Don’t Forget About Iran

The 1953 CIA Coup in Iran and the Roots of Middle East Terror

Democracy Now Interview With New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.

I think the National Intelligence Estimate might have perversely made the attack (On Iran) more likely.

AMY GOODMAN: From Gaza, we turn now to Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iraq Sunday for a historic meeting with Iraqi leaders, first visit to Iraq by an Iranian president since the Iran-Iraq conflict of the ’80s. At a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, Ahmadinejad said his visit would open a new era in Iraq-Iran ties. He also rejected US allegations his government is interfering in Iraq’s affairs.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] We want to tell Mr. Bush that accusing others will increase the problems of America in the region and will not solve them. The Americans have to accept the region as it is. The Iraqi people do not like America.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier, Ahmadinejad had made light of US allegations, saying, “Is it not funny that those with 160,000 forces in Iraq accuse us of interference?”

While Ahmadinejad’s visit could be a pivotal moment in improving Iran-Iraq ties, it’s also seen as a sign of the dwindling drumbeat for war coming from Washington. It’s been nearly three months since the release of a National Intelligence Estimate concluding Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years ago. The report was a major blow to Bush administration efforts to shore up support for a possible military strike on Iran.

Stephen Kinzer is the author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and The Roots of Middle East Terror. The book chronicles the CIA-backed 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government after Iran nationalized its oil industry. The aftershocks of the coup are still being felt. His book has just come out in paperback, and he’s traveling the country to warn against a US attack on Iran.

I sat down with him to talk about what is happening today in Iran.

STEPHEN KINZER: It’s more possible than you’d like to think. In a reality-based, fact-based policy environment in Washington, you’d think that the idea of attacking Iran would be off the agenda now. Not only is there no enthusiasm in the military for this, or even in the Defense Department civilian side, we’re very stretched in Iraq, obviously, and there doesn’t seem to be any public demand or urgency for it. In addition, we had this National Intelligence Estimate, which undercut what had been the principal argument for an attack, which was Iran is just about to develop a nuclear weapon and therefore we need a preemptive attack. Now, our sixteen intelligence agencies have issued this report saying, actually, no, they’re not developing a nuclear weapon nor have they been working on this project for at least five years. So, that also, you would think, would eliminate this possibility.

Unfortunately, though, I think the—first of all, the fact that the possibility is fading a little bit off the public agenda and public opinion is being kind of anaesthetized to this possibility increases the danger, because there doesn’t seem to be any public outcry or any outcry in Congress. Secondly, I think the National Intelligence Estimate might have perversely made the attack more likely in one sense. Before that estimate came out, the US’s policy was going to be: now we’re going to get the Security Council and the European Union to agree to really tight sanctions on Iran, because they’re about to develop a nuclear weapon. And we thought we were going to be able to do that because it was that urgent. But now, the reason why we said those sanctions were so urgent has been undercut by our own intelligence agency, so the sanctions option is more or less off the table. They’re not going to agree to sanctions now. And I think that might lead people in the White House to think, well, sanctions option isn’t there anymore; I guess bombing is the only option.

Here’s the nightmare argument that I could imagine being made inside the Oval Office. We had to suffer 9/11 because wimpy Clinton did not go over there and take care of that threat while it was gathering. There’s a threat gathering in Iran. It could be even more serious with millions killed in a nuclear bomb attack on the West. The next president won’t be able to carry out this drastic action for political reasons. But obeying the call of history, we’re going to realize we’ve got to take care of this threat before it grows out of hand.

I fear that some variation of this argument, particularly as the election approaches later this year, could lead us into a crazy adventure that’s not only going to set back the cause of democracy in Iran by a generation; strengthen the regime that we profess to detest; eliminate the entirely pro-American sentiment that now exists among the population of Iran; probably set off retaliation attacks by Iran on Israel and maybe states in the Persian Gulf; possibly result in the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran could do by just sinking a couple of tankers, and that’s 20 percent of the world’s oil right there; undoubtedly trigger a huge explosion of anti-American violence in Iraq, probably also in Afghanistan; and it would further destabilize Pakistan, which is already in upheaval. And I think throughout the Muslim world you’d see great upheaval.

So you can foresee all these negative effects, but based on what we now know about the long-term effects of the last time we intervened in 1953, I think I could predict one thing; despite all those negative effects, we could predict: history suggests that the worst long-term effects of this operation would be ones that nobody can now imagine. That’s the lesson we learned from the aftermath of 1953. And that’s why that story of 1953 is now so relevant again as we’re preparing possibly for another attack.

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