Saturday, September 22, 2007

The dysfunctional relationship between the U.S. and Iran

In a piece sadly typical of the mainstream U.S. news media, Adam Goldman's idea of critical news journalism is to join the chorus attacking Iranian President Ahmadinejad. I certainly have no problem with any journalist critiquing the powerful, including of course President Ahmadinejad. The job of any decent journalist should be to understand power, to expose lies and to report the truth. Naturally a critical stance is absolutely fundamental to this. Like any powerful leader, there is plenty to write about President Ahmadinejad and his supporters. Yet Mr Goldman uses his critical stance only to critique the enemies of successive U.S. government administrations, including President Ahmadinejad. The U.S. entirely escapes his critical glare. His use of quote marks to describe American aggression are particularly revealing.

Missing is any acknowledgment of the deeply dysfunctional relationship between the U.S. and Iran, going back decades now. Few Americans are aware that in the 1950s Iran had a democratic government and a popular Prime Minister in Mohammed Mossadegh. This government was destroyed by the combined talents of the British and U.S. intelligence services, who in 1953 sponsored a coup and replaced it with a dictatorship far more accommodating to Western oil companies. The dictatorship led to the Iranian revolution in 1979.

During this entire period the relationship between the two countries could only be described as dysfunctional. Even the years of the dictatorship in 1953-1979, when government-to-government relations were good, the type of relationship between the two countries can hardly be described as healthy. U.S. support for the dictatorship was in no way meant to be something designed for the betterment of Iranians and their country. Instead, it existed to further the power and wealth of Western companies. Any benefits to Iranians were tangential to this objective.

The 1979 Iranian revolution of course dramatically changed the nature of the government-to-government relationship, and from my perspective the two governments did much to ensure the relationship between the two countries would remain poor. There were significant exceptions of course, such as the efforts toward dialog during the administration of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Yet on the whole, progress has been disappointing, which is the responsibility of both countries.

It is ironic that Mr Goldman's article finishes with a recognition of the right to free speech, given how much his own article resembles those found in countries with strict media censorship. It's all pretty much the same fare - "we are the good guys, with superior values and deeds, and they are the bad evil doers". It's an approach to journalism that any dictator would be satisfied with.

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