I'll let you decide if the president: a) said enough about the hundreds of US and Iraqi dead and the thousands of US and Iraqi wounded; b) recognized the reality of bombs bursting in cars on the streets of Baghdad and other cities; c) explained why he won't extend the time for investigating the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; and d) addressed Paul Bremer's desperate attempts to get the United Nations involved in resolving the question of elections in Iraq.
Did Bush really say that David Kay had discovered evidence of dozens of "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" in Iraq?
And, did the president actually boast of the involvement of Norway and El Salvador in his bought-and-paid-for "coalition of the willing?"
Desiring to put two of 2003's exceedingly embarrassing declarations behind him -- "the major fighting in Iraq is over" and "bring 'em on" -- the president's State of the Union address marked another sharp right turn as he moved on down the re-election highway.
The president's "let's move-on" syndrome is as American as cherry pie, as H. Rap Brown once said. Even a smart political comedian like Bill Maher -- the host of HBO's "Real Time" (which recently started its second season) -- has a predilection for invoking the phrase "it's time to move on."
I was struck by these decidedly non-comedic thoughts while watching Maher's season premiere Friday, January 16. One of his panelists, the actor Ron Silver, who in previous television interviews defined himself as a September 11 person -- a liberal who supports Bush's war on terrorism -- claimed that Bush's reasons for invading Iraq (the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's ties to al Qaeda) were really just PR. That's okay, Silver said, after all, Saddam was a bad man, yadda yadda yadda.
Later that same evening, I turned to the last few pages of Stephen Kinzer's powerful and informative book All The Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2003), and realized that one of the important lessons from the book is that "moving on" without understanding where we've been poses a direct threat to democracy.
All The Shah's Men describes the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) maiden coup -- the 1953 overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. The coup's code name was "Operation Ajax." (Kinzer doesn't explain the origin of the name. Is it possible it was taken from the all-purpose "foaming cleanser that floats the dirt right down the drain"?)
You can thank the United States, and Great Britain for that matter, for the fact that the words "democratically elected" and "Iranian prime minister" havenít meant much when describing governments of Iran since the time of the coup.
Kinzer's book is history as spy novel; a tight weave of cloak-and-dagger CIA machinations, the insidious politics of oil, and the imperial desires of Britain and later the US. While putting a face on the key players and the dramatic events that unfolded in Iran fifty-one years ago, "All The Shah's Men" is as timely as recent headlines about the 500th US death in Iraq since President Bush's March 2003 invasion, or the U.S.'s attempt to manipulate the transition process in Iraq.
The key characters were extraordinary figures; practically all are now gone. Mohammad Mossadegh was the enigmatic, principled and idealistic prime minister whose life was devoted to returning Iran's oil to its people, opposing British imperialism and supporting the establishment of democratic institutions in Iran. Mohammad Reza Shah's iron fist -- and US millions -- kept Iranians in the grip of terror from the time of the coup until January 1979, when he was forced to flee the country at the dawn of Iran's Islamic Revolution. The Rashidian brothers were behind the scenes operatives "whose subversive network of journalists, politicians, mullahs, and gang leaders was crucial to the success" of the coup, and Shaban the Brainless was a Bluto-like enforcer at the head of anti-Mossadegh mob.
Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, acted like "a real-life James Bond" as the CIA's point main in Tehran, refusing to give up even after an aborted coup. US cold-warriors John Foster Dulles, President Dwight Eisenhower's Secretary of State, and his brother Allen, who ran the CIA, were intoxicated from the time they took office with the idea of overthrowing Mossadegh. (Sound vaguely familiar?) They made sure Ike was on board. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the Gulf War commander and the radio voice of "Gang Busters," led an elite military regiment in Iran in the 1940s, and became a bagman for the CIA. And Great Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared obsessed by the adventure.
Twenty-six years later, after President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to enter the US, Iranian radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two American diplomats hostage for more than fourteen months. "In the back of everybody's mind hung the suspicion" that Carter's move was the signal "the countdown for another coup-d'etat had begun," a hostage-taker explained years later.
The long, drawn out hostage-taking episode left most Americans angry and wondering what in heavens name was going on over there. It left President Carter unemployed, as Ronald Reagan defeated him in the 1980 presidential election. It also led to cataclysmic changes in the political landscape in that part of the world -- changes that we are still feeling the impact of today. "It led the United States to support Iraq in its long and horrific war with Iran, in the process consolidating the Iraqi dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Within Iran, it strengthened the most militant elements in the revolutionary coalition," Kinzer writes.
Religious fascism became the name of the game in Iran; Iranian religious fundamentalists "began financing and arming Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Middle Eastern factions known for their involvement in political kidnappings and assassination."
The Taliban of Afghanistan, who came to power and allowed Osama bin Laden a safe haven from which to operate, were inspired by the Iranian mullahs. "It is not far-fetched," Kinzer writes, "to draw a line from Operation Ajax through the Shah's repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center."
"Operation Ajax taught tyrants and aspiring tyrants [in the Middle East] that the world's most powerful governments were willing to tolerate limitless oppression as long as oppressive regimes were friendly to the West and to Western oil companies."
Fifty years is only a blip on the historical radar screen. Over that period of time, Kinzer argues, CIA covert operations "helped tilt the political balance in a vast region away from freedom and toward dictatorship."
Today, the most potent political figure in Iraq is the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the leader of its Shi'ite community. The debate over elections -- direct elections espoused by Sistani or the caucus system for choosing a transitional government preferred by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and approved by the Iraqi Governing Council -- is indicative of the fragile and inept US occupation. If and when Sistani orders his people to action, they will take action. The blood shed by the regime of Saddam Hussein over the past several decades, and by Iraqis and US troops since the March 20th invasion, can be traced directly to the Dulles brothers and the CIA.
In light of the administration-initiated and media-fueled lies that drove the invasion of Iraq in the first place -- the supposed imminent threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's so-called ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda Ė itís not surprising the Bush Administration would want to "move on." Heck, I'm sure that Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant would also like to move on just about now. But accountability is a cornerstone of democracy, and moving on without it cannot be an option.
Going forward without fully examining the roots of the Iraq quagmire -- and the CIA's fifty year record of destabilization in the region -- is a disservice to history and more importantly a disservice to democracy. Let's resuscitate the president's "bring 'em on" slogan, only now it should serve as a clarion call to investigative bodies -- both inside and outside of Congress -- to fully explore this latest American foreign policy disaster.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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