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50th Anniversary Of Last U.S. Regime Change In Mideast

by Mushahid Hussain

America And Iran: Burning Bridges, Igniting Hatred
(IPS) ISLAMABAD -- It is interesting how the wheel of history turns, and how the issues for the Muslim world have changed markedly in 50 years.

It was on Aug. 19, 1953, that the United States brought about regime change in Iran, when it used the CIA to overthrow the elected, left-leaning government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq.

Fifty years later, Washington is still toying with the idea of regime change in Iran, and the issues that confronted the United States then remain relevant today, even while it is grappling with the violent consequences of the regime change it forced on neighboring Iraq through military force.

It is a reflection of the changing times that the 1953 regime change had consequences 25 years later, when a great anti-U.S. upheaval shook Iran and the entire Muslim world.

Likewise, the four months since the regime change in Iraq have resulted in the new image of U.S. soldiers as unwelcome occupiers instead of liberators. One out of every four Americans now wants the troops back home, according to a recent opinion survey.

The 1953 CIA coup was an easy one, and according to its mastermind, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, they did not even have to spend the entire $1 million budgeted for that operation.

In his book, 'Countercoup,' he narrates how easily it all went, with the army, the clergy and bazaar mobs bought off to destabilise Mossadeq, a nationalist who dared to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co so that some of the oil profits would benefit Iran, not just the West.

But the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, got cold feet, and had to be convinced that the then mighty Western establishment -- London and Washington -- was blessing the regime change.

So it was arranged for a code-word message to be broadcast over the British Broadcasting Corp's Farsi service, and only then was the Shah convinced that the coup could be carried out successfully.

Even then, the young and timid Shah fled to Geneva via Baghdad before the CIA brought him back to be installed as America's new boy on the block.

A more recent account of that historic development, which was a precursor for other 'regime changes' courtesy of the CIA in the Third World (Guatemala 1954, Congo 1960, South Vietnam 1963, Indonesia 1965, Chile 1973), makes interesting reading.

New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer, in his 'All the Shah's Men', has President Dwight Eisenhower, who authorized the coup, asking his people during a March 1953 meeting of the National Security Council at the White House: "Why can't we get some of the people in these downtrodden countries to like us instead of hating us?"

Fifty years later, that question remains answered as U.S. policymakers again try regime change to politically reshape the Middle Eastern map with issues such as oil, geopolitics and Islam. Anti-U.S. sentiment casts a shadow over the U.S., which is still in search of a viable policy toward the Muslim world.

However, there are real differences in the situation today.

Islam is no longer perceived as the 'natural ally' of the United States as was the case in Iran in 1953 or Afghanistan's 'jihad' against the Soviet 'Evil Empire'. If anything, al-Qaeda or 'radical Islam' have become the new 'enemy', the bogey of the 21st century.

Regarding Middle East geopolitics, U.S. foreign policy is now influenced more and more by Israel, whose neo-conservative rightists led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have forged a coalition with Christian fundamentalists, who are believed to dominate the world view of George Bush.

The most significant difference in the regime change in Iran 1953 as opposed to regime change in Iraq 2003 lies in two key areas: the goals of U.S. foreign policy and the manner in which the U.S. and the Muslim world are changing.

In the 1950s, the U.S. proclaimed to all the supposed idealism in its foreign policy, although it had just intervened on the side of rightists in the Greek civil war and butchered 2 or 3 million Koreans. The United States proclaimed itself 'leader of the Free World,' and any regime change was meant to make the world 'safe from the captivity of communism.'

The United States could talk of a moral high ground while countering communism in strategic parts of the Third World, more so since Eastern Europe was under the occupation of the Soviet Army.

regime change was invariably followed by the placement of pliant puppets, who acted as faithful instruments of U.S. foreign policy.

But regime change in Iraq 2003 has a different purpose. As U.S. journalist Jay Bookman aptly summed it up: "The war in Iraq is intended to mark the official emergence of the United States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman."

"It would be the culmination of a plan 10 years or more in the making, carried out by those who believe the United States must seize the opportunity for global dominance, even if it means becoming the 'American imperialists' that our enemies always claimed we were," he said.

It is this vital difference -- of the United States taking direct charge of the destinies of countries in a strategic region such as the Middle East with an element of permanence to politically reshape their polity -- that makes regime change today a qualitatively different kind as compared to yesteryears.

The other difference is how the United States and Muslim world are responding to the altered scenario after Sept. 11.

The Muslim world has realized that its days of dependence on the United States are over, and if, instead of being part of the problem, they are to be part of the solution, they have to change, a process on which most have apparently already embarked on.

Flexibility and U-turns are therefore in order, especially if they are able to reverse wrongs.

Pakistan reversed an unsustainable Afghan policy, Turkey has reversed its wrong Kurdish policy, making itself a more democratic and attractive candidate for membership in the European Union, and Saudi Arabia has established a National Centre for Intellectual Dialogue, allowing for dissent and difference of opinion to be aired more freely.

Likewise, Libya has finally accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie crime, agreeing to dish out $2.7 billion in compensation to the victims of the crash. In Iran, even Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson, Hussein, has called for removal of 'clerical dictatorship' seeking greater political freedom.

These are very positive signs indicating a Muslim world willing to come to terms with a changed international environment, where its citizens' urge for freedom and openness needs to be met.

Conversely, as a consequence of the 'war on terror' and the aftermath of Sept. 11, if the Muslim world shows signs of changing for the better, the United States may be changing for the worse.

Curbing liberties and fundamental rights, choking off media access, institutionalizing falsehood to promote political and military goals, blaming Muslims and Islam, bypassing the United Nations and reverting to the 'might is right' maxim are disturbing signs that put the United States increasingly on a collision course with the world of Islam.

The result is that the United States is left with either flunkies or foes in the Muslim world, but hardly any friends.

The U.S. Establishment needs to ponder: Can an Empire be sustained in such a sea of hostility?

The Iraq resistance is spreading and growing more bloody, as witness the bombing of the UN headquarters this week and the almost daily killing of GIs.

Will Iraq be to the U.S. Empire what Afghanistan was to the Soviet Empire and Dunkirk to the British Empire?

The U.S. should learn lessons from history before embarking on new quixotic adventures.

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Albion Monitor August 20, 2003 (

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