In popular American culture, the inflexion point of the US-Iranian fracture was the 1979 Revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis.
Unbeknownst commonly, the Middle East’s muscle-memory is overflowing with stories of American intrigues and misadventures, especially so in isolated and “sanctioned” Iran. As the posturing messiah of freedom and democracy globally the American track record in the region has been decidedly in favour of the most repressive, illiberal and undemocratic sheikhdoms or dictators, in essence whosoever serves American interests. Within the civilisational cradle of lran with a recorded history dating back to 7,000 BC, the “first historical people” are today struggling to make sense of the incredulity of the label of the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror” even as no major terror attack in the Western world for many decades has been traced back to Iran. Yet, Iran has emerged as the pet peeve and unwarranted focus of American President Donald Trump, who bristles, “You will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before,” as he pushes the world towards Gulf War 3.
Mr Trump’s theatrics and famed unpredictably was succinctly alluded to by his predecessor and the architect of the path-breaking Iran Nuclear Deal, Barack Obama, who nailed the new presidential style as the “discourse about phony controversies and manufactured outrage”. The list of Mr Trump’s phony, unsubstantiated and even blatantly false accusations range from Iran’s supposed violation of the nuclear deal (though given a clean chit by the global watchdog agency, the IAEA, and all other signatory nations), ostensible attack on Japanese oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, to shooting down an intrusive US drone in “international waters”. The phenomenon of “manufactured outrage” punches ahead unilaterally, recklessly and obliviously to any sane advice that emanates beyond Tel Aviv, Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. Always short on facts and high on salesmanship, the mercantilist instinct of Mr Trump is trying to re-stitch a patently villainous narrative on Iran that had ironically thawed to a more reasonable level of mutual engagement and rapprochement. Accompanying today’s manufactured cacophony is the powerful project of drowning historical facts and ignoring sensitivities that still irk people in the region.
In popular American culture, the inflexion point of the US-Iranian fracture was the 1979 Revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis. In the Iranian psyche, the wounds go back further to 1953, when the coup d’état against the hugely popular, reformist and nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was undertaken by the CIA. This unscrupulous and violent interference by the Americans to oust a legitimate and democratically elected Prime Minister is a chapter of history that finds no mention in Mr Trump’s “outrage”. That the seeds of the Islamic Revolution or animus towards Western intent were sowed in the 1950s by the United States’ actions is a matter of selective amnesia for the US, much like similar actions or inactions partaken knowingly in other countries of the region. Countries may forget, civilisations don’t. Persians are amongst the most ancient, sophisticated and profound societies that typically personalise insults inflicted in the course of history, and on insults, Mr Trump is an unmatched practitioner. The US had owned up to its role in 1953 by declassifying documents, though without the necessary matching outrage.
The second thing that the US may not want to expand on is its murky role in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s when it ironically threw its weight behind Saddam Hussein! Horrors like the Halabja massacre by the Iraqi forces, entailing the largest chemical attack on a civilian population in history is a forgotten footnote in American recollection. The sale of dual-use chemicals by the US to Iraq during the 1980s war while overlooking its misuse is not part of the public dossier. Even then the Americans had falsely tried to bump off the chemical attack onto the Iranians themselves. In a cruel twist of fate, slightly over a decade later, the US invaded Iraq to destroy its supposed “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, which were never found!
American duplicitousness does not end with having sided with Saddam Hussein officially. Worse, unofficially the Americans were caught in an embarrassing act of simultaneously supplying arms to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and the scandal blew up in the Iran-Contra affairs. The Reagan administration was cheating on its own congressional laws and surreptitiously supplying arms to Iran in order to fund yet another covert interference in Nicaragua which had a government disliked by the US. Much later, the man at the centre of the Iran-Contra controversy, Lt. Col. Oliver North, was initially convicted and later had his charges vacated and dismissed. He went on to join Mr Trump’s Republican Party and even made a failed bid for the US Senate and has recently retired as the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The current presidential outrage on Iran captures no element of its unwarranted dalliances and interferences in Iran.
Even as later date manifestations and inspirations of Middle Eastern terror, including 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaida, Taliban, Boko Haram or most recently the ISIS — all have fingerprints that point exclusively towards those who are in current chorus — party with Donald Trump. On the contrary, Iran has played an invaluable role in the global fightback against terror, albeit with its own sectarian and regional considerations. That the sectarian divide in the region is an irreconcilable reality that necessitates a choice amongst the two competing “blocs”, the US has clearly made a choice and is acting upon it. Fact is, Middle Eastern conflict is not linear, unidimensional or even moral, and to not recognise the entirety of history with all its warts, and to instead suggest a simplistic “outrage” as is the wont now, is both convenient and false. An ancient civilisation is today pitted against a substantially louder force, and history suggests that over time empty rhetoric tends to crumble under its own obfuscations, while a civilisation can sustain the ravages of time.