Soon after taking office, the Eisenhower administration, in cooperation with the British government, authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to help the Iranian Army overthrow Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, and restore the Shah to power.
There is no doubt that hindsight is 20/20. After all, it is unlikely that the majority of Americans who will be reading this post will have any meaningful recollection of the falling of the Berlin Wall let alone the Cold War Era that spawned its building shortly after World War II.
The irony of course is that the consequences of these past events in which their accounting is confined to the history books, are very much real and present with us today, accentuated by the crisis in the Mideast. In fact, and based on my extensive research to date, it would be safe to say that the pro-democracy movements overtaking what is admittedly a region in perpetual turmoil represent the early throes of the emergence of a democracy once denied.
What is most compelling about this revelation is that the foreign policies of the Eisenhower Administration, which according to many heralded “the brave new world of CIA-led coups and assassinations including the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran in 1952, is the responsibility it must bear for the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the empowerment of global terrorism that ultimately led to the 9/11 tragedy.
While historians report that Eisenhower privately acknowledged that his intervention in the November 1956 Suez Crisis as being his biggest foreign policy mistake, within the broader scope of historical perspective it pales in comparison to the far reaching fallout as a result of his actions in Iran through Operation Ajax.
Take a moment to consider the possibility that had the democratic government of Mossadegh been allowed to take hold and flourish in 1952, the dynamics of the pro-democracy movement in today’s Arab world would have likely started back then, leading to the desired stability that all U.S. Administrations have, over the past six decades, sought to achieve and/or maintain.
While some might point to the obvious complexities and an inability to truly understand the factors at play which undoubtedly influenced Eisenhower’s decisions regarding foreign policy – including the threat of communism, like Tom Schelling’s Game Theory for the Vietnam War, the President’s actions reflect a myopic, pre-ordained view of world events that limited his ability to properly interpret and respond to changing global and regional realities.
Generals are notorious for their tendency to “fight the last war” — by using the strategies and tactics of the past to achieve victory in the present. Indeed, we all do this to some extent. Life’s lessons are hard won, and we like to apply them — even when they don’t apply.
Sadly enough, fighting the last war, is often a losing proposition. Conditions change. Objectives change. Strategies change. And you must change. If you don’t, you lose.
from the June 4th, 2002 article Fighting The Last War by Dr. G. Terry Madonna and Dr. Michael Young
Within this context, and taking the writer’s advantage to digress, one would have to ask if a wartime general makes a good peace time (no matter how tenuous said peace might be), President?
Even though this is a discussion for another day, it is clear that Eisenhower who, having come through a world war that decimated Europe, allowed this experience to shape his foreign policy. However understandable, this siloed view of the world vectored through a combatant’s lens led to short term decisions without fully understanding or appreciating the long term consequences. In short, he may have won the battle in 1952, but as present day events clearly demonstrate, inevitably lost the war!
Through this compromise of American moral or democratic influence in the Mideast, today’s pro-democracy demonstrators have taken center stage in a vastly different world that has reduced America’s role in the region to one of influencer versus champion. One can only hope that in being given a second bite at the freedom apple, the Obama Administration will respond accordingly.