectiveness of U.S. policy leading up to the 1979 revolution in terms of both creating and then responding to dramatic leadership shifts brought on by civil unrest means that Iran, for all intents and purposes represents a Mideast blueprint for extremist manipulation.
The real question beyond similarities between what happened in Iran and what is occurring now in Egypt is the extent to which the U.S. has shot itself in the foot relative to facilitating the present day crisis.
With Iran, it took approximately 26 years from the successful execution of the American initiated Operation Ajax, which was the first time the US had openly overthrown an elected, civilian government, to manifest itself in the form of the 1979 revolution that to this day defines U.S. – Iranian relations.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Operation Ajax, distressed by the popularity of the democratically elected government of Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh, who “nationalized Iran’s petroleum industry and oil reserves,” Britain’s Winston Churchill sought and received U.S. assistance in overthrowing the Iranian government.
The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who in his role as the “king” of Iran had actually ratified the vote that brought Mossadegh to power became, with U.S. intervention, increasingly autocratic in his rule of the country. What is ironic is that by overthrowing the democratically elected Mossadegh, the U.S. became an indirect enabler for the Shah to crush all forms of political opposition with his intelligence agency, SAVAK.
By overthrowing a democratically elected government one might ask if U.S. policy regarding calls for true freedom of speech are limited to a specific type of democracy in which the “elected” government ultimately serves American interest at the expense of its own citizens? In essence, by empowering the Shah to suppress any form of opposition or criticism of the Iranian government’s policies from 1953 onward, did the U.S. inadvertently fuel the extremist elements about which they are now concerned will surface in Egypt today?
An even more interesting and direct question one might ask is how U.S. policy in Egypt over the past 30 years has paralleled those in terms of its dealings with Iran between 1953 and 1979?
As demonstrated by the Shah’s rule which exemplifies the the old adage regarding absolute power corrupting absolutely, it is perhaps another of life’s universal lessons that is being played out in 2011 Egypt, which warns that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it?
Taking the above into consideration, perhaps Iranian pronouncements are nothing more than convenient rhetoric that is capitalizing on the mistakes of the real architects of unintended consequences . . .