Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why Obama is Right

Obama in his address to the Iranian people earlier this year.

There is a debate raging in the US at the moment as to whether or not Obama's rather tame reaction to the Iranian crisis has been wise. Some believe he should have done similar to President Sarkozy who came out and declared last Friday's election a fraud. This led to protests outside the French embassy in Tehran and to the regimes favourite complaint of outside interference in Iran's internal affairs being directed at the French Ambassador as he was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry. Astonishingly other conservatives appear indifferent to the events unfolding in Iran as they believe that it is insignificant whether Ahmadinejad or Mousavi become president as the US will still have to deal with the nuclear issue. My problem with this is they are ignoring what I believe is the very real possibility that this could develop into something bigger than a mere challenge to Ahmadinejad's leadership. It could in fact snowball into a revolution to topple the theocratic system. Thankfully Obama is not taking this approach either.

Obama's approach
To understand Obama's approach we first have to look at the nature of the Iranian regime. Anti Americanism is the oxygen with which the regime in Tehran needs to survive. Since 1979 this regime has sold itself on resisting western and particularly American attempts to use Iran to further Washington's interests. This stems back to the infamous Mossadeq incident in 1953 when MI5 and the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the relatively popular leader Mohammed Mossadeq and installed the Shah of Iran who would go on to rule the country with an iron fist for a further 26 years. In my opinion though it is important to note that it was not so much the Shah's brutality that so infuriated Iranians. In truth, he was probably less brutal than the current regime. It was the fact that in the first place the Americans and the British felt perfectly entitled to infiltrate Iran and altar its politics to their advantage. Furthermore the Shah went on to rule as a blatant US puppet putting American interests before Iranian. For the proud Persian people this was really just too much. Still today, Iranians the world over whether they be dissident of loyalist, mullah or Marxist intensely resent how the west treated the great Persian nation as nothing more than a banana republic.

There are of course some additional sticking points such as the fact that Saddam Hussein would never have been able to sustain the 8 year war with Iran had it not been for western support. Not to mention the Vincennes incident where a US warship accidentally shot down an Iranian passenger jet in 1989 killing all 290 on board for which the US has yet to offer a formal apology. The main point to remember however is the Mossadeq incident as since 1979 the Iranian regime have vowed to never again let the US decide Iran's future. The problem with that of course is that they have used this as an excuse to suppress every democracy movement that has raised its head in Iran for 30 years. And there have been plenty. Iran, unlike its Arab neighbours does have a tradition of democratic thought dating back to the 1906 constitutional revolution which almost succeeded in creating a working democratic system that divided the branches of power including Mosque and monarchy. Ironically an American named Howard Baskerville (pictured) was instrumental in the 1906 revolution and lost his life fighting against the royalists. Baskervile is historical hero in contemporary Iran and praised as a martyr.

So as I described above anti Americanism is the Oxygen the Mullahs need and protecting Iran form outside meddling is what they claim to do best. Back in 2003 when students were still demonstrating on the streets in the final days of the reform movement the mullahs pointed West to the US invasion of Iraq and East to the occupation of Afghanistan as justification for a final crackdown. In addition throughout the remaining years of the Bush administration the former president publicly refused to rule out the use of covert operations to create instability in the Islamic republic. This played right into the hands of the hardliners. So this is why when Obama declared this week that "Iran's leaders should be decided by Iranians", it was the last thing the ruling elite wanted to hear. With his outstretched hand, his message to Iran on its national day, his admission that the United States had a hand in the 1953 coup in Tehran, Obama is slowly depriving the Mullahs of the Oxygen they so badly crave. Crucially, the President has not even made a judgement on the result of the election. As my good friend GW over at Wolf Howling described it so expertly, Obama is careful not to cross the Mossadeq line. The wait and see approach may prove more fruitful than anyone could have imagined.

Mossadeq under arrest in 1953, I saw this picture many time in Iran surrounded by Anti American images

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