Acknowledging Our History in Negotiations With Iran

This was a pretty stunning statement coming from the President of the United States.

Clearly, he added, “part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past.”

In case you don’t know what he’s talking about, in 1953 the United States and Britain coordinated a coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after their parliament voted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was set up to effectively rule the country as an absolute monarch. It was the brutality of the Shah, supported every step of the way by the United States, that led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and set up the theocratic Islamic State.

The involvement of the United States in the 1953 coup is not simply the stuff of leftist conspiracy theorists. Less than two years ago, the documents describing what happened were declassified.

On the 60th anniversary of an event often invoked by Iranians as evidence of western meddling, the US national security archive at George Washington University published a series of declassified CIA documents.

“The military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” reads a previously excised section of an internal CIA history titled The Battle for Iran.

None of this is meant to justify the behavior of Iran’s current leadership. But do you think that perhaps when the West comes marching in talking about nuclear programs this time instead of oil – maybe they’d have reason to be a bit cautious?

For President Obama to not only talk openly about these events and Iran’s reaction to them (as he did previously in his 2009 speech in Cairo) – but to instruct his negotiating team to keep those concerns in mind strikes me as a stunningly BFD. Therefore, I’ve been surprised that at this point I can find no one who has commented on it.

It is the contention of many of us on the left that this kind of covert meddling in other countries around the globe contributed to much of the unrest we’re witnessing today. Now we have a President who is not only acknowledging those mistakes, he is doing so publicly as he attempts to heal some of those wounds. I’d suggest that it’s time we noticed.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.