Operation Iranian Freedom
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 City:
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.