Most Americans believe that the Iranian leaders are just religious fanatics who hate us for no good reason. But they have some solid justifications for their dislike and suspicion, and we shouldn’t strike this pose of injured innocence. In fact, if our positions were reversed I think we would be even more antagonistic than they are.
Let’s take just a few from a long and disreputable list. Back in 1953, the CIA ran Operation Ajax that orchestrated the overthrow and eventual death of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. This is comparable to a direct strike against our President. If you don’t want to go back so far, then during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988, we backed Saddam even though we were well aware of his use of chemical weapons that killed and maimed thousands of Iranians. Doesn’t that make our “holier than thou” attitude about WMDs look a trifle self-serving?
If neither of these seem sufficient to explain their attitude, we should consider the Vincennes incident. In 1988, the American guided missile cruiser, USS Vincennes, shot down an Iranian civilian airplane carrying 290 passengers and crew. All 290 died. The Iran Air Airbus A300 was in Iranian airspace on a regularly scheduled flight. We claimed that it was mistaken for an F14-A Tomcat fighter jet making aggressive moves toward our vessel. Anyone familiar with radar signatures would know that this is barely plausible. It is true that our cruiser made several attempts to contact the plane, however they failed because they used the wrong transmission frequency.
We never formally apologized, although we did make a monetary settlement through the International Court of Appeals. The captain of the Vincennes was subsequently given a medal and promoted. Be honest, how do you think we would react in their circumstances? Would we just forgive and forget? I think not. Their casualty total is quite comparable to our losses on 9/11 if you account for the difference in our respective populations.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, don’t forget our support for the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was an autocrat imposed on Iran during WWII. A secular Muslim, the Shah had modern views that pleased us but his secret police, the SAVAK, conducted a reign of terror not unlike the Syrian dictators, Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, whom we so strongly condemn.
There isn’t much we can do now to alter their view of us, but pretending that it has no justification is simply wrong and probably aggravates the situation.