The recent overthrow of the Tunisian government is unfortunately chock full of lessons for the U.S.; lessons we can no longer afford to ignore. In order to recognize their importance, we must go back and review some Middle East History.
In 1953 the Eisenhower administration ordered the CIA to aid Britain’s MI-6 in overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mossadegh. His crimes? Nationalizing the oil reserves of Iran which were Britain’s most lucrative overseas investment. To effect this regime change the CIA, according to its own declassified documents, incited riots and violence leading to the deaths of civilians which were then falsely attributed to Mossadegh’s people. The elected government of the Iranian people was toppled by protesters paid with U.S. tax dollars by CIA contacts and replaced with the U.S. supported Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi who spent 26 autocratic years torturing and murdering innocent civilians with weapons our tax monies bought and a secret police our CIA trained. In January 1978 the Islamic Revolution began in Iran with protests against the murderous Pahlavi. The infamous Ayatollah Kohmeni, no friend of the U.S., was returned from exile in France and became the head of the new Islamic Republic of Iran. By 1980, in the midst of turmoil including the seizing of the U.S. Embassy, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein decided to invade the destabilized Iran.
1982 saw a turn for the worse as Iran appeared to be winning, an untenable position since Kohmeni was a radical Islamist looking to not only protect his own borders but now to expand his territory into Iraq. Reagan’s administration chose none other than Donald Rumsfeld to go meet with Saddam and form an alliance, with Iraq becoming the third largest foreign recipient of our tax dollars. Under George H.W. Bush, with (another familiar face) Dick Cheney as Secretary of Defense the money we spent in Iraq doubled.
Meanwhile, back in Iran… Since they mined parts of the Persian Gulf during their war with Iraq, in 1988 the U.S. launched the largest American naval combat operation since World War II against Iran, helping to secure an end to the Iran-Iraq conflict. The Navy also accidentally shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing 209 civilians including 66 children. All of this just two years after we sold Iran a bunch of weapons.
As of July 1990 we were still funding our friend Saddam who led a secular government not an Islamic one like Iran. The only tension brewing was an age-old border dispute with Kuwait; a little country with big oil reserves. Saddam invaded on August 2, 1990 and the friendship came to a screeching halt. The regime was no longer serving our purposes, and suddenly chemical weapons were a big deal even though he had gassed the hell out of Iranians on the U.S. dime.
While ’88 through ’04 saw increasingly moderate Iranian leadership, the U.S. maintained trade embargoes against the nation and carried on frequent incursions into their borders. It was noted that on September 11, in the wake of the terrorist attacks again Americans, Iranians gathered for a candle-light vigil in solidarity of our suffering. At the time, Iranians were considered the least anti-American of all Middle Eastern people. But after years of embargo-enforced isolation, the crazies were ready to take the helm again and 2005 saw the installation of Ahmedenijad who has ramped up anti-American sentiment and of course now threatens to become a nuclear menace.
So what has this to do with Tunisia? See if any of this general history sounds familiar. France invaded Tunisia in 1869 and it remained a French colony through WWII. It was the scene of a great victory for the allies though the unrest and disruption of battle left the populace devastated. In the wake of WWII a major push for independence from colonial France developed. Once again we see a reactionary swing of an oppressed people toward a radical regime. This time the people launched terrorist attacks against the French in Tunisia, eventually forcing a French withdrawal in 1956. What ensued has been judged one of the most repressive regimes in the Arab world. Funded by our tax dollars an autocratic dictatorship has ruled since 1956 with the blessing of the U.S. government. In spite of institutionalized censorship, rigged elections, imprisonment of dissidents and economic abuses of the citizenry, the U.S. has given a sheen of legitimacy to the nation until recently when the government was finally toppled by what amounted to a violent Tea Party.
Although this was by no means a religious uprising, already there is agitation from the Islamic quarters that Tunisia should install an Islamic Caliphate. How long until we have yet another Iran on our hands?
This is not a “Blame America” attitude. This is a “blame the government” attitude. There is a pattern here. We support one oppressive but ‘stable’ regime after another, only to have our interference come back and bite us in the butt. Only to say “We” and “Us” is a misnomer. To be precise I must say that elements in the highest offices of government decide to support oppressive regimes only to have their interference come back and bite our children in the butt. Because nobody who decided it was a good idea to overthrow Mossadegh is currently huddled in Afghanistan under enemy fire. None of those geniuses of foreign relations are laid up legless in the hospital. And exactly how can we morally justify funding some violent dictators as we free Iraqis from another; which, of course, we previously funded?
In 2003 I was all for the Iraq War. It seemed obvious to me then, but then I knew none of the history of the region. Then I believed my government when they said it was about freeing people and closing rape rooms and protecting us from WMDs. Then I didn’t know my own government paid the way to oppress the people, open the rape rooms and arm the dictators just so that the lives of American children could be spent reversing this insanity. Knowing this now I have trouble believing the Muslims only hate us for being free. Having learned these disturbing things put me on the fence. I began to question the wisdom of our foreign policy; of nearly a thousand bases for our military worldwide and endless pronouncements from our government on how other countries should rule themselves. Watching the destruction of our own economy and society, engineered by these leaders for the past century, I questioned whether other countries should take their advice. And with the events in Tunisia I have come down off the fence entirely.
The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Evil is evil whether it is cooperating with you or not, and I can no longer accept the notion that it is somehow ‘different’ when we are talking about nations than when we are talking about people. Nations are comprised of people, led by people, represented by people and brought to ruin by people. They are populated by people and their wars are fought by people. The greatness of America is in the historic political respect of the individual as a unique creation of God entitled to rights granted by him. We have lost that respect and that greatness in a propagandized nationalist fervor that places the good of “American Interests” (which interests shall be determined by liars and corruptocrats in D.C.) above and beyond the interests of individuals. The miracle of America was in recognizing that no collective interest could rightly be placed above the individual but we have been fooled into abandoning that vaunted principle for the expedience of arming dictators and spending the blood and treasure of our individuals on cleaning up the resulting mess.
I pray that Tunisia is able to foster a government that is peaceful and liberal (in the classical sense) with its people. I hope that the people of Tunisia will be granted in the coming weeks the wisdom to adopt true American Exceptionalism. That they will embrace the extraordinary policies of our founding: That man was created free and entitled to pursue his dreams unencumbered by fellow men provided he harmed no one. That the individual with his God-given rights and his relationships in family and community is paramount and the collective is but a myth engendered by power-mad leaders who wish to rape some portion of the population for the benefit of another. For this I sincerely pray.
Because if they become yet another Islamo-fascist dictatorship it seems likely our leaders will hasten to destroy whatever is left in America of those very virtues. Tunisia will become another excuse for porno-scanners and invasions of every level of privacy and our fast depleting blood and treasure will be spent mopping up yet another careless spill. Another mess made not by America or her people, but by the lunatic fringe in our government which apparently thinks their spectacular failures at centrally planning the economy should be joined by even more spectacular failures to centrally plan the international relationships of the whole planet.