What is happening in Iran is only the tip of the iceberg, for underneath lie complex political and socioeconomic problems unknown to the average American. Most US policymakers, and key academic establishments like Harvard and Columbia, could not identify and understand these grave problems, rooted among the misery and suffering of millions of people, and could not therefore develop US foreign policies to deal with them.
American the affluent, powerful, and imperial could not relate to the aspirations and grievances of the poor, oppressed and persecuted people of Iran, or the third world in general. Rather it opted for communication with the small ruling elites of imperial monarchies and military dictators. They commuted back and forth to the White House in huge, bullet-proof limousines, protected from the reality of deteriorating economic and political conditions in their countries.
Moreover, US foreign policymakers and strategists viewed the Middle East from a materialistic perspective: in terms of its strategic importance, oil, and economic markets -- all American "interests" which then automatically needed "protection" through American military power. From this perspective, the aspirations of millions of people were disregarded, their human rights and socioeconomic problems neglected, as if the Middle East was void of peoples with their own unique culture and goals.
The same view that colonial Paris and London took of the Middle East in the early 20th century, emerged again in imperial Washington, D.C. President Carter spoke about "human rights," but his administration supported the most oppressive regimes that denied people's human rights, and thought only of security and the need for more sophisticated American weapons, more police, and more internal security forces.
In this situation, both Iran and Palestine are classic cases. The downtrodden Iranian masses saw the US through an imperial, all-powerful and extremely wealthy Shah. Thus, like the French people in 1789, they moved against the palace. The oppressed Palestinian masses saw the US through the F- 15 warplanes and sophisticated American anti-personnel weapons and cluster bombs.
In both situations, thousands of civilians perished -- shot in the streets of Tehran or bombed by Israeli jet fighters in southern Lebanon. There is no doubt that if these American policies continue, the US influence and presence in the Middle East will eventually come to an end. History is clear: British and French military domination of the Middle East came to an end by the 1960s.
The observations of prominent Americans like historian Henry Steele Commager and Senator William Fulbright had little impact on policymakers. Both warned against the "arrogance of power," the danger of overextended American militarism abroad, and the need to develop policies that relate to the social and economic grievances and aspirations of millions of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is as if industrial America has lost its human conscience and cannot relate to the peoples of the world as human beings.
The appeals of a few black ministers who visited Palestinian refugee camps and called for a more humane US foreign policy have fallen on deaf ears in terms of the foreign policy establishment. Referring to the US F-15 and F-4 warplanes used by the Israelis in Lebanon, Reverend Joseph Lowery observed: "When I was in South Lebanon I saw 100,000 black jobs flying faster than the speed of light over my head." Lowery's appeal to use funds now used for weapons for jobs and to "turn cluster bombs into biscuits" for the hungry is correct but ahead of its time in America.
The alarming trend now, after the Iranian crisis, is for preparing American Military power to teach the "terrorists" a lesson. Hatred, bigotry, and other forms of racism are reemerging. Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, and Palestinians are lumped together in an ugly way, splashed on the cover of Time and News- week as screaming mobs. Expulsions of Iranian students, boycotting Iranian businesses, violence against Iranians are manisfestations of this hatred and bigotry.
The test of a great nation is its ability, in a crisis, to contain mass hysteria, calm anger, and project a more rational, humane policy. And beyond the Iranian crisis, the test for Americans and for humanity is our ability to realize that we have reached a dangerous stage of nation-state loyalties, advanced arsenals and weapons, and thus possible mass destruction. Is this the earth that our children will inherit? Polluted skies and waters, declining, uninhabitable cities, nuclear weapons looming over continents?
There is a need for a new sense of humanity, for a different way of life. There is an urgent need for a new US foreign policy that would relate to the economic and political realities in the third world. Let us hope that out of war will emerge peace, out of oppression equality, and out of bigotry brotherhood.