“The reason most of my countrymen would tell you that they carry a grudge against the United States is that the U.S. government,” exiled Iranian writer Reza Baraheni wrote two years before the Islamic Revolution, “has given its unconditional support to a monarch [Shah of Iran] who has terrorized a whole nation, plundered its wealth and bought billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment which neither he nor our nation knows how to use.”
Baraheni’s words, referring to one of America’s greatest 20th century foreign policy blunders — deposing a freely-elected prime minister of Iran through a CIA-backed coup d’état, haunt us still.
After World War II the Iranian people, not immune from being swept along with most of the developing world when winds of independence and anti-colonialism stirred the long-dormant national aspirations of millions of people, freely elected Mohammed Mosadegh as prime minister in 1951.
In response, in 1953, in one of America’s, and President Eisenhower’s, greatest contemporary foreign policy blunders, we deposed Mosadegh and installed the Shah of Iran, imposing upon the Iranian people 26 years of brutal oppression and tyranny and laying the groundwork for a counter-revolution that re-oppressed the Iranian people through the imposition of an Islamic Revolution — and which oppresses still.
And in 1988, after enduring eight years of war with a U.S.-supported Iraq, a civilian flight, Iran Air #655, traveling from Tehran to Dubai, was shot down by the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes, killing all 290 on board — the eighth most deadly disaster in aviation history. The attack happened in Iranian airspace, over Iran’s territorial waters and from within Iranian territorial waters that the Vincennes had entered.
In 1996, America and Iran reached a settlement at the International Court of Justice, which included”…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the loss of lives caused by the incident…” While not admitting liability, America agreed to pay $213,103.45 per passenger in compensation.
Those two incidents came to mind when I heard the recent news of the capture of two American boats in the Persian Gulf, and I was worried about their fate as I viewed the video of 10 American sailors kneeling with arms raised in submission to their captors, knowing that in 2007 in took 13 days to negotiate the release of a group of British sailors.
So I welcomed, as did most Americans — at least most who weren’t running for the Republican nomination — when the sailors were safely released fewer than 24 hours later. Negotiate, compromise, settle: That’s what nations do.
Until facts to the contrary are introduced we know that our boats were in Iranian territorial waters in close proximity to a major Iranian naval base.
Until facts are introduced to the contrary we know our sailors are safe and that our boats, minus, I believe two SIM chips, have been returned — all in less than 24 hours.
Other facts, however, should truly concern us: Many Republican presidential candidates proved themselves to be intellectually and emotionally unsuitable to be commander-in-chief. Their off-the cuff, belligerent and intemperate rants suggest to me that they appear more willing to portray themselves as “Machismo Warriors” than as statesmen worthy of being entrusted with the codes to the world’s most potent weapons of mass destruction.
“When I become president of the United States,” Rubio foolishly offered on NBC’s Meet the Press, “our adversaries around the world will know that America is no longer under the command of someone weak like Barack Obama, and it will be like Ronald Reagan, where as soon as he took office the hostages were released from Iran.”
Actually, Sen. Rubio, you’re wrong — dangerously wrong.
First, on Jan. 28, 1980, during President Jimmy Carter’s presidency, an American clandestine operation extracted six American diplomats from Tehran during the height of the hostage crisis — an operation dramatized in the movie “Argo.”
That year, although running for re-election against Ronald Reagan, Carter made no allusion to that heroic extraction — even though that might’ve enhanced his re-election chances — because such a revelation might’ve put the 52 American hostages still being held in Iran in further jeopardy.
Second, the release of all the remaining hostages was the result on many months of negotiations with Iran – not an Inauguration present to Ronald Reagan.
Carter lost to Reagan, but no American life was lost to the Iranians.
That’s what diplomacy is — indeed, that is what courage is; the willingness to sacrifice for a greater good.
Diplomacy is getting back American citizens without resorting to force. Diplomacy is not to so humiliate and embarrass those with whom America negotiates that they will be reluctant to negotiate in the future. Diplomacy isn’t weakness — it comes from strength and it’s the art of maintaining security and peace without resorting to war.
We live in an asymmetrical world, with enemies both identified and unknown, large forces and lone wolves — and not all can be overcome by brute force and belligerence.
We cannot ignore that we share common interests with Iran, not only in ensuring that the nuclear accord is fully implemented but also in trying to regain some degree of regional stability and security.
Iran, to whom we ceded regional hegemony in 2003, is an essential partner in the struggle with Daesh and its participation and cooperation is essential in dealing with Yemen, Syria and Iraq and with non-state actors like Hezbollah and the Taliban.
We don’t have to embrace them, like them or trust them. We do have to work with them. The small steps taken in the Persian Gulf with the release of our sailors and in Tehran with the prisoner exchange are small steps toward establishing a relationship that could advance our future security interests.
As Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted after the issue was resolved: “Happy to see dialog and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailors episode. Let’s learn from this latest example.”
Let us all learn.
This column first appeared in the Portsmouth Herald.