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Imperialism is the United States' Profitable and Exploitative Legacy in Iran

Imperialism is the United States’ Profitable and Exploitative Legacy in Iran

We have historical precedent to suggest that the killing of General Qassem Soleimani is imperialist in nature and meant to maintain power in Iran.

TW/CW: the are mentions of war and death in this article

At the 1986 Black Women Writers in the Diaspora Conference, Audre Lorde asked, “What does it mean to be a citizen of a country that stands upon the wrong side of every liberation struggle on this earth?” Despite the insistence from certain American government officials (Chris Murphy) that Iran is “full of malevolent evildoers” and that “the U.S. doesn’t kill leaders of other countries,” the United States has always been and continues to be the bad guy in this—and most every—story. 

It took 60 years, but in 2013, the CIA admitted to its involvement in the 1953 coup that overthrew democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh made many changes in Iran during his tenure, including the nationalization of Iranian oil. With that move, the Prime Minister alienated western powers who previously controlled the oil in Iran. At the request of the British, the United States orchestrated a coup to overthrow Mossadegh and to reinstall the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. As I’ve written before, the United States is quick and consistent in its refusal to allow socialist regimes to flourish abroad—especially where there is money and/or power to gain. 

An Iranian woman, waving a club, joins other pro-Shah of Iran demonstrators on a car through the streets in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 19, 1953, during the bloody overthrow of Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadegh. (AP Photo)

During the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. swore it was remaining neutral in the conflict. For fear that Iran’s theocratic government would defeat Iraq and take control of all of the oil in the region, the U.S. decided to secretly intervene.

It should be noted that the Islamic Revolution in Iran may not have happened without the US-backed coup that came first, but I digress. 

The United States looked the other way (insert side-eye) as nations in the region sold American weapons to the Iraqis—which is illegal without explicit U.S. government approval. Not only did they arm the Iraqis, but they also communicated classified intelligence to Saddam Hussein—aware that he would use chemical weapons like sarin—to prevent Iran from gaining a strategic position by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. Yes, you read that right. The U.S. gave intel to Hussein—the same Saddam Hussein the U.S. would later accuse of having weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism, propelling us into the devastating 2003 Iraq War. 

As if that didn’t demonstrate that the U.S. has and continues to be an aggressor in Iran—and in the Middle East in general—let me direct you to the accidental war crime of July 3, 1988. During the Iran-Iraq War, the USS Stark was bombed by an Iraqi warplane, while the USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine which Americans believed was planted by Iran. As retribution, the U.S launched a huge naval assault, destroying Iranian ships and killing dozens. Two months after the naval operation, an Aegis-armed guided-missile cruiser called the USS Vincennes shot down a civilian Airbus A300, killing all 290 people on board.

Recommended: “OUR SIN WAS BEING INDIGENOUS, LEFTIST, AND ANTI-IMPERIALIST” — A PRIMER ON BOLIVIA’S US-BACKED COUP

More recently, American sanctions levied against Iran have failed to create meaningful changes in Iranian government policies. Instead, they affect the lives of the poorest and most marginalized Iranian citizens for whom the cost of living has increased dramatically. Unilateral U.S. sanctions have also prevented chronically ill Iranians who need imported medications from receiving the medical care that they need. To be fair, the United States also refuses to provide its own citizens with healthcare. So, why would they care if brown people they’ve all deemed as evildoers can’t get insulin?

Now, with the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani by aerial drone, it is clear that the U.S. war machine is readying itself for another reelection war. A bonus for Trump is that the threat of war with Iran is a very, very good distraction from impeachment. Abroad, a war with Iran will affect innocent Iranians, Iraqis, and likely others in the Middle East as well. Proxy wars are common and Iran’s influence can be felt in Syria and Lebanon as well. At home, Muslims will be subject to another rise in Islamophobia and government surveillance. As the true, patriotic Americans fight the threat in the Middle East, Muslim Americans’ allegiance will be doubted and we will suffer for it. 

I’m not saying that the Iranian government isn’t oppressive and we shouldn’t hold leaders accountable for their actions globally. What I am saying is that the United States has a history of violently and systematically intervening in Iran and the Middle East in general. We have no reason to believe that the killing of Soleimani was done to protect Americans, Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese people, or anyone else he was involved in oppressing and torturing. We have documented historical precedent to suggest that this—like all American intervention abroad—is imperialist in nature and meant to maintain and augment our power.

My fellow Americans, I invite you to reflect on Audre Lorde’s evergreen question after reading about our country’s past with Iran. Do you have to defend the U.S. as it continues to spread its imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist agenda worldwide? Or is it our duty to call out the horrors inflicted in our name? What does it mean to be a citizen of this country?

Reina Sultan is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict from nine to five. She believes in smashing the patriarchy and eating the rich. Her work can also be found in VICE, Bitch, ZORA Mag, Rewire.News, and Greatist. Follow @SultanReina on Twitter for hot takes and cat photos.

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