Iran Had a Democracy Before We Took It Away

Iranians do not need or want us to teach
them about liberty and representative government. They have long
embodied this struggle. It is we who need to be taught. It was
Washington that orchestrated the 1953 coup
to topple Iran's democratically elected government, the first in the
Middle East, and install the compliant shah in power.

Iranians do not need or want us to teach
them about liberty and representative government. They have long
embodied this struggle. It is we who need to be taught. It was
Washington that orchestrated the 1953 coup
to topple Iran's democratically elected government, the first in the
Middle East, and install the compliant shah in power. It was Washington
that forced Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh,
a man who cared as much for his country as he did for the rule of law
and democracy, to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. We
gave to the Iranian people the corrupt regime of the shah and his
savage secret police and the primitive clerics that rose out of the
swamp of the dictator's Iran. Iranians know they once had a democracy
until we took it away.

The fundamental problem in the Middle East
is not a degenerate and corrupt Islam. The fundamental problem is a
degenerate and corrupt Christendom. We have not brought freedom and
democracy and enlightenment to the Muslim world. We have brought the
opposite. We have used the iron fist of the American military to
implant our oil companies in Iraq, occupy Afghanistan and ensure that
the region is submissive and cowed. We have supported a government in
Israel that has carried out egregious war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza
and is daily stealing ever greater portions of Palestinian land. We
have established a network of military bases, some the size of small
cities, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait, and we
have secured basing rights in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman
and the United Arab Emirates. We have expanded our military operations
to Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Egypt, Algeria and
Yemen. And no one naively believes, except perhaps us, that we have any
intention of leaving.

We are the biggest problem in the Middle
East. We have through our cruelty and violence created and legitimized
the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads and the Osama bin Ladens. The longer we lurch
around the region dropping iron fragmentation bombs and seizing Muslim
land the more these monsters, reflections of our own distorted image,
will proliferate. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote
that "the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its
hypocrisy." But our hypocrisy no longer fools anyone but ourselves. It
will ensure our imperial and economic collapse.

The history of modern Iran is the history
of a people battling tyranny. These tyrants were almost always propped
up and funded by foreign powers. This suppression and distortion of
legitimate democratic movements over the decades resulted in the 1979
revolution that brought the Iranian clerics to power, unleashing
another tragic cycle of Iranian resistance.

"The central story of Iran over the last
200 years has been national humiliation at the hands of foreign powers
who have subjugated and looted the country," Stephen Kinzer,
the author of "All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of
Middle East Terror," told me. "For a long time the perpetrators were
the British and Russians. Beginning in 1953, the United States began
taking over that role. In that year, the American and British secret
services overthrew an elected government, wiped away Iranian democracy,
and set the country on the path to dictatorship."

"Then, in the 1980s, the U.S. sided with
Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, providing him with military
equipment and intelligence that helped make it possible for his army to
kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians," Kinzer said. "Given this
history, the moral credibility of the U.S. to pose as a promoter of
democracy in Iran is close to nil.

Especially ludicrous is the sight of
people in Washington calling for intervention on behalf of democracy in
Iran when just last year they were calling for the bombing of Iran. If
they had had their way then, many of the brave protesters on the
streets of Tehran today--the ones they hold up as heroes of
democracy--would be dead now."

Washington has never recovered from the
loss of Iran--something our intelligence services never saw coming. The
overthrow of the shah, the humiliation of the embassy hostages, the
laborious piecing together of tiny shreds of paper from classified
embassy documents to expose America's venal role in thwarting
democratic movements in Iran and the region, allowed the outside world
to see the dark heart of the American empire. Washington has demonized
Iran ever since, painting it as an irrational and barbaric country
filled with primitive, religious zealots. But Iranians, as these street
protests illustrate, have proved in recent years far more courageous in
the defense of democracy than most Americans.

Where were we when our election was stolen
from us in 2000 by Republican operatives and a Supreme Court that
overturned all legal precedent to anoint George W. Bush president? Did
tens of thousands of us fill the squares of our major cities and
denounce the fraud? Did we mobilize day after day to restore
transparency and accountability to our election process? Did we fight
back with the same courage and tenacity as the citizens of Iran? Did Al
Gore defy the power elite and, as opposition candidate Mir Hossein
Mousavi has done, demand a recount at the risk of being killed?

President Obama retreated in his Cairo
speech into our spectacular moral nihilism, suggesting that our crimes
matched the crimes of Iran, that there is, in his words, "a tumultuous
history between us." He went on: "In the middle of the Cold War, the
United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically
elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has
played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S.
troops and civilians." It all, he seemed to say, balances out.

I am no friend of the Iranian regime,
which helped create and arm Hezbollah, is certainly meddling in Iraq,
has persecuted human rights activists, gays, women and religious and
ethnic minorities, embraces racism and intolerance and uses its power
to deny popular will. But I do not remember Iran orchestrating a coup
in the United States to replace an elected government with a brutal
dictator who for decades persecuted, assassinated and imprisoned
democracy activists. I do not remember Iran arming and funding a
neighboring state to wage war against our country. Iran never shot down
one of our passenger jets as did the USS Vincennes-caustically
nicknamed Robocruiser by the crews of other American vessels-when in
June 1988 it fired missiles at an Airbus filled with Iranian civilians,
killing everyone on board. Iran is not sponsoring terrorism within the
United States, as our intelligence services currently do in Iran. The
attacks on Iranian soil include suicide bombings, kidnappings,
beheadings, sabotage and "targeted assassinations" of government
officials, scientists and other Iranian leaders. What would we do if
the situation was reversed? How would we react if Iran carried out
these policies against us?

We are, and have long been, the primary
engine for radicalism in the Middle East. The greatest favor we can do
for democracy activists in Iran, as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan, the
Gulf and the dictatorships that dot North Africa, is withdraw our
troops from the region and begin to speak to Iranians and the rest of
the Muslim world in the civilized language of diplomacy, respect and
mutual interests. The longer we cling to the doomed doctrine of
permanent war the more we give credibility to the extremists who need,
indeed yearn for, an enemy that speaks in their crude slogans of
nationalist cant and violence. The louder the Israelis and their idiot
allies in Washington call for the bombing of Iran to thwart its nuclear
ambitions, the happier are the bankrupt clerics who are ordering the
beating and murder of demonstrators. We may laugh when crowds
supporting Ahmadinejad call us "the Great Satan," but there is a very
palpable reality that has informed the terrible algebra of their

Our intoxication with our military prowess blinds us to all possibilities of hope and mutual cooperation. It was Mohammed Khatami,
the president of Iran from 1997 to 2005-perhaps the only honorable
Middle East leader of our time-whose refusal to countenance violence by
his own supporters led to the demise of his lofty "civil society" at
the hands of more ruthless, less scrupulous opponents. It was Khatami
who proclaimed that "the death of even one Jew is a crime." And we
sputtered back to this great and civilized man the primitive slogans of
all deformed militarists. We were captive, as all bigots are, to our
demons, and could not hear any sound but our own shouting. It is time
to banish these demons. It is time to stand not with the helmeted goons
who beat protesters, not with those in the Pentagon who make endless
wars, but with the unarmed demonstrators in Iran who daily show us what
we must become.

The fight of the Iranian people is our
fight. And, perhaps for the first time, we can match our actions to our
ideals. We have no right under post-Nuremberg laws to occupy Iraq or
Afghanistan. These occupations are defined by these statutes as
criminal "wars of aggression." They are war crimes. We have no right to
use force, including the state-sponsored terrorism we unleash on Iran,
to turn the Middle East into a private gas station for our large oil
companies. We have no right to empower Israel's continuing occupation
of Palestine, a flagrant violation of international law. The resistance
you see in Iran will not end until Iranians, and all those burdened
with repression in the Middle East, free themselves from the tyranny
that comes from within and without. Let us, for once, be on the side of
those who share our democratic ideals.

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