Koppel Flunks Middle East History

Not to be contrary, but here’s the part of Ted Koppel’s appearance on the Christmas Day “Meet the Press” that I found mind-boggling in its paradoxic logic:

MR. KOPPEL: And the one thing that we are not talking about, because it somehow seems indelicate or unpolitic or even inappropriate, is the simple fact of the matter that, while we did not go to war because of Iraq’s oil, we did, in fact, go to war because it is absolutely essential to the national interest, not only of this country but also of the Europeans and of the Japanese, that the Persian Gulf remains stable. We have–when I say “we” I mean U.S. administrations going back to the Eisenhower administration–have been intervening in the Persian Gulf in one form or another–we overthrew the Iranian prime minister, Mossadeq–that is, the CIA did–precisely because we felt he was too close to the Communist Party at that time and we were afraid what that would mean if Iran became a Communist state.

As long as we had the shah of Iran there, he was our surrogate. In fact, you may remember the Nixon policy was that the shah would be our surrogate in the Persian Gulf. When the shah was overthrown, we shifted our chips onto the Saudi board, and then it became the House of Saud that became our representative. The Saudis are, indeed, troubled. The royal family of Saudi Arabia is in deep trouble. Therefore, we need to have a stable Iraq in order to guarantee a stable Persian Gulf, and the name of that game is oil. Nobody talks about that.

MR. KOPPEL: But the point–the one issue I would add, Tim, is the mousetrap that is waiting for the Democrats is if they do not publicly acknowledge that U.S. national interest is just fundamentally involved in a stable Iraq and a stable Persian Gulf, if they simply come after the Republicans, and take the cheap shots on the war, and say, “You gotta bring the troops home at all costs,” they might even win the election, but if they win the election, they’re going to find themselves confronting the same issues of national interest that the Republicans are facing right now. The simple fact of the matter is it is in America’s national interest that there be stability in the Persian Gulf, and if we precipitously pull the troops out of that area now, there’ll be hell to pay.

Koppel — whose claim to fame is a show whose origin is the direct result of Persian Gulf instability — doesn’t seem to realize that half a century of American meddling in the Gulf hasn’t made the region stable. The event he mentions — a CIA-sponsored overthrow of the democratically-elected Iranian prime minister in 1953 — led directly to the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini a quarter-century later. The man the US installed — Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — maintained power through generous US support and a secret police force known as SAVAK, which spied on, tortured, and assassinated dissenters on both the left and the right. Essentially the same controls exercised by Saddam Hussein — or by the current regime in Tehran.

The US meddled in Afghanistan throughout the Soviet occupation, from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. The motive wasn’t “stability,” it was done — in the words of President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski — with the intent of “drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap…. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

And, of course, there’s Iraq, where the US supported Saddam Hussein for a decade after the fall of the Shah while Iraq was at war with the Iran (while secretly selling arms to Iran in an effort to get hostages held by Islamic fundamentalists elsewhere in the Middle East released). Iraq, where the US government ignored chemical weapons use at the time it occurred because Hussein was our ally against the Iranians.

So I find it more than a little perplexing to hear Koppel claiming that the Republicans are the ones facing “issues of national interest” and Democrats aren’t acknowledging that “a stable Iraq” isn’t in the public interest. Just how ignorant of history is he? Of course a stable Iraq is important. But five decades of the same old styles of covert and military operations haven’t managed to bring stability to Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan. President George W. Bush’s coked-up “shock and awe” diplomacy didn’t make Iraq more stable than it was before the war began. Every effort the US (and British) have engaged in in these three countries since the 1950s has gone awry within just a few years. It’s like he has no conception of what’s been tried before.

Brokaw’s taken some heat for saying “If 9/11 had happened on Bill Clinton’s watch, he would have gone into Iraq.” I’m not sure that’s true, but I do think that if Al Gore had been properly seated as President in 2000, there’s a good chance that a war with Iraq might taken place.

President Gore’s VP would have been Joseph Lieberman, a co-sponsor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. It’s entirely conceivable to me that Gore might have been pushed by Republicans, Democratic hawks in Congress (we’ve seen a few of them over the past years), his national security apparatus, and his vice-president to invade Iraq. The people ginning up fake intel would have had to have done a better job of it, but those people — including Achmed Chalabi — were already in place. With the right mood in the country after 9/11 and people who were looking for an excuse to invade Iraq on the flimsiest of excuses (like Lieberman) whether there were WMD or not, Gore could have found himself cornered into invading or suffering the type of ridicule Jimmy Carter faced after the hostages were taken in Iran.