Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Obama Needed To Apologize

Sneering Republican and other right-wing commentators, from Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity, have derisively referred to President Obama's Cairo speech as an "apology tour". The implication here was that it was wrong for the United States of America to exercise humility in the messages it sends to other countries, a concept that only makes moral sense if you assume that America has not committed any major transgressions against the peoples of other lands.

Yet the specific apology that Obama did articulate - namely, the one to the people of Iran for America's role in the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadeq - was undoubtedly a great transgression, one that worked to the detriment not only of the Persian people, but of America and its allies in the Middle East (most notably Israel). How so?

Let us step fifty-seven years back in time. Iran, having only recently thrown off its colonial shackles, is led by Mohammed Mossadeq. In the entire Muslim world, he is the only leader whose ascent to power was brought about not by blood or corruption, but by a legitimate democratic election. In a region where anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism run rampant, he alone among Islamic rulers not only recognizes Israel's right to exist, but openly celebrates it. Most important, at a time when America was trying to extend humanitarian political principles into the "Third World", Mossadeq is a leader whose government, though far from perfect, makes undeniable efforts to expand the freedoms of and achieve meaningful socioeconomic betterment for all of its people. Less than half a decade after President Truman's brave recognition of the State of Israel first compromised America's standing with the Muslim world, Mossadeq's Iran represented our nation's only worthwhile ally.

Yet Mossadeq made one mistake: In 1951 announced a plan to nationalize Iran's oil fields so that the profits produced therein could be used for the benefit of his countrymen, rather than for the British oil companies that then controlled them. While this plan certainly posed no threat to the American, Israeli, or general international welfare (and indeed it is hard to imagine other nations not advocating similar acts should they find themselves in comparable circumstances), it did alienate the British corporation which had been fleecing Iran for decades. Hence when the Anglo-Iranian oil company approached President Truman in 1952, they did so with a request that he use America's military might to launch a coup d'etat against Mossadeq and install in his stead a leader more amenable to their corporate interests. Of course, they were prudent enough to recognize that any revolution which implicated them could have disastrous geo-political ramifications; as such, they suggested that Mossadeq be deposed in a CIA covert operation, one that would appear at face value to spring organically from the Iranian people rather than any foreign entity.

To his credit, President Truman refused; to the world's misfortune Truman's successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, did not. Under Eisenhower's orders the covert overthrow of a democratically elected foreign leader (dubbed Operation Ajax) was launched and successfully executed, with Kermit Roosevelt (the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt) serving as one of its leaders. Although Mossadeq did manage to spend the last fourteen years of his life in exile (as opposed to having been murdered on the spot), the leader America installed in his stead - a brutal tyrant named Mohammed Reza Pahlevi who called himself The Shah - would run his nation into the ground for the nexty twenty-six years, so much so that it planted the seeds for the revolution of the dangerous theocratic rebels who still rule that nation today.

None of the presidents who have presided over this land for the past fifty-six years - Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush - have openly acknowledged, much less apologized for, America's role in destabilizing the region and destroying that country. When he spoke in Cairo on June 5, 2009, President Barack Obama became the first chief executive to do this. While the significance of this piece of history may seem minimal to most Americans, it has had vast and (for the most part) tragic consequences for Iran and the Middle East. It is high time that America apologized for its actions here, not merely because humility is more often than not an admirable quality, but because we must pledge to never again allow the cupidity of the Western world's less savory entities to override our good judgment.

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