With the indictment of thirteen Russians for interfering in our past election, much of the media and social media has rightfully condemned Russia for meddling. Foreign nations should not have a say in America’s election. However, as I watched the morning news programs, one conversation caught my attention. The expert speaking said these indictments change the game; he went on to say we are not even playing the same game as the Russians anymore. Ethically, he insisted, interfering with our election puts us on a different level than them.
As always, I am not going to debate the ethics or politics of election meddling, though I assume most find it wrong. My goal is to clear up the historical inaccuracy. Any scholar or, really any student who has studied the Cold War, knows that one, meddling has occurred since the end of World War II, and two, America has done our share.
The thirteen were not indicted for fixing the election. They did not interfere with ballots. They were distributing false and sometimes true information in an effort to sway voters. Though I condemn these actions, I hate to admit that America has done worse than spread false information. There are several examples, but I want to focus on one in particular that most Americans do not know about, but its consequences still affect us today.
In 1926, Raza Shah took over the Iranian government. The Shah, and his son afterwards, Muhammad Reza Shah, developed a tyrannical hold on their nation. The Iranian people not only lacked human rights, but also the majority of the people were in poverty, even though the nation had wealth from oil production. The problem was Great Britain received the majority of the wealth and the Iran elites the rest. The masses turned to Mohammad Mosaddeq, who was elected as Prime Minister in 1951 and who nationalized the Iran oil business to keep the oil money in Iran. The problem for Mosaddeq is that running the oil companies was difficult and, without British help, oil production fell.
With the fall in revenue, the Iranian elites turned against Mosaddeq, but not the masses who had never received money from oil. To them he was still their champion. In 1953, the Shah dismissed Mosaddeq as Prime Minister; however, he refused to step down. In protest, the people took to the streets to overthrow the Shah and set up a democratically elected constitutional government. In the process, they forced the Shah to flee to Rome.
Therefore, if things had gone as planned, Iran would possibly be a democracy today with a constitutional government. However, the British government convinced the American government that Mosaddeq was a communist and asked for our assistance in reestablishing the Shah to his throne. It is important to note that the Shah allowed the British to control the oil production in Iran, making them very wealthy.
The CIA began funneling money to Kermit Roosevelt (Teddy’s son), who distributed it to groups, including the army, who opposed Mosaddeq. Working out of the American consulate, the CIA and Roosevelt, with the help of the army, organized a counter-revolution. Long story short, Mosaddeq and the democratic government were out and the Shah sat back on the Peacock Throne with more power than before and even stronger tyrannical control. Clearly, this is a simplified version of an extremely complicated event, but with the space allowed it will have to do. If you want more, read All The Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer.
There are two issues to take away from this story. One, it clears up why the revolutionaries under the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 stormed the American embassy and took hostages. Americans do not know the story of the failed democratic revolution, but all Iranians do. They knew the counter-revolution came from within the embassy, and they wanted to stop history from repeating itself.
Secondly, it shows that American foreign policy has done worse than spread fake Facebook posts. For a nation that prides itself on defending democracy, we have actually stopped elections that may not go in a direction we support. Many of our issues with Iran might not exist today if we had supported Iranian Democracy instead of crushing it. I hope to see the day when all nations have true democracy and where we do not need to protect ourselves from foreign involvement. However, until that day, make your arguments about Russian interference. Just make them with correct information about our past. Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha