Clouds Over Iran: The Past Roots of Unintended Consequences Present
March 7, 2005 9:19 AM   Subscribe

In Clouds Over Iran, Stephen Kinzer. author of All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, meditates upon the current confrontation in a review of Christopher de Bellaigue's 'In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs': Reflections on Iran. Also by Kinzer, Iran and Guatemala, 1953-54 - Revisiting Cold War Coups and Finding Them Costly. And here is a biography of Mohammed Mossadegh, who, Time magazine named 1951's Man of the Year and who the names Iranian of the Century (More inside, of course...)
posted by y2karl (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A lesson from Iran on regime change

US Iran Policy - An Interview with Stephen Kinzer

Viewpoints: Iran's nuclear crisis

Secrets of History: The CIA in Iran

Visit of his Excellency Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran, to the United States of America, October 6 to November 18, 1951.

The New York Times review of All the Shah's Men.

In 50 Years After the CIA’s First Overthrow of a Democratically Elected Foreign Government We Take a Look at the 1953 US Backed Coup in Iran, Kinzer provides the story in its gist:

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company arrived in Iran in the early part of the twentieth century. It soon struck the largest oil well that had ever been found in the world. And for the next half-century, it pumped out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil from Iran. Now, Britain held this monopoly. That meant it only had to give Iran a small amount--it turned out to be 16 percent--of the profits from what it produced. So the Iranian oil is actually what maintained Britain at its level of prosperity and its level of military preparedness all throughout the '30s, the '40s, and the '50s. Meanwhile, Iranians were getting a pittance, they were getting almost nothing from the oil that came out of their own soil. Naturally, as nationalist ideas began to spread through the world in the post-World War II era, this injustice came to grate more and more intensely on the Iranian people. So they carried Mossadegh to power very enthusiastically. On the day he was elected prime minister, Parliament also agreed unanimously to proceed with the nationalization of the oil company. And the British responded as you would imagine. Their first response was disbelief. They just couldn't believe that someone in some weird faraway country--which was the way they perceived Iran--would stand up and challenge such an important monopoly. This was actually the largest company in the entire British Empire. When it finally became clear that Mossadegh was quite serious, the British decided to launch an invasion. They drew up plans for seizing the oil refinery and the oil fields. But President Truman went nuts when he heard this and he told the British, under no circumstances can we possibly tolerate a British invasion of Iran. So then the British went to their next plan, which was to get a United Nations resolution demanding that Mossadegh return the oil company. But Mossadegh embraced this idea of a U.N. debate so enthusiastically that he decided to come to New York himself and he was so impressive that the U.N. refused to adopt the British motion. So finally, the British decided that they would stage a coup, they would overthrow Mossadegh. But what happened, Mossadegh found out about this and he did the only thing he could have done to protect himself against the coup. He closed the British embassy and he sent all the British diplomats packing, including, among them, all the secret agents who were planning to stage the coup. So now, the British had to turn to the United States. They went to Truman and asked him, please overthrow Mossadegh for us. He said no. He said the C.I.A. had never overthrown a government and, as far as he was concerned, it never should. So, now, the British were completely without resources. They couldn't launch an invasion, the U.N. had turned down their complaint, they had no agents to stage a coup. So they were stymied. It wasn't until November of 1952 when British foreign office and intelligence officials received the electrifying news that Dwight Eisenhower had been elected president that things began to change. They rushed one of their agents over to Washington. He made a special appeal to the incoming Eisenhower administration. And that administration reversed the Truman policy agreed to send Kermit Roosevelt to Tehran to carry out this fateful coup.

Also related are parts 1, 2 and 3 of Why Israel Really Fears Iranian Nukes - Tel Aviv's concern about an Iranian bomb is more likely political rather than military by Roger Howard.

And here is Push for Nuclear-Free Middle East Resurfaces - Arab Nations Seek Answers About Israel

And once again, for the Tom Clancy minded fans of an American or Israeli strike against Iran, consider the less rosy scenarios of

Will Iran Be Next? - Soldiers, spies, and diplomats conduct a classic Pentagon war game-with sobering results.


Four Day War - The Iran/Israel conflagration, a history.
posted by y2karl at 9:20 AM on March 7, 2005

Oops, bad link above on the second listing, so here again is

US Iran Policy - An Interview with Stephen Kinzer.

It works in preview--but then, so did the other....
posted by y2karl at 9:24 AM on March 7, 2005

Related: don't miss what the CIA has to say about All the Shah's Men:
Kinzer would have been better off making a less sweeping judgment: that TPAJAX got the CIA into the regime-change business for good—similar efforts would soon follow in Guatemala, Indonesia, and Cuba—but that the Agency has had little success at that enterprise, while bringing itself and the United States more political ill will, and breeding more untoward results, than any other of its activities. Most of the CIA's acknowledged efforts of this sort have shown that Washington has been more interested in strongman rule in the Middle East and elsewhere than in encouraging democracy. The result is a credibility problem that accompanied American troops into Iraq and continues to plague them as the United States prepares to hand over sovereignty to local authorities. All the Shah's Men helps clarify why, when many Iraqis heard President George Bush concede that "[s]ixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe," they may have reacted with more than a little skepticism.
(Excellent post, y2karl.)
posted by blendor at 9:36 AM on March 7, 2005

It will take me a little while to read all these excellent links but I certainly intend to do so. Great work once again y2karl.

For those who won't or don't intend to read the material and like the short version: CIA blowback really sucks.

They should have never been in the "shadow government" work of assassinations and coups, only collecting intelligence. "Mistakes were made" and are still being made today.
posted by nofundy at 9:48 AM on March 7, 2005

Excellent post. First class. It may take me days to get through it all.

But what I've read of the Kinzer interview demonstrates what an extraordinary event the U.S. coup in Iran was.

Although it seems to me he draws a bit of a long bow trying to link the 1953 coup with WTC bombing - I realize that seeds were planted by virtue of the Shah's dictatorship - but is not an irrefutable direct link.

Thanks y2karl (and I dont' mind the miniprint).
posted by peacay at 9:53 AM on March 7, 2005

Wow. That is a really good post, y2karl.
posted by unreason at 9:55 AM on March 7, 2005

Here's a related transcript of Bill Clinton addressing US involvement in Iranian affairs and making some pretty interesting statements about Iranian democracy, and controlling their nuclear ambitions:

I publicly acknowledged that the United States had actively overthrown Mossadegh and I apologized for it, and I hope that we could have some rapprochement with Iran
It is the only country in the world with two governments, and the only country in the world that has now had six elections since the first election of President Khatami. [It is] the only one with elections, including the United States, including Israel, including you name it, where the liberals, or the progressives, have won two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote in six elections: two for President; two for the parliament, the Majlis; two for the mayoralities.

In every single election, the guys I identify with got two-thirds to 70% of the vote. There is no other country in the world I can say that about, certainly not my own.

I didn't see this linked in the post, if it was, then my apologies
posted by loquax at 10:03 AM on March 7, 2005

All the Shah's Men is a fantastic, depressing read. Crystal clear lessons on the part blowback has played in today's dangerous world. And such food for thought on what might have been had Iran gone the way of democracy instead of eventual theocratic state.

Winston Churchill may be the man most responsible for winning WWII, but he was a bastard of the first order who caused no end of problems for the world as well. In addition to his disastrous policy in the Middle East, which he roped the US into, I can vouch that he was instrumental in pushing forward a far right that was horrible for Greece's modern history. Despite seven votes in which Greeks voted overwhelmingly each time against having a monarchy, Churchill forced it through. He also was instrumental in pushing the groups ELAM and ELAS to the extreme, whereupon they shed their cross-party spectrum and looked to the communists for support. Even though, in this case at least, there is a clear consensus that Stalin had hewn to his agreement with Churchill and offered no support to the Greek communists. Sir Winston played a major, major part, in other words, of why Greece had their civil war.

The Dulles brothers are another group of bastards who, with their idealogical heirs in Kissinger and now Wolfowitz and Perle, have destabilized the earth to no end. Have caused the very hotspots and anti-American backlash that fertilizes the earth from which so much of today's terrorism grows. And yet these despicable, criminal bastards and/or morons keep putting forward the same solutions. In an effort to make us 'safe'. Are they really that stupid? Or do they want us to be truly safe?

Can't wait to read these other links. Thanks so much Y2Karl. God damn do I wish we had a country where someone like Harry Truman could be president again.
posted by the_savage_mind at 10:16 AM on March 7, 2005

A few more links:

A registration free Secrets of History: The CIA in Iran

The Oily Americans

And from Global's Target Iran - Air Strikes - References & Links:

Why Israel probably won't attack Iran
posted by y2karl at 10:21 AM on March 7, 2005

Great post. For those who haven't read All the Shah's Men men, I would strongly recommend you do. It is a very interesting account of the events leading up to the coup that put the Shah in power.
posted by chunking express at 10:38 AM on March 7, 2005

Preaching to Iran and others about not acquiring nuclear weapons is, indeed, like the village drunk preaching sobriety -- the more so as our government keeps developing new genres of nuclear weapons and keeps looking the other way as Israel enhances its own nuclear arsenal. Not a pretty moral picture, that. Indeed, it reminds me of the Scripture passage about taking the plank out of your own eye before insisting that the speck be removed from another's...

'Israel Is Our Ally' Or so said our president before the cameras on February 17, 2005. But I didn't think we had a treaty of alliance with Israel; I don't remember the Senate approving one. Did I miss something? Clearly, the longstanding U.S.-Israeli friendship and the ideals we share dictate continuing support for Israel's defense and security. It is quite another thing, though, to suggest the existence of formal treaty obligations that our country does not have. To all intents and purposes, our policymakers -- from the president on down -- seem to speak and behave on the assumption that we do have such obligations toward Israel. A former colleague CIA analyst, Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, has put it this way: 'The Israelis have succeeded in lacing tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to Israel and its policies."

Attacking Iran: I Know It Sounds Crazy, But... By Ray McGovern
posted by y2karl at 12:35 PM on March 7, 2005

When I learned about the Iran and Mossadegh and Guatamala and Arbenz, that was the day I become officially disillusioned with my country. I knew we weren't all we were supposed to be, but learning about America's willingness to take a shit on freedom and democracy in order to achieve purely selfish material interests, that was when I realized the canonized America of High School textbooks didn't exist.

Great post, y2karl. I wish more Americans knew of, and more importantly, accepted responsibility for, these actions.
posted by teece at 7:03 PM on March 7, 2005

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