By JOHN AMIDON
First published: Friday, November 17, 2006
So warm, gracious and welcoming were the people of Iran, in just two days I felt safer walking the streets of Tehran, a city of 16 million, than I did in Albany. Where was this "axis of evil"?
The rhetoric of fear and misinformation often promoted by the U.S. government and news media quickly dissolved as our delegation, Academics For Peace, met face to face last year with former President Mohammad Khatami and various officials in Tehran. As we traveled to Esfahan and Shiraz, the depth and beauty of Iranian culture became readily apparent, and we shed any remaining vestiges of fear. I wondered what was a truthful accounting of U.S. foreign policy with Iran as our delegation began to initiate dialogue between the people of Iran and the U.S. with hopes of preventing a war between our two countries.
In 2003, Stephen Kinzer, a New York Times correspondent, provided a vivid account of the 1953 CIA-led coup against the democratically elected Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. In his best-selling, "All The Shah's Men," Mr. Kinzer documented how, during the Eisenhower administration, the CIA's Kermit Roosevelt, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles, subverted this fledgling Iranian democracy.
Prime Minister Mossadegh was replaced by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a brutal dictator who ruled for the next 25 years, thus explaining much of Iran's distrust for the U.S. During the shah's reign, the Iranian oil industry previously nationalized by Mossadegh, was "un-nationalized," with U.S. firms reaping a 40 percent interest. During the shah's reign, the United States also encouraged the beginning of Iran's nuclear industry. In 1979, the shah was deposed resulting in the Islamic Republic of Iran headed by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Why is this history important to us?
While few U.S. citizens in 1979 knew of the 1953 CIA-led coup, many Iranians did and were afraid the CIA working out of the U.S. Embassy might attempt to reinstall the shah. The 1979 hostage crisis, seen in historical context, then becomes understandable along with much of the current instability of the Middle East, which can be traced to this CIA-led coup.
On Sept. 22, 1980, Iraqi forces commanded by Saddam Hussein attacked Iran. Most Americans know little about this war or the role of the U.S. government. According to The Washington Post, the CIA provided the Iraqi government intelligence in 1984 to help "calibrate" its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. Starting in 1985, a direct Washington-Baghdad intelligence link was established providing Iraq with "data from sensitive U.S. satellite reconnaissance photography ... to assist Iraqi bombing raids."
By 1986, Washington's attempts to simultaneously improve its position with both countries ended abruptly when arms trading with Iran became public knowledge. With the Reagan administration's double dealing and treachery exposed, and to save its position with one side, U.S. foreign policy was redirected to heavily favor Iraq.
On Aug. 20, 1988, the war ended in stalemate under a U.N. mandated cease-fire. During those eight years of war, the world powers had stood by and profited by selling arms to both sides. During this brutal war, approximately 500,000 Iranians were killed. Quite frankly, it appears that the United States supported both sides while working toward their mutual destruction, but with Iraq receiving the bulk of supplies and intelligence.
This history underscores Iran's legitimate and vital interest in the formation of a new Iraqi government along with recent and compelling reasons for its distrust of the U.S. government. Currently, Iran is accused of attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction, and is threatened with sanctions and military attack without any hard substantiating evidence. The United States has edged dangerously close to yet another unnecessary and ill-advised war in the Middle East.
Iran has not authored a first strike against any of its neighbors recently and remains a conservative state, not seeking radical change. Its war with Iraq was defensive. Perhaps the single most important step for achieving good relations with Iran is both simple and shocking. We must insist that our own government stops attacking Iran either directly or indirectly. It also would be sensible to find ways to help Iran feel secure rather than threatening it with attack.
With certainty, a military attack on Iran will fail. The consequences will be horrendous, both to the United States and to the rest of the world. As U.S. citizens, the choice is ours: a continued descent into world war or a constructive dialogue and peace. John Amidon is a community organizer and peace activist in Albany. He traveled to Iran last year with Academics For Peace to help initiate responsible dialogue between those nations.
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