Monday, August 03, 2009

THE IRAN CRISIS, NATIONALISM & THE CIA - Readings on Roots and Consequences

WHAT WE FILIPINOS SHOULD KNOW: Note: Underlined words are HTML links. Click on them to see the linked postings/articles. Forwarding the postings to relatives and friends, especially in the homeland, is greatly appreciated.

To write or read a comment, please go to and scroll down to the bottom of the current post (or another post you read and may want to respond) and click on "Comments."

"To oppose the policies of a government does not mean you are against the country or the people that the government supposedly represents. Such opposition should be called what it really is: democracy, or democratic dissent, or having a critical perspective about what your leaders are doing. Either we have the right to democratic dissent and criticism of these policies or we all lie down and let the leader, the Fuhrer, do what is best, while we follow uncritically, and obey whatever he commands. That's just what the Germans did with Hitler, and look where it got them." - Michael Parenti

During the Marcos Dictatorship, the Shah of Iran had a grand birthday or anniversary bash/party and if my memory serves me right, our rulers then were in attendance. Within a few years thereafter, the Shah fled his country and despite being a lapdog for American foreign policy, he was not allowed to stay in the US --after undergoing medical treatment that consequently precipitated the hostage-taking by angry Iranian students at the US Embassy; the Shah was forced to seek refuge in several other countries, most of which turned him down, and he ultimately ended up till his death in Egypt.

The current headlines about Iran have its historical roots that mainly go back to the end of WW2 and most importantly, during the short period of democracy during the early 1950s. And a serious study of its history --from this period when communism (Cold War) became a critical concern and oil as precious commodity for the western world and its availability/control have become a paramount consideration for the USA (WW2 used up a lot of oil from America's oil wells).

The British, through old imperialist Churchill and company, concocted the "threat of communism" when they failed to retain control of the oil industry in Iran. They did not succeed convincing the World Court or President Harry Truman; but easily gained acceptance from the following Eisenhower government, since President Dwight Eisenhower relied more --rather than personally knowing and understanding the issues-- on his fanatical anti-communists Dulles brothers.

Fast forward today from the time Ayatollah Khomeini came to replace the Shah in 1979,
subsequent Islamic rulers have slowly replaced the Iranian nationalists in the Khomeini government and used the Mossadeq coup d'etat to further their dominance. Rather than regain the shortlived democracy during Mossadeq's 3-year rule, the extremist Muslims have fought and kept the upper hand against Iranian democrats-nationalists (Mossadeq variety) and against foreign influences, i.e. they see the US/Americans as the "devils" who replaced the British, plus being religious "infidels."
Below are three readings on the American, CIA-financed and led subversion/coup against Mossadeq. To those with further interests, I suggest also the recently updated book entitled "All the Shah's Men" by Stephen Kinzer (2008).
The American-led coup d'etat against Mossadeq is instructive to the concerned Filipino and/or nationalist, as this was the poster boy for CIA-led subversion against not only supposedly communist countries; but even against democratically elected, especially nationalist, leadership as in the Guatemalan coup, 1954 .

As those of us who are politicized, we note that history has demonstrated that to Americans, especially American foreign policy-makers; it's oftentimes still the
Manichean mindset that dominates: "you are either with or against us;" the American mind thinks that and acts like it is always right, morally and practically and that everyone should follow or else.

- Bert


What Kermit Roosevelt Didn't Say
In Memory of August 19, 1953

"'I owe my throne to God, my people, my army and to you!' By 'you' he [the shah] meant me and the two countries-Great Britain and the United States-I was representing. We were all heroes."
Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran, Kermit Roosevelt, 1979
It is ironic that CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, published his book on the 1953 CIA coup in Iran and the return of the shah in the same year that "his majesty's government" was overthrown. An American friend gave a copy of the book to me shortly after its publication in 1979. I skimmed through the book and put it on my bookshelf. The CIA coup appeared irrelevant when the old and decadent institution of monarchy in Iran seemed to be finished once and for all.
More importantly, however, I, along with many other Iranians of my generation, knew the story full well and did not need Kermit to repeat it. We knew that the shah owed his throne to the likes of Kermit. But we also knew something that Kermit didn't know, or didn't say. We knew that we owe to the Kermits of the world our tortured past: years of being forced as students to stand in the hot sun of Tehran in lines, waving his majesty's picture or flag as his entourage passed by in fast moving, shiny, big black cars with darkened-glass windows; years of being forced to rise and stay standing in every public event, including movie theaters, while his majesty's national anthem was being played; years of watching a dense megalomaniac try to imitate "Cyrus the Great" by wearing ridiculous ceremonial robes in extravagant celebration of his birthdays or crowning of his queens; years of being hushed by our parents, fearful of being arrested, if we uttered a critical word about his majesty's government or his American advisors; years of worrying about secret police SAVAK informants, who were smartly, but ruthlessly, trained by the best of the US's CIA and Israeli's MOSSAD; years of witnessing our friends and acquaintances being taken to jail, some never heard from again; years of passing by buildings in which, we were told, people were being tormented; years of hearing about people dying under torture or quietly executed; years of being exiled in a foreign country, which ironically was the belly of the beast, the metropolis, the center which masterminded much of our misfortune in the first place; years of spending our precious youth to free or save thousands of political prisoners by marching in the streets of the metropolis, wearing masks to hide our identities and looking bizarre to those who knew nothing about our story; and, finally, years of trying to prove to the American people that the 1953 CIA coup was not a fig-leaf of our imagination or a conspiracy theory, that it indeed happened and that they, whether they like it or not, have a certain culpability in what their government does around the world.
Most Americans, however, did not believe our story or did not care about it until the 1979 Revolution in Iran and the subsequent storming of the US Embassy in Tehran by the "students following the line of Imam." Once 52 Americans were blindfolded and held by the students in what they called the "nest of spies," questions began to be raised: Who lost Iran? How did we lose it? Why are the Iranians so insanely agitated? Why do they burn our flag? Why do they hate us so much? In the midst of the hysteria, of course, no intelligent answer was sought and none was given. Surely, no meaningful answer was ever offered by the US government then or in the next two decades.
It was not until the US corporations-which, as a result of the US's economic sanctions and executive orders, were prevented from making lucrative deals with Iran-put pressure on the US government in the late 1990s that we saw the first admissions of guilt about the events of 1953. On April 12, 1999, in an offhand remark in front of the captains of industry, President Clinton said:
Iran, because of its enormous geopolitical importance over time, has been the subject of quite a lot of abuse from various Western nations. I think sometimes it's quite important to tell people, look, you have a right to be angry at something my country or my culture or others that are generally allied with us did to you 50 or 60 or 100 or 150 years ago.
(The Washington Post, May 1, 1999)
Of course, had the President, who was now apparently "feeling our pain," devoted some of his extracurricular activities to reading Kermit's book, he might have given a better speech in terms of who did what to whom and when. But given his limitations, this was the best that he could do to please the corporate crowd.
But the greatest admission of guilt came from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who in a meeting of corporate lobbyists in March 2000 stated:
In 1953, the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh ...the coup was clearly a set back for Iran's political development and it is easy to see why so many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affair.
(US Department of State, March 17, 2000)
Unfortunately, this opaque confession did not console us much, since it was not a genuine expression of sorrow but merely an attempt to improve relations with the Iranian clergy in order to open the floodgates of corporate profit.
After Albright's speech, on April 16, 2000, The New York Times broke what its writer, James Risen, called the US's "stony silence" by devoting a number of pages to publishing parts of a still classified document on the "secret history" of the 1953 coup. The history was written by one Donald N. Wilbur, an expert in Persian architecture and one of the "leading planners" of the operation "TP-Ajax." The report chronicled gruesome details of the events in 1953: how, by spending a meager sum of $1 million, the CIA "stirred up considerable unrest in Iran, giving Iranians a clear choice between instability and supporting the shah"; how it brought "the largest mobs" into the street; how it "began disseminating 'gray propaganda' passing out anti-Mossadegh cartoons in the streets and planting unflattering articles in local press"; how the CIA's "Iranian operatives pretending to be Communists threatened Muslim leaders with 'savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh'"; how the "house of at least one prominent Muslim was bombed by CIA agents posing as Communists"; how the CIA tried to "orchestrate a call for a holy war against Communism"; how on August 19 "a journalist who was one of the agency's most important Iranian agents led a crowd toward Parliament, inciting people to set fire to the offices of a newspaper owned by Dr. Mossadegh's foreign minister"; how American agents swung "security forces to the side of the demonstrators"; how the shah's disbanded "Imperial Guard seized trucks and drove through the street"; how by "10:15 there were pro-shah truckloads of military personnel at all main squares"; how the "pro-shah speakers went on the air, broadcasting the coups' success and reading royal decrees"; how at the US embassy, "CIA officers were elated, and Mr. Roosevelt got General Zahedi out of hiding" and found him a tank that "drove him to the radio station, where he spoke to the nation"; and, finally, how "Dr. Mossadegh and other government officials were rounded up, while officers supporting General Zahedi placed 'unknown supports of TP-Ajax' in command of all units of Tehran garrison." "It was a day that should have never ended," Risen quotes Wilbur as saying, for "it carried with it such a sense of excitement, of satisfaction and of jubilation that it is doubtful whether any other can come up to it."
To those who still believe in the fairytale of a righteous US government wanting to spread democracy around the world such revelations might sound shocking. But to us, whose lives were forever changed as a result of this cheap, "$1 million" coup, none of this was news. Like bedtime stories, we had heard them all a hundred times from our parents. The only difference was that where Wilbur saw a glorious day, we saw a day of infamy; where he wished the day had never ended, we wished it had never begun; and where he saw a dazzling picture of his majesty's restoration to power, we saw grotesque pictures of a brutal dictatorship, informants, dungeons, torture, executions and 52 blindfolded Americans marching up and down the steps of the "nest of spies." Perhaps Wilbur did not see what we saw or, perhaps, he just did not say.
It is, of course, meaningless to write an iffy history. However, one can't help but imagine how things might have been different had it not been for the Kermits and Wilburs of the world. Would the Islamic Revolution of 1979 have taken place? Would Americans have been held hostage for 444 days in exchange for the shah and frozen assets? Would the US have helped Saddam start the Iraq-Iran war? Would over a million people have died as a result of the war? Would the US have imposed numerous unilateral sanctions against Iran for over two decades and made the captains of industry lose billions of dollars? Would Saddam have invaded Kuwait? Would the US have invaded Iraq twice and be in the mess that it is in right now? I guess a better question is this: Will the US ever learn that the Kermits and Wilburs of the world are not that clever, have no foresight, and, in the long-run, do more damage to this country than good? Or, to put it differently, will there ever be an enlightened US government in which there is no room for the likes of Kermits and Wilburs?
On August 19, 2003, I will read Kermit once again and think of what he did not say. I will reflect on my years in exile and dream of someday returning home, a home which by then will be as foreign to me as the one in which I presently reside.
Sasan Fayazmanesh is Associate Professor of Economics
at California State University in Fresno. He can be reached at:


In 1941 Reza Shah, considered pro-German by the British, was forced to abdicate the Iranian throne. The British did not want a leader they did not trust to be in charge of a country as strategic as Iran. His 21-year-old son, Mohammed Reza, replaced Reza.

In 1949, AIOC and Iran signed a supplemental agreement that barely improved the Iranian share of the oil profits. With the support of the British government, AIOC refused to negotiate a better deal with the Iranian government. (The British government was getting 100 million pounds per year in taxes from AIOC, and low cost oil for the Royal Navy, which inclined them to support the company.) AIOC also refused to let any Iranians audit the company's books.

By 1949, political sentiment within Iran for nationalizing the oil industry was growing. The oil issue was key in the elections that year for the Majlis, the Iranian parliament. Nationalists in the Majlis were determined to renegotiate the agreement. However, negotiations in 1950 resulted in only minor improvements for the Iranians. The Majlis committee on oil matters, headed by a veteran politician named Mohammed Mossadegh , rejected the agreement.

A second try at an agreement failed. General Ali Razmara had become prime minister in June 1950, but he failed to convey to the oil company the strength of the nationalist feeling in the country and the Majlis. The company still did not offer the Iranians satisfactory terms. On March 7, 1951, Razmara was assassinated by an Islamic militant. On March 15, 1951, the Majlis voted to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. When last ditch talks between the United States and Britain failed to budge the British, on May 1, 1951 the Shah signed the nationalization law. On May 6, 1951, the Majlis approved Mossadegh and his cabinet and Mossadegh became Prime Minister.

British oil technicians left the country, and Britain imposed a worldwide embargo on Iranian oil. In at least one case, an Italian oil tanker with Iranian oil was intercepted and forced to turn back and unload the oil. Britain took the case to the International Court of Justice, which issued a recommendation, with no force of law, that Iran allow the British company to keep running the oil industry while negotiations were under way. Mossadegh announced that Iran would ignore the ruling, since the dispute in question was between what was technically a private company and a government. The International Court, set up to try to settle disputes between governments, had no jurisdiction, Mossadegh said.

The United States began to pressure AIOC to improve its offer to Iran. However, by this time anti-British feeling in Iran was so strong that the government refused all offers. Mossadegh grew more powerful, and in the summer of 1952 got into a political dispute with the Shah. Under Iranian law, the Prime Minister, with the consent of the Majlis, appointed all members of the cabinet except the Minister of War. The Shah's appointment of this minister gave him, at least in theory, control of the military. Mossadegh demanded the right to appoint the Minister of War.

When the Shah refused, Mossadegh resigned, but did not stay out of office for long. Three days of pro-Mossadegh rioting followed Mossadegh's departure. The Shah was forced to restore Mossadegh as Prime Minister, and to give Mossadegh the power to appoint the Minister of War. Economic conditions in Iran, due to the British embargo, worsened. Mossadegh responded by getting the Majlis to give him full powers of government for a six-month period, and then for six months after that. Mossadegh also got the term of office of the pro-Shah Senate, the upper house of the Majlis ("Majlis" referred to both the lower house and the entire parliament) reduced from six to two years. Since the Senate had been established in 1950, it was effectively dissolved.

On August 3, 1953, responding to a decline in support in the Majlis, Mossadeqh held a plebiscite on whether to dissolve the Majlis and plan new elections. Mossadeqh claimed victory and dissolved the Majlis.

American and British opposition to Mossadeqh now began catch up to him. The British government had wanted to get him out of office almost from the time he came into office. Winston Churchill, back in office since 1951, was unable to convince the Democratic administration of Harry Truman, sympathetic to nationalism and anti-colonialism, to support the British. This changed when Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in January 1953.

The British changed their argument to that of anti-Communism. Mossadegh, though not a communist himself, had been working with the Iranian communist party, the Tudeh. The British convinced Eisenhower and his senior administration officials that this was making it possible, even probable, that the Tudeh would take power in Iran. This would give the Soviets control of Iranian oil, and of the main trade and communication routes to India.

In June 1953 Eisenhower approved Operation Ajax, a plan to overthrow Mossadegh. CIA case officer Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, went to Iran to begin to carry out the plan. Roosevelt spent the next two months lining up support among key members of the Iranian government, through use of the argument that Mossadegh was a danger to Iran, and through the use of bribes. By August Roosevelt was ready to act.

In early August the Shah agreed to sign two firmans, the Iranian term for royal decrees, dismissing Mossadeqh and appointing as prime minister a retired army general, Fazlollah Zahedi. The decrees were not entirely legal, since the prime minister had to be confirmed by the Majlis. The Shah was not entirely confidant, and told Roosevelt "If by any horrible chance things go wrong, the Empress and I will take our plane straight to Baghdad."[9]

The plan was for the firmans to be prepared and brought to the Shah on August 10 at his palace in Tehran. The Shah and his wife would then fly to a refuge in rural Iran. The courier arrived late at the Shah's palace, and the Shah had gone. It took about a day to get the Shah's signature. And then Roosevelt ran into the Iranian weekend, Thursday and Friday. (The Islamic Sabbath is Friday.) The coup would have to wait for Saturday night, August 15, 1953.

The coup began with a pro-Shah colonel, Nematollah Nasiri, taking a column of soldiers for the first step, to arrest Army Chief of Staff General Taqi Rahi. Nasiri found that Rahi was not home, so he headed to Mossadegh's house to present the firmans firing him and replacing him with Zahedi. However, Nasiri himself was arrested, taken to general staff headquarters, and ordered imprisoned by Rahi. Roosevelt knew the first effort at a coup had failed when Mossadeqh himself went on Radio Tehran the next morning to announce its failure. The Shah and his wife quickly flew to Baghdad. As a trained pilot, the Shah flew his own aircraft. Roosevelt reported failure to CIA headquarters, and was authorized to leave Iran if he was in danger. However, Roosevelt decided to try again.

On Monday, August 17, Roosevelt sent his agents into the street to stir up riots. Anyone who might be able to organize a pro-Shah or anti-Mossadeqh crowd would be asked to do so, bribed if necessary. Others would be bribed to riot destructively in Mossadegh's name. Roosevelt also placed reports in friendly newspapers that Mossadegh had staged a coup against the Shah, but had been thwarted by loyal military officers.

Mossadegh and his senior ministers responded too mildly to the coup attempt. They spent the next day or two debating whether the Shah had staged the coup, and the meaning of the Shah's flight to Iraq. Had the Shah abdicated his thrown? Troops loyal to Mossadegh were taken off the streets.

Two days of demonstrations and rioting followed. Mossadegh had initially ordered police not to interfere with demonstrations, not wanting to curb the right of freedom of expression. But on Tuesday, he was forced to order a crackdown and to ban further demonstrations. Neither order worked. Excessive force was used in the crackdown, which turned people against Mossadegh. By Wednesday, pro-Mossadegh demonstrators were staying home while pro-Shah forces were demonstrating. Tudeh party members were taking no action. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had died a few months before. The members of the Tudeh were not getting instructions from Moscow and did not want to act on their own.

By the end of Wednesday, August 19, Mossadegh had been forced to flee his own house and was effectively out of power. Zahedi had declared himself the lawful prime minister. His forces were taking control of Tehran and quieting the streets. The next day Mossadegh called to arrange his surrender. Two days later the Shah arrived back in Iran. Mossadegh was tried for treason, but was allowed to remain under house arrest in his village until his death in 1967. Hundreds of his supporters in government were arrested, with some sentenced to death. The Shah quickly moved to secure his power. Roosevelt left Iran quietly on Sunday August 23, 1953. He wanted to avoid an American "signature" on the coup and the Shah being restored to power. The Shah would remain an ally of the Americans as long as he remained in power. But efforts to keep American involvement quiet failed. The Iranians would eventually learn that the United States was involved in overthrowing a lawful Iranian government.

Actions have consequences. These consequences can come many years later. When the Mossadegh government was overthrown, the American government thought the CIA "signature" was not on the success. The government also thought it had a strong and secure American ally in the Shah.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was far more decisive after 1953 than he had been in the early years of his rule. With the open assistance of the United States, the Shah would remain in power until 1979. A few years later, Robert Huyser, deputy commander of NATO, stated that Iran, in words echoing the British after World War One, "from a military standpoint, was a key strategic area for the United States. If Iran could establish a significant defense capability, as it was in the process of doing, we could save our country millions of dollars."[10] Britain, whatever its many policy errors in dealing with Iran in the late 1940s and early 1950s, had been right about Iran's importance.

The United States government, and the CIA, assumed that the Shah was securely in power. Even when serious trouble began in 1978, they assumed the Shah would stick it out. They failed to anticipate the degree of popular opposition to the Shah, and the effects of the Shah having come down with the cancer that would kill him in 1980. In August 1978, in fact, a CIA analyst reported to President Jimmy Carter "Iran is not in a revolutionary or even pre-Revolutionary situation."[11]

Accurate reports were coming in from case officers in Iran, but CIA analysts were ignoring them. The CIA assumed that the Shah would crush the opposition, as he had done in the past. Stansfield Turner, DCI at the time, later commented, "We were aware that the shah had opposition. One difficulty was it was hard to appreciate that a man with the military and SAVAK [Shah's secret police] would be toppled by people parading in the streets. When you make an intelligence forecast, you make an assumption. We thought he would use the powers he had, but he didn't."[12]

Within two years the Shah was out of power and dead of cancer, over fifty American diplomats were being held hostage in the American embassy, and Iran and Iraq were at war. The United States "tilted," in the phrase of that time, towards Iraq, feeling that Iranian covert support for terrorism made it the greater danger.

An equally important event occurred on December 25, 1979. The Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, its neighbor to the southwest, to prop up a communist regime facing armed revolts, some of them led by Islamic radicals. This was the first use of Soviet troops for military action outside of Eastern Europe or the Soviet border with China. The Soviet timing may have been influenced by the United States involvement with the Iranian hostage crisis, making it a second level unexpected consequence from Mossadegh's overthrow.

This invasion provides an opportunity for the United States to aid, secretly, active military resistance to the Soviet Union. During the last year of the Jimmy Carter administration – not under President Ronald Reagan, as most people think -- the decision was made to secretly aid the anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan. Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzesinski, wrote in a memo to the President, "It is essential that Afghanistan's resistance continues. This means more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels, and some technical advice."[13] DCI Stansfield Turner worried about using American arms in direct combat with Soviet troops, but in the end decided to support the operation. The ten year effort, greatly expanded under President Ronald Reagan, seemed to pay off on February 15, 1989. After suffering at least 10,000 casualties, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. Lieutenant-General Boris Gromov, clad in combat fatigues, walked over a bridge back onto Soviet soil, symbolically the last Soviet combat soldier in Afghanistan. Less then three years later, the Soviet Union faded into history.

Whatever the ultimate advantages of confronting the Soviets in Afghanistan, William Casey, chief of the CIA under Reagan, came up with an unfortunate idea for a source of manpower for this opposition. Casey himself was a religious Catholic. He thought that religious Muslims would be natural allies of the Christian West in confronting the atheistic communists. In 1986, an independent group appeared in Pakistan for the purpose of recruiting dedicated religious Arab volunteers to fight the Soviets. This group, the Islamic Salvation Foundation, had one particularly rich and ardent supporter, a young Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden.

Afghanistan faded from governmental radar screens when the Soviets left. Most were satisfied to look for other issues. George H. W. Bush was concerned about Iraq and Kuwait, after Saddam's 1990 invasion. Bill Clinton came into office promising to focus on domestic affairs, particularly the economy. The CIA pretty much withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving the field open for the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, with its own agenda. The Pakistanis were motivated by some religious sympathy for the ardent Muslims, and a strong desire to build an ally in their continuing disputes with India.

The United States paid little attention when, in 1995, the communist regime was overthrown by a coalition led by a rural group known as the TALIBAN . The Taliban attracted attention in the years that followed, when it instituted a series of harshly repressive measures, a high percentage of which were aimed at women. Failure to follow these rules, or any other opposition to the Taliban, could earn a series of harsh penalties, such as amputation of the hand, up to execution.

The United States protested the Taliban's behavior, but took little direct action. American attention more closely focused on the Taliban when they became closely associated with Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden's organization, Al Qaeda, started to come up in reports of anti-American terrorism around the world. By 1998 there were serious discussions among the various parts of the American government about what to do about Bin Laden and his organization, but little was done.

The CIA planners noted that time was not on their side in getting Bin Laden. "Sooner or later," one briefing paper stated," Bin Laden will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [Weapons of Mass destruction]."[14] But this did not cut through the bureaucratic discussions. The State Department, for example, on several occasions raised legal objections to kidnapping Bin Laden, particularly when it became clear that the CIA was not totally concerned that Bin Laden might be killed.

In October 2000, Al Qaeda terrorists killed 17 American sailors when suicide bombers blew up a small boat near the destroyer USS Cole. This was near the end of President Clinton's term, and no action was taken. When George W. Bush took over as President on January 20, 2001, he needed time to get fully up to speed on all issues. Bush also seemed not to be convinced that terrorism was a major issue. His staff took time to study action against Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Despite warnings from DCI George Tenet, though not expressed as urgently and as strongly as they might have been, Bush and his people seemed to think time was on their side. It was not.

Afghanistan was probably – the law of unexpected consequences requires the use of such modifiers -- settled as an immediate problem by a quick military campaign in October 2001. Al Qaeda remains an uncertain quantity, though probably very damaged. Saddam Hussein, the entertaining side issue in the Middle East, is dead – though Iraq is gradually becoming, if it has become already, a no-win situation. The quality of United States intelligence analysis, if not its collection, remains uncertain four years after 9/11.

Understanding at least one historical motivation for Iranian behavior, the overthrown of Mossadegh, is only a tool for dealing with this behavior. We also have to look at how the Iranian leadership might view interesting recent dichotomy. Saddam Hussein denies having nuclear weapons, and gets invaded and overthrown. Kim Sung Ill claims to have nuclear weapons, and gets negotiations. Cold War historical studies frequently comment on how Western behavior and inconsistency could sometimes confuse the Soviets.



Iran 1953

Making it safe for the King of Kings

excerpted from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum

"So this is how we get rid of that madman Mossadegh," announced John Foster Dulles to a group of top Washington policy makers one day in June 1953. The Secretary of State held in his hand a plan of operation to overthrow the prime minister of Iran prepared by Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt of the CIA. There was scarcely any discussion amongst the high powered men in the room, no probing questions, no legal or ethical issues raised.

"This was a grave decision to have made," Roosevelt later wrote. "It involved tremendous risk. Surely it deserved thorough examination, the closest consideration, somewhere at the very highest level. It had not received such thought at this meeting. In fact, I was morally certain that almost half of those present, if they had felt free or had the courage to speak, would have opposed the undertaking."

Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore and distant cousin of Franklin, was expressing surprise more than disappointment at glimpsing American foreign-policy-making undressed.

The original initiative to oust Mossadegh had come from the British, for the elderly Iranian leader had spearheaded the parliamentary movement to nationalize the British owned Anglo-lranian Oil Company (AIOC), the sole oil company operating in Iran. In March 1951, the bill for nationalization was passed, and at the end of April Mossadegh was elected prime minister by a large majority of Parliament. On 1 May, nationalization went into effect. The Iranian people, Mossadegh declared, "were opening a hidden treasure upon which lies a dragon".

As the prime minister had anticipated, the British did not take the nationalization gracefully, though it was supported unanimously by the Iranian parliament and by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people for reasons of both economic justice and national pride. The Mossadegh government tried to do all the right things to placate the British: It offered to set aside 25 percent of the net profits of the oil operation as compensation; it guaranteed the safety and the jobs of the British employees; it was willing to sell its oil without disturbance to the tidy control system so dear to the hearts of the international oil giants.

But the British would have none of it. What they wanted was their oil company back. And they wanted Mossadegh's head. A servant does not affront his lord with impunity.

A military show of force by the British navy was followed by a ruthless international economic blockade and boycott, and a freezing of Iranian assets which brought Iran's oil exports and foreign trade to a virtual standstill, plunged the already impoverished country into near destitution, and made payment of any compensation impossible. Nonetheless, and long after they had moved to oust Mossadegh, the British demanded compensation not only for the physical assets of the AIOC, but for the value of their enterprise in developing the oil fields; a request impossible to meet, and, in the eyes of Iranian nationalists, something which decades of huge British profits had paid for many times over.

The British attempt at economic strangulation of Iran could not have gotten off the ground without the active co-operation and support of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations and American oil companies. At the same time, the Truman administration argued with the British that Mossadegh's collapse could open the door to the proverbial communist takeover. When the British were later expelled from Iran, however, they had no alternative but to turn to the United States for assistance in toppling Mossadegh. In November 1952, the Churchill government approached Roosevelt, the de facto head of the CIA's Middle East division, who told the British that he felt that there was "no chance to win approval from the outgoing administration of Truman and Acheson. The new Republicans, however, might be quite different."

John Foster Dulles was certainly different. The apocalyptic anti-communist saw in Mossadegh the epitome of all that he detested in the Third World: unequivocal neutralism in the cold war, tolerance of Communists, and disrespect for free enterprise, as demonstrated by the oil nationalization. (Ironically, in recent years Great Britain had nationalized several of its own basic industries, and the government was the majority owner of the AIOC.) To the likes of John Foster Dulles , the eccentric Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was indeed a madman. And when the Secretary of State considered further that Iran was a nation exceedingly rich in the liquid gold, and that it shared a border with the Soviet Union more than 1,000 miles long, he was not unduly plagued by indecision as to whether the Iranian prime minister should finally retire from public life.


The young Shah of Iran had been relegated to little more than a passive role by- Mossadegh and the Iranian political process. His power had been whittled away to the point where he was "incapable of independent action", noted the State Department intelligence report. Mossadegh was pressing for control of the armed forces and more say over expenditures of the royal court, and the inexperienced and indecisive Shah-the "King of Kings"-was reluctant to openly oppose the prime minister because of the latter's popularity.


Earlier in the Year, the New York Times had noted that "prevailing opinion among detached observers in Teheran" was that "Mossadegh is the most popular politician in the country". During a period of more than 40 years in public life, Mossadegh had "acquired a reputation as an honest patriot".

In July, the State Department Director of Iranian Affairs had testified that "Mossadegh has such tremendous control over the masses of people that it would be very difficult to throw him out. "

A few days later, "at least 100,000" people filled the streets of Teheran to express strong anti-US and anti-Shah sentiments. Though sponsored by the Tudeh, the turnout far exceeded any estimate of party adherents.

But popularity and masses, of the unarmed kind, counted for little, for in the final analysis what Teheran witnessed was a military showdown carried out on both sides by soldiers obediently following the orders of a handful of officers, some of whom were staking their careers and ambitions on choosing the winning side; some had a more ideological commitment. The New York Times characterized the sudden reversal of Mossadegh's fortunes as "nothing more than a mutiny ... against pro-Mossadegh officers" by "the lower ranks" who revered the Shah, had brutally quelled the demonstrations the day before, but refused to do the same on 19 August, and instead turned against their officers.

What connection Roosevelt and his agents had with any of the pro-Shah officers beforehand is not clear. In an interview given at about the same time that he finished his book, Roosevelt stated that a number of pro-Shah officers were given refuge in the CIA compound adjoining the US Embassy at the time the Shah fled to Rome. But inasmuch as Roosevelt mentions not a word of this rather important and interesting development in his book, it must be regarded as yet another of his assertions to be approached with caution.

In any event, it may be that the 19 August demonstration organized by Roosevelt's team was just the encouragement and spark these officers were waiting for. Yet, if so, it further illustrates how much Roosevelt had left to chance.

In light of all the questionable, contradictory, and devious statements which emanated at times from John Foster Dulles, Kermit Roosevelt, Loy Henderson and other American officials, what conclusions can be drawn about American motivation in the toppling of Mossadegh? The consequences of the coup may offer the best guide.

For the next 25 years, the Shah of Iran stood fast as the United States' closest ally in the Third World, to a degree that would have shocked the independent and neutral Mossadegh. The Shah literally placed his country at the disposal of US military and intelligence organizations to be used as a cold-war weapon, a window and a door to the Soviet Union-electronic listening and radar posts were set up near the Soviet border; American aircraft used Iran as a base to launch surveillance flights over the Soviet Union; espionage agents were infiltrated across the border; various American military installations dotted the Iranian landscape. Iran was viewed as a vital link in the chain being forged by the United States to "contain" the Soviet Union. In a telegram to the British Acting Foreign Secretary in September, Dulles said: "I think if we can in coordination move quickly and effectively in Iran we would close the most dangerous gap in the line from Europe to South Asia.'' In February 1955, Iran became a member of the Baghdad Pact , set up by the United States, in Dulles' words, "to create a solid band of resistance against the Soviet Union".

One year after the coup, the Iranian government completed a contract with an international consortium of oil companies. Amongst Iran's new foreign partners, the British lost the exclusive rights they had enjoyed previously, being reduced now to 40 percent. Another 40 percent now went to American oil firms, the remainder to other countries. The British, however, received an extremely generous compensation for their former property.


The standard "textbook" account of what took place in Iran in 1953 is that-whatever else one might say for or against the operation-the United States saved Iran from a Soviet/Communist takeover. Yet, during the two years of American and British subversion of a bordering country, the Soviet Union did nothing that would support such a premise.

When the British Navy staged the largest concentration of its forces since World War II in Iranian waters, the Soviets took no belligerent steps; nor when Great Britain instituted draconian international sanctions which left Iran in a deep economic crisis and extremely vulnerable, did the oil fields "fall hostage" to the Bolshevik Menace; this, despite "the whole of the TUDEH PARTY at its disposal" as agents, as Roosevelt put it.

Not even in the face of the coup, with its imprint of foreign hands, did Moscow make a threatening move; neither did Mossadegh at any point ask for Russian help.

One year later, however, the New York Times could editorialize that "Moscow ... counted its chickens before they were hatched and thought that Iran would be the next 'People's Democracy'. At the same time, the newspaper warned, with surprising arrogance, that "underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism."

A decade later, Allen Dulles solemnly stated that communism had "achieved control of the governmental apparatus" in Iran. And a decade after that, Fortune magazine, to cite one of many examples, kept the story alive by writing that Mossadegh "plotted with the Communist party of Iran, the Tudeh, to overthrow Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevl and "hook up with the Soviet Union."

And what of the Iranian people? What did being saved from communism do for them? For the preponderance of the population, life under the Shah was a grim tableau of grinding poverty, police terror, and torture. Thousands were executed in the name of fighting communism. Dissent was crushed from the outset of the new regime with American assistance. Kennett Love wrote that he believed that CIA officer George Carroll, whom he knew personally, worked with General Farhat Dadsetan, the new military governor of Teheran, "on preparations for the very efficient smothering of a potentially dangerous dissident movement emanating from the bazaar area and the Tudeh in the first two weeks of November, 1953".

The notorious Iranian secret police, SAVAK, created under the guidance of the CIA and Israel, spread its tentacles all over the world to punish Iranian dissidents. According to a former CIA analyst on Iran, SAVAK was instructed in torture techniques by the Agency. Amnesty International summed up the situation in 1976 by noting that Iran had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran."

When to this is added a level of corruption that "startled even the most hardened observers of Middle Eastern thievery", it is understandable that the Shah needed his huge military and police force, maintained by unusually large US aid and training programs, to keep the lid down for as long as he did. Said Senator Hubert Humphrey, apparently with some surprise:"Do you know what the head of the Iranian Army told one of our people? He said the Army was in good shape, thanks to U.S. aid-it was now capable of coping with the civilian population. That Army isn't going to fight the Russians. It's planning to fight the Iranian people."


No comments :