History has been fraught with men and nations that have taken the lessons of history too lightly, if taken at all. The international scene has changed in the course of time, but the lessons and the core of the issues have not. President Obama must take note of these lessons, lest in his zeal to fulfill certain promises made in the campaign lead to serious repercussions to the people of the United States.
George Santayana (1863-1952), in his book The Life of Reason (1905), once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana, 1905). People who negate the lessons that history has given are likely to repeat the same mistakes unless the lesson is learned. United States Barack Obama seems to be treading the same path on Iran that former President Jimmy Carter was on that led to serious effects that is still being felt in today’s political sphere. Carter turned on an ally in the region in the guise of promoting “human rights” and installed people who turned out to be far worse (Slater Bakhtavar, 2008).
Carter had then espoused that the Iranians uphold the case for human rights, in effect accusing then the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, of blatant human rights violations (Bakhtavar, 2008). All that Pahlavi did was to establish reforms throughout the many sectors of Iranian society (Bakhtavar, 2008). Carter fuelled the discontent of the Iranians against the government in the context of promoting human rights, which in the end deposed the Shah (Bakhtavar, 2008). This act is still remembered as one of the most damaging foreign policy goofs of the American government (Bakhtavar, 2008).
Now, President Obama is projecting that same approach in calling for talks with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Bakhtavar, 2008). He even states that the talks will occur at the right time (Bakhtavar, 2008). But Obama is not correct in his approach as the President is only titular, the real power belonging to Ayatollah Khameini, Iran’s preeminent religious figure (Bakhtavar, 2008). The dilemma here is that the intended beneficiaries of the reforms are the true parties in the conflict, not the minority government in the country (Bakhtavar, 2008).
The U.S. supported overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh demonstrates this misplaced sense of values of the United States. President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched the CIA to depose Mossadegh (Saint Pete for Peace, 2003). The coup was planned by Great Britain, disappointed at the nationalization of the oil industry, brokered the idea to depose the Mossadegh (Saint Pete, 2003). The United States has denied involvement in the affair, until March of 2000 (Saint Pete, 2003). Then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright admitted the important role that the United States played in the issue, thus stunting the political evolution of Iran (Saint Pete, 2003). Thus the Iranians see the interference of the United States in their local affairs with hostility (Saint Pete, 2003).
The Iranians, reeling from decades of war, must be given the opportunity to deal with their issues on their own. Countless times the United States has interfered in their affairs to aid enemies of the Iranian people (Saint Pete, 2003). In spite of the Axis of Evil speech, the Bush administration never stated that the answer was to wage war against Iran; in fact, the farthest that the Bush government did was to say that the military option was available, but not totally declare war (Saint Pete, 2003). In fact, the Bush government has promoted democracy initiatives in Iran that drew criticism from Iran as a transgression on the internal policies of the country (Saint Pete, 2003).
Former Senator and present Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pilloried the Bush administration for foot dragging on Iran and called for swift action on the erring country (Dan Balz, 2006). In commenting on the action of Bush in stating Iran was part of an Axis of Evil but leaving the job to European countries, Clinton has just been true to her war stances since her days in the Senate (Balz, 2006). In the speech, the lines of demarcation must be set. The enemies are the murderous totalitarians who in the guise of leading their respective countries are actually conducting widespread abuse of the people (J.R. Nyquist, 2006). President Obama’s perceived mistake is that he underestimates the intellect of these madmen (Nyquist, 2006). Thus, negotiations with the people of Iran must be the tack pursued rather than negotiating with theoretical dictators (Nyquist, 2006).
If the negotiations are done with these people, it will only seem that the United States is affording them some sense of recognition, and to a degree, recognition of their regimes and the acts that they commit. If there is any party that the government must pursue, it is with the people of the country, not the lunatics in the government (Nyquist, 2006). Then the Obama administration would on the right path. In the light of the influence of the United States in world affairs, akin to the Shah affair, it could lead to the unification of the parties in Iran to chart their own road to change.
Balz, D. (2006, January 20). Sen. Clinton urges U.N. sanctions against Iran. The Washington Post, page A06.
Nyquist, J.R. (2006). The fatal befuddlement. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from
Qoutations Page. (2007). Qoutation from George Santayana. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from http://www.quotationspage.com/search.php3?Search=&startsearch=Search&Author=george+santayana&C=mgm&C=motivate&C=classic&C=coles&C=poorc&C=lindsly
Saint Pete for Peace. (2003). U.S. / Iran timeline, 1953-present. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from http://stpeteforpeace.org/us.iran.timeline.html
Slater, B. (2008). Obama’s Jimmy Carter disaster. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from