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          History at a Distance: Fouad Ajami on Iran 

Fouad Ajami, the Arab Orientalist

Arab-American professor, author and pundit Fouad Ajami is a noted authority on the Middle East. A diehard supporter of the illegal U.S. attack on Iraq, Ajami has called the intervention a "noble war" and a "gift" to the Iraqi people (he has authored a book on this entitled "The Foreigner's Gift"). Ajami has been an advisor to Condoleeza Rice and other neoconservatives in the Bush White House, and has also served as a consultant for CBS News.

The Wall Street Journal- May 2008

In his May 5, 2008 column for The Wall Street Journal, "Iran Must Finally Pay A Price", a frustrated Fouad Ajami struggles to pin the blame for U.S. failures in Middle East on the so-called "Persian menace". He argues that the U.S. policy toward Iran has been too soft, and consequently the Islamic Republic has been playing America for suckers all these years. 

The "outright apology" Ajami refers to was of course, nothing of the sort-- Secretary of State Albright merely acknowledged the U.S. role in the coup, but never used the word "sorry" or any other words to that effect. Note that in 2000, the phrase he used for Albright's speech was "an apology of sorts".

Many thought that the Iranian moderates would turn up in the fullness of time. In his inaugural speech, George H.W. Bush offered an olive branch to Iran's rulers: "Goodwill begets goodwill," he said. A decade later, in the typical Clintonian spirit of contrition and penance, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave Iran's rulers an outright apology for America's role in the coup that overthrew the nationalist leader Mohammad Mussadiq in 1953. The coup "was clearly a setback for Iran's political development," she said, part of a flawed American diplomacy that aided the Shah's government as it "brutally repressed political dissent."

U.S. News & World Report- May 2000

Fouad Ajami referenced the Clinton administration's recent overture to Iran in an article written for U.S. News & World Report in May 2000: 

In mid-March, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright launched "pistachio diplomacy," offering an olive branch to the would-be reformers mobilized around President Mohammad Khatami. The sanctions on investments in Iranian oil would remain, she announced, but they were lifted on Iranian pistachios, caviar, and carpets. More accommodation was promised if Iran, in Albright's words, indicated "a desire and a commitment" to improve relations. In an administration and a cultural climate of confessions and apologies, an apology of sorts was given to the Iranians for Operation Ajax, the covert Anglo-American effort that overthrew Iran's popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and restored to power his rival, Mohammad Reza Shah. Secretary Albright gave that history a new twist. That 1953 coup, she said, was a "setback for Iran's political development." The shah, who had done a fair measure of America's bidding in the Persian Gulf, was written off by Albright as a man who had "brutally repressed political dissent." It was history at a distance, after history's dangers and truths have long scattered to the wind.

. . . . . . . .

A society never yields its truth to outsiders easily. U.S. officials may express some remorse for the overthrow of Mossadegh nearly five decades ago as contrition for the past and a gift to Iran's moderates. But the political cartography of Iran is vastly complicated. A hero to the modernists in that country, Mossadegh is at best an ambivalent figure to the theocrats. He was a man of secular nationalism, educated in the West. For many of the hard-liners, Mossadegh is more of an anathema than the shah. The great tribune of the Iranian Revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeini himself, was disdainful of Mossadegh. These are Persian rules, not ours. If moderation is to hold, if the men and women who shouted themselves hoarse against the Great Satan (America) and the Little Satan (Israel) wake up to the poverty of their country and wish for themselves a better world, they will make it with their own hands. There comes a time when a people tire of blood--and of revolutionary virtue and terror. For Iran, the matter, for now, lies in the balance.

New York Tmes Book Review- May 1988

In the May 8, 1988 edition of the New York Times, Fouad Ajami reviewed James A. Bill's book THE EAGLE AND THE LION: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations, which contained his observations on Bill's description of the Mossadegh era: 

Bill's version of the history of Iranian-American relations is decidedly liberal: there was a reasonably democratic, nationalist option in Iran, which the United States could (and should) have understood and nurtured when it became a power in Iran's affairs in the years following World War II. But American officials did otherwise. When they ''chose sides in the internal Iranian political game,'' they quickly settled for ''the royal alternative.'' Was there another alternative? Mr. Bill is sure one existed, symbolized by the nationalist politician Mohammed Mossadegh, a Western-educated aristocrat with a long record of opposition to the Pahlevi monarchy. Mossadegh's politics was the stuff out of which middle-class nationalism elsewhere was made, Mr. Bill believes - a strong sense of economic nationalism, a desire to break with his country's legacy of foreign dependence and humiliation, a demand for a greater measure of control over its oil resources. 

American officials flirted with Mossadegh during his brief tenure as Prime Minister (1951 through 1953), the narrative tells us. But Mossadegh's brand of politics was far too wild and unpredictable for the Eisenhower Administration. There were vast stakes in the oil fields of the Middle East which American officials wanted to protect, and there were worries that Mossadegh might be just a stalking horse for Iran's Communists. So in the summer of 1953, a coup orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency and British intelligence brought Mossadegh down and restored the Shah to power. In Mr. Bill's words, this was a ''momentous event in the history of Iranian-American relations''; America aborted Iranian radical nationalism. 

Twenty-five years later it would return with a vengeance: instead of the secularist, Western-educated Mossadegh, Iranian nationalism would appear with a turban, in the person of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The American intervention in 1953, in Mr. Bill's words, ''left a running wound that bled for twenty-five years and contaminated America's relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran following the revolution of 1978-79.'' The script was written when Operation Ajax, as the coup was called, brought down Mossadegh; American intervention ''deeply alienated Iranian patriots of all social classes'' and Iranian nationalism became ''unalterably anti-American.'' America broke with middle-class nationalism, Mr. Bill argues with both great detail and enormous conviction: successive American administrations were to go the full length with the Shah, with the option of royalist dictatorship.

related links:

Christopher Hitchens on Iran

Alon Ben-Meir on Iran

Joseph Cirincione on Iran

George Perkovich on Iran

David Ignatius of the Washington Post on Iran

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