Flashback to 1953, summertime: Iran is led by a stable and democratically-elected government. There is, generally, freedom of speech and of religion. The world is, generally, fine with Iran. When you think of Iran, if you think of it at all, you probably imagine desert sand dunes and hummus and Persian rugs. That’s about all you know of Iranian culture, and it seems lovely … even if those rugs are absurdly overpriced. Iran is really just another little country, mostly unremarkable and rarely brought to mind.
It’s easy to forget that beneath the dunes of all that white desert sand, black oil gurgles.
As that summer crawls forward, American and British officials hatch a plan. It’s the 1950s, remember, and the world thirsts for oil to fuel the post-World War II technology boom.
But the oil itself isn’t enough. The governments of the United States and the United Kingdom want the oil, yes, but even more valuable than the oil is its control and dominion – where it goes, how it gets there, and everything in between.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
To that end, and under the code name “Operation Ajax,” America and Britain overthrow Iran’s democratic government. In its place they install a military regime, the authoritarian rule of which is permitted and even encouraged – as long as the U.S. and the U.K. remain oil puppeteers.
Fast forward to 1979: The Iranian Revolution unravels the status quo puppet show, ending the West’s reign over Iran. There’s another coup, this time one that’s homegrown. Iranian leaders – the crazy and militant monarchists installed by America and Britain – are thrown out and replaced by even crazier and more militant zealots.
Flash forward to the present: It’s mid-August, almost six decades to the day – to the day! – since the West’s Iranian takeover.
The U.S. and the U.K., this time joined by Israel, are poised for another major takeover of Iran. It’s an any-day-now situation. Here in the West, it registers mostly as far-away and way-over-there. We know it’s there, that looming threat of drones and missiles and worse, but for us it’s more headline than reality. In the Mideast though, where war is a fact of life, it’s a different story altogether. Israelis wear gas masks as they run errands, bracing for way even as they go about the days of their lives.
And here we sit in the U.S., idly redrawing lines on a map like the Earth is an Etch-a-Sketch – forgetting to read between the lines on the map, ignoring people for place. We use Biblical geography to justify acts of war, promising to preserve the “Holy Land” even as we make plans for its pillage and destruction.
We tell ourselves it’s all for the good of the Jewish people – God’s chosen, and our allies in matters of both state and spirit. It’s a lovely sentiment, this idea that America stands with Israel no matter what. A member of the tribe myself, with both an Israeli parent and an Israeli passport, I for one appreciate the gesture.
But it’s a gesture that’s as empty as it is reckless. The last time America pounced on Iran, it set the stage for the very instability that today threatens Israel and the rest of the world. Americans forget (or never knew) that Iran was relatively recently a place of peace and stability. It was only when the West inserted itself into Iranian affairs, overthrowing a democratically-elected government, that the country devolved and unraveled.
The writer in me wishes for a newer, fresher way to say it, but the best I can offer is the oldest cliche in the book: That thing they say about history repeating itself, and also that thing they say about forgetting the past and being doomed to repeat it.
In other words, and in equally trite expression, butt out, America. Mind your own beeswax.
Contact Mande Wilkes, a local cultural commentator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.