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    Robert Scheer: Resist the Temptation of Empire

Robert Scheer on Iran

Robert Scheer, a journalist with over 30 years of experience as a writer, reporter, editor, author and columnist, has interviewed every elected U.S. President since Richard Nixon. Here is a chronology of statements he has made pertaining to the 1953 coup in Iran, beginning with the most recent.

Conversation with Scott Ritter, Santa Monica Public Library in March 2007: 

But it’s kind of a depressing thought that you don’t have adults watching the store.  Because I can go back way before George Walker Bush and ask, why did Jimmy Carter declare the mujahedeen in Afghanistan freedom fighters and challenge the seculars who were in Kabul?  And that’s where 9/11 comes from. Why did Eisenhower overthrow Mossadegh in Iran? And that’s why we have the bloody madness in Iran right now. We can go through a whole history of the last 50 years where, in the name of making things better, we make things worse. You’re a guy who’s been out there in the field, sort of left holding the bag.  You’re not nave about Saddam Hussein. You know he was a bad guy.  You describe in one of your books—I forget which one—being at the Baghdad airport looking for weapons of mass destruction, and so forth. You understand. Yet, in retrospect, as I understand your writing, you don’t think Saddam Hussein was really the worst thing that could have happened.

Excerpts from Robert Scheer's foreword to the 2007 book The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis by author Reese Erlich:

The United States has interfered with Iran for more than fifty years, and the consequences of that sorry history will continue to haunt us well into the future. Our capricious disregard for the nationalist and religious complexity of Iran began with the 1953 overthrow of its last democratically selected leader, the secular populist Mohammad Mossadegh. His crime was to begin the nationalization of foreign oil companies. He assaulted our sacred faith in the divine right of corporate plunder that trumped all other concerns, including the will of the Iranian people to control their own resources, and hence their own destiny.

After a well-documented coup paid for and engineered by the CIA, the United States replaced Mossadegh with the self-proclaimed Shah of Shahs, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who based his legitimacy on a highly questionable royal lineage. Despite U.S. and Israeli support, the shah’s regime eventually collapsed under the weight of its own corruption and selfish opulence, which wasted oil revenues on an array of unnecessary purchases, including U.S. military hardware. The shah was replaced by religious fanatics who claimed the mantle of incorruptibility. Because the shah had governed in the name of modernization, it is no wonder that the ayatollahs’ appeal to the glories of a fundamentalist world found a following among those whom the shah had ignored.

Democracy Now! Interview, July 10, 2006:

In his featured interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! [July 10, 2006], Scheer recounts the unintended consequences of the '53 coup and his interview with coup plotter Kermit Roosevelt. [Note: Scheer is talking so fast that he accidentally refers to Mossadegh's nationalization of the Italian oil company- presumably he doesn't mean olive oil, either].

ROBERT SCHEER: I mean, if you want to go to the origin of 9/11 -- you know, we're recording this, I think, blocks, what, ten blocks away from the World Trade Center -- uh, you know, where does this stuff -- unintended consequences. You know, it's always so easy to throw and say -- what did the New York Times say? -- throw some country against the wall. It’s so easy to intervene. Everybody says, “Oh, you don't have the courage to make war.” Well, it takes no courage to make war, particularly if you're not going to go and your children are not going to go. What courage is that? You know, but the unintended consequences, stuff happening now, you see that bloodshed in the clips you had from Iraq today. 50 years from now, somebody's going to blow up some cafe in Manhattan, and maybe with a primitive nuclear weapon and take out Manhattan, and it’s going to be avenging some dangerous, mischievous thing that we did now. 

That’s what happened -- by the way, Iran keeps coming on the radar. Where did Iran come from? There was a guy named Mohammad Mossadegh back in the early 1950s, he -secular- in Iran, popular! He dared to nationalize the Italian [Iranian] oil company. He was moving against the English oil companies, he started that process. 

AMY GOODMAN: British Petroleum.. 

ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, British Petroleum. The C.I.A. overthrows this guy. I remember, for the L.A. Times, I interviewed Kermit Roosevelt, who actually brought in the money. I did one of the first stories on that. You know, Kermit Roosevelt, he was dying in a hospital in Washington. He told me the whole story. And, you know, did Kermit Roosevelt -- no, it was just fun. He went in there with, what, $28 million, bought a mob in the bazaar and started a riot, and they overthrew this guy. Unintended consequences. You get rid of Mohammad Mossadegh, who was a secular leader, you end up with the Shah. You sell him all this junk that he can't use, you know, airplanes and everything. He then has to raise the price of oil. You get rid of him, because he was active in OPEC. And you get the Ayatollahs. And now what happens...

AMY GOODMAN: And Kermit Roosevelt was the grandson of Teddy Roosevelt. 

ROBERT SCHEER: Right. And now you go into Iraq. Unintended consequences. You knock out a secular dictator, and you replace him with the protégés of the Ayatollahs in Iran. 

Scheer also contends that Richard Nixon, unlike George W. Bush, was attentive to history. 

ROBERT SCHEER: This was certainly true of Richard Nixon, who was the best prepared president. He had been vice president. Richard Nixon, you could say, "Bulgaria." He would tell you the five different factions in Bulgaria, you know, where they stood and what their history was. He would have been able to tell you the whole story I just told you about Mossadegh. He would have known it in great detail. 

The Nation magazine, April 6, 2004:

Scheer's defeatist attitude toward the Iraq diversion is expressed in his April 6, 2004 article for The Nation, 'The More We Try, the Worse Iraq Gets', which announces "the beginning of the end of the United States in Iraq".

Just how dumb do we think they are? After all, Iraqis know their own tortuous history. Theirs is a country patched together at the end of a gun barrel by previous colonizers. The common denominator of those imperial designs was the exploitation of oil rather than the desire to produce a harmonious, let alone democratic, society. 

Nor does the United States have clean hands. During the cold war, Washington tried to break any government or leader in the region unwilling to bend to its will, including popular nationalists Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Abdul Karim Kassem in Iraq. Never heard of Kassem? He's the guy the CIA hired young Hussein and other unsavory thugs to overthrow (and then kill) because he dared to challenge the strong US role in the region after World War II. 

The Nation magazine, November 11, 2003:

Scheer mocked the notion that Bush was truly interested in democratizing the Middle East in his November 11, 2003 article for The Nation, 'Mr. President, You're No Moses'. 

Democracy is the most wonderful notion ever conceived, but Washington considers it a dangerous threat when the people in fledging democracies vote against US interests. That's when the CIA steps in, as it did in Iran in 1953, overthrowing democratic secularist Mohammad Mossadegh and launching Iran into decades of madness. 

The Nation magazine, October 3, 2002:

In Robert Scheer's October 3, 2002 article for The Nation, 'The Sun Can't Set on This Empire Too Soon', he urges his government to "forgo the temptations of empire."

The strategy is pretty much the same as that drawn up by the Romans: Find and support local strongmen who can deliver the goods to the imperial capital, come hell or high water. How they treat their own people is not our business; we have never cared about democracy in the Mideast unless one of its dictators happened to fail to toe our line. 

That is why our CIA facilitated the rise to power of Iraq's Baath party and ultimately the succession of Saddam Hussein as its current leader. The first Bush Administration supported Hussein, providing him with the means to wage chemical and biological war, up to the day he invaded Kuwait, another of our client states. After his defeat, we became totally disinterested in the freedom of the people of the countries we had rescued. So much so, in fact, that Saudi Arabia was allowed to thrive as the world capital of religious hatred and the major sponsor of terrorists, producing Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers who gave us the Sept. 11 tragedy. 

The same contempt for democracy has marked our policy toward Iran, that other member of the "axis of evil" we helped create. When Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh moved to eliminate foreign control over Iran's oil, the CIA and its British counterpart overthrew him in 1953. Despite our babbling about democracy, we had no compunction about replacing the elected Mossadegh with a guy who claimed the hereditary right to the throne as shah of all shahs. 

When the shah dared to act in the interest of his people--and his own bank account--by bolstering the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in the push for higher oil prices, we came to regard him, too, as expendable. 

LA Times column, November 7, 1995:

In his column for The Los Angeles Times on November 7, 1995 ['It's a Yawner, Life Without the Old CIA'], Robert Scheer reviews the CIA's many chaos-inducing interventions across the globe. 

Remember the 1954 coup against Jacobo Arbenz, the elected leader of Guatemala, which saved Central America for the free world and United Fruit? And the more recent revelation that the Guatemalan military officer who allegedly killed a U.S. citizen was on the CIA's payroll? Talk about being there for the long haul.
That's certainly been the case with Iran, going back 40 years when the CIA overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, that country's last secular democratic leader. He was replaced with the shah, whom the CIA took at his word when he promised to rule for 10,000 years. It's not their fault that they never heard of that Ayatollah Khomeini fellow who came out of nowhere to ruin everything. But wasn't it convenient that the ayatollah was in power when the CIA needed to bypass Congress and get some money for the Contras? Mining the harbors of Nicaragua wasn't enough.
The CIA didn't know about the ayatollah or, more recently, about the Japanese religious cult that terrorized Tokyo with nerve gas. Out of sight, out of mind. As Gordon Oehler, a top CIA official, said last week, "I really don't see any inclination, here or abroad, to have the CIA running around peering into religious groups around the world to see who's naughty and nice." Such distinctions might have gotten in the way of distributing weapons to Muslim fanatics in Afghanistan who are now suppliers to terrorists around the world, including the folks who bombed the World Trade Center in New York.

related links:

Bill Moyers on the 1953 Coup that Toppled Mossadegh

Newsweek / MSNBC Pundit Howard Fineman on Iran

Carl Rowan on the 1953 coup in Iran

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