To establish a US Foreign Policy Museum on the Washington Mall (FoPoMu) and in other countries. These trans-national museums would collaborate for multiple traveling exhibitions, and many on-site-based exhibitions. Visit the “scene of the crimes” so to speak, throughout the world, and also the scenes of great collaboration and constructive initiatives.
This project incorporates elements of historic preservation, free speech, truth & reconciliation, tourism, improving international dialogue and national self-determination and collaboration.
Proposal Genesis: Mossadeq Memorial on the Mall
FoPoMu started out as the “Mossadeq Memorial Museum on the Washington Mall” then expanded to embrace all US Foreign Policy. However, the Mossadeq story is a good place to start, and will be an important component of the Foreign Policy Museum.
Who was Mossadeq and why does he need a memorial in the USA?
”Operation Ajax”, an interactive book for the iPad, and the book “All the Shah’s Men” describe the alleged coup orchestrated by the CIA in 1953 to overthrow Mossadeq, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. (Wow, check out the book review on the CIA site!)The books suggest that this was the first instance of CIA using covert ops to overthrow the leader of another country. CIA success with this coup allegedly emboldened them to do more of the same around the world. It was the start of a trajectory of bad ethics and worse foreign policy.
As such, Mossadeq’s story is American history, it’s a chapter of that history that is about a perversion of democracy. Most Americans haven’t heard of this guy. It’s not a part of the collective American consciousness. In a sense, the Mossadeq episode is where democracy was hijacked by the American government, where Iran was betrayed, and where the vision of good relations between countries became murky.
It’s not “all America’s fault”, of course. A lot of Iranians were bought out and conspired to overthrow their prime minister. But it certainly is a place where upstanding American leadership and foresight was missing. Which is why we need to shed such a strong light on it now.
As it is, the issue is mostly missing from the national American narrative, but ever present in the national Iranian narrative. In America, the history of Iran begins twenty six years later, in 1979. If there is a segment of news about Iran on American TV, the reporter typically says something like “Relations between the US and Iran soured in 1979 when Iranians attacked the US Embassy and took Americans hostage…”. In fact, relations soured 50 years ago when America launched a coup and violated Iranian democracy - using the very same embassy to operate out of.
There have been many unpleasantries under the bridge since then (actually, the bridge seems to have been destroyed completely). The purpose of a museum that explores these unpleasantries isn’t to indulge in some sort of blame or victimization game. Rather, it’s to take the mistakes of the past, acknowledge them, try to retro-optimize the past if possible, and get people to think of better ways to interact in the future.
More than Mossadeq
Mossadeq was just one ill-advised story in the book of US foreign policy. Many other stories need to be told, both good and bad. The museum can thus feature other US foreign policy choices elsewhere, both before and after Mossadeq. Both disastrous and beneficial, and things in between (It’s not all bad. Much of it is very good. We want a holistic view).
The museum design can include a fixed area for Central and South America, a Guatemala and Chile exhibit, an Asia wing. We can have right and left wing interpretations of the same events, too. We want to encourage conversation. The museum has the integrity to present the facts and factual causality, but of course, people interpret things differently sometimes, so that needs to be made explicit as well.
Truth and Reconciliation
This museum will be modeled after the principles of the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa, to the extent that those principles can be incorporated into museum design.
Blame and Credit Pie Charts
It’s not all Americas fault. Take the Mossadeq case. If we were playing a game of strategy today and you got to play Mossadeq’s role, what would you do differently? Would it have changed the game?
Mossadeq’s imperfect strategy and naivete (he thought America had ideals and valued democracy!) doesn’t justify a US orchestrated coup, and we are not trying to “blame the victim” here. We’re just suggesting that in any given situation, each individual might have more power than they realize at the time. The goal here is to help people be more open to the possibilities around them in any given moment. At the very least, it’s important to learn lessons from history so as not to repeat them, if possible.
Ironically, “Blaming the Victim” can be a constructive exercise. What went down in 1953? If America was playing “the great satan” and violating Iran’s democratic process, many Iranians bit the apple, so to speak. The Americans only had a few agents on the ground and some cash. But the most useful thing they had was a lot of Iranians who could be persuaded or bought to act against Mossadeq. So there was an inner betrayal. An important part of the museum will therefore exist to make this inner betrayal explicit.
The objective is not to blame the victim as an end in itself. Rather it is a tool for reflection to find ways to strengthen the democratic process within countries based on these and other countries’ experiences.
Consider this information in a simple pie chart. Each slice of pie represents a different character/entity and their relative portion of accountability in the fiascos. How big is each person’s slice of pie, for the good and the bad? Praise and blame.
Mahyad Tousi has an even better way of explaining this. Operation Ajax has a game layer - where they take academic research, and through game theory add a decision tree, allowing players to change history. He invites us to think of history as the trajectory of a ball in a pinball game. Once you see it that way, everything is a possibility, and you can learn from history by playing the game and considering other options.
A Foreign Policy Museum on the Mall? That’ll Never happen
What are the odds that #FoPoMu will ever exist? At this point, they are very slim.
Nevertheless, in simply talking about, and attempting to establish such a museum, a lot of important objectives will be realized. Issues will be raised in public forums, the country will hold conversations it needs to have in a constructive way. For immigrants and foreigners, the dialog will be a welcome part of a more responsive America. They will see that America is serious about it’s leadership of democracy and freedom in the world. Any groups that get involved in the conversations around the museum and in proposing and contributing exhibits will get to practice their skills of cooperation, historical spin, public relations and democracy and so on.
Participants will get the hang of coalition building and influencing politicians and becoming visibly and constructively involved in the body politic.
This sets an example for other countries to engage in constructive historical analysis. If the museum is built, it will bring other countries into a prouder connection with the US. It’s nice to have your story told and recognized and acknowledged in public. People all over the world will, paradoxically, feel more American, or connected with America when there is this factual temple (so to speak) on the mall that enables meditation on international relations.
I was telling this idea to my cousins and talking about how we all have to improve our coalition building. Like Simorq! As individuals, we seek to rise to our own highest good and best ethics. As people, and seek to work together to rise to an even more transcendent good! This takes a lot of organization, social skill building, and collective growth. We don’t just have to get organized, we have to get Simorqanized : )
The museum can have a big mosaic of Simorq made up of different smaller mosaics of birds that represent each player in this drama - perhaps all the countries…an American Eagle for America, and so forth (what is a Persian Bird?)
There are many uses for a museum of democracy and foreign policy, and many artifacts to place in the exhibit. In fact, the visual image that triggered this whole meditation was a picture of Mossadeq posing by the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. He made a trip to America to discuss the problems they were having at the time, and made sure to stop there for the photo op. An act of genius, very symbolic. He was appealing to Americans sense of liberty. And then they stab him in the back. But that was the past. We don’t have to do any more back stabbing. We can all turn over a new leaf. At least that’s what the ultimate goal of this museum is: to show the errors of poor ethics, and to help envision a better way.
Change your Ways
Many evangelists think America needs to “repent”. I’m not sure what they mean by that, but I understand the process involves confessing your past sins, asking forgiveness for them, and resolving to live in a different, new, righteous, better way. And why limit it to America? Everyone could do with repentance. Tu Quoque!
The key here is that whoever starts off the process gets points for leadership. If America is the one to start off with a Museum for American accountability, it can inspire other nations down the path of responsibility. And if they aren’t the ones to start it, they can be the ones to make it bigger and better. Hopefully, it will become obvious how much better being responsible and accountable is. Shed the pettiness! Let’s move forward.
Imagine a bunch of Iranians going to visit the Washington mall and taking pictures and measurements. They’ll think we’re planning a terrorist attack, but we’re planning a museum! It’s too funny.
This is a “back-of-the-envelope” sketch. In time, I hope to write a really spiffy proposal on this topic. But for now, I’m just getting started on it. I like how the internet is one giant envelope-back. We scrawl down all these temporal ideas. Some of them solidify and take form. For this project to happen, eventually we’ll have to tackle the following: * Purpose * Principles * Vision * Brainstorming * Organizing * Identifying Next Actions *
Before you bother with anything, you have to know WHY you want to do it. What is your motivation. What are your intentions. For the Foreign Relations museum, we want to create a place in which Americans can review their Foreign Policies in the past and present. They can be educated, debate, engage in conversations on what it means to be American, and what is the best way for America to be in the world. The relationships. A place to envision the action steps needed to make the world safer, better, prosperous. A place where American ideals can live true. A place to discuss bringing American policies back in line with American ideals. A celebration of America and an invitation to integrity. We want this place to create the space for positive foreign relations for the US.
The principles section looks at our standards and boundaries. How do we want to go about doing what we want to do. Some principles: Integrity, accuracy, conflict resolution, context. Most favored nation approach. Space for discussion and debate. Located on the Washington Mall. Interactive, entertaining, thought provoking, inspiring. Kid Friendly. Every country represented. A hall for speakers and stage for plays. And more!