It is hard not to be impressed by the one-dimensional reasons the United States gives for its various animosities.
U.S. antagonism to Tehran began in 1979 when some revolution-minded Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy there and held 55 staff members as hostages for 444 days. Washington said the raid broke diplomatic protocol. But had not the embassy lost any claim to immunity by helping the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Mosaddegh government, and its replacement by a Shah-led dictatorship that had suppressed all opposition?
Embassy-based operatives, with advanced eavesdropping techniques, had for years been able to provide the Shah’s much-hated security service, Savak, with the names of regime opponents to be rounded up, tortured and even killed. Diplomatic immunity should not mean embassy impunity.
In 1980, Iraq took advantage of the 1979 unrest to attack Iran. The resulting eight-year war caused close to 1 million Iranian casualties, many the result of Iraqi nerve and mustard gas attacks.
Yet the U.S., which like the rest of the world had condemned Iraq’s gas attacks on Kurdish villages, was providing Baghdad with the weapons systems and aerial intelligence that may well have helped those gas attacks against Iranians.
Today Washington condemns Iran’s nuclear development program, saying Tehran secretly plans to develop a nuclear weapon. But would a desire for nuclear defense be surprising in a nation that has suffered such a cruelly aggressive war?
Ironically the nation now most opposed to Iran’s nuclear development, Israel, had very similar reasons for developing its own nuclear weapons — the Holocaust gas chambers and then attacks from hostile Arab neighbors. Israel, too, had decided that nuclear weapons were the only guarantee for “never again.”
And it too had to face U.S. opposition. And like Iran today, it too tried to insist that its nuclear developments were only for peaceful purposes. And as with Iran today, its claims were not believed. Only six months before his November 1963 assassination, then U.S. President John Kennedy is on record as saying the Israeli developments had to be stopped. As chance would have it, his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was much more compliant.
Today Israel denies that its Mossad agents, allegedly in cooperation with the CIA, have been responsible for the recent assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. One hopes the denials are true. Given Tel Aviv’s problems in 1963 it would be unfortunate if Israel were to be seen as a nation with a history of using assassinations for policy purposes.
The U.S. says it has no plans to attack Iran. But Iran’s problems with the U.S. today have ominous similarities with the U.S. preparations for the 2003 attack on Iraq. Washington talk about planned Iranian attacks on U.S. soil matches the WMD fantasies used to justify 2003 events; both relied on dubious information from dodgy informants.
Leading the nuclear development charges against Iran is the former Japanese Foreign Ministry official and, since June 2009, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano. From a Wiki-leaked cable we learn that Amano had promised the U.S. how after his appointment he would be “solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapon program.”
Over Iraq we saw a very similar situation, with a key player being my former colleague in the Australian diplomatic service, Richard Butler. Strong U.S. support saw him appointed director of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), later accused of providing cover for U.S. spy operations against Iraq. Later he also did much to spread the myth of Iraqi WMD and possible nuclear development. For his pains, he was appointed to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, and ended up as a much-criticized governor of Tasmania.
(Butler had made his run as an Australian disarmament policy representative some years after I had declined designation as Australian representative on the U.N. Disarmament Commission. I had been unable to see Canberra’s support for the U.S. in its Vietnam intervention and in the Cold War as compatible with disarmament. Butler, it seems, had no such problem.)
Iran has also had to suffer a massive U.S. demonization and disinformation campaign. In June 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama traveled all the way to Egypt with its blatantly rigged elections to call for democracy and denounce as nondemocratic the one country, Iran, which did at least have the semblance of fair and open elections. Postelection violence in Tehran was said to prove a lack of democracy. But in its nature it was very similar to the much greater violence in Thailand where, as in Iran, an educated urban middle-class faces a conservative rural majority. No one accuses Thailand of lacking democracy as a result.
Iran’s leaders are criticized because they adhere to a doctrinaire religion. But a leading contender for future U.S. leadership also belongs to a rather unusual and doctrinaire religion.
True, Tehran’s suppression of its pre- and post-1979 opponents was ugly. But the U.S., too, once had a brutal civil war, with retaliations. And so on.
Many who know Iran today agree that it is the one Middle East nation with a vibrant society and a reasonably free, educated middle class. Does it really deserve this campaign of demonization and disinformation? Even more, does it deserve the death and destruction that will undoubtedly result from rumored Israeli and U.S. attacks later this year?
Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat and longtime resident in Japan. A Japanese translation of this article will appear on www.gregoryclark.net.