The US War to Control the Middle East for OIL
By Dick Bennett, Presented at Fayetteville’s Town Square, 1-25-20
I. US Hostility
Recall the cooperation between the US and Iran during the US/Soviet Cold War following WWII. Iran became part of the US Truman Doctrine to contain Soviet economic and military threats worldwide, which after the collapse of the SU and 9-11 was widened to include all so-called terrorist threats world wide.
But the Iran-US alliance crashed in 1953 when President Eisenhower approved CIA plans to overthrow the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, who had incurred the wrath of British and US oil companies by nationalizing Iran’s oil. Once Mossadegh was deposed, the US became the main ally of the new Shah and his infamous secret police. In that moment the US went from friend to foe in the minds of many Iranians which has lasted to this day.
It was also the CIA’s first successful covert operation to overthrow a government that refused to obey the US, later examples being Guatemala’s Arbenz, Congo’s Lumumba, and Cuba.
Eventually, the Shah was overthrown, he fled to the US, and Iranian citizens then captured the US Embassy in Tehran, and held 52 US diplomats hostage for 444 days, known as the Hostage Crisis. Every night the US press reminded the public of the crisis. For example, for 444 days Ted Koppel’s ABC News America Held Hostage reminded Americans that Iranians had kidnapped their diplomats.
Other aggressions by the US followed, sometimes with tit for tat response by Iran, but in the minds of Iranians none equaled the US/CIA /UK overthrow of Mossadegh. And all arose as part of the US War to Control the Greater Middle East.
Take the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, begun by Iraq and killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians. At first the US declared neutrality . But in 1982, the US secretly provided Iraq with highly classified intelligence, including on Iranian troop movements, and covertly shipped American weapons to Iraq.
Hardly remembered today but milestones in the evolving US War for the Greater Middle East are these events involving the Navy with US openly pro-Saddam Hussein:
Operation Praying Mantis, in which the US Navy destroyed the Iranian Navy. “The smallest fighting ship in the US Navy easily outgunned the largest ship in Iran’s Navy.” And inadvertently the USS Vncennes shot down an Iran Air 655. For which VP George H.W. Bush refused to send flowers, saying: “I will never apologize for the United States—I don’t care what the facts are.”
Iraq bombed the USS Stark, Saddam Hussein blamed Iran, and immediately accepting the lie in the words of President Ronald Reagan, declared, “the villain in the piece really is Iran”;
the doubling of US warships operating in the Persian Gulf itself with one or two carrier battle groups and another WWII battleship;
the sinking of the Iran ship Iran Ajr.
These events crossed an important threshold when the US initiated a distinct military campaign. The official Pentagon explanation was to protect the oil. But its broader purpose was to ensure Iraq’s victory in the Iraq-Iran War, the First Gulf War, for this goal would establish the United States as the region’s ultimate arbiter, asserting a purpose implicit in the Carter Doctrine, which inaugurated the US War to Control the Middle East. This was the unstated mission of the US forces gathering in the Persian Gulf in ever greater strength during the First Gulf War.
II. Iran’s Many Peaceful Overtures and US Dismissals
War looms again between the US and Iran. Can you tell me why? For a hundred reasons we should be allies. We don’t have time here today to identify all the reasons. But we can select two moments of the chronology of Iran/US relations to illustrate their much longer history.
Begin by remembering the September 11, 2001, bombing by airplane hijackers of the NYC Trade Towers and Pentagon in Washington.
What follows is clear. But a perversity in the minds of US leaders makes evidence inconsequential and clarity opaque.
On 9-11-2001, a handful of middle-easterners-- mainly extremist Wahhabist Sunni, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabians-- blew up the Towers in NYC and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. What? Stop there. Who were these people? Our leaders soon knew who they were. 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabians, Sunni Saudi Arabians (Sunni the ruling religion of Saudi Arabia); in addition they were fundamentalist Wahhabist Sunni, AND they were members of Al Qaeda (that is, followers of bin Laden). The hijackers were extremist Wahhabi- Sunni- Al Qaeda- Saudi Arabians, You would think such vicious violation of our homeland, such total evil, would have stopped all mobility by Saudis coming or going in the US, and given the hysteria of the moment Saudis in the US would have been rounded up and jailed without a mention of the Bill of Rights. But instead, members of the Saudi elite in the US were permitted immediate exit to fly home.
What? Very confusing. No Iranians? No Iranians commandeered the aircraft, our declared enemies? No. Iran was Shia with no ties to Al Qaeda’s Bin Laden. Alas, more folly follows.
The 9/11, 2001 attacks were planned in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda’s bin Laden and his followers lived under the protection of the Taliban. What? The Taliban are fundamentalist Sunnis same as the Saudis.
What? And the Iranians? Because the Taliban had harbored al Quada and had murdered Iranian diplomats. for a half-dozen years Shia Iran had been fighting the fundamentalist Sunni Taliban by assisting the Afghan Northern Alliance. The US and the Iranians were allies against the Taliban!
And what did Iranians think of the 9/11 attacks? In some Arab nations, people celebrated the attacks on Israel’s main supporter. But Iranians held candlelight vigils and their leaders expressed condolences and anticipated a warming of US-Iranian relations.
Then when the Bush administration invaded and toppled the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban Afghanistan and pushed Al Qaeda mainly into Pakistan, the Iranians offered to help the US rebuild the country. Specifically , not only did they help to arrange a meeting of all sides in Bonn, Germany to create an interim government, their representative Javad Zarif was essential to gaining agreement with the Northern Alliance. The US special envoy to Afghanistan James Dobbins praised tIran’s constructive collaboration with the US. We here today might include Iranian Mr. Zarif as a world peace leader.
At the international donors’ conference to help rebuild Afghanistan, Iran aplayed a positive role, pledging a staggering $500 million in assistance—the same amount as the US. Iran even offered to pay to rebuild the Afghan Army, which the US refused. And Iran helped extradite Al Qaeda fighters who had fled Afghanistan and were living in Iran.
How did the US reward this collaboration?
In his January 29, 2002 ,State of the Union address, President Bush called Iran part of the “axis of evil.” Bush’s speech undercut particularly any positive relations with Iranian reformists who had lobbied to engage the US, and it strengthened the hand of Iranian hard-liner war makers.
One might have expected Iran to shift into war mode after that threatening speech, but it did not.
Three months after the invasion of Iraq, the UK, Germany, and France sought a conference with Iran over its nuclear policy. The US refused to join the talks. But the Bush administration “didn’t talk to evil.”
Iran signed the Tehran Declaration with the other three nations anyway agreeing to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to suspend all uranium enrichment.
Now Remember Iraq’s Saddam Hussein’s brutal persecution of its Shia minority population and Saddam Hussein’s brutal invasion of Iran in 1980 and the ensuing horrific 8-years war between Iraq and Iran. So when Bush II invaded Iraq, Iran sought a “grand bargain “with the US, a bold peace treaty offering to negotiate nearly every issue the US had been concerned with—Iran’s nuclear program, its support for Palestinian militant groups, its policy in Iraq, and accepting Israel’s right to exist. In return, the US would have to give up hostile behavior toward Iraq, end economic sanctions, and allow access to peaceful nuclear power.
By now you can guess the US reply? Iran’s grand offer never even received a reply. The blowback of that refusal hurt US chances of controlling Iraq, and it convinced Iranian hardliners that armed force was the only effective way to treat the US.
This period marked a historic change in Iran’s Iraq policy. It’s when Iran began funding, training, and equipping Shia militias inside lraq.
When by 2005 and US occupation of Iraq was a disaster, the Bush administration finally decided to engage Iran diplomatically. But despite Iran having already suspended uranium enrichment, the White House demanded that Iran give up fuel production altogether, stopping its nuclear power program. Now Iran refused.
And it was at this time the government of Iran turned rightward. Conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated reformist Hashemi Rafsanjani as President of Iran. The reformists had repeatedly tried to build a positive relationship with the US, but the US had shut the door to them. With Ahmadinejad Iran’s hardliners surged into power. And lmost immediately Iran restarted its suspended nuclear program.
In summary, US clenched fist rejection of living and working with Iran defeated peace in the Middle East.
The Bush hardliners had destroyed US ability to build a consensus for cooperation with Iran. It would take the election of Barack Obama for that to be achieved.
Another powerful influence not yet mentioned, that helps to explain the otherwise massively irrational behavior by the US, is Israel. Many post-9-11 opportunities to improve US-Iranian relations were torpedoed at least partly by pro-Israeli/Zionist partisans, beginning with US reluctance to accept Iran’s help vs. Taliban.
Conclusion on the Falsification of language by US Imperial Aggressors and the Failure of Memory by the American people.
I’ll paraphrase Andrew Bacevich’s ethical conclusion to his chapter 6 on the US undeclared war against Iran that began with the killing of US sailors in USS Stark by Iraq and killing of Iranian civilians in Iran Air 655. “In using terms like accident or tragedy to describe the deaths suffered by the Stark and inflicted by the Vincennes,I U.S. civilian and military officials at the time had sought to drain each event of moral or political significance” Yet these killings impart a stain the passage of time has not eradicated. “US military participation in this first of several Gulf Wars began [in] cynicism and betrayal. It ended with an atrocity.” With the onset of the several future Gulf Wars, “Americans simply chose to forget their involvement in the first.”
References to Dick’s Talk 1-25-20
Bacevich, Andrew J. America’s War For the Greater Middle East: A Military History. Random House, 2016. (The US war to control greater middle-eastern oil “has become a monumental march to folly.” My main source for Part II.)
Benjamin, Medea. Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. OR Books, 2018. (My main source in Part I.)
Matter of Fact, Channel 7, Sunday, December 12, 2020, 5:50. Summary about 5 minutes of US/Iran aggressions against each other, mainly initiated by the US.
Parsi, Trita. Losing an Enemy and A Single Role of the Dice. (Apparently Benjamin’s chief source for her analysis of Iran/US pp. 154ff.)
Rashid, Ahmed. Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Penguin, 2008. (I was not writing a scholarly paper in which I would weigh various versions of historical events; rather, I read Rashid and Bacevich to assess my elaboration on the events and my general conclusions, but I used only Bacevich directly.)
“Stop This War.” The Nation (January 27, 2020).