All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror

At a recent event, the author bragged/implied that his book had some influence in the recent softening of US/Iran relations. “Secretary of State Kerry had me sign a copy of the book, and enthused ‘Great book!’ before rushing onto his next appointment,” Kinzer claimed. I hope Kerry is briefed more fully than just reading this book, but it was a good start for a plebeian such as myself, being woefully unaware of the US involvement in destabilizing Iran. The book provides some keys to understanding the psyche of Iran that I hadn’t considered:
* Iran is one of the oldest nations with traditions reaching back thousands of years. Even today, despite long periods of repression and suffering, Iranians are passionate about their historical importance.
* Continued effort to synthesize Islam (imposed on the country by Arab invaders) and Iran’s rich heritage.
* Desire for a “just” leadership, shaped by Shiite tradition (Zoroastrianism merging with Islam)
* Sense of martyrdom and communal pain is sharpened by Shiite beliefs, contributing to a tragic view of life
* Iran’s continued invasion by foreign entities (geographically located in the middle of major trade routes, and now sitting on top of a great oil field)
As Iran tripped and stumbled toward democracy, dealing with corrupt monarchs and politicians, the British company exploiting Iran’s oil fields nervously watched as a popular prime minister (Mossadegh) gains power and declares the oil industry nationalized, essentially kicking Britain out. Failed negotiations between the two parties led to this bold act, where Britain was unable to peer forth from their harsh colonial policies they’d perfected across the world and to treat Iran as a partner, not a subject. So Iran snapped, and oil stopped flowing for lack of skilled workers to run the works. The feud escalates to the U.N. where Mossadegh gives an impassioned speech and introduced the principle of “total loss” – that it’s possible to have an argument in the United Nations where everyone loses, as Britain was not able to retain their oil rights and Iran’s economy begins to flounder without active money from oil. When a friend mentions that he will return to Iran empty-handed, Mossadegh says, “Don’t you realize that in returning to Iran empty-handed, I return in a much stronger position than if I returned with an agreement which I would have to sell to my fanatics?”
Clearly this could not stand. Britain was knee-deep in coup plotting when Mossadegh expelled all British citizen after catching wind of the plot. The Brits tried to convince Truman that his help was necessary, but Truman held them back. That all changed after Eisenhower swept into office in the next election, and the wheels of the coup were spinning a few days after election day, before he took office. The Dulles brothers were highly susceptible to the drumbeat of panic the Brits were banging, that Iran was in danger of falling to Communism. And so, the US participated in its first of many overthrows of foreign government. Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy, led the effort in Tehran. Newspapers were paid to start pushing anti-Mossadegh sentiment, paid mobs flooded the city chanting against Mossadegh. The first attempt in August 1953 failed, but Roosevelt immediately attempted another a few days later, this one successful. Therein lie the seeds of the 1979 uprising, now tinged with much anti-American feeling (prior to 1953, Iranians held the US in high regard as an example of democracy).