Reviewer: Martyn Drakard
Why the talk about attacking Iran, asks Stephen Kinzer in “All the Shah’s Men.” (Kinzer recently published A Thousand Hills, an account of post-genocide Rwanda and an interview with Paul Kagame).
Well, current political thinking is that Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear power;
it is a threat to Israel;
it’s the centre of an emerging “Shiite crescent” that could destabilize the Middle East;
Iran supports radical groups in nearby countries (think of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad);
it is helping kill US soldiers in Iraq;
it has ordered terror attacks in foreign countries, and its people are oppressed and need Western governments to liberate them.
Isn’t the real reason that no country ever acts in Iran without thinking about the huge oil reserves?
Kinzer argues that the idea of bombing Iran into democracy sounds increasingly absurd after what has happened in Iraq.
In Iran’s case, there is a special irony: Iranians know, as many Westerners do not, that democracy was taking root in Iran when the US intervened in 1953.
That was the year the CIA staged their first overthrow of a foreign government, and deposed Mohammad Mossadegh, who had served as prime minister for 26 months, had respected basic freedoms, and during his years of subsequent “imprisonment” had carried out humanitarian projects, and had even featured as Time magazine’s “man of the year” in 1951; and thereby the US lost the respect of a people who till then had been their friends.
Matters reached the peak with the ayatollahs after 1979 when the violent anti-Americanism puzzled and shocked Americans who’d not known about the CIA’s Operation Ajax nearly 30 years before.
The US political class, says Kinzer, never recovered from the blow of losing the Shah, and the humiliation of the hostage crisis that followed, and until Obama’s overtures, seemed intent on taking long-delayed revenge.
Meanwhile, Iran has gotten stronger than ever, with a freer hand to repress civil society in the name of national security.
Is it reasonable, he asks, to expect Iran to abandon its nuclear programme as long as its main regional adversary, Israel, is nuclear-armed?
Besides, in the 1970’s the US actually proposed a nuclear programme to Iran when the Shah was still in power.
So, why not now?
Can Iranians be blamed for suspecting that the Western powers want to turn their country into something between an ally and a vassal, building bases on its soil, extracting its oil and controlling its marketing and production and standing by as world cartel companies keep much of the profits?
Isn’t Iran another example of a country with a glorious past - Cyrus, Xerxes and Darius, and the poets and thinkers over the centuries who have made immeasurable contributions to world culture - that has become a pawn in international geo-politics, to be pushed around by the super-power of the day?
Kinzer aptly prefaces the book with the words of Harry Truman: There’s nothing new in the world except the history you don’t know.