Conversation at The Corner earlier today: Jonah Goldberg:
Not only was the mention of Mossadegh in Obama’s speech part of a silly bit of moral equivalence between America’s behavior in 1953 and Iran’s ongoing sponsorship of terrorism right now but it was entirely unoriginal. It didn’t “clear the air.” Madeleine Albright officially apologized to the Khatami for America’s role in the Mossadegh overthrow in 2000. What air was left to clear? Also, it always struck me as a bit tone deaf since the regime loves to harp on Mossadegh’s overthrow as a way to make it seem like they, as lovers of democracy, were horrified by the coup, which is of course nonsense. More to the point, who was this supposed to mollify? The Iranian regime certainly didn’t care about America’s previous apology. And as for the Iranian population, the majority of which was born after the 1979 Revolution, never mind after 1953, are we really to believe that this is a burning issue? Did the Iranians really take to the streets in any significant numbers because America “came clean” on something that happened nearly 60 years ago? Yes, yes, they have long memories in the Middle East. Blah blah blah. I’m not saying it was necessarily entirely irrelevant, but let’s save the Profiles in Courage encomniums for Obama’s brave slaughter of house flies.
Jonah, if I’m remembering right, not only did Secretary Albright apologize for Mossadegh (47 years earlier), the Clinton administration — aside from not responding militarily — also effectively killed the FBI’s investigation into Iran’s act of war (in 1996, or four years earlier) in bombing the Khobar Towers, killing 19 members of the U.S. Air Force. (Iran’s role was explained in detail by federal judge Royce Lamberth in a case I wrote about back in ’06, here). That was some pretty clear air.
Jonah, Andy, I concur with your frustration for the reasons you mention and more: The apology is ironic since the clerics were among Mossadegh’s fiercest opponents — the conservative religious factions distrusted Mossadegh’s leftism and it was not uncommon to see the Tudeh (Iran’s Communist party) and seminary students clash in the streets. In effect, we are apologizing to co-conspirators.
Stephen Kinzer in the Guardian:
Despite efforts by Iran‘s leaders to keep photographers off the streets during post-election protests this month, many vivid images have emerged. The one posted here, above, is the one I found most chilling, poignant and evocative. By now, many outsiders can identify the man whose picture is on the right-hand side of this protest sign. He is Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reported loser in this month’s presidential election. The elderly gentleman in the other picture is unfamiliar to most non-Iranians. He and his fate, however, lie at the historical root of the protests now shaking Iran. The picture shows a pensive, sad-looking man with what one of his contemporaries called “droopy basset-hound eyes and high patrician forehead“. He does not look like a man whose fate would continue to influence the world decades after his death. But this was Muhammad Mossadeq, the most fervent advocate of democracy ever to emerge in his ancient land. Above the twinned pictures of Mossadeq and Mousavi on this protest poster are the words “We won’t let history repeat itself.” Centuries of intervention, humiliation and subjugation at the hand of foreign powers have decisively shaped Iran’s collective psyche. The most famous victim of this intervention – and also the most vivid symbol of Iran’s long struggle for democracy – is Mossadeq. Whenever Iranians assert their desire to shape their own fate, his image appears.
Chris Good in the Atlantic:
The U.S. backed Mossadeq’s overthrow in 1953. It’s been said that this was too long ago to be relevant to today’s protests–that Obama needn’t tread lightly in context of America’s poor historical record on Iranian democracy. After all, the protesters are young, and Eisenhower isn’t immediately relevant to U.S. politics today. But Guardian columnist Stephen Kinzer reports that Mossadeq has come up in Iran today as a symbol, that his face has adorned signs alongside that of Mir Hossein Mousavi, and that Iranians have drawn a parallel between the two men. Mossadeq, as Kinzer points out, is a symbol both for democracy and for freedom of intervention. The question here is: how relevant is history? “In the streets, they talk about him,” Michael Rubin of AEI said of Mossadeq. “Among the people on the street, he was always a symbol of democracy.” “The irony is that, among his biggest detractors were the clergy and the seminary students,” Rubin said. “Those who are in government right now really were our co-sonspirators.” “It’s a story that’s grown bigger with time,” Rubin said. In other words, it’s a moment in history that has not been lost on the Iranian people and, according to Rubin, especially Iranians living in the U.S.
Tony Campbell at the Moderate Voice in a post titled, “Anyone forget Bush v. Gore?”
Is the President of the United States supposed to disregard the sovereignty of a nation-state because some of their people are demonstrating against the outcome of a national election? Not too long ago, our country faced a “constitutional crisis” of our own and I don’t remember Vladmir Putin or Jiang Zemin discussing the legitimacy of the American election in the fall of 2000. [...] Iran has been a constant problem area for the United States since Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Teddy Roosevelt and C.I.A. station chief in Tehran, helped to engineer a coup of Prime Minister Muhammed Mossadeq in 1953. The U.S. has meddled in the political life of Iran longer than President Obama has lived. The American people would have been outraged if another country had attempted to sway the 2000 election. For once in our history, let’s leave the Iranian elections to the Iranian people.
UPDATE #2: Will at The League on the Guardian piece:
One unfortunate result of the crisis in Iran has been a renewed interest in trotting out every demonstrator, exile or emigre who happens to agree with your perspective on the regime as a prop for scoring political points. Not only does this tell us nothing about the situation within Iran – who, after all, thinks either of these pieces offer a representative sample of Iranian opinion? – it’s also incredibly distasteful to have statements from brave protesters and exiles brandished like cudgels in yet another domestic political brawl.
The fact of the matter is that most pundits (amateur or otherwise) know shockingly little about the events of the past few days. My heart goes out to the demonstrators confronting the regime, but I don’t pretend to know anything about their opinions or intentions or What This All Means.
UPDATE #3: Michael Goldfarb at TWS:
Maybe some obscure event that happened fifty years ago can explain why Egyptians would want U.S. support and Iranians wouldn’t. Perhaps it was America’s support for Egypt in the Suez crisis versus its meddling in Iran to bring down Mossadeq that explains why democracy activists in Egypt view the American role differently. Or maybe an American should always try to be on the side of those who seek democracy and freedom, and stand against those who impose tyranny on their own people.
Julian Sanchez, responding to Goldfarb:
I realize that it’s an obscure bit of trivia for most Americans that the CIA orchestrated a coup against Mohammed Mossadeq in the ’50s. For Iranians—and I’m going out on a limb here—maybe not so much? And as a corollary: Maybe we should not be soliciting foreign policy advice from people whose cross-cultural perspective-taking faculties are so stunted that this does not occur to them.