Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic

9780805094190When marketing state terror it’s always necessary distort the identity of so-called enemies. Oppressive policies are easily portrayed as legitimate if the victims are understood to be ungrateful savages or demons anxiously waiting to destroy “civilization.” Few conflicts validate this principle of imperial power more emphatically than America’s multi-decade assault on the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country that liberated itself from US control in 1979. On the 35th anniversary of the revolution the elite press was uniform in their willingness to caricature Iran as a villainous opponent of the United States intent on achieving nothing less than our total annihilation. Cries of ‘Death to America’ as Iranians Celebrate 35th Anniversary of Revolution read the headline in the New York Times. “Mixing exhortations of death to America with admonishments to children about healthy teeth and gums, Iran celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution,” read the opening sentence. Joining the chorus was the Los Angeles Times which opened its article on the revolution’s anniversary by describing Iran as “a defiantly anti-Washington government.” This article, authored by Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels, concludes with the scene of “a white-turbaned young mullah,” named Mohammad Mobaraki chanting “Death to America!” Any casual observer would look upon these exclamations as indicative of a society gone mad with fanaticism and irrational hatred but an honest investigation into the underlying causes of these statements tells a radically different story. Details of this story can be learned in Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s deeply insightful and incisive history of US-Iran relations Going to Tehran. Central to the Leveretts’ study is a vigorous refutation of what they term “a powerful mythology of the Islamic Republic”: “the irrationality myth”, “the illegitimacy myth”, and “the isolation myth.” Quite apart from the cognitive scripts passing for “news” in the American press, the Leveretts explain how Iran promotes rational policies based on safeguarding national independence (esteqlal), freedom (azadi) and the right to self-defense. Since the early 1800s Iran has been forced to deal with European, Russian or US intervention in its internal affairs.

Before Iran became the punching bag of the United States, Britain and Russia “subverted Iran’s 1906 Constitutional Revolution–when Iranians created both their first written constitution and their first elected parliament.” British, Russian and American control of Iran persisted during the Pahlavi monarchy until 1951 when Iranians finally liberated themselves from external control with the election of Mohammad Mossadeq who governed on a platform that “urged the nationalization of Western oil interests and an independent (even if not anti-American) foreign policy.” The CIA and British intelligence responded to these policies in 1953 by orchestrating a coup, overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister and installing to power the Shah, “an autocrat so unpopular that he was ultimately deposed by one of the most broadly based revolutions in modern history.” None of this crucial history merited comment in the Los Angeles Times’ orientalist depiction of a “white-turbaned young mullah” chanting “Death to America!” Also unmentioned in media accounts of Iranian politics and history are the repeated efforts on the part of the Iranian leadership to cooperate with the US government. Notable examples include Iran’s cooperation in freeing American hostages in Lebanon, its cooperation with the Clinton administration to “supply weapons to beleaguered Bosnian Muslims when American law prevented Washington from doing so,” and its decision to work with the Bush administration to combat Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. In the case of the Clinton administration, President Rafsanjani offered a $600 million contract to ConocoPhillips to “develop two oil and gas fields off Siri Island in the Persian Gulf”, a stunning offer given Iran’s history. Clinton responded to this offer by rejecting it and passing two executive orders, one which “[barred] American companies from participating in the development of Iran’s hydrocarbon resources,” and another that “effectively imposed a comprehensive American economic embargo on the Islamic Republic.” More than anything, this hostile response demonstrated that the Clinton White House did not want to work with Iran based on principles of mutual aid and consultation. Clinton’s model, like his successors, demanded Iran’s obedience and nothing more.

Following closely behind Washington’s hegemonic stance on the diplomatic front is an enduring campaign of international terrorism. This campaign ranged from backing Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war to the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 people on board (including 66 children). 48 hours after the destruction of Iran Air 655 Vice President George H.W. Bush reacted to the mass slaughter by saying “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Contrast the savage response of Bush Sr. after this act of international terrorism with that of President Khatami two months after the September 11th attacks. Visiting New York for a UN General Assembly meeting, Khatami “asked to visit Ground Zero so that he might offer prayers and light a candle in memory of the 9/11 victims.” In accord with the irrationality myth, these expressions of Iranian compassion must be forgotten in favor of leaders who are “bat-shit insane” (as comedian Jon Stewart described Ahmadinejad) or reside in a country that is “a backward, repressive, and misogynistic place where, as Jay Leno jokes, the Flintstones are known as the Jetsons.”

It therefore should come as no surprise that the Iran mythology persists under the Obama administration. Despite the absence of any empirical evidence pointing to a nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration continues to impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran, a clear violation of international law. In a recent speech on the topic, Obama warned foreign companies contemplating business deals with Iran that the US would “come down on them like a ton of bricks,” if they violated the sanctions regime. Few, if any, commentators noted that this statement constituted an act of coercion, plausibly in violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition on the threat of force, a triviality for President Corleone. Incidentally, the “ton of bricks” suspended over the heads of foreign businesses also hovers over Iranian cancer patients, a consequence of economic sanctions that “have blocked access to the best chemotherapy drugs …”

Coupled with this policy of economic warfare are assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and covert operations to destabilize Iranian civil society. In 2011 “the Obama administration opened a ‘virtual embassy’ to Iran, set up to bypass the government and engage the Iranian public directly, for the express purpose of stimulating popular discontent with the existing order”, a flagrant violation of the 1981 Algiers Accord which legally obligates the US “not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” Obama also “removed the MEK’s terrorist designation,” thus “positioning it to become the vanguard of an explicit regime change strategy.” This effort on the part of the Obama administration to bring about regime change has received ample ideological support from the commissar class.

Prominent Iran “experts”, “scholars” and expatriates have been enlisted by the Obama administration to spin a false narrative about Iran. The so-called Green Movement formed a vital part of this propaganda offensive. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 elections American journalists immediately blamed the outcome on electoral fraud. Inquiries into these allegations produced zero evidence to substantiate these claims. In one comical illustration of this ideological norm, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council “excitedly [cited] MSNBC’s proclamation of a Mousavi victory while the actual return showed something else,” namely that Ahmadinejad was “declared the winner … with 62.5 percent of the vote.” Iran “experts” found Ahmadinejad’s victory difficult to accept, understandable for those captured by the illegitimacy myth, the idea that “the Islamic Republic is an illegitimate and deeply unstable political order at serious risk of implosion.” Now that Hassan Rouhani has assumed the presidency in Iran the expected herd of “experts” have interpreted his rise as an opportunity to ram through US demands. A recent CBS News report suggests another possibility. Responding US threats of military force Rouhani condemned the “delusional people [in the US] who say the military option is on the table,” adding that Iran “regards the language of threat as rude and offensive” (he could have added “criminal” as well). Unless the American public interferes with the plans of these “delusional people” in Washington, the Iran mythology will grow, as will the influence of “analysts” and “experts” itching for another terrorist war. Going to Tehran is therefore mandatory reading for those of us opposed to conventional, stereotypical explanations and the potentially devastating human consequences they entail.








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