Today Senator Barbara Mikulski announced her intention to vote in favor of the recently negotiated deal with Iran, bringing the number of Democratic senators to thirty-four and thus ensuring that the Congress will not overturn the agreement. I want to offer some perspective on the Iran deal, which has produced the extraordinary spectacle of a group of U. S. Senators writing to the Iranian government warning them not to trust the United States Secretary of State, and which has seen the Prime Minister of Israel invited to condemn the negotiations from the podium of the United States Senate.
Let me begin by reminding everyone that 2015 is the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. One hundred and fifty years is an enormously long time in the lives of human beings, for all that it is a blink of the eye for redwood trees. I am eighty-one, and I have vivid childhood memories of my father's father, who was born in Paris in 1879 and came to these shores the next year , but even that birth, far beyond the reach of my memory, was fourteen years after the end of the Civil War in America.
And yet, in parts of this country, as we well know, the Civil War lives on in the collective memories of some Americans, seemingly as though it were only yesterday. Civil War Re-enactors dress up in costumes, take out antique muskets, and march across the fields and up and down the hills where, a century and a half ago, battles were fought between the Blue and the Grey. For whatever reason -- regional pride, racist hatreds, inherited resentments -- those events are a living part of the daily consciousness of millions of Americans. Those of us whose forebears were not even on this side of the Atlantic when those events played out may find it odd that what happened so long ago can live so powerfully in the memories of our fellow Americans, but surely we can, with an effort of sympathetic imagination, at least understand what they feel, though we cannot share it. To the French, the Chinese, the Brazilians, the Malaysians, or the Japanese, this obsession with the Civil War must be utterly mysterious, and yet they would be ill advised to ignore it in their dealings with America.
Now let me turn to another event, not a century and a half old, but a mere sixty-two years ago. In 1951, the Iranians elected a progressive secular Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh committed the unpardonable sin of attempting to renegotiate the agreements that gave the lion's share of Iran's oil income to Western oil companies. In response, the British, conspiring with the Central Intelligence Agency, overthrew Mossadegh and imposed a puppet ruler, Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, on Iran, backed by the Western Powers. It was this puppet who was in turn overthrown by a popular revolution in 1979. Thus it was America whose illegal and violent intervention in the internal affairs of Iran set the stage for the establishment of the present theocratic regime.
Now, this was all a long time ago. In 1953 I was just graduating from college. Any American in his or her twenties, thirties, forties, or fifties was not even born when Mossadegh was overthrown by the CIA. Surely, sensible Americans will think, if indeed they even know this history, that that is all in the distant past, and has nothing to do with modern day events.
To these willful amnesiacs, I say, "Think of our Civil War."