"Helping" Iran– or first, some historical humble pie

Warning: this is a political blog entry. If you came here looking for poetry, you will have to wait until next time I write some. I promise I am trying to do so more regularly and recent events are encouraging in that connection but right now I have a political opinion I would like to speak about.

I do not follow world news all that closely for several reasons including a rather fragile mental health that does not bear up well under sensationalized gloom and doom but I have been watching events unfold in Iran from a more or less medium-distance. Today at What Tami Said, Tami notes that some right wing and even moderate voices in the US “seem eager to see some saber-rattling from the President [of the United States].” To those taken in by that sort of useless testerical exuberance she points out precisely the problem with this idea–bad memory: “How soon we forget that it is our intervention that has helped shape several of Iran’s current problems.”

I am just going to explain briefly why I Agree With This Post.

It is not America’s job to come running in to save the day even when a country’s own people are appearing to be trying to choose a government we believe would look something like whatever our ideal for, say, Persian Democracy in this case would look like if we had our way with it. The Iranian people want their own independence, especially from foreign intervention. Anyone can read Iranian history and figure that out within just a few hours. We already monumentally fucked them over when we thwarted their bid for democracy after WWII; if you have a few minutes, google “Iran Mossadegh” or just go and read All the Shah’s Men for a sobering look at how the United States entered a colonial partnership with the UK to overthrow one of the most popular leaders in recent Iranian history and install a puppet regime to maintain control of Iranian oil.

In 1980, when Iranian students and political activists took over the American embassy and held 52 American diplomatic workers hostage, our reaction was one of outraged surprise. The average Iranian reaction to our outraged surprise was something like “so do you all learn your own foreign policy history?”–because of course we don’t, and few non-Iranian Americans had any idea that resentment towards us had been building there for nearly thirty years before they decided to rid themselves, once again, of a foreign-installed and -supported dictator.

I think most of us do manage to remember what happened next, but the historical lens through which we view subsequent political developments in that region is badly distorted by a lack of supporting context. We have already ignored the Iranian people more than enough to risk running roughshod over what they want in order to try to prove once again that the world really needs Western leaders to show them how to live.

I think it is safe to say that chances are, few Iranians want our active involvement this time around.

There are ways to support popular movements there, like sending funds to organizations that are not mainly headed by Western interests but which are poised to offer material aid rather than come barreling in with soldiers. avaaz.org is worth a look, for instance.

Tired interventionist policy will not only not work here, but it would almost certainly backfire, as it almost always does. If the Iranian people ask for our help, we should ask them exactly what they need, listen to what they say, and give them what they ask for to the best of our ability. Otherwise it is not our place to decide for them how this will play out, and we do not know better than they do what they need to successfully find independence and self-determination.

It is difficult for Americans to grasp, but sending in cowboys to shoot things up a bit is a mistake that we keep repeating because we do not learn from our own history. I could talk about the state of American historical “knowledge,” but that would take a whole new post filled with fresh examples of absurdity. You want to help? Listen to Iran rather than to the dinosaurs who still believe in the White Man’s Burden. Then go and do some research on what you did not learn in schoolroom American history.