History is amazing and fascinating. Unfortunately, Americans have lost interest in the subject, to our extreme detriment, and now we are repeating some major mistakes yet again that we supposedly learned about with blood and treasure.
As an example, most Americans think the present hostilities with Iran stem from the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the United States hostage crisis that followed…if they even remember that.
But the issues go back much further – to WWI. Ever since the European powers redrew the lines of the Levant, the Ottoman Empire and Persia a century ago to satisfy their own desires for access to oil and political control, the Middle East has been lurching drunkenly from decade to decade, and regime to regime.
It was with pure hubris that the infamous Franco-British-Russian pact of 1916, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, carved out new countries from the defeated Ottoman Empire by drawing simple lines on a complex topographic map with no regard for the centuries-old byzantine demographics it contained. So much horror and bloodshed might have been avoided by drawing the lines around like-demographic populations.
But they just split up whole ethnic groups by arbitrary lines, including the Kurds, the Arabs, the Turks, the Jews, the Christians, the Armenians, the Sunnis, the Shia, the Ibadi, the Druze, and the Alawites. Pockets of Turkomen, Circassians, Assyrians, Yazidis, and Chaldeans were dotted throughout the new maps.
The West also inserted Israel into the mix with little care about the effects.
Often minority groups were given complete power in their new country and brutally reigned over the others. It is no wonder that strife, coups and assassinations were common.
The West and Russia never stopped interfering in the region. Whenever a country seemed to embrace democracy, something would happen to derail it, sometimes violently. At the same time, Muslim nations never stopped trying to excise the new State of Israel, to their own detriment.
So it was no surprise when, at the behest of Britain, America directed the CIA to help overthrow Iran’s democratically elected government and its Prime Minister Mohamad Mossadegh in 1953 for committing the crime of wanting Iranian oil for Iranians. He also introduced a range of social and political measures such as social security, land reforms and higher taxes, generally moving Iran in the direction of secular democracy (yes, the irony is not lost given that our actions pushed Iran into an Islamic theocracy).
The United States installed a puppet government, led by the previous Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who let the West plunder the country’s oil reserves, and who also persecuted many of those who previously supported democracy.
Under the Shah, the United States built up Iran’s military and enrolled Iran in the Atoms For Peace program, building its first nuclear reactor for research. The Shah secretly pursued nuclear weapons, but that program ground to a halt in 1979, when the people of Iran said enough was enough, revolted against the Shah, and set up a theocratic-republic.
After the 1980s war with Iraq, Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program resumed, and by 2015 was quite far along, although not yet to the point of building an actual device.
Sanctions on Iran by the United States and the world were having an effect and the Iranian government decided the cost of an atomic weapon wasn’t worth the potential benefits, and agreed to the Iran Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran has an operating nuclear power plant, at Bushehr, which we don’t particularly care about since it is not part of their weapons program.
With this very brief history, my next post (on Monday, January 20th) will be an interview with Professor Sharon Squassoni of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, previously Director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. I wanted to hear what she thought about the latest actions surrounding Iran.