In the latest Democratic Presidential debates, Sen. Sanders accused Secretary Hillary Clinton of having supported regime change, a policy he harshly criticized.  As a main example, he pointed to the CIA-orchestrated coup in 1953, which overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Dr. Mossadegh.  Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) also argued that had the U.S. not overthrown democracy in Iran and imposed the subservient dictatorship of the Shah, then we would not have had the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran today.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBriahna Joy Gray: Progressives like Turner should reconsider running as Democrats Biden wishes Obama a happy birthday Ohio special election: A good day for Democrats MORE, while serving as Secretary of State, condemned the 1953 coup and expressed regret for it in a BBC Persia interview in October 2011.  Moreover, she expressed an awareness of the negative consequences of the coup.  Both Sen. Sanders and Secretary Clinton are absolutely right in criticizing the CIA coup against the democratically elected liberal democratic Mossadegh and the imposition of the right-wing dictatorship of the Shah.  


However, Sanders is absolutely wrong in promoting normalization of relations with the ultra-reactionary fundamentalist regime ruling Iran.  One simply cannot logically draw the second policy position (appeasement of fundamentalist regime) from the first analytical position (overthrow of a democratic government).  The fact that overthrowing a liberal democratic nationalist government has been harmful does not logically follow that pursuing regime change of an ultra-reactionary, fascistic, expansionist, bellicose, terrorist regime is harmful as well.  Standing up to the fundamentalist regime and pursuing regime change (the replacement of the ruling fundamentalist regime with a democratic secular republic) is good for the interests of the U.S., the Iranian people, the Middle East, and the world (minus Assad, Hezbollah, the extremist Shia terrorist groups in Iraq, and Putin). 

Sanders’ position also suffers from lack of internal logical consistency. Sanders correctly admires Churchill for his standing up to Hitler and Nazi Germany.  However, Sanders himself commits the errors that Neville Chamberlain made.  It is bizarre to say one admires Churchill while at the same time promoting policy of appeasement of a fascistic, expansionist, terrorist regime.  In fact, Sanders’ policy proposal on the fundamentalist regime is similar to Chamberlain’s policy toward Nazi Germany.

The Iranian people have been struggling for democracy, freedom, and the rule of law at least since the Constitutional Revolution of 1905.  The CIA coup organized reactionary Islamic forces (along with monarchist sections of the armed forces and Iran’s official Nazi Party called SUMKA) against Mossadegh and his party called the Iran National Front.  The Fadaian Islam, Iran’s main Islamic fundamentalist party which Khomeini secretly supported, not only made an assassination attempt on the life of Mossadegh’s foreign minister, Dr. Hussein Fatemi, but also had plans to assassinate Mossadegh himself.  Ayatollah Khomeini broke with the Shah not in 1953 because of the CIA coup, but in 1963 due to the land reform, female franchise, and the change of oath for holding high offices from the Holy Koran to a Holy book (which would have allowed Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, and Bahais to hold office).  In June 1981, in an official broadcast, Ayatollah Khomeini said that “had America not slapped Mossadegh, Mossadegh would have slapped Islam.”  Khomeini then went even further and pronounced both Mossadegh and the Iran National Front “apostates”; therefore, encouraging the murder of the members and supporters of Mossadegh’s party. 

Since 1979, Khomeini and his regime have executed, assassinated, jailed, and tortured members of Iran National Front.  Islamic fundamentalists are more reactionary and tyrannical than the Shah.  The Islamic fundamentalist officials and propagandists use the CIA coup to manipulate liberals and progressives around the world.  They also use it to put American officials on the defensive. 

Sanders is a decent human being.  Unfortunately, he does not seem to be aware of the basics of Iranian politics or those of the Middle East.  If Islamic fundamentalist terrorists (e.g., Islamic Republic regime in Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah. al Qaeda, ISIS, etc.) are to be defeated, the U.S. has to have a sophisticated grand strategy, one which develops close alliances and friendships with the pro-democracy forces in the region.  By promoting rapprochement with those who are oppressing and brutalizing them, the pro-democracy forces will simply not trust the advocates of appeasement.

Sanders’ policy proposal of normalization with the fundamentalist regime ruling Iran is not only counter-productive on realist grounds, it is also immoral and unethical on idealist-liberal grounds.  By promoting normalization of relations with one of the most reactionary, fascistic, bellicose, expansionist regimes in the world, Sanders is harming both the prospects of defeating Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and establishing democracy in Iran.   

Kazemzadeh is associate professor of political science at Sam Houston State University.