CIA Veteran Paul Pillar's Iran Warning
On the "Reservoir of Mistrust" and Consequences of War

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| January 17, 2008       
[Updated April 24, 2017]

Dr. Paul Pillar Dr. Paul R. Pillar, a professor, author, former Army officer and 28 year veteran of the CIA, has warned unequivocally against attacking Iran.

During a 2007 panel of military and intelligence experts on U.S. policy towards Iran, Pillar underlined the perils of war. A military confrontation, he says, would push Iran closer, not further, from nuclear weapons, would provoke Iran to retaliate inside Iraq or foment international terrorism. An attack would also strengthen hardliners and push diplomacy off the table. He concluded with a foreboding vision of another 50+ years of US-Iran hostility, referencing the 1953 coup that vanquished Iran's young democracy.

Why America Misunderstands the World (2016)
[book excerpt]

Why America Misunderstands the World: National Experience and Roots of Misperception (2016) by Paul Pillar “The predominant American perception has impeded understanding of the bases for Iranian distrust of and even hostility toward the United States. The bases include the constantly evident American hostility toward Iran, accompanied by implicit and even explicit threats of military attack against Iran made credible by the U.S. military presence in Iran’s immediate neighborhood. They also include historical baggage that is the counterpart to Americans’ memory of the takeover of the embassy in Tehran and the ensuing hostage crisis. For Iranians, the salient historical events include the U.S.-supported coup to overthrow the Iranian prime minister in 1953 and the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner by a U.S. warship in 1988, which most Iranians believe—mistakenly—to have been intentional rather than accidental. There are misperceptions in each direction here, and they are due in part to the general psychological mechanism of attributing someone else’s negative behavior to that person’s innately negative qualities rather than to the provocations of our own behavior. The American exceptionalist self-image and proclivity for demonization of adversaries accentuates this pattern in the case of perceptions of Iran.”

We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran
March/April 2012 issue of Washington Monthly [link]

“An armed attack on Iran would be an immediate political gift to Iranian hard-liners, who are nourished by confrontation with the West, and with the United States in particular. Armed attack by a foreign power traditionally produces a rally-round-the-flag effect that benefits whatever regime is in power. Last year a spokesperson for the opposition Green Movement in Iran said the current regime “would really like for someone” to bomb the nuclear facilities because “this would then increase nationalism and the regime would gather everyone and all the political parties around itself.” Over the longer term, an attack would poison relations between the United States and generations of Iranians. It would become an even more prominent and lasting grievance than the U.S.-engineered overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 or the accidental shooting down of an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf in 1988. American war proponents who optimistically hope that an attack would somehow stir the Iranian political pot in a way that would undermine the current clerical regime are likely to be disappointed. Even if political change in Iran occurred, any new regime would be responsive to a populace that has more reason than ever to be hostile to the United States.”

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
and Subcommittee on National Security

November 14, 2007

“And I might add, finally, that an attack could also be expected to effect long term attitudes of almost all Iranians. Just as Iranians still today, more than half a century later, refer resentfully to the U.S. instigated coup that overthrew a populist Iranian Prime Minister in 1953, a military attack, which, of course, would be an even more open and violent act of hostility, would be a new source of long term resentment, helping to poison relations between Tehran and Washington for generations.”

State of the Region Forum, Dubai School of Government
September 9, 2006 [from summary of presentation]

“Furthermore, there is a tremendous reservoir of mistrust between Iran and the U.S. Iranian distrust relates to 1953 and the overthrow of Mossadegh. American distrust began in 1979 with the takeover of the US embassy. Tehran sees the encirclement of its own territory by the U.S. military; the U.S. sees Ahmadinejad and his rhetoric about the Holocaust and Israel, and it gives way too much weight to his role in the Iranian political system. Unfortunately, some political interests in both the U.S. and Iran have a stake in continuing tensions between the two.”

Related links:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: the U.S. Regrets 1953 Coup in Iran

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson: Iran is the Natural Hegemon in the Middle East

Singer Tony Bennett on 9/11: “Are we the terrorists or are they the terrorists?”

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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