A Persian proverb says: "The stew was so over-salty that even the Khan frowned." This means that a situation has become so bad that even the "chief", a prisoner in a cobweb created by a flattering entourage, realizes how bad things have become.
The proverb came to mind the other day when former US President Barack Obama admitted that he had been wrong in trying to prop up the Khomeinist clique by refusing to even verbally support the 2009 Iranian uprising.
At the time, some of us argued that Obama was wrong and that his policy of "bringing the Islamic Republic into the fold" would never work.
This did not mean that we shared the narrative that the US is powerful enough to reshape the world, let alone a remote country paralyzed by schizophrenia.
We knew that no power alone could change another nation's destiny without the at least tacit consent and support of that nation or a good part of it.
To be sure the US won both world wars, which it joined after three and two years respectively. By the time the GIs arrived. millions of French and British soldiers had been killed or been wounded while the Russians also did their bit, quite a big bit, especially in World War II.
The US helped save the southern part of the Korean Peninsula from tyrannical rule by the Kim gang. But there, too, by accepting incredible sacrifices, Koreans themselves made victory possible.
The US also did help overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. But the liberators who fought their way into Kabul were Afghan Northern Alliance fighters.
In 2003, Iraq provided the US with another victory. There, too, Iraqis were their own co-liberators because, apart from two mini-battles, their army of 600,000 men refused to fight for Saddam Hussein.
We also know of the cliché about the US winning the Cold War.
There, too, we see other forces fighting the Bolshevik tyranny from day one despite mass executions, purges, gulags, and exile. In the final episodes, we saw Muscovites, led by one Boris Yeltsin jumping on a tank, defeat the Bolshevik coup attempt led by Gennady Yanayev to save a moribund empire.
The Baltic nations, Poles, East Germans, Czechs and Slovaks, Romanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Kazakhs and all other captive nations of the evil empire also did their bit.
Yet we also know that Henry Kissinger, peddler of detente, helped prolong the evil empire's life by providing it with easy credit and undeserved prestige.
All this is not to belittle the historic role of the United States as the only major power in history to be almost always on the right side in an international struggle. With such figures as George III, the Kaiser, Hitler, the Japanese shoguns, the Soviet "red tsars", Kim Il-sung, Ayatollah Khomeini, Mullah Omar, and Saddam Hussein, to name but a few of the "baddies" who darkened the skies of their time, it would be difficult not to choose the United States.
In the case of Iran, Obama and his entourage invented a false choice between "doing another Iraq", which meant a full-scale invasion that a majority of Americans wouldn't support, or putting a moribund regime on life-support in the hope it might stop mumbling "Death to America!"
Many Iranians say Obama "betrayed Iran". I don't agree. Only a friend can betray, and Obama was never a friend of Iran. In the name of "anti-Imperialism", he was an admirer of Khomeinists and their leftist cohorts.
Did Obama betray America?
That is also hard to answer because I am not persuaded that Obama was ever a true friend of America. Reading his various books, it is hard not to notice a ressentiment that goes beyond a mere chip on the shoulder. I may be wrong but I think he tried to prolong the Khomeinist regime's life precisely because he shared its anti-American posture.
It may have been for the same reason that Noam Chomsky, the guru of the superficial left, supported the Islamic Republic as a "people-based system." The latest uprising in Iran has shown how "people-based" that regime is, forcing even Chomsky to change with the wind.
Shaken by the uprising in Iran, even "Special Envoy" Robert Malley, a long-time apologist for mullahs, is trying to trim his sails.
The wind has also forced change on another advocate of "engaging the Islamic Republic": Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
Praised by former Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif as "America's leading strategic thinker", Haas turned the CRF into a platform for propaganda for Tehran. There, Zarif was greeted as a rock star.
Today, Haas is calling for withdrawal from the 20-year-long talks with the mullahs, implicitly acknowledging the Iranian uprising as a game-changer.
The irony in all this is that Iranians are, probably, the most pro-American nation in the world. They see the US as a beacon of freedom, modernity, technological prowess, and endless opportunities for self-betterment. They also admire it for having defied Iran's two bitterest imperial enemies, England and Russia.
Even Khomeinist ruling cliques prefer the US to their new Russian and Chinese allies. According to an Islamic Majlis (ersatz parliament) report in 2019, some 3,000 children of regime apparatchiks were studying in the US, while over 1,500 senior officials held US "green cards" (a kind of permanent residence permit). A study by a Swiss-Iranian researcher shows that over 400 former Islamic Republic and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officials are employed in US universities, media and think tanks.
Paradoxically, the mullahs, especially "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, have put the US at the center of Iranian life, thus giving American policy towards Iran importance far beyond what it deserves.
Last September, Khamenei spelled out his four principles for what he called "The New Islamic Civilization based on the Spirit of Ashura" that he hopes to build for mankind as a whole.
The first of these was "Fighting America" followed by "Islamic unity", "Strict morality" and "Economic self-reliance".
Iranians don't ask the US for any material or military help in their struggle to build a different Iran. All they ask is for the US to be true to its professed principle of never siding with oppressors.
Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry once told his chum Zarif that the US was sincere in wanting to save the Islamic leadership from drowning.
Kerry didn't know another Persian proverb: "Those destined to be hanged, won't die by drowning."
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.