I am working my way through Stephen Kinzer’s book Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future and thus far have really enjoyed it and also felt like I’ve learned a lot from the book. The book is especially interesting in light of the pro-democratic revolutions over the past few months. In some ways these challenge Kinzer’s thesis but they also make it all the more timely. I’ll reserve judgment till I finish reading it.
So far a large portion of the book has been devoted to telling (or re-telling) the story of the modern relationship between the United States and Turkey and Iran. It really is a fascinating story. There have been some surprise moments. While by no means a scholar on the topic I thought I was generally familiar with the broad story line but there have been some twists that I never quite saw before. I intend to post a review of the book once I finish it, but for now I’ll post just a few highlights:
“I hate war,” he told them, “but war can be justified in pursuit of a greater good—in this case, the protection of a city and the defense of constitutional liberty. I am ready to die for these causes!” The audience broke into applause and cries of “Long live Baskerville!” He responded by singing a chorus from his favorite song, “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
Baskerville is more than just an Iranian hero. He embodied the shared values that bind Iranians to Americans. Long before many other Middle Eastern nations had come into existence, the Constitutional Revolution brought modern ideas to Iran. These ideas have produced a nation that has more in common with the United States than almost any of its neighbors in the world’s most troubled region.
The stories of modern Turkey and Iran suggest that democracy can take root anywhere, but only over the span of generations. It cannot be called to life simply by proclaiming a constitution or holding an election. Democracy is not an event but a way of facing the world, an all-encompassing approach to life. Only long years of experience can make it real. In the Muslim Middle East, just two countries have this experience: Turkey and Iran.
“It is essential that our central government submit to the will of the nation,” they asserted in their final declaration. “Decisions not based on the will of the nation have no validity.”
Soon afterward, as if to show his redoubled determination, Reza decreed a reform so radical that no leader of a Muslim country, not even Atatürk, had dared to propose it: a total ban on the veil for women. The day it took effect, January 7, 1936, marked a social earthquake of rare intensity. Police officers tore veils off women who appeared in public wearing them. Men on streets were thunderstruck. Some women felt liberated and eagerly adopted Western dress, but others, having never shown their faces to strangers, cloistered themselves at home. The most desperate committed suicide
President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles made their decision to overthrow Iran’s democratic government without debate, without reflection, without analysis, without weighing costs and benefits.
Iran’s descent into dictatorship began after the United States overthrew the most democratic government it ever had. The 1953 coup against Mohammad Mossadegh was one of the twentieth century’s more significant events, yet few histories of the century published in English give it more than a line or two.
There could be many more (most of these are from the historical rather than the later predictive part of the book too) but perhaps these are enough to persuade you to check the book out for yourself. Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future