Every gun that is made, every warship launched . . .

So apparently Bernie Sanders shared a meme, probably on Facebook (figure 1), that I’ve seen before. It’s a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as U.S. president from 1953-1961:
Fig. 1. Screenshot that accompanies a tweet from Ariän El-Tahry, January 8, 2020, fair use.

Ariän El-Tahry adds some deeply ironic context:

In the present context, this is particularly relevant as U.S.-Iranian tensions are high, following the U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani,[1] apparently for no good reason.[2] At this writing, it seems highly possible that war with Iran will be the outcome.[3]

El-Tahry refers to the Central Intelligence Agency’s admitted role in enabling the Shah of Iran to seize control of the country’s government from an elected government, led by Mohammad Mossadegh, in order to preserve western corporate control of Iran’s oil fields. This occurred in August 1953,[4] as El-Tahry observes, on Eisenhower’s watch and is historically connected to the Iranian revolution in 1979 that overthrew the Shah. Soon after this revolution, Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, launching a 444-day long crisis.[5] Relations between the U.S. and Iran have never recovered and, indeed, it is generally accepted among all but the rabid right that the U.S. did a really bad thing in 1953.

So the picture that El-Tahry offers is of Eisenhower, a hypocrite, who offered pieties about how military spending diverts money from the poor but authorized a coup that led to a great deal of Iranian suffering and, ultimately, to the present crisis.

I’m not saying Eisenhower was right to authorize that coup. He certainly wasn’t. But when, as we should, we look at context, we need to look broadly.

First, the Cold War was well underway in 1953. In this, the U.S. political elite generally adopted a monolithic view of ‘godless’ ‘communism’ (more correctly, authoritarian socialism) as evil and as emanating from a single source: Moscow. The reality was a great deal more complicated and a topic for another time, but seeing Mossadegh’s action to seize the oil fields through that lens would have led to the conclusion that the Soviets were spreading ‘godless’ ‘communism’ to Iran.

We should also remember that some in the U.S. political elite even advocated a first strike, yes, with nuclear weapons, in the hope, not the assurance, but the mere hope that some Amerikkkans would survive to preserve the republican capitalist way.[6] As is also now generally acknowledged, these people were out of their flipping gourds and indeed the movie Dr. Strangelove begins to parody them. The hysteria about ‘godless’ ‘communism’ wasn’t merely rich but pervasive. And the U.S. has never recovered from its effects, which include a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons; an unseemly alliance between social conservatives, corporate elites, and political elites meant to forestall any rise of ‘godless’ ‘communism’ within the U.S.; a hierarchically invidious monistic view of the relationship between the U.S. and Soviet systems that led U.S. politicians to interpret the fall of the latter as an affirmation of the former, enshrining neoconservatism and its moral imperative, neoliberalism, as the Amerikkkan way;[7] and of course, an ongoing hysteria surrounding the word ‘socialism.’

So on one hand, a coup in Iran certainly beats nuclear armageddon. But also, the point of the meme that Sanders used is to show how far to the right U.S. politics has shifted—Eisenhower was, after all, a Republican, expressing a view often considered extremely radical and Leftist today.

I’m inclined to excuse Sanders’ use of the meme. Because the range of acceptable discourse, the “Overton Window,” in U.S. politics has indeed shifted far to the right, the meme illustrates that, and because even if Eisenhower is a flaming hypocrite, the sentiment he expressed in that passage is correct. I don’t agree with El-Tahry that “this is a really bad take.”

That said, that we have, so far, managed to avoid nuclear annihilation does not excuse what the U.S. did to Iran. Everything about the Cold War was wrong: the arms race, the monolithic view centering Moscow as the source of all evil, the proxy wars that made the Cold War hot, and the ideological determination to suppress social justice in favor of capitalist greed that appears even in the U.S. refusal to ratify a human rights treaty[8] that nearly every other country in the world has.[9]

What all this really illustrates is how very far off-kilter the U.S. has been for a very long time. U.S. support for the coup in Iran was one expression of U.S. insanity, an insanity currently and deplorably manifest in the presidency of Donald Trump.

  1. [1]Julian Borger and Martin Chulov, “Iran general Qassem Suleimani killed in Baghdad drone strike ordered by Trump,” Guardian, January 3, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/03/baghdad-airport-iraq-attack-deaths-iran-us-tensions
  2. [2]David Nakamura, “In confrontation with Iran, Trump wrestles with the shadow of Obama, ‘the metric he has to beat,’” Washington Post, January 5, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-confrontation-with-iran-trump-wrestles-with-the-shadow-of-obama-the-metric-he-has-to-beat/2020/01/04/2bd11a80-2e49-11ea-9b60-817cc18cf173_story.html; Missy Ryan et al., “How Trump decided to kill a top Iranian general,” Washington Post, January 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/how-trump-decided-to-kill-a-top-iranian-general/2020/01/03/77ce3cc4-2e62-11ea-bcd4-24597950008f_story.html; Paul Waldman, “Trump’s rationales for the Soleimani killing are falling apart,” Washington Post, January 5, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-confrontation-with-iran-trump-wrestles-with-the-shadow-of-obama-the-metric-he-has-to-beat/2020/01/04/2bd11a80-2e49-11ea-9b60-817cc18cf173_story.html
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Tit for tat and the path to war, raging narcissist-in-chief style,” Not Housebroken, January 5, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/05/tit-for-tat-and-the-path-to-war-raging-narcissist-in-chief-style/
  4. [4]Lawrence Wu and Michelle Lanz, “How The CIA Overthrew Iran’s Democracy In 4 Days,” National Public Radio, February 7, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/01/31/690363402/how-the-cia-overthrew-irans-democracy-in-four-days
  5. [5]CNN, “Iran Hostage Crisis Fast Facts,” October 30, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/15/world/meast/iran-hostage-crisis-fast-facts/index.html; Jimmy Carter Library, “The Hostage Crisis in Iran,” n.d., https://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/research/hostage_crisis_in_iran
  6. [6]George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126); Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Irving Kristol’s Neoconservative Persuasion,” Commentary 132, no. 2 (2011), 25-29.
  8. [8]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, United Nations, General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx
  9. [9]United Nations, “Ratification Status: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” January 15, 2019, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-3&chapter=4&lang=en

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