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Spoken Word: Original Sin in the Modern Middle East

     Steve Kinzer of the New York Times talks as well as he writes: here.

     We’d all have been more suspicious of the Bush and Blair neo-imperial fantasists, spinning their Anglo-American self-esteem into a Middle Eastern quagmire, if we had a speaking acquaintance with our own history.  But who today mentions the CIA’s catastrophic overthrow of Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh, just 50 years ago next month?  “He towers over Iranian history, Middle Eastern history, and the history of anticolonialism,” Steve Kinzer writes of Mossadegh.  “No account of the twentieth century is complete without a chapter about him.”  Mossadegh was a principled and incorruptible modern secular nationalist, with a Swiss doctorate in law and an unshakable base of popular support in Iran.  His only sin as Prime Minister was doing in 1951 what he’d always said he’d do: nationalize the last great jewel of the withering British Empire, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.  Harry Truman blew off the British appeals for an American rescue.  But in 1953 Dwight Eisenhower looked the other way when the Dulles brothers initiated the cult of covert action and coups against uppity democracies.  “Operation Ajax” was the mission that toppled Mossadegh with goons and dollars and then fortified Mohammad Reza Shah on the Peacock Throne–until the fanatical mullahs chased him out in 1979.  “It is not far-fetched,” Kinzer concludes, “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 in New York.”  It is no surprise at all if you believe that events like the secret American intervention in Iran in 1953 have consequences.

     You expect more from a book that is blurbed by the odd trio of John le Carre, Gore Vidal and Richard Lugar–two novelists and the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–and you get more than you expect in Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men.  Steve Kinzer is a Boston Celtics nut who’s become a giant of the Times staff, with duty stripes in Central America, Berlin, Istanbul and now Chicago.  His narrative is unsurpassably lean and authoritative, his ear for official foolishness is perfect.  “They were rug dealers and that’s all they were,” went the Anthony Eden line on the Iranians to the unbiddable Dean Acheson.  “You should never give in, and they would always come around and make a deal if you stayed firm.”  The arrogance of the Brits is well nigh unbelievable, officially dismissing Iran’s claim on its own oil as “base ingratitude if it were not simply ridiculous.”  But the casual and careless imperial ways of the Americans are also stunning.  Eisenhower’s heart was never in the game.  Why isn’t it possible, Ike wondered at a National Security Council meeting before the coup, “to get some of the people in these down-trodden countries to like us instead of hating us.” 

     The blogging angle?  What fascinates me more than the history is the dance of language in which the spinners in office and institutional media have always kidded and conned us about such things as oil and empire, race and righteousness.  Free blogging is part of the cure, as is the Kinzer brand of journalism.  Iran today is a hotbed of blogging.  Iranians at home and in the diaspora “are very sophisticated about the Internet,” Kinzer told me.  He recommends Iranian.com (Slogan: “Nothing is sacred”) as an introduction.  The Internet is a main channel of the ferment that Kinzer says will change the Islamic regime or bring it down.  It should do as much for us.  Listen in.

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