President Biden claims that he wants to return to the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran from which President Trump so unceremoniously withdrew. Biden's administration, however, has been refusing to take any significant initial steps like easing Trump's economic sanctions that might bring the Iranians back to the bargaining table. Meanwhile, the president himself recently ordered a U.S. air strike in Syria (yes, Syria!) against Iraqi militias, reputedly backed by Iran and blamed for shooting missiles at military bases in their own country where U.S. troops are (still!) stationed. In other words, when it comes to Iran, so far, the U.S. continues on a familiar path.
It's now 67 years since relations between the two countries first took a turn for the truly terrible in the wake of a 1953 CIA- and British intelligence-organized coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, that country's democratically elected prime minister, and turned Iran over to the young Shah (and his fearsome secret police, the SAVAK). He was to be our very own autocrat-in-chief there in return for access to Iranian oil. And it's never really gotten better, has it? There was the fundamentalist uprising of 1979, sparked by Iranian bitterness over the role Washington had played in its politics for a quarter of a century, that finally sent the Shah to the U.S. and put exiled religious figure Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in power as the country's "supreme leader." Few Americans who lived through those days will forget the way our diplomats were taken hostage in the U.S. embassy in Tehran or the failed attempt to free them and, from then on, relations would only worsen.
I was nine years old when that initial coup took place. Today's TomDispatch author Kevin Tillman wouldn't even be born for another quarter-century. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, like his brother, National Football League star Pat Tillman, Kevin left the world he knew he was then a minor league baseball player and joined the U.S. Army. In 2003, he found himself part of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and saw firsthand what American interference in a foreign land could do when it came to suffering, death, and chaos. In addition, he would later be faced with the U.S. military's infamous cover-up of the nature of his brother's death in Afghanistan. All of that left him with a unique perspective on the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and yet one that, in truth, the rest of us should have had as well. Tom
On January 6th, the U.S. Became a Foreign Country
How Endless Wars and Interventions Helped Create the Assault on the Capitol
Just about everyone was shocked by what happened at the Capitol building on January 6th. But as a former soldier in America's forever wars, horrifying as the scenes were, I also found what happened strangely familiar, almost inevitable. I thought that, if only we had taken our country's imperial history seriously, none of us would have found that day either shocking or unprecedented.
Honestly, it could only seem that way if you imagined our domestic politics as completely separate from our foreign policy. But if we're to learn anything from that maladroit attempt at a government-toppling coup, it should be that they are anything but separate. The question isn't whether then-President Donald Trump incited the assault on the Capitol of course he did. It is rather: Since when have we cared if an American president lies to incite an illegal insurrection? In all honesty, our commanders-in-chief have been doing so abroad for generations with complete impunity. It was only a matter of time before the moral rot finally made its way home.
Back in 2007, I actually met Nancy Pelosi whom those insurrectionists were going after "Tell Pelosi we're coming for that b**ch. Tell f***ing Pelosi we're coming for her!" in that very Capitol building. That day, my family was testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform concerning the U.S. government's disinformation campaign about how, three years earlier, my brother Pat Tillman had died in Afghanistan (as a result of "friendly," not enemy, fire). We would testify alongside former soldier Jessica Lynch who had suffered a similar disinformation fate in the wake of a tragic ambush of her convoy in Nasiriyah, Iraq, where soldiers died and she was taken prisoner. After the hearing, we discussed the case with Pelosi, who then took us on a brief personal tour of the halls of the building. Given the circumstances, it was a thoughtful gesture and a humbling experience.
So, it was personally quite unsettling to watch that rabid mob of insurrectionists storm our Capitol, some actively seeking to kill the woman who had walked our family through those same halls, wearing her signature green business suit. To see people desecrating that building over grievances rooted in demonstrable and absurd untruths manufactured by President Trump was both grotesque and shameful.
And yet, however surreal, disappointing, disqualifying, even treasonous that assault and the 57-43 Senate acquittal of the president would be, what took place should, in another sense, not have been a shock to anyone. The idea that January 6th was something new for this country and so a unique affront to the American idea of democracy, not to speak of common decency, was simply wrong. After all, ever since 1945, this country has regularly intervened in elections all over the globe and done far worse as well. What's disorienting, I suppose, is that this time we did it to ourselves.
Around the Globe, Generation after Generation
My own limited experience with American interventionism involves the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. After the September 11th attacks, I enlisted in the U.S. Army with Pat. We would be assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment and our unit would in March 2003 be sent into Iraq, one of so many tools in the Bush administration's war of aggression there. We would help remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by force. It was hardly the mission I had in mind when I signed up, but I was naive when it came to foreign policy. Being part of illegal invasions, however, leaves lasting impressions.
That particular intervention in Iraq began with a barrage of administration lies about Saddam's supposed supply of weapons of mass destruction, his reputed links to al-Qaeda, and the idea that we were liberating the Iraqi people. Some of us actually were assigned to run around Baghdad, "east, west, south, and north somewhat," looking for those nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. The whole invasion would prove catastrophic, of course, resulting in the destruction of Iraqi society, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers, even as that country's leadership was removed and its military disbanded (mission accomplished!). Of course, neither President George W. Bush, nor the rest of the top officials of his administration were held responsible for what happened.
So, when I watched the January 6th insurrection unfold, my mind was immediately drawn to the period leading up to the Iraq war except this time, the drumbeat of lies had to do with massive voter fraud, voting irregularities, "dead voters," rigged software, and other fabrications. Obviously, the two events were drastically different in scale, complexity, and destructiveness. Still, they seemed to share common fundamental threads.
Examples of American interference in the governance of foreign countries via coups, regime change, and other ploys are commonplaces of our modern history. Among the best known would be the replacing of a number of democratically elected leaders like Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh with the Shah (1953), Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz with Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas (1954), Chilean President Salvador Allende with General Augusto Pinochet (1973), or Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in a U.S.-backed coup (2009). In other words, we're not talking about a few one-off mistakes or a couple of dumb wars.
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