- Oct 17, 2007
- Reaction score
- New York
- Political Leaning
We've always dealt with unsavory regimes. That doesn't mean we must actively favor them. We were by no means "forced" to deal with the authoritarian regime in Iran. We chose to establish it, and to turn back the clock on several decades of democratic progress, based on a Cold War rationale that was entirely bogus.
The U.S., like any other state, is not prescient. Errors were clearly made and I noted in my last paragraph that not every policy choice was a wise one.
With respect to Iran, from the Library of Congress' Country Study on Iran:
Under the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, the United States came to accept the view of the British government that no reasonable compromise with Mossadeq was possible and that, by working with the Tudeh, Mossadeq was making probable a communist-inspired takeover. Mossadeq's intransigence and inclination to accept Tudeh support, the Cold War atmosphere, and the fear of Soviet influence in Iran also shaped United States thinking. In June 1953, the Eisenhower administration approved a British proposal for a joint Anglo-American operation, code-named Operation Ajax, to overthrow Mossadeq. Kermit Roosevelt of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) traveled secretly to Iran to coordinate plans with the shah and the Iranian military, which was led by General Fazlollah Zahedi.
In accord with the plan, on August 13 the shah appointed Zahedi prime minister to replace Mossadeq. Mossadeq refused to step down and arrested the shah's emissary. This triggered the second stage of Operation Ajax, which called for a military coup. The plan initially seemed to have failed, the shah fled the country, and Zahedi went into hiding. After four days of rioting, however, the tide turned. On August 19, pro-shah army units and street crowds defeated Mossadeq's forces.
My view is that the U.S. erred in allowing Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's collapse. That created an opening in which a radical authoritarian movement was able to seize power. Instead, the U.S. should have worked with the Shah to triage problem areas and allow for a gradual process that would lead to greater democracy down the road perhaps via a larger role for an elected legislature. As democratic institutions did not exist at the time, they needed to be built over time. Merely changing the leadership does not mean that democracy would immediately take root and flourish. Instead, the power vacuum that results leaves an opening for radicals to gain an opportunity to overthrow the system and impose their own brand of tyranny.
The path from authoritarianism to democratic governance is a difficult, long, and treacherous one. Sometimes it leads to renewed tyranny. Sometimes it leads toward or to failed state status.
Iran is not an exception to the rule. Post-Soviet Afghanistan offered another example where one authoritarian regime was replaced by another. In the years after Tito's death, the power vacuum led to that state's bottled up centrifugal forces tearing it apart, culminating in two destructive conflicts. Post-Barre Somalia is an example offers an example of a state that ultimately collapsed into a failed state. Today, it still has no government (defined as a central authority that is widely viewed as legitimate and has the capability to exercise jurisdiction over the territory it oversees). In the early years of the post-Hussein Iraq, the political evolution is still very much up in the air. Already, the Maliki government has frequently displayed authoritarian tendencies often aimed at (1) consolidating its grip on power, and (2) promoting the interests of the Shia at the expense of the larger interests of the entire country. The U.S. also pressed President Musharraf to step aside in Pakistan. Although he was authoritarian and not entirely a reliable ally, he was replaced by a government that is inept, incompetent, and arguably even less reliable (hence the increasing drone attacks). Pakistan is currently sliding toward failed state status. Whether that erosion is arrested remains to be seen, but it will have to be the Pakistanis who do the most to stem and reverse that slide.
My major points are not that I favor authoritarian regimes. In general, I don't. But as a foreign policy Realist (school of thought for readers who may not be familiar), I recognize that tradeoffs are inherent in foreign policy. Nations occasionally need to balance their ideals with the difficult choices necessary to secure their interests when those interests are not peripheral. While I'm not privy to the Intelligence that led the U.S. to accept the British perspective on Iran, I do believe the U.S. erred significantly in abandoning the Shah. As a result, the U.S. now faces a hostile Iran that is a destabilizing regional actor and one that has not demonstrated a better human rights record than the Shah had. I also believe the U.S. erred in pressing President Musharraf to step aside and would have favored the U.S. working with Musharraf to develop a viable transition plan for more democratic governance, but a form that would be consistent with that country's various peoples' needs/desires, culture, traditions, and institutions. Whether that decision will prove as grievous to U.S. interests as its decision not to back the Shah remains to be seen.