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So many governments to overthrow, so little time

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The Bush administration is reported to be considering "destabilizing" - in other words, covertly overthrowing - the Iranian government because of its suspected ties to Al Qaeda terrorist groups. This would be precisely the wrong thing for the United States to do in Iran. If we are to meddle in Iran at all, our efforts ought to be directed against the Islamic clergy and not the elected politicians.

Overthrowing the wrong government would be consistent with a long record by the US, going back to the aftermath of World War II. We paid street mobs to demonstrate against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh after he nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Mossadegh went into exile and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi returned.

This was not all bad. For 26 years, the shah provided a generally pro-American government. He also ran an efficient and vicious secret police, but there was stability in the Persian Gulf. The Shah made huge arms purchases. He sold oil to Israel. He promoted Westernization. Young women wore blue jeans on the streets; movies were well-attended, boys and girls held hands in public. All of this was distasteful to conservative Islamist elements, but the US was riding high, and the CIA was on a roll.

After 26 years, the discontent that had been accumulating among the radical Islamic clergy boiled over, and in 1979, the shah was driven from power. A radical Islamic government took over and imposed strict religious guidelines on the country. When the government finally permitted elections, a moderate became president, but under close control. This is the faction we ought to be trying to strengthen.

The year after Mossadegh departed Iran, the US became alarmed by a reformist elected government in Guatemala, headed by Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. American business, especially the United Fruit Company, feared Arbenz was leaning toward nationalization. Worse, Arbenz clandestinely imported arms from the Soviet bloc.

So, following the example of Iran, the CIA arranged for his overthrow, this time with an invasion of exiles from neighboring Honduras. The country has been involved in civil war ever since.

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