I conducted this interview with Stephen Kinzer in early February, before I heard him speak at the San Francisco book signing last week at Grace Cathedral (Feb. 11th. 08). His next talk and book-signing will be on Tuesday Feb. 19th in Chicago (details).
Having read his book, “All The Shah’s Men“ a few years back, my interest in interviewing Mr. Kinzer was at first only due to his literary contribution to our community, and given that he was embarking on a book tour to promote his new book, “Overthrow“, I felt he’d be more open to an interview.
I was right. Turned out, he also wanted to promote a short video that encapsulated the essence of the book tour as well as to get people to support H.R. 5056, an initiative get Congressional representatives to push for diplomacy with Iran. It all sounded benign enough, and I thought it was a subject that would interest Iranians.
, and people were interested! The video won all kinds of awards on Youtube, and had tens of thousands of visitors in one day. However, what I found curious was the venom which so many people were spewing in favor of war with Iran. This man who has researched so much about Iran to string together facts and retell our story cohesively, has become our unwitting poster boy for peace, and yet curiously, not everyone agrees with his “agenda”. It certainly begs the questions; why? Who stands to benefit from moving ahead with war? Who are these people who want war?
While not all these questions were asked or answered (hindsight is 20:20) here is what he does tell us:
All the Shah’s Men exposes the details of how the US and the UK overthrew a functioning democracy in Iran, and contrived a dictatorship less than 60 years ago. Why do you think voters have been so slow to question the integrity of the current war to “spread democracy”?
Many Americans are compassionate by nature. They respond positively when their leaders call upon them to support a cause that will spread freedom and prosperity. At the same time, many Americans are ill-informed about the realities of life in other countries, and fail to challenge the view that we intervene abroad for motives other than spreading democracy. The press often serves as a catalyst in this process by becoming a cheerleader for intervention, with the assumption that it is acting on behalf of “our side.”
In your experience, are most Americans aware of the history of the coup against Mossadegh? Why/How has this not been a constant and recurring theme in the news, particularly during war time?
The true story of the Mossadegh coup was all but unknown until after the 1979 revolution in Iran. Over the next couple of decades, several scholars investigated and wrote about it. “All the Shah’s Men” has sold more than 100,000 copies, so I like to think that at least that many people know about the coup.
You’re very popular among Iranians. How do Americans respond when you share the account of the coup?
Older Iranian-Americans tell me that when they told American friends about the CIA coup against Mossadegh, many couldn’t believe the story. Only now that my book has been published, they say, can they point to a written description to prove they were not making it up.
Younger people in the community tell me they knew only vaguely what had happened and were grateful for having the story laid out. Some said it helped connect them more strongly to their ancestral homeland.
Do you feel that the tide is turning?
There is no doubt that more people are aware of Mossadegh than were aware of him a few years ago. As the US has engaged in an escalating war of words and sanctions and proxy conflicts with Iran, people have become more interested in the historical background to these events.
How likely do you think war is with Iran?
I fear that this prospect is still very real. The recent National Intelligence Estimate makes it impossible for the US to hope for broad support for new sanctions on Iran. This could mean that some people consider a military strike the only remaining alternative. People in the White House might decide that Iran is a looming threat that must be contained before it can rise. Manufacturing an incident, either in Iran, Iraq or the Gulf, would be easy, and it could become a pretext for war.
Who (if anyone) stands to benefit from such a war?
The only real winner would probably be President Ahmadinejad. He is unpopular, but being the victim of an American attack would instantly propel him to the level of Defender of Islam wherever Muslims live. In every country, people rally behind their leaders when they are attacked. A US attack is the only thing that can turn Ahmeadinejad into a hero in Iran and beyond.
Obviously your message is that there are potential benefits of diplomacy over war with Iran. Can you belabor those for us, and give us your ideas of the global impact of disregarding that advice?
It is in the US interest to work for stability in the world, especially in the Middle East. A process of direct, bilateral and unconditional negotiations would allow the two countries to explore their differences peacefully. No one can know in advance whether it would succeed, but simply making the offer might set off a new dynamic in Iran and even within the Iranian government. It would send a surge of encouragement through the democratic movement in Iran. Once negotiations are underway, the two countries might find that not only are they not fated to be enemies forever, but they have many strategic interests in common.
How do you think your 22 city tour of the US will impact voters, and people in general?
We are trying to do three things: explain the reasons why attacking Iran would be a calamitous mistake; warn that such an attack could happen between now and next Jan. 20; and urge people to work actively to assure this does not happen. We have already had hundreds of people at events on the West Coast.
What specific actions, if any, are you asking people to take?
We are asking people to sign postcards supporting a bill that has been submitted to the US Congress, HR 5056, which directs the President to name a high-level envoy “for the purpose of easing tensions and normalizing relations between the United States and Iran.” Our plan is to deliver these cards to Washington next month. Every concerned American should press for passage of this bill.
It is also important to keep this issue before the American people, in the form of letters to the editor, talks to civic and professional groups, calls to radio programs and contacts with members of Congress. If concern about a US attack on Iran is seen to fade, that could make an attack more possible.
Learn more at justforeignpolicy.org