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August 25, 2010

Letter to the Editor

It's been a while, so I guess there's no way the Washington Post is going to publish this.

You should definitely read the op-ed in question if you were laboring under the misapprehension that the U.S. bore responsibility for the 1953 coup in Iran. Luckily enough, it turns out not to have been our fault at all!

* * *

To the Editors:

In his Aug. 18 op-ed, "Clerics responsible for Iran's failed attempts at democracy," Ray Takeyh writes that "CIA complicity in [the 1953 coup in Iran] has long provoked apologies from American politicians."

This is incorrect. In fact, no prominent U.S. politician has ever apologized for our role in the coup—even the minimal version described by Mr. Takeyh. The closest we've come is a 2000 speech by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in which she stated that "the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development" and it was "easy to see" why Iranians resented our actions. However, as Voice of America reported at the time, "Mrs. Albright did not actually apologize."

Moreover, Ms. Albright then went on to enumerate actions by Iran she termed "disgraceful." In diplomacy as in personal life, genuine apologies are generally not immediately followed by listing the other party's flaws.

Given Mr. Takeyh's failure to accurately record recent history, it's difficult to be confident that his account of events 60 years ago is trustworthy.

Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at August 25, 2010 08:46 PM

If only Raza Shah hadn't gotten sick with cancer, everything in the Middle East would be so much better. Everybody LOVED him it seems.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 25, 2010 09:23 PM

Hey Jonathan,

Did you see Jeffrey Goldberg last night on Stephen Colbert?

Not pleasant to watch Colbert eat up this guys propaganda on the Iran threat. Plenty of stuff to be challenged in what Goldberg said, but it was all left unchallenged.

Posted by: Brett at August 25, 2010 10:46 PM

This imaginative, invented theory by Takeyh will in the immediate future undoubtedly be making the rounds throughout the flimsy remains of the lingering press and, more importantly, the echo chamber that sets the heads of the public to nodding. It is utter bullshit.

The clerics in Iran were not political titans in the early 50s. In fact, their approach to politics at this time was passive, as was traditionally true of Shi'i Islam. I learned this little bit of Islamic history from the work of some honest Islamic scholars who had no commission to start a war or dupe the American public about history. The book I read parts of, Politics of Islamic Revival, edited by Professor Ali Rahnema, is a fine book for those who, like me, know nothing about the Islamic world from firsthand experience but hate ideological claptrap full of racist prejudices.

Per one of the contributors, Baqer Moin (a BBC journalist and its Iran expert), the leading cleric at the time of Mossadeq's fall, Ayatollah Borujerdi, practiced "non-interference in politics at a time when Iran was going through a major nationalist upsurge. . . ." See Pioneers for Islamic Revival at 82 (the chapter on Khomeini's Search for Perfection). Khomeini emerged as a close aide to Ayatollah Borujedi during this period, and Moin quotes Khomeini as stating that "Mossadeq meant well and wanted to serve the nation" but made the mistake of not getting rid of the Shah when he was strong enough to do it. id. Not for another quarter century would Khomeini radically change Shi'i Islam (and make it like Sunni Islam) by elevating deference to the state above strict adherence to religious tenets. There weren't any mullahs excercising vast political power when Mossadeq was Prime Minister of Iran, and the most powerful clerics either preferred Mossadeq or stayed out of politics.

On the other hand, MI6 and the CIA were upset about the oil nationalization and . . .

Khomeini is more complex and interesting than the caricature of him we are all presented with, but for me Ali Shariati was the more inspiring Iranian figure because he was considered the ideological father of the revolution. Shariati called his views of Islam "red Shiism" and was for a time perhaps more influential than Khomeini, but alas--surprise, surprise--he was assassinated in 1977. The interested can read about him even on Wiki if they don't want to get hold of Rahnema's book. Red Shiism hasn't been watered much in the Islamic garden, just as Vatican II and Liberation Theology haven't been nurtured much by Christian heirarchies.

That's a shame.

Posted by: N E at August 25, 2010 11:20 PM

If I had a penny for every U.S.-backed coup that "was clearly a setback for ... political development" I would be rich.

Chavez, Iran, Morales, Castro, Hamas, and Hezbullah are supposed to be the biggest threat to the world since Godzilla while Haiti, Saudi Rabia, Egypt, Honduras and so on are just great. I think "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" brings us closer to the truth about U.S. intentions.

Most of what U.S. officials say is probably aimed for domestic consumption.

Posted by: Edward at August 26, 2010 02:07 AM

What if one, in a hypothetical way were say, related to The Queen of England, through a Scotish Ancestry, and those wogs got democracy and nationalized the family inheritence (jewels). SUDDENLY YOUR IDIOT GRANDSON got his foot in the door of "gittin' it all back", wouldn't YOU, looking up from Hell, want someone to BOMB, BOMB, BOMB, BOMB, BOMB, IRAN?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 26, 2010 02:21 AM

I have seen other media outlets insist that what she said was an apology when it wasn't. For those tempted to suggest that what Albright said was an apology, the question of whether what she said was indeed an apology was put directly to Albright. The same day she made her speech in which she said, "it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs," a reporter pointed out that she had not apologized for the coup that toppled Mossadeg. Responding to the question, "you didn't come out and say it -- an apology -- but does the United States apologize for supporting the coup against Dr. Mossadegh?", Albright replied flatly, "I said, I think, everything that I needed to say on the Mossadegh coup."

Posted by: Tom Murphy at August 26, 2010 08:38 AM

Good lord, if we are going to apologize for meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, we'll end up looking like real sissies. Albright wasn't about to do that and let herself get made fun of for being a girl. If Tom Murphy is right, even what she said got reported as an apology, and our military and omnipresent hawks definitely wouldn't respect that. Theirs was the love Albright wanted and needed.

Seriously, in whose internal affairs haven't we interfered? Switzerland? Liechtenstein? I doubt any countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or Eastern Europe could qualify, and none of the major nations of Western Europe would either.

Posted by: N E at August 26, 2010 09:18 AM

"Yet this fable conceals much about the actual course of events. In 1953 Iran was in the midst of an economic crisis. An oil embargo had been imposed after Tehran nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co"

Don't you love the passive voice in that -- "An oil embargo had been imposed..."? By whom, I wonder? I wonder what country was the largest producer of oil in the world in 1953?

Posted by: shargash at August 26, 2010 09:33 AM

Don't you love the passive voice in that

God damn it, I was going to post something about that.

Reading things closely and then making jokes about them is my gig. Back off!

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at August 26, 2010 10:43 AM

"The CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential."

...still shaking my head. He doesn't even bother with "minor," It was "inconsequential." If the CIA wasn't there, it would have happened anyway.

Pull my other leg, it's got bells on it.

Posted by: Paul Avery at August 27, 2010 06:53 AM

"Good lord, if we are going to apologize for meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, we'll end up looking like real sissies."

And there we have it in a nutshell! We are a nation governed by adolescents who formulate our country's foreign policies in a witches' brew of 1 part greed, 2 parts fear, a pinch of this and a smidgen of that and fill it to the brim with schoolyard taunts about masculinity.

We are on a death watch, my friends.

Posted by: Stuart Laird at August 28, 2010 03:39 PM