The Shadow Hanging Over the Iranian Election

News Abroad

Mr. Briley is Assistant Headmaster, Sandia Preparatory School.

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The Bush administration has made democracy in the Middle East a focal point of its diplomacy. Administration officials point to reforms in Egypt, elections in Lebanon and Palestine, and American-sponsored elections in Iraq as proof of its success. On the other hand, the administration asserts that foreign fighters discredit the legitimacy of the Iraqi insurgency. The inconsistency that an army of occupation might raise some questions regarding the legitimacy of the American-backed elections never seems to dawn upon the president and his policymakers.

Of course, the reality of American policy and the lack of commitment to democracy in the region are evident in the support for authoritarian and repressive regimes in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, which joined Bush’s coalition of the willing. Democracy may also unleash uncontrollable forces. For example, the participation of Hamas in the electoral process in Palestine and Lebanon may bring forces to power which are unfriendly to the United States and Israel.

These caveats, however, have not discouraged the president from lecturing the Iranians on the democratic process. The president has correctly pointed out that clerics on the Guardian Council have barred reform and female candidates. The irony of Bush’s 2000 election being confirmed by a supreme unelected body, however, was probably lost upon the president . Although participation in the first round of the elections was above 60 percent and resulted in a run-off election between the top two candidates (a system used in many democracies which most likely would have denied a Bush victory in 2000), the American media focused only upon irregularities in the Iranian elections which provided for a run-off between former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The upset victory of Ahmadinejad in the run-off, who takes a fairly hard line position against the United States, is encouraging a great deal of hand wringing in the American press.

The story which the media ignored and was certainly not mentioned by the president is that the United States must assume responsibility for the problems with Iranian democracy. In the early 1950s, Mohammad Mossadegh was the democratically chosen prime minister of Iran whose policies were deemed unfriendly to British petroleum interests. The British convinced their American allies that Mossadegh was a threat to Western capitalism and friendly with the Soviets. In 1953, the CIA engineered a coup which overthrew Mossadegh and restored Mohammad Reza Shah to the Peacock throne in Iran, ushering in a repressive regime which culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and Iranian hostage crisis. The next quarter century witnessed considerable hostility between the United States and Iran, including American support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. It is little wonder that the imprisoned Saddam Hussein has expressed to American captors his admiration for Ronald Reagan.

It is within this historical context that we must seek to understand contemporary Iranian diplomatic, electoral, and nuclear policy. Not only has the 1953 Iranian coup poisoned relations to the present between the United States and Iran, but the short run success of the CIA’s operation encouraged a faith in covert operations which resulted in the 1954 overthrow of the democratic government of president Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, as well as the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion and the September 11, 1971 coup against president Salvador Allende in Chile.

The history of American foreign policy in the post World War II era casts a shadow over the president ’s Wilsonian rhetoric of freedom and democracy. This is a history which Americans must confront if they wish to understand why many in the world question our commitment to democratic reform. We have demanded an accounting by white Southerners with crimes committed against black Americans during the Civil Rights era. When it comes to apologizing, which is so popular among politicians these days, it might be worth remembering the legacy of American policy in the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Very few people here believe that the USA, more so now under President Bush, is sincere in its advocacy of democracy in the Arab/Moslem world where the dominant impression is of an increasingly Zionist Imperialist America.
We do not even have to go as far back as Mossadeq of Iran for that; recent and actual history leaves no doubt about it..
The American position re the Algerian consultative elections , some 15 years ago , and America's firm support of General Musharaf of Pakistan, who first came to power via a military take over from an elected government are noted as the true indications of American policy.
In essence it is absurd to believe that the USA would genuinely support a truly representative democracy that would bring to power its very adversaries: the antiZionist and anti imperialist progressive nationalists and the Islamists that has unfailingly won all free fraud free elections where ever and when ever held as in the professional societies and student unions .
Further more, with the huge role played by money and the quasi monopolistic US media (the Murdoch empire etc) in American elections, the very genuineness of American democracy in America is gravely questioned.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Simon
True enough democratically elected governments rarely go to war without a strong, valid and convincing reason to prepare the people for the coming burden!.
That some do is usually propped by a fabricated reason as for the USA in Iraq with WMD!

Anti Zionism and anti imperialism are deeply felt issues with Arab/Moslem masses and are rightfully construed as survival issues in which the question is "how best to counter" the aggression to which these masses were subjected by Zionism in Palestine and imperialism in Iraq!

Should any democratically elected government choose to go to" war", in any of its diverse forms, with either or both such a "war" will be regarded as a "defensive war" waged against aggression; as such it will be supported by the majority of the people as history tells us is normally the case!

I will not predict nor speak for what a democratically elected government would do.
However of one thing there is very little doubt; where ever and whenever truly democratic , fraud free elections were held the anti Zionists and anti imperialists unfailingly won these elections on anti Zionist and anti imperialist platforms despite the pressures exerted on them.
That has been the case for ALL elections in professional societies without a single exception.
Another indicator to go by is the policy conducted by the, then, newly elected government of Turkey at the outset of the American conquest of Iraq!
Despite the financial incentives proffered by the USA, through Wolfowitz no less, for collaboration, then rumored to be in the 10-15 billion US dollars, debt ridden Turkey chose not to collaborate in the invasion and thus did forego the billions.

These are numerically supported indicators to go by, no more no less, of what a truly representative government would do!

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Friedman
There is such a thing, that you hopefully heard about,called manners ; I hope you will maintain that to the best of your dificult as that may be for your kind !

Edward Siegler - 6/29/2005

I read a fascinating essay by George Orwell about what motivated him to write. He says that the act of writing itself, no matter if it is fiction or non-fiction, constitutes an attempt by the author to express what he wants to see happen. To give one example, take a look at the essay posted on HNN this week about a "turning point in history." It's a quite interesting piece arguing that Bush's opposition to stem cell research will cost the Republican party its ascendency. I think the author is in fact expressing a wish that Republican ascendency be ended. The more politically oriented things I read the more truth I see in Orwell's view. Orwell would argue that even novels, short stories and other fictional writing (although he seems to make an exception for poetry) are in effect expressing a desire on the part of the author as to what the world should be like, or the way things ought to be.

Amin Ali Golmohamad - 6/29/2005

In response to Frederick Thomas's detailed account of Woodrow wilson, I would like to make a few comments:

"Certainly, Wilson put out the 14 points, guaranteeing plebiscite-determined outcomes for any contested national alignments, then systematically violated every one"

From this I understand you think Wilson is wholly responsible for the violation of the 14 points. I think that is unfair, as you did not take into account the fact that the British, french and Italians had their own agenda for Versailles.

Wilson's 14 points was basically attended to with lip-service while france sought to cripple germany, England sought an expanded empire and italy some "terra iredente" (south tyrol, the dalmatan coast, most of turkey etc.). As you well know, nobody's "vision" was carried out exactly as planned, and it was a compromise for all parties. May I link you to what each party's vision really looked like:

On that page you can find the different intentions the leaders had, and thus would not attribute all your flak towards wilson; rather I think you'd balance your criticism and accept that the causes of world war two were very multifactorial. Linear linkage in history is extremely rare.

Also, you don't seem to have considered what the world would be like if Wilson hadn't done what he had done? Would it have been better if Germany had won? Please note that the civil war in Russia occured before the US military involvement in World war one. Do take into account that both sides played dirty, where the germans courted the mexicans into recovering territory from the US if they joined the war on their side, and this before the sinking of the lusitania! You make it seem like Wilson had a personal vendetta and was obsessed with ruining world history. The method by which you analysed the facts seems misinformed and highly polarised, I recommend you refer to more sources before drawing such powerful conclusions, as their foundations are inherently weak.

"France grabbed Alsace and Lorraine" The race of the people has never been 100% german. But it is true to say that there was a very high proportion. Many people in the area have their own dialect spoken there. Alsace-Lorraine was part of france before germany even existed. In my opinion, if a territory belonged to another country first, a newer country cannot make a legitimate claim without both sides complying. If your logic to alsace lorraine were applied to decolonisation of places like canada and australia (as examples), it would seem pointless. Do take into account that a-l was not the breadbasket of germany - germany had always been compelled to import food, which was why they starved during the war. They didn't starve because they lost a-l. They starved because the shipments of food were not let through by the allied blockage, and neither were their lands productive during those years.

On point four, I believe you should take into account a term called "viability". The distribution of germans in what became czechoslovakia predominantly was on the mountainous highlands surrounding bohemia/moravia. If you look at a map displaying ethnic distributions in centraln europe, they are not nice squares shaped like US states. They wind with natural features, cluster, polka dot- u name it. It was in no way practical to just give the sudetenland to germany - czech. would become undefensible and lacking resources. If you wanted to unify all germans, you'd have to take into account there were clusters deep in russia and romania from the days of Catherine the Great.

Concerning Danzig and Prussia. I see you have taken a historic initiative to say they should have stayed with Germany. Do take into account that the very land that made up prussia was forcibly taken from the ethnic pomeranians, poles and lithuianians by the teutonic crusaders, driven by land and wealth. Prussia was really what was left of the crusader military fiefdom they created, and it was unified with the holy roman empire, becoming an actual state later. Of course I wouldn't use this as justification to say it should have been handed over on a silver plate to poland, but I'm saying it doesn't work to say that a land with a certain race losing out on the land it lived on during versailles doesn't necessarily have the moral highground. You made no case for poland , which could easily claim land the size of the Polish-lithuanian commonwealth. You ignored the three partitions of poland, which prussia benefited greatly from on its long path to baltic dominance. You ignored the treaty of 1815 (westphalia), where prussia acquired land that had nothing to do with it (the ruhr for instance).

So what am I trying to point out with these historical facts you left out? That the ones you are using are too selective to make a balanced judgement of Woodrow wilson; you haven't taken into account the full background of decision making. You are effectively using him as a scapegoat. I don't wish to make any of this a personal remark, we all make errors sometimes.

I hope the facts I have pointed out may help encourage you to look at the scenario with more depth.

Best wishes


N. Friedman - 6/28/2005


You may be correct that I am guilty of a bit of wishful thinking. Reading Omar's irrational hatred of Israel certainly suggests that my thinking could be wrong.

And Omar: I emphasize the words "irrational hatred" and not that a person might disagree with this or that Israeli policy. There is a big difference.

Edward Siegler - 6/28/2005

So the CIA involvement in the 1953 coup that overthrew the "democratically chosen" virtual dictator Mossadegh is the reason why the U.S. "must assume responsibility for the problems with Iranian democracy." What a useless article!

Briley's distortions are laughable. They include:

1) The U.S. has never claimed that the insurgency has any "legitimacy", so how could it have claimed that the presence of foreign fighters has delegitimized this disparate collection of criminals, jihadis and Baathists? This is obviously a fabrication of Briley's, who should be worrying about his own "inconsistencies" and "legitimacy."

2) Briley repeats the tired cliche about the coalition being an "army of occupation." How can this be when the Iraqi government wants it to stay?

3) Efforts to pressure the governments of Central Asia into democratic reforms, despite their status as allies, are ignored (or Briley is simply ignorant of them).

4)The fact that democracy can bring elements who are hostile to the U.S. into power is said to be a "caveat" that should discourage Bush from calling for liberalization in Iran. Iran's sham elections are portrayed as a potentially better alternative to America's because their process would have prevented Bush's election in 2000. To be fair, I suppose if you hate Bush enough this wouldn't be a distortion but a useful suggestion for future reforms in U.S. electoral law. By the way, Ahmadinejad was APPOINTED mayor of Tehran.

5) It's nice that Hussein likes Reagan, but you might recall that at the time Iran was a declared enemy of the U.S. that was attempting to spread its brand of Islamic theocracy throughout the Middle East. Iran sent agents into Iraq that engaged in assassinations of Iraqi officials and other mayhem; and Iran instigated many border clashes with Iraq. This does not justify Iraq's invasion of Iran, but to ignore the context in which America's relationship with Iraq existed is a significant omission. Upwards of 95% of Iraq's military equitment was supplied by the French, Russians and Chinese - not the U.S.

Next time Briley might want to try blaming Iran's soon-to-be-nuclear bellicosity on the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran's theocrats may still be upset about the era of western style reforms that was ushered in by this coup, but pointing to events that have taken place within the last few years instead several decades ago would be a tad more believable when attempting to pin guilt on the U.S.

Edward Siegler - 6/28/2005

I've never seen Wilson demonized with such intensity. Congratulations! But you must have meant to say that Wilson put out the 14 points, and then THEY were violated without consequences for the violators - not that Wilson himself violated them. Right?

Edward Siegler - 6/28/2005

I certainly hope that your theory about Israel will come to pass, N. Unfortunately people have a habit of stubbornly holding onto their prejudices. On the other hand there is some evidence that when democracy starts to take hold (you know, the thing that America ISN'T promoting)people turn away from these useless biases: There has been talk among Iraqi government officials of rapproachment with Israel, and Iraq's foreign minister was the only one at a recent conference to shake the Israeli foreign minister's hand. This move was greeted with expressions of disgust from other non-Iraqi officials - a reaction which the Iraqi foreign minister laughingly dismissed in a recent interview.

N. Friedman - 6/28/2005


What kind am I? I said nothing unmannered at all. I made a remark to you regarding the caliber of opinion in the Arab regions, based on your view that those having no remote reason to make Israel a central issue do so anyway - basically against their own interest -.

My theory is that the concern with Israel will, in time, fade in the Arab regions once it becomes clear that, in fact, Israel was used by Arab "leaders" as a means to prevent the implimentation of rights and democracy and to prevent economic development, among other things. Which is to say, in time, the dispute with Israel will fade into what it really is, much ado about very little.

N. Friedman - 6/28/2005


What kind am I? I said nothing unmannered at all. I made a remark to you regarding the caliber of opinion in the Arab regions, based on your view that those having no remote reason to make Israel a central issue do so anyway - basically against their own interest -.

My theory is that the concern with Israel will, in time, fade in the Arab regions once it becomes clear that, in fact, Israel was used by Arab "leaders" as a means to prevent the implimentation of rights and democracy and to prevent economic development, among other things. Which is to say, in time, the dispute with Israel will fade into what it really is, much ado about very little.

N. Friedman - 6/28/2005


What you are saying is that the Arabs are mostly morons. Which is to say, Arabs in places no where near Israel worry more about Israel than they do about their own well being. On such logic, the world is doomed and the Arabs will be the main culprits.

E. Simon - 6/27/2005

Omar if a number countries in the Middle East became democratic how does that necessarily have anything to do with what they would think of or do about the existence of Israel, a state of 5 million Jews and 1 million Arabs that already does democratically decide its own elections?

Contrarily, history shows that democratically elected governments are less likely to choose war and beligerency as an primary aim of policy since their constituents generally prefer to devote their resources first to eating, working, education and housing, not that any of those considerations have ever really seem to interest you here. I daresay many others in the Middle East might actually think differently, however.

By the way, the Soviet-style restrictions on candidate selection in Iran mean it is essentailly not a democracy, nor is the Saudi theocratic monarchy, nor the Syrian dicatatorship - all popularly (I mean, um, democratically) more resented than any in the region yet the most implacable belligerent against Israel. I think you could stand to re-think your "analysis" a bit.

Frederick Thomas - 6/27/2005

Citing Woodrow Wilson as a kind of democratic idealist seems very strange to me.

Wilson, more than any other in his administration broke every rule to inject the US into WW I, by duplicity and deliberate illegalities, including massive violations of the neutrality act, and encouragement of Americans to travel on contraband ships such as the Lusitania, hoping that a disaster would result, as it did. Wilson was the willing tool of British Imperial Interests. In all respects he provided a pattern which FDR later followed (see: Stennett, Day of Deceit)

WW I not only killed 250,000 Americans but gave us such horrific outcomes as the Soviet Union, the deaths of 10 million young Europeans, the extension of British Imperial hegemony for 30 more painful years, and World War II, which took another 50 million lives, created Communist China, and cemented Soviet control over East Europe. When I think of Wilson, I think of a mendacious fool, who had no trust for democracy in his own country, and damned nearly ruined the world in his blindness.

Certainly, Wilson put out the 14 points, guaranteeing plebiscite-determined outcomes for any contested national alignments, then systematically violated every one.


1. Italy grabbed the South Tyrol, or Suedtyrol, essentially a 100% Austrian populated land which would have voted to stay that way. This large region of Northeast italy is called Alto Adige today, and its capital forcibly changed from Bolzen to Bolzano.

2. France grabbed Alsace and Lorraine, (Elsass and Lotharingen) with a near 100% German speaking population, and forced a change of language by military force. Without these two richest provinces, Germany went from food sufficiency to insufficiency, a base cause of the later conflict.

3. Danzig, now Gdansk, a Prussian seaport, and the surrounding region was simply given to Poland, without a thought as to how that might affect the 80% German population. The resulting civil rights violations were the most proximate cause of WW II, as they became the pretext for Hitler’s invasion. Interestingly one of the youths who was sought by police for a riot which killed over 2000 ethnic Germans was Carol Wotiwa, later John Paul II. Such atrocities helped start WW II.

4. Bohemia and Moravia in modern Czechia (Suedetenland) were about equally split between Slavonic and German speaking populations, along an east-west line. But we will never know how the vote came out because there was none. Again, another pretext to war was mindlessly given to Herr Hitler.

We could go on, but it seems that the aspect of Wilson’s ineffective stewardship which most directly confronts us today is the enabling of another 30 years of the British empire. Can you imagine how much more peaceful the world would have been if Iraq (and for that matter Nigeria) had been divided up along ethnic lines instead of as they were? How many dead would have been saved?

Much time is spent in this article in slamming Bush foreign policy in moralizing terms, and perhaps rightly so. As I look backward, I see a myopic Virginia who fled Princeton ahead of a firing to the New Jersey governor’s job, and from there to the Presidency.

If something had interrupted that progression, perhaps we would have no Soviet Union, thus no paranoia on the part of the CIA in Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, and Guatemala, and no ethnic conflict in Iraq. For that matter, there would have been no WW II, and no cold war, all of those millions killed would have survived, etc.

Perhaps Wilson is the victim of unintended consequences, or perhaps he was the greatest wrecker in world history. On this point, I would first check the facts, then trim your sails a bit in you prase of Mr. Wilson, Mr Briley.

Grant W Jones - 6/27/2005

Here are some pictures depicting the fruits of Iranian "democracy," caution Graphic.

Briley types, "...the participation of Hamas in the electoral process in Palestine and Lebanon may bring forces to power which are unfriendly to the United States and Israel." A remarkable statement, even from an American hating academic.

From Hamas' charter:

"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. "

"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

Briley, are you "unfriendly" towards those that advocate the Genocide of the Jews in Israel?