Sunday, 11 November 2012

Churchill, Carter, Obama, Affleck

Coincidentally, at the same time as I was reading "Patriot of Persia", Christopher de Bellaigue's biography of Muhammad Mossadegh, Channel 4 broadcast a programme about an Israeli war-game posited on a first strike against Iran and Ben Affleck's "Argo" was released in the UK.

Affleck had prepared himself for directing his fact-based thriller by reading up on what had led up to the Islamic revolution which forms the background to "Argo", as his gallop through post-war Iranian history on Radio 4's "Film Programme" demonstrated. The only thing missing from this objective overview was the trigger for the US Tehran embassy siege, the decision by that decent man, president Jimmy Carter, to allow the deposed Shah to enter the US for urgent medical treatment. This was misread by the revolutionary guards, including a young Ahmedinajad, as political support for the hated dictator. The economic situation of the time is widely blamed for Carter's loss to Reagan in the presidential election of 1980, but the mishandling of the embassy siege, which made the US look weak, must have contributed.

Another decent man, Barack Obama, has apologised for the United States' part in the coup which gave the Shah absolute power in 1953. So far, neither the United Kingdom government, BP (the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company as it was then) nor the BBC (the Overseas Service had abandoned its traditional neutrality in order to assist the coup) have done the same. Churchill and Anglo-Iranian played on the American fear of Communist advance to induce the US to take the lead in removing Persia's democratic elected government, in order to maintain Anglo-Iranian's semi-colonial status in the oil-bearing region.

As Bellaigue's book makes clear,  the Iranian communists, the Tudeh party, were a nuisance, but nowhere near strong enough to take power. Mossadegh, on the other hand, was a democrat (even though he had arguably a more royal pedigree than the Shah, scion of the usurping Pahlavis) who had widespread support on account of his demonstrable incorruptibility. Bellaigue suggests that "Mossadegh's Iran would have tilted to the West in foreign affairs, bound by oil to the free world and by wary friendship to the U.S., but remaining polite to the big neighbour [USSR] to the north. In home affairs, it would have been democratic to a degree unthinkable in any Middle Eastern country of the time except Israel - a constitutional monarchy in a world of dictatorships, dependencies and uniformed neo-democracies. The broad strokes of his government would have been egalitarian and redistributive, with a planned economy eroding the power of the 'thousand families', but dappled with elitism (a literacy condition for voters; a penchant for French-educated cabinet mnisters). In social affairs, secularism and personal liberty would have been the lodestones, and the hejab and alcohol a matter of personal conscience. Sooner or later, women would have got the vote."

No comments: