Why Obama's not saying enough
Going to a gym has many obvious benefits, but also some that are not obvious. For example, at my gym you can watch six television screens, each showing a different channel, at the same time. It's something I can't do at home.
So there I was the other night, dividing my attention between news reports about Iran and my favorite animated series, called American Dad!
Seth MacFarlane's cartoon is about a bug-eyed family that would do anything in the name of freedom and American values. The dad in the title works for the CIA, which allows all sorts of funny secret-agent gimmickry. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, however, and the overreaction of various family members to perceived, imagined and real threats catapults them into many an absurd situation.
While this parody of the CIA was being shown on one screen, Iranian politicians were on the screen next to it, warning the West not to interfere in their affairs. The irony was priceless. But the remarkable thing about the current situation in Iran is how Western governments, and America's in particular, are trying to stay out of the way. No one is saying, "Ayatollah Khamenei, let your people go!" or "Mr. Ahmadinejad, tear down this wall!"
That's because the past tells a different story.
In 1953, the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service overthrew the elected government of Iran. Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq had taken Iran's oil industry out of the hands of the British and the Americans, and they weren't going to stand for it. The CIA bribed influential people, planted false reports in newspapers and provoked street violence. It also threw its support behind the monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who together with the United States became a hated figure in the 1979 Iranian revolution.
Bill Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, acknowledged the CIA's role in the 1953 coup, as did Barack Obama in Cairo recently. Other CIA-assisted coups against democratically elected governments are widely known about, including those in Guatemala in 1954, the Republic of the Congo in 1960, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973.
While the short-term benefit was a "strong man" friendly to the U.S., the long-term result was usually unpleasant. CIA assistance to Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980s led to a big domestic scandal. In 2006, the CIA's support of Somali warlords in a struggle against "Islamists" drew the U.S. military into an open conflict.
The Central Intelligence Agency was created by Congress in 1947 for the purpose of collecting, correlating and evaluating intelligence related to national security. The Director of Central Intelligence is appointed by, and follows the orders of, the U.S. president.
It's unlikely that the U.S. is doing anything in Iran now, for the simple reason that very few Americans are allowed (by their own government) to go to Iran, and those who do go there are watched closely by the Iranian secret police.
In his strongest words on Iran thus far, President Obama on Tuesday said: "I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran's affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society."
Let's hope that this time the good intentions of an American dad do lead to good results.