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The Ayatollah's Curse

America's capital is gripped by revolutionary fervor and crusading spirit over Iran. Everywhere one hears cries of, "on to Tehran" and "down with the mullahs."

Alas, the collective memory of the US government, Congress, and the media seems to extend no further back than five or, at most, ten years. All that occurred earlier are as ancient and largely forgotten as the history of Carthage. Americans simply don't remember the legions of mistakes their governments committed in Iran and other parts of the Mideast.

Which brings me, for sad example, to the story of my old friend and Georgetown University Foreign Service School classmate, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who was executed in Tehran after mounting a failed attempt to overthrow Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's new Iranian Islamic Republic.

I cite Sadegh's death because of the increasingly strident demands by Republicans and some pro-war Democrats for President Barack Obama to intervene in Iran's post-electoral crisis, and his insistence that the US keep its hands off.

Can these legislators really be unaware the US and Britain have spent hundreds of millions in recent years trying to destabilize Iran and overthrow its elected government? Or that Western powers are conducting an unprecedented media and telecom assault on Iran's Islamic government?

Back to my old friend.

Iran's former president, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, told me that Sadegh begged the Americans not to show any support for his planned coup. "If you do, we are finished." Sadegh's attempt to overthrow the new Islamic government of Ayatollah Khomeini had to appear to be internally-generated and have no links to the US or Britain.

Sadegh met with a senior official of the US National Security Council, then returned to Tehran. On his return, he was arrested and subsequently shot for treason.

According to former President Bani Sadr, the US National Security Council official he met with informed Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, of the plot. Mossad then warned the Khomeni government through a third party of Sadegh's coup.

If true, this was a piece of breathtaking cynicism. In public, Iran and Israel were furiously exchanging mutual fulminations. Yet, behind the scenes, they were quietly doing business. Israel was negotiating the sale of $5 billion of US arms and spare parts to Iran during its bitter war with Iraq and didn't want to see Khomeini overthrown.

Money, after all, is thicker than blood.

Interestingly, Sadegh also insisted senior Republican operatives had implored the Islamic regime not to free the US Embassy hostages it was holding before US elections. The hostage issue sunk President Jimmy Carter's re-election bid.

The hostages were released to coincide with Ronald Reagan's inauguration as president.

One of the dimmer lights in the Republican Party's current low-wattage Senate ranks is South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham, a proud advocate of torture and secret prisons. Graham has taken the lead in demanding US intervention. But how? Washington has no more troops and today must borrow 50 cents from China for every dollar it spends.

Perhaps the warlike senator intends to dispatch the Goose Creek South Carolina volunteer fire department to smite the wicked I-ranians.

No doubt the good senator could show those turbaned fanatics from Tehran how Americans run honest elections in Iraq and Afghanistan - where opposition groups who oppose US occupation are barred from running in the "democratic election" - rather, in fact, like Iran where senior clerics bar "unfit" candidates from running for office.

Or in Lebanon, where Washington recently dished out a ton of cash buying votes for the pro-American coalition, which won an unexpectedly large victory.

There is very little Washington can or should do in Iran. Iran's election, in spite of significant but not decisive voting irregularities still appears to have been a victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Think of Florida's "hanging chads," Ohio's bogus voting machines, and Chicago where the legendary Mayor Daley got the dead to rise and vote for the sainted Jack Kennedy.

Iran has the only fairly honest elections from Morocco to India(except for Israel, whose voting is usually impeccable). The US is in no position to cast the first stone when it comes to democratic procedures. If Washington really seeks to inculcate genuine democracy, let it begin with its own client states, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Iran has been under siege by the US, Britain, France and its Arab neighbors since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The often tragic history of Iran is marked by the British 1941invasion, the Anglo-American 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically-elected Mossadegh government, and the US/British engineered war with Iraq that inflicted one million Iranian casualties.

The best thing the West can do is stay out of Iran's internal affairs. The more it intervenes, the more it gives hard-line elements an excuse to brand their opponents traitors and Western stooges. This is why my late friend Sadegh pleaded with Washington to remain mute after his coup.

Iran must solve its own problems. We've had enough nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. And how can Washington berate Iran for violence after supporting Pakistan's military offensive in Swat that has driven 2.5 million from their homes and his killed over 1,000? Pakistan's US-financed army is now planning a new `offensive' against rebellious South Waziristan.

Americans must not let wishful thinking and animosity toward the much disliked Ahmadinejad warp their judgment and get them stuck in yet another giant mess in the Muslim world.

Americans are fortunate to have the cautious Barack Obama at the helm rather than those shoot-from-the-hip Republicans, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman. But now unfortunate that Dennis Ross, who is no friend of America's interests in the Muslim world, has just been named to a senior role in the National Security Council.

Obama should stop CIA and other US intelligence agencies from stirring the pot in Iran and organizing armed opposition. These subversive activities could drawn the US into a new conflict for which it is not prepared. Even Israel, which certainly knows about the Mideast, is now backing Ahmadinejad. Besides, the US is facing a potentially dangerous crisis with North Korea.

America's past involvement in Iran has too often produced fiascos, or worse. In fact, Iran has become something of a curse for the United States. Almost every American president who has gotten involved in Iran has had his fingers burned. So the cautious President Obama is advised an excess of caution when dealing with Iran.

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