A History Lesson and Diplomacy

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Inside Iran’s Fury

by Stephen Kinser

No American who was alive and alert in the early 1980s will ever forget the Iran hostage crisis. Militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, captured American diplomats and staff and held 52 of them captive for 444 days. In the United States, the television news program “Nightline” emerged to give nightly updates on the crisis, with anchorman Ted Koppel beginning each report by announcing that it was now “Day 53” or “Day 318” of the crisis. For Americans, still recovering from defeat in Vietnam, the hostage crisis was a searing ordeal. It stunned the nation and undermined Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Many Americans see it as the pivotal episode in the history of U.S.-Iranian relations.

Iranians, however, have a very different view.

Bruce Laingen, a career diplomat who was chief of the U.S. embassy staff, was the highest-ranking hostage. One day, after Laingen had spent more than a year as a hostage, one of his captors visited him in his solitary cell. Laingen exploded in rage, shouting at his jailer that this hostage-taking was immoral, illegal and “totally wrong.” The jailer waited for him to finish, then replied without sympathy.

“You have nothing to complain about,” he told Laingen. “The United States took our whole country hostage in 1953.”

Few Americans remembered that Iran had descended into dictatorship after the United States overthrew the most democratic government it had ever known. “Mr. President, do you think it was proper for the United States to restore the shah to the throne in 1953 against the popular will within Iran?” a reporter asked President Carter at a news conference during the hostage crisis. “That’s ancient history,” Carter replied.

Not for Iranians. “In the popular mind, the hostage crisis was seen as justified by what had happened in 1953,” says Vali Nasr, an Iranian-born professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts. “People saw it as an act of national assertiveness, of Iran standing up and taking charge of its own destiny. The humiliation of 1953 was exorcised by the taking of American hostages in 1979.”

This chasm of perception reflects the enormous gap in the way Americans and Iranians viewed—and continue to view—one another. It will be hard for them to reconcile their differences unless they begin seeing the world through each other’s eyes. [full article]

When Congressman Ron Paul brought up 1953 and its consequent repercussions to Bill O’Reilly more than a year ago, Mr. O’Reilly responded, “We don’t need the history lesson.”

After several interruptions, Paul responded, “You have to understand the history. If you don’t understand the history . . .”

In typical O’Reilly style, he interrupted again and said, “But we don’t have time to do the history lesson tonight.”

I can’t help but fear that this is the attitude of too many Americans today. So many don’t care to understand the how’s and why’s of a current situation. They prefer to act on compulsion and emotions rather than intellect, knowledge and of course, understanding.

One candidate seeking the presidency this election, Bob Barr, seems to be the only one with this understanding:

“Talking does not mean sacrificing U.S. interests. Rather, talking is a means to further U.S. interests,” Barr explains. . . .

“Imagine if the U.S. had not had any contact with Moscow during the Cold War,” says Barr. “The opportunity to resolve problems with the Soviet Union, and prevent them from turning into crises, would have been greatly diminished, if not lost entirely. And the likelihood of ultimately negotiating a peaceful end to the Cold War would have been very remote,” Barr explains.

“The most obvious reason to engage Iran is that the other options, especially military action, are so poor,” Barr warns. “Military action would destabilize the entire Persian Gulf and beyond. American troops in Iraq likely would come under intense assault. And America’s reputation throughout the world would suffer.”

“To take such a step without even attempting a diplomatic resolution would be foolhardy in the extreme,” says Barr. “There is no guarantee of success, of course, but in 2003, Iran indicated its willingness to deal. The Bush administration refused to even entertain Tehran’s offer. The situation is even more critical now, five years later. We should wait no longer to engage Tehran.” [full article]

This is the kind of reasoning ability one should expect from a head of state.

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2 Comments on “A History Lesson and Diplomacy”

  1. timglass Says:

    In the famouse words of George Santayana,”Those
    who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    It is as relevant today as in years past. This should be our basis of diplomacy.

    I respect Mr. Barr’s political stand on this issue.

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