TCS Daily

Embracing 'Imperialism'

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - December 3, 2002 12:00 AM

Many observers of the continuing demonstrations by the Iranian people against the Islamic regime argue that the United States should stay out of Iran's domestic politics. Citing the commonly expressed Iranian belief that the United States is a "Great Satan" that seeks to control and dominate the political and economic order of other countries, these observers argue that any effort by the United States to insert itself on the side of reformers in Iran will backfire, and cause those agitating for reform to change sides in favor of the reactionary mullahs, and against the "imperialistic" United States.

However, this theory neglects an important aspect of the Iranian belief regarding American power. The Iranian people may potentially resent perceived American hegemonic power. But they also shape their own political stances based on what they perceive as American political goals. If America is perceived as pursuing a policy objective that is in line with the desires of the Iranian people, the Iranian people will be further emboldened to pursue those desires.

An example of this can be found in the fall of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. The Shah enjoyed good relationships with American presidents, especially Nixon and Ford. On a personal level, the Shah got along quite well with Nixon and Ford. Beyond personal relationships, the Shah was the beneficiary of various policy initiatives that served to elevate the importance of Iranian-American relations.

The most famous and far-reaching of these policies was the national security doctrine promulgated by the Nixon Administration. The Nixon Doctrine stated that America, instead of being "the world's policeman," should instead establish strong relationships with regional powers that would act in concert with the United States to promote joint security goals in their respective regions. So the United States recognized Iran as the guarantor of peace and stability in the Persian Gulf region, and a bulwark against the spread of Soviet communism-a recognition that enabled the Shah to present himself to his people as a ruler who could establish and maintain strong ties between Iran and the United States, and a ruler who had made Iran a regional power respected by one of the two superpowers in the world.

However, with the advent of Jimmy Carter, the Shah suddenly had reason to worry about his relationship with America. Carter promised to make the furtherance of human rights a foreign policy goal that would equal, if not surpass, the importance of fighting communism. Considering the fact that the Shah was prominently accused of maintaining one of the worst human rights records in the world during his regime, Iranians widely suspected that the advent of the Carter Administration signaled the end of the special relationship that had existed between Pahlavi Iran, and the United States.

This suspicion gained further credibility when it took one full year for the Shah to be invited by President Carter to visit the United States-a perceived snub to the Shah. When the visit finally occurred, an outdoor ceremony was held on White House grounds to welcome the Shah. In nearby Lafayette Park, protestors assembled to denounce the Shah's human rights violations. When the protests appeared to grow out of control, the police used tear gas to try to subdue the crowds. The winds shifted, and the tear gas wafted towards White House grounds-and President Carter, the Shah, and the other dignitaries that assembled to welcome America's staunchest ally in the Persian Gulf.

By and large, Americans did not give a second thought to the images from the Shah's welcome. After all, political protests are common in the United States. But Iranians, unaware of the relatively liberal laws regarding freedom of expression in the United States, believed that the demonstrations were deliberately staged by the Carter Administration to express its displeasure and dissatisfaction with the Shah and his regime. That, along with the relative tardiness of the Shah's visit to the United States, convinced many Iranians that the United States had signaled its desire for the regime to come to an end.

Quite certainly, unrest and dissent were already being fomented against the Pahlavi dynasty. However, these protests gained significant force and encouragement from the perception that the United States would not stand with the Shah as it had in the past. Indeed, according to his own memoirs, the Shah himself was convinced that the Carter Administration preferred him out of power.

This example illustrates that even though America is often excoriated (in Iran, as in other countries) for "imperialism" and "hegemonic ambitions," a perception that the United States has undertaken a particular policy route goes a long way towards affecting world events. No matter what the United States does, it will be perceived by reactionary mullahs in Iran as harboring hegemonic ambitions and meddling in Iranian affairs. As such, the United States should resolve to give the mullahs something to complain about.

Bush Administration officials should speak out forcefully in favor of Iranian reformers who habitually risk their lives demanding greater political freedoms. Many of these reformers have denounced the Islamic regime's practice of supporting terrorism against America, and American allies. The Islamic regime has proven manifestly incapable of reforming itself. It should now be the policy of the United States to encourage Iranian dissidents to bring about regime change in their country.

President Bush should denounce the political repression that habitually occurs in Iran, much in the same manner that President Reagan denounced the repression that existed in the former Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites. He should authorize an increase in Voice of America transmissions to Iranian households in order to further encourage behavior that is subversive to the Iranian regime. Additionally, the President should assist National Iranian Television, which is based in Los Angeles and transmits television programs critical of the regime to hundreds of thousands of households in Iran. Currently NITV suffers from a lack of funding that has caused it to seek subscriptions from Iranians for its services, thus cutting the number of Iranian households that can receive the programs. Funding NITV so that it will not have to seek subscriptions will serve to further expand its subversive message throughout Iran, thus further undermining the Islamic regime's political power.

The United States will be accused of meddling in Iranian affairs no matter what the circumstances, so it may as well further the ambitions of Iranian reformers, and the millions of people who support their goals. The opportunity to affect peaceful and revolutionary change in a country that is a member of the "Axis of Evil" will not come around everyday. When it does, that opportunity must be seized if the war against terrorism is to advance and be furthered in a manner consistent with American interests.



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