History Dividing the U.S. and Iran

Is a History Lesson What's Dividing the U.S. and Iran ?

By Dino E. Buenviaje

For the Bush administration, its conflict with Iran began with news of the Iranian nuclear enrichment program. For Iranians, the conflict started in 1901 when the British took advantage of a weak government to obtain a highly profitable oil concession. Since then, Iran has been locked in a struggle to control its own destiny, even at the risk of confrontation with the international community.

Every successive American President since Jimmy Carter has been inaugurated with the historical conflict with Iran. The Iran Libya Sanctions Act, although lifted for Libya, is still in full effect for Iran. Also the US remains in an official state of emergency with respect to Iran.

The United States has enacted two pieces of legislation to prevent investment in Iran, as a result of Iran’s use of international terrorism, its violent opposition to the Middle East peace process, and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. In 1995, President Clinton issued two Executive Orders that prohibited any investment in Iran by American companies. On July 23, 1996, the United States Congress unanimously passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA), which extended sanctions to cover foreign companies that made investments in Iran in excess of $20 million.

In persuading the Iranian government to be more forthright with its nuclear program the United States has continued simplistic and at times condescending colonial attitudes, assuming that the Iranian people are unable to manage their own affairs. There was a time when the United States was not the "Great Satan." During the first half of the 20th century, Great Britain was considered Iran's foremost enemy. The British exploited Iran's enormous oil reserves for the Royal Navy, while the Iranian people gained few benefits. This earned the bitterness of the Iranians and sowed the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism.

The suggestion that US foreign policy is condescending or colonial in nature is an emotional depiction that has absolutely no legitimate basis with regard to international law. It would be an affront to the academic community to call this assertion academic.

Since then, the Iranian people have been repeatedly denied the right to use their own energy resources, a fact that seems to have escaped the attention of the Bush administration. The assertion of Iran's right to exploit nuclear power has its root at the beginning of the 20th century, when the interests of Iran were first placed at the mercy of global politics. After the Second World War, the United States displaced Britain as the pre-eminent power. At the dawn of the Cold War, the United States believed that it faced the threat of communist expansion in the developing world. Iran looked like a case in point.

In what context would the Iranian people be denied the right to use their own energy resources? Exporting crude and importing gasoline is a national policy. That foreign product is provided to the Iranian people subsidized. Therefore the people are indeed leveraging some of the wealth generated from the sale of their petroleum. Most of the wealth however is wasted, not by the West but by bad Iranian policy.

Sensing Britain's weakness, in 1953 prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh shocked the world when he moved to nationalize British oil assets. However, the American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, feared that Iran would soon fall to communism as China had, four years earlier. Having all the elements of a James Bond movie, the Dulles brothers launched Operation Ajax. This covert operation overthrew Mossadegh and replaced him with a more pliant successor. However, it caused long-term damage by undermining a fragile parliamentary democracy.

Bitterness from this episode exploded into the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis in 1979. Since the installation of the Islamic government, which overthrew the Shah, the United States has pursued a policy of isolating Iran. Successive American administrations have followed this policy, which has only fueled anti-Americanism in Iran. The Bush administration and its successors must face the reality that the United States cannot claim to be a friend of democracy by using the threat of force alone. Rather, it must help other nations achieve their desires for self-determination; this has been the announced cornerstone of American foreign policy.

Anti-American sentiment from the Iranian leadership does not necessarily translate into anti-American Iranians. Indeed, polls indicate the Iranian populous has an opinion entirely contrary to that of the official state policy.

If the Iranian government is interested only in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, as it claims, then a multilateral effort in cooperation with the Iranians should be in place to meet that end. For its part, the Iranian government appears more interested in regaining lost glories than in facing the realities of the 21st century, such as the need to find a diplomatic solution to meet its energy needs. The last few months have shown President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs playing a dangerous game of jingoism and saber-rattling.

Iran is engaged in purging diplomats, journalists, college professors as I have commented on here. The Iranian regime is continuing its policy of jailing and torturing dissidents, and jamming communications from outside sources. Iranian officials are the source of Iran’s isolation. US policy in that regard has played a far less significant role in isolating Iran than Iran’s own policy.

Perhaps the only solution to restoring normal relations between Iran and the United States is by recognizing Iran's historical perspective on the nuclear controversy. When Mossadegh nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1953, it was not a move toward Soviet communism, but rather an anti-colonial blow against Britain. Because the Eisenhower administration misread that cue, the United States missed an opportunity to be a friend to Iran and compounded that mistake by supporting a government that destroyed Iran's fragile democracy.

The United States, as a result, has been paying a heavy price. The current nuclear stand-off between Iran and the West must be approached with cool and level-headed diplomacy. The United States could benefit by a much better understanding of the hard road the Iranian people have had to travel for over a century. A long-lasting solution is one that addresses global security and Iran's need for self-reliance while according Iran equal status in the family of nations.

Considered with any attention to detail, one will determine that the term “self-reliance” is an intangible and unattainable goal with the theocratic fascists ruling Iran today. It is precisely because of Iran’s fascist ideology that it cannot attain the kind of security it demands among the community of free nations. This work is absolutely atrocious and could’ve been garnered by reading the cliff notes from Steven Kinsner’s “All the Shah’s Men” combined with a pamphlet from an anti Iraq war rally. Our universities deserve beter…

Dino E. Buenviaje is a writer for the History News Service and a graduate student in history at the University of California Riverside.




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