If the CIA had butted out ...
Imagine if Aug. 19, 1953, had come and gone, uneventfully. Imagine if Operation Ajax, coordinated by the British MI6 and the American CIA, which toppled the flourishing democracy in Iran of Mohammed Mossadeq, had never left the drawing board. Imagine if the Western-educated Mossadeq, a charismatic leader who was massively backed in Iran by a burgeoning middle class, had been allowed to peacefully lead his country to become the first truly Muslim democracy in the Middle East. And imagine if his government had been allowed to assume its obligations and responsibilities, as stipulated by the 1906 constitution, and if the shah had been allowed to reign but not rule, as again stipulated by the Iranian constitution, and imagine if Britain and the U.S. had not been egged on by oil companies livid over Mossadeq's nationalization of oil interests in Iran but instead had stayed out of Iran's business and not intervened. Imagine what would have likely happened.
Had the coup never taken place, Iran probably would have gone on to build a sturdy, inclusive democracy that would have brought about a far more durable stability than what the shah-forever tainted in the eyes of his people as a weak, easily manipulated Western puppet-ever managed to deliver.
Had the coup never taken place, democratic Iran would have long ago done away with the myth that Islam and democracy are incompatible. More important, nationalist and anti-colonialist as it was, Iran would have handsomely served as the model to follow for the dozens of Arab and Muslim states that had recently gained, or were about to gain, independence from colonial occupation, thus averting their alignment with the Soviet bloc as well as the rise of homegrown thugs and dictators.
Had the coup never taken place, the ayatollahs, who had supported the coup against Mossadeq, would never have gained their political clout. Indeed, the shah saw in the conservative ayatollahs the perfect partners against the radicalism of the left and the liberalism of the middle class.
Had the coup never taken place and the ayatollahs never been given the political clout they had enjoyed under the shah, the June uprising of 1963, which was fueled by the clerics' unhappiness with the shah's attempts at modernization, would also have never taken place.
Hence no harsh crackdown would have followed the uprising, nor would have a little-known cleric, a certain Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, gained international attention as the spiritual leader of that confrontation against the shah.
Had the coup never taken place, Khomeini would have remained a little-known cleric. Instead, he was exiled for 14 years, a time during which he cultivated his image from that of a charismatic leader to that of a sacred returning messiah. And during those 14 years, the prospect for the emergence of a truly democratic Iran grew dimmer while Islamic radicalism, associating all that is Western with the hated shah and his supporters-principally the U.S.-took a deeper hold on the passions of an increasingly frustrated younger generation.
Had the coup never taken place, there would not have been a hostage crisis, and neither would the U.S. have severed its relations with Iran and imposed economic sanctions. Both actions, more than 20 years later, remain in effect to this day.
Had the coup never taken place, Saddam Hussein would have never dared invade Iran in September 1980. The U.S. would never have sided with Iraq's dictator and neither would it have committed itself to a policy of ensuring that Iraq not lose the war. It would not have supplied Hussein with crucial assistance or turned a blind eye to his egregious crimes against his people.
Had the coup never taken place, Hussein would not have found himself by the end of the war against Iran as the commander of one of the largest armies in the Middle East.
More important, he would have never been under the impression that, as long as he restricted his aggression to fellow Muslims and kept off Israel, the world would only decry and condemn him but never act.
Had the coup never taken place, chances are that Iraq never would have invaded Kuwait, and the U.S. never would have had to orchestrate a massive military campaign against his army, let alone establish bases on Saudi soil. It would not have rendered talk about human rights and international law totally meaningless and hypocritical to Arab and Muslim ears.
Imagine a new era of foreign policy-an era in which international law is taken seriously, respected, in which sovereign democracies are encouraged, nurtured, applauded, rather than fought against, stifled and killed. Imagine if we abandoned, once and for all the poisonous doctrines of "Iron Chancellor" Bismarck and Henry Kissinger and instead subscribed to those of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Imagine if we took the United Nations and The Hague seriously, rather than treating them as kangaroo courts in which only those causes championed by the mighty and powerful were pursued with vigor, while other grievances were neglected and scorned.
How many millions of lives would we have saved, and how much safer and more prosperous would the world be today?
Ahmed Bouzid is president of Palestine Media Watch, www.pmwatch.org This article appeared in the L.A. Times on October 21, 2001.
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