4 October 2003

All the Shah's Men

Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men is a comprehensive account of how the U.S. CIA orchestrated a coup to topple Iran's only democratic leader ever back in 1953. It's an eye opening tale of how imperialistic motives triumphed over freedom and justice, and the author suggests that the seeds of Islamic revolution were sown then - that the Americans, previous to this transforming event, were viewed as benevolent and most favorable. In contrast to the British who are recounted as ruthless overseers of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, engaging in oppressive exploitation of Iranian nationals. Unlike Aramco, who forged a more favorable arrangement in Saudi Arabia, the Anglo-American Oil Companly only returned a miniscule portion of profits back to Iran. Furthermore, Iranian workers were precluded from any management posts and subject to harsh working and deplorable living conditions.

Kinzer hails Mohammad Mossadegh as a saint, not without warts, but a genuine hero principally concerned with the welfare of his fellow Iranians. Mossadegh's nationalizing of the British oil company granted him immense popularity with his country's citizens, but drew the ire of the British government officials, who were unmitigatedly uncompromising in their standoff with Mossadegh. The British turned to the Americans and Truman for assistance in dealing with Mossadegh, Time man of the year in 1951, but Truman was adamant that it was an affair for Iranians to resolve, that it was a new era where the old tenets of colonialism no longer applied and Britian should take heed. However, the newly elected Eisenhower administration's views on the matter were attuned to the British. The Dulles brothers, John Foster who served as secretary of state under Eisenhower and CIA head Allen, executing staunch anti-Communism script, believed Iran's nationalization of the British oil company posed a worldwide threat to western civilization.

Another interesting part of the story is the role of Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt, who according to Kinzer's account, singlehandedly directed the coup, even after failing once and receiving orders to pull back. Roosevelt spread a million dollars to rouse protests, bombed the house of a prominent Muslim, disseminated propaganda, planted news stories and incited unrest. Even Norman Schwarzkopf, the father of the Persian Gulf war commander, was even brought in to convince a reluctant Shah, whom he befriended a decade earlier, to assume power.
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