US Institute of Peace Corrects ‘Iran Primer’ Errors… Sort Of

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has now corrected some of the errors I pointed out in my Oct. 24 article, “U.S.-Funded ‘Iran Primer’ Needs Editing.” More can be done.

For one thing, they had an impossibly wrong date for an Ahmadinejad speech in their Iran timeline (March 27 – months before he even took office – instead of Oct. 26, 2005). It was subsequently changed… to another wrong date, Oct. 25. Getting closer, though.

The primer also stated that Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was forced to resign in August 1953. My article explained why this was completely false, and evidently, they agree.

Before: “The CIA and British intelligence orchestrated riots that forced Mossadegh to resign…

After: “The CIA and British intelligence orchestrated riots that forced Mossadegh from power…

While this is an improvement, editor Robin Wright’s nebulous summary of the events leading up to the coup still opens about as many questions as it answers. Why did the shah attempt to dismiss Mossadegh? Why did he flee to Rome afterward? Why would the U.S. and Britain want to overturn a popular and democratic government? Without these crucial elements, the true significance of the event and the motivations of its players remain imperceptible.

It’s hard to overstate the impact of the 1953 coup in Iran. Yet Wright’s account, which doesn’t even use the word “coup,” softens the story considerably. Hundreds of Iranians died fighting to preserve their freedom on Aug. 19, 1953, as Mossadegh’s home was literally attacked by army tanks, soldiers, and mobs. In Wright’s description, though, the episode sounds benign, almost peaceful. No mention is made of the West’s elaborate, extended campaign to undermine Iran’s democratic government after it nationalized its oil industry, enraging the British empire.

Robin Wright’s interpretation of the shah’s role in this is also misleading. At no point did the shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ever “lose” his throne. He was not forced from his position, he did not abdicate, and Dr. Mossadegh had no part in his decision to run away and hide out in Rome. Yet still we see the tired old phrase that Western powers “restored” the shah to his throne. This is categorically false, because he never lost his throne.

The U.S. Institute of Peace was founded to prevent and resolve conflict around the world. “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding,” Albert Einstein reminds us in one of the many wise quotations decorating the USIP’s Web site.

Yet understanding is where “The Iran Primer” fails to engage. A truly potent resource would not only fill gaps in information, but also in understanding – peace depends on it, regardless of the regime in power. When an embassy is seized and hostages are taken, for example, Americans lacking background knowledge or context for what is taking place find it incomprehensible. No understanding, consequently, leads to an escalation of tension and conflict – precisely what the U.S. Institute of Peace intends to prevent.

“For Americans, Iran is one of the most stereotyped and least understood countries in the world,” says Wright. The question is why Iran, a country on Earth inhabited by human beings, should be that perplexing. Have the roles of U.S. foreign policy and the media been to make Iran more understood, or less?

As usual, “The Iran Primer” repeats many familiar clichés. The shootdown of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988, says former Reagan official Geoffrey Kemp, was done “accidentally.” No mention is made of the fact that by trespassing in Iranian territorial waters, the USS Vincennes was already in clear violation of international law. Also unmentioned: President Reagan’s rewarding the perpetrators of this “accident” with shiny new medals, automatically negating whatever trace of American inculpability there may have been.

Compare the sensationalized hostage grievance, in which not a single hostage died, with the shooting of Iran Air Flight 655, in which 290 people perished, 66 of them children. Equivalent?

Though created and funded by the U.S. government, the U.S. Institute of Peace identifies itself as “independent” (it will soon inhabit a new $186 million headquarters on the Mall in Washington, D.C.). USIP’s co-chair, former Secretary of State George Shultz, once stood aside as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used banned chemical weapons against Iranians and committed genocide against his own people, while enabling the Iran-Iraq War to drag on for eight years. Over a million lives were wasted. Man of peace?

Advocating peace and understanding while whitewashing policies and actions that have had terrible consequences for both countries has never, and will never, lead to a just and lasting peace or resolution.