As presidential candidates advocate the opening of diplomatic relations with a country that supported the taking of U.S. hostages, other experts are promoting the support of a proven terrorist organization as means of “overthrowing/undermining” the current regime in Iran. It seems that what our leaders need more than anything is a lesson in history to remind us of how we arrived at our current relationship with Iran.
The U.S. government had very little interaction with the country of Iran prior to 1953 when it funded a CIA-led coup to depose Iran’s democratically-elected leader Mohammed Mossadegh and reinstate the autocratic rule of the Shah – Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The Shah, a puppet of the West, reigned over the country with an iron fist until 1979 when he was overthrown in a revolution led by Islamic leaders and followers. Later that same year, a group of Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Iran and took all of its occupants hostage. The new leadership under Ayatollah Khomeini supported the students’ efforts and the hostage crisis lasted for 444 days, at which point all of the hostages were finally released. The end of this crisis marked the end of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
While this history of United States-Iranian relations is an extremely abridged version and, admittedly, lacks significant details and events, it seems that the leaders of our country – both governmental and intellectual – have completely forgotten our past history with Iran. Despite the fact that I am no expert on Iran and I offer no great solution to the impending nuclear situation, I urge caution and the heeding of past lessons.
The U.S. government cannot simply sit down with Iran’s leaders, open diplomatic relations, and come up with a nice, win-win solution for Iran’s energy problems. First, I doubt Iran’s leaders would be interested in such talks. Iranians hold nothing but disdain for the U.S. government and the opening of relations with the “Great Satan” (i.e. the U.S. government) would only undermine the current Iranian regime. The one thing that Iran’s leaders have always been able to count on as a way to rally the people is the Iranian public’s hatred of the U.S. government (and Israel). Second, the United States cannot simply forgive and forget the takeover of its embassy and the hostage-taking of U.S. citizens. This would clearly set a bad precedent. It would teach future despotic leaders that all they must do is begin enriching uranium and all will be forgiven.
The U.S. must take measures to prevent a repeat of past mistakes – the support of a coup d’etat. Intellectuals across this country today have advocated the support of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq in its efforts to take power in Iran. The MEK is currently on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, as many of its efforts against the Islamic Republic have resulted in the deaths of countless innocent civilians. First, a U.S.-supported coup would be perceived as even less legitimate than previous instances. Second, the United States would again be setting a terrible precedent by supporting a terrorist organization just because the organization’s goal is in line with our interests. It would further undermine our “War on Terror.”
So what should the United States do? Here I offer a general idea: we must continue on the current path of diplomacy (via the International Atomic Energy Agency and the EU), continue our push for further UN and economic sanctions by individual countries, offer to support any international efforts for a peaceful nuclear energy program in Iran (as the Non-Proliferation Treaty clearly states Iran, and all other signatories, have a right to do) and, if all else fails, consider a strategic military air-strike, preferably by a multi-national force. But above all, we must begin to learn our lessons and take note of them regarding our interference in the business of other sovereign states.
Millie Suk is a University graduate student. Please send comments to [email protected]