Stephen Kinzer on US-Iranian Relations, the 1953 CIA Coup in Iran and the Roots of Middle East Terror

Kinzer interviewed on Democracy Now. Key quote:
[An attack on Iran is] 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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