Amid all the advertisements for gas-guzzling cars, there is an interesting editorial from LIFE magazine, dated May 21, 1951. The title:
"How to Lose a World: Our Government's Deplorable Performance in Iran Has Contributed To a Great Disaster."
At that time, because of its location and its petroleum, Iran was caught between two great millstones of conflicting ideologies, Capitalism and Communism.
Britain, heavily reliant on Iranian oil, had directly controlled the oil monopoly through the British Anglo-Iranian Oil company (later to become BP) but now, suddenly the rules of the game had changed.The author neatly summarized the lead-up to the foreign policy disaster like this:
Just 50 years ago an Englishman named William Knox D'Arcy set on on a hunt for oil in Iran. He found it in huge quantities, and thereby multiplied the value of Iran to the Great Power. Until lately, they have followed a fairly consistent principle of diplomacy in Iran. Apart from the oil, which Britain pretty well bottled up, the idea was not so much to possess or dominate the country as to prevent any rival from possessing or dominating it.This system worked quite well in the year when the US stood aside from such rivalries and the main contestants were Britain and Russia. Britain was usually on top and after World War II, the British increased their industrial and military reliance on Iranian oil. the British government directly controlled the oil monopoly so there was no danger of rade private enterprisers departing from oficial policyor other wise upseting the game. It apparently never occurred to the British that the Soviet Communists- and the Iranians- might want to play the game another way.With a force and rapidity which should have been expected, the game changed. Iran's politicians, in general, more blessed with passion than foresight, were ready to assert their pride of self and country. And ancient people, also proud, were ready in their misery to welcome any change...The whole thing came to a head last year when the Iranian parliament, or Majlis, refused to ratify the latest revision of the oil contract. It was perfectly plain that the British monopoly would have come up with a really generous and imaginative offer if a cataclysm was to be avoided.
In 1951 Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq came to office as Prime Minister, committed to re-establishing democracy and constitutional monarchy, and to nationalizing the Iranian petroleum industry, which was controlled by the British. It was this last point which sealed his fate.
"And the Americans? The Americans were there, in considerable strength. They saw what was happening; the revulsion against the British; the stupidity of an oil policy which took as much as possible out of an awakening country and put as little as possible back into the country; the calculated cleverness of the Soviet Communists who had the sense to work on, through and ostensibly for the Iranian people, with a native Tudeh party which was actually Communist but officially nationalist in sentiment and purpose.
And yet, openly America did nothing. The Truman administration had, in fact, been sympathetic to the Mossadegh and had been given both advice and counsel from the American Ambassador in Tehran, Henry Francis Grady. The book, The Memoirs of Ambassador Henry F. Grady, explains how events transpired:
[Grady] fully expected the situation in Tehran to be delicate because of British determination to protect its interests in the face of rising and economic nationalism in Iran. But Grady also expected from Washington the same support for the same ends he received in his previous assignments.. What he did forsee was the willingness of his Washington superior, [Secretary of State] Dean Acheson, to accommodate American cold war policy in Iran to the narrow interests of British imperialism. This put Grady on a collision course with Acheson as well as the British officials in Tehran.
When the Eisenhower administration took power, fears that the Communists were poised to overthrow the fledgling democratic Iranian government convinced officials to take a closer look at Iran.
"The truth is that the State Department has no policy for Iran and no policy for the Middle East. What it styles a policy is a mess of generalities (resist Communism, help anti-Communists, be for reform, etc. etc.) A State Department with a policy would, among other things, have got behind a plan for economic salvage of Iran, supported it with vigor and taken any measures necessary to see that the British government support it too."
This prudent policy was unfortunately not undertaken. In the name of Western democracy, it was decided the best course of action was to overthrow a democratically elected government. It was, as if, we never truly believed that democracy was valuable enough to support.
Shortly before the 1952 US presidential election, the British government invited the son of Teddy Roosevelt, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., political action officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (Middle Eastern division) to London. It was there that they proposed a coopoerative covert operation under the code name Operation Ajax; its mission was to oust Mosaddeq from office. (Referred to in Iran as the 28 Mordad 1332 coup.)
With the help of a military loyal to the monarchy, Prime Minister Mosaddeq was placed under house arrest and Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlav, The Shah of Iran, was installed as the leader of the nation.
In turn, deposed Mosaddeq was sentenced to death on December 21, 1953. His sentence was later commuted to three years' solitary confinement in a military prison. He remained under house arrest until his death on 5 March 1967.
The shah's reign was to become a monarchy whose mission statement included an ruthless anti-Communist stance, a program of Westernization and a Western monopoly- by proxy- on the petroleum industry in Iran.
This flawed decision based on deceit - which on the surface must have seemed like sheer brilliance- was to have grave consequences.
So what's your opinion about American policy in Iran? Feel free to leave a comment.