Commentary: US Made the Same Mistake While Arming the Shah of Iran (posted October 1999)


Learning from our mistakes

by P. D. Spyropoulos

Pakistan's coup is merely the latest of a long line of US foreign policy blunders with a common theme.

Our backing of the Shah's regime helped spark an Islamic revolution in Iran that continues to plague US foreign policy, serving as a parable of how our support of repressive governments eventually returns to haunt us.

The US made the same mistake when arming Iraq as a ballast against Iran; it was not long before Saddam Hussein turned the weapons we had lavished upon him against American soldiers and allies.

Pakistan is now developing into yet another example of how US policymakers have failed to consider the heavy price that is paid for arming undemocratic governments.

After two decades of appeasement and billions in US support, a nuclear and militant Pakistan is now backing Taliban extremists in Afghanistan and fanning the flames of Islamic fundamentalism.

Pakistan's metamorphosis from trusted ally to potential adversary is a lesson that should be considered when looking at our relationship with another Islamic nation firmly entrenched in authoritarian tradition.

Turkey has one of the world's worst human rights records and is among its most chronic international aggressors. For the fifth consecutive year Turkey leads the world in imprisoned journalists and has recently admitted to using death squads to kill as many as 14,000 people since the 1980's. Up to 3 million Kurds have been forcefully displaced and thousands more have been killed by Turkish security forces.

Turkey is a member of an exclusive club of outlaw states that continue to occupy foreign countries in violation of U.N. resolutions. Turkey still occupies 40% of Cyprus after invading that island-nation in 1974 and ethnically cleansing 200,000 of its indigenous inhabitants. Under cover of its Kurdish war, Turkey has unilaterally occupied a "security zone" in Iraqi territory which Turkey has long coveted.

Over the past 25 years, Turkish troops have violated the sovereignty of Greece, Cyprus, Iraq and Iran, a list of nations that includes two European democracies and, among them, a NATO ally. Last year Turkey threatened to invade Syria and also threatened military strikes against lilliputian Cyprus to block its acquisition of anti-aircraft missiles. In 1996, elections ushered an Islamist government into power which was subsequently ousted by Turkey's military in 1997. This April, the Nationalist Action Party, an extremist group that exhorts a violent ultra-nationalist ideology, emerged as Turkey's second largest party. Amidst this instability lies the unnerving fact that Turkey has the largest army in NATO after our own. The US has supplied 80% of Turkey's arsenal and will likely be the primary patron of Turkey's mammoth $150 billion weapons renewal program. Last year, a group of computer hackers calling themselves "Milkworm" validated fears of a Turkish nuclear weapons program after successfully hacking into Turkey's Nuclear Research and Training center at Istanbul and retrieving classified information regarding current nuclear weapons research. In May of 1998, the Pakistani press reported that then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered Turkey assistance in developing a nuclear weapons program. As with Pakistan, US policymakers are now looking the other way while Turkey quietly pursues a nuclear weapons program, bidding for the same nuclear reactor technology from Canada that inaugurated Pakistan and India's nuclear arms race. The difference being that Turkey's nuclear time bomb sits squarely at Europe's front door and in the heart of an already fragile Balkan and Mideast region.

Given far more democratic options in the region -- such as Greece, Israel, Cyprus and Armenia -- the specter of an authoritarian and highly militarized state armed with nuclear weapons should force a reevaluation of our Turkish policy.


P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq. is the Executive Director of the American Hellenic Media Project, a non-profit think-tank created to address bias in the media and encourage independent, ethical and responsible journalism. Letters and commentaries by Mr. Spyropoulos have appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Republican, The Daily Telegraph, The Dallas Morning News, The Economist, El Nuevo Herald (Miami), Forbes Global, The Fresno Bee, The Irish Times, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, New York Newsday, The New York Post, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Orlando Sentinel, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Plain Dealer, The South China Morning Post, The St. Petersburg-Times (Fla.), The Star-Ledger (NJ), The Tampa Tribune, The Toronto Sun, USA Today, The Village Voice, The Washington Times, and World Press Review.

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