One day, quite a few years ago, I was having lunch with my Iranian friend, Rudy Alam, who was attending the University of Pennsylvania, and who was the daughter of the then Prime Minster of Iran. It was a student hangout, and a waitress recognized her.
"Well, I guess you’ll be going home to Iraq for summer vacation," she said amiably.
"Iran," Rudy said.
To which the waitress replied: "Oh well, whatever."
Oh well, indeed. Rudy’s father was prime minister of Iran because the Shah was on the Peacock throne thanks to Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA station chief in Teheran, who engineered the coup that deposed Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh, who had headed a secular, fledgling democracy that had the temerity to nationalize the oil fields that, up to that point, had been exploited by BP. Having sued in the World Court and lost, the UK turned to its ally, Uncle Sam, to get the oil fields back. Rent-a-Mobs appeared, the CIA paid off the military, and Mossadegh fled in his pajamas. Once in power, the Shah stifled all dissent, using the notorious SAVAK, his intelligence service, to torture his political opponents, all under the watchful and approving eye of the United States government.
This was the first great "regime change," which ultimately begat the fundamentalist Islamic revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who promptly re-nationalized the oil fields and took a whole bunch of Americans hostage. To free them, Jimmy Carter sent in troops in a stupid action that failed and which led Cyrus Vance to resign as Secretary of State, one of the few noble acts by an American cabinet member in the nation’s history.
Fear of the fundamentalist revolution spread to oil rich nations such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, with their entrenched, sybaritic royal families who paid lip service to Islam while they boozed and caroused from Beirut to Bangkok and beyond. Iran flexed its military muscle and threatened to take over the entire Middle East.
Enter Saddam Hussein, Baathist dictator of Iraq, who was part of the movement that overthrew the British-backed puppet monarchy that came originally from Saudi Arabia, but which lost out to the House of Saud, which won because of its alliance with the fierce Ikhwan, or "Brotherhood," the military arm of Wahhabism, that swept down on the royal opposition and decapitated them. The CIA had given its approval to Saddam’s coup against his Baathist allies, without knowing, until much later, that his hero was Joseph Stalin. Oh, well, whatever. I was sitting in the rooms of a prominent Cambridge don, having drinks with him and a British intelligence officer when the monarchy first fell. After downing a stiff drink, the MI6 gentleman looked at me and said, " Iraq is your baby now." You bet.
Years later, I am attending a breakfast at the River Club, a swank bastion of New York exclusivity, hosted by Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, in honor of the guest speaker, Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s bag man. Lots of top brass, bankers, and intelligence types are present, devouring bacon and eggs, sipping coffee and listening in rapt attention. Tariq Aziz is cheered as he tells us that Iraq is prepared to take out Iran and stop the spread of its dangerous Islamic revolution. "Give us the tools and we will do the job," he says, echoing Churchill.
So we do, and Saddam Hussein stops the Iranians, until Oliver North gets the bright idea from the Israelis to sell arms to Iran, in violation of the embargo, so it can fight Iraq to a standstill, thereby neutralizing them both. We will make contact with the Iranian-backed terrorists who are holding Americans captive in Beirut to get their release (they knock off a CIA intelligence officer), and the proceeds of the sale will go to the Contras in Nicaragua, so William Casey can engineer a regime change there in violation of federal law. The current president of Nicaragua, heir to the Contra legacy, is on the way to the can for corruption.
But Saddam starts to lose, so we ship him the ingredients to make chemical and biological weapons, which he uses on the Iranians, who back off. Saddam, who has figured out by now how America stabbed him in the back, asks the Al Sabas, the ruling royals of Kuwait, to forgive his debt to them that he took out to fight the war to save their necks. "Bug off," they tell him. He asks the American ambassador what the US will do if he invades Kuwait. She makes a phone call, comes back and tells him, famously, "Nothing."
So he does it, and we get Desert Storm. But Bush Pear (as in Pere, but some sort of exotic desert fruit) decides to let Sadam stay in power, out of fear that Iran would march on Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Saddam starts making weapons of mass destruction from the stuff we gave him.
Meanwhile, over in Afghanistan (I used to have dinner, when the Afghan royal family still ruled, at the Afghan embassy in London, with the son of the ambassador and an Englishman who was a descendant of Lord North, the first architect of stupid colonial escapades), where the Evil Empire had installed a secular puppet regime that let girls go to school. The US of A unleashed the fundamentalist Moslem mujahadeen from Pakistan to drive out the infidels, after a pep talk by Zbignew Brezinski, who, with a towel wrapped around his head, yelled at them to launch a "Jihad," a term Moslems had not used for centuries. But, boy, do they remember how to use it now.
A young, enormously wealthy religious zealot from Saudi Arabia, who is inspired by the Iranian fundamentalist revolution, funds a good part of this operation with his own money. (The CIA under Allen Dulles and William Casey always found private money for their covert operations.) He arms the volunteer fighters and takes down their names, addresses, phone numbers, and if available, e-mail addresses, and writes them in a schoolboy’s notebook, calling the whole business "Al Queda," or "The Base." Which is what it is, just over the border in Pakistan. His name is Osama bin Laden (Oh well, whatever.)
And after we win and allow the Taliban to take power because they approve of the big pipeline project, Sheik Omar welcomes bin Laden and his army as honored guests in Afghanistan. When the US of A decides to keep its troops in Saudi Arabia, the Moslem Holy Land, he declares war on the United States from a cave in Afghanistan. (Oh well, whatever.) Asleep at the switch, the CIA and FBI, at constant war with each other over bureaucratic turf, allow the worse to happen, 9/11. Bush declares war back. The Taliban are toast. He argues for a preemptive strike against Iraq, which must certainly be called "Dessert Storm."
So now, eminent Arabist, Bernard Lewis, says the problem with Islam is a lack of democracy. His solution? A regime change in Iraq and Iran. Iran? That’s where it all started, with a regime change by the CIA that set off the entire chain of events. And oh, yes, do remember that it was that regime change that overthrew a democracy and installed a dictator. I guess you can say that this bunch is like the Bourbons of France, of whom it was said, "They learned nothing and they forgot nothing." Oh, well, whatever.
Richard Cummings [send him mail] taught international law at the Haile Selassie I University and before that, was Attorney-Advisor with the Office of General Counsel of the Near East South Asia region of U.S.A.I.D, where he was responsible for the legal work pertaining to the aid program in Israel, Jordan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is the author The Pied Piper — Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream, the comedy, Soccer Moms From Hell, and the forthcoming novel, The Immortalists. He holds a PhD in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University and is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.