The CIA and the Shah of Iran

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Jul 6 09:28:31 MDT 2003

(If Kinzer's "Bitter Fruit", which deals with the role of United Fruit and 
the CIA in the overthrow of Guatemala's Arbenz, is any kind of precedent, 
this should be a very useful book.)

LA Times Book Review, July 6, 2003

The overthrow of democracy in Iran

By Nikki R. Keddie, Nikki R. Keddie is professor emerita of Middle Eastern 
and Iranian history at UCLA and is the author of "Modern Iran: Roots and 
Results of Revolution."

All the Shah's Men
An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
Stephen Kinzer
John Wiley & Sons: 258 pp., $24.95

Fifty years ago, the CIA overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the popular, 
democratically elected prime minister of Iran, and reinstalled the 
country's exiled monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah. In "All the Shah's Men," 
Stephen Kinzer, a longtime New York Times correspondent, covers this event 
in an exciting narrative. He questions whether Americans are well served by 
interventions for regime change abroad, and he reminds us of the long 
history of Iranian resistance to great power interventions, as well as the 
unanticipated consequences of intervention.

Mossadegh's overthrow in 1953 undermined Iran's progress toward democracy 
and independence, shored up a dictatorial monarchy backed by the United 
States and ultimately strengthened the only opposition the shah could not 
suppress — the Islamic opposition. Although Mossadegh's government was more 
popular than today's Iranian regime, it was depicted in the U.S. media as 
unpopular, and the coup against it was portrayed as a popular victory.

The coup was the first of a series of secret U.S. interventions to 
overthrow popular elected governments, including those in Guatemala (1954) 
and Chile (1973), and to replace them with regimes that were, like the 
shah's, oppressive and unpopular. Kinzer's detailed examination of this 
paradigmatic intervention (whose consequences continue to reverberate) is 

On Aug. 19, 1953, Mossadegh was overthrown in a coup led by U.S. agents in 
a plan devised by the British Secret Service. Though a few Americans and 
many Iranians blamed the United States and Britain, the official and widely 
accepted American story was that this was a spontaneous popular uprising. 
In fact, as Kinzer convincingly relates, the coup was the product of 
careful planning and some on-the-scene improvisations by its chief U.S. 
agent, Kermit Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Theodore Roosevelt.

The coup transformed a constitutional monarchy with real political parties 
into an absolute monarchy in which elections and parliament were completely 
subject to the will of the shah. Because growing dissent had no licit 
political outlet, Ayatollah Khomeini and those clergy who followed him grew 
stronger and, in 1978, encouraged the series of popular demonstrations that 
led to the shah's overthrow in February 1979.

The writing of "All the Shah's Men" was made possible, as Kinzer says in 
his acknowledgments, by the research and writing of Mark Gasiorowski and 
other scholars. They have done the hard work of digging through official 
documents and interviewing ex-CIA and other persons to piece together this 
important story, some of which has already appeared in books and articles, 
with more to appear in the forthcoming "Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup 
in Iran" (Syracuse University Press), edited by Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne.

Kinzer shows the extreme reaction of the British when the Iranian 
parliament, in 1951, voted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., most 
of whose shares were owned by the British government. Nationalization was a 
response to Britain's refusal fundamentally to change its existing 
exploitative concession. The British, despite their Labor government's 
nationalization of several British industries, refused to accept either a 
50-50 profit sharing agreement or the compensated nationalization the 
Iranians offered. The British Secret Service planned Mossadegh's overthrow, 
but, with Harry S. Truman as president, the United States refused to join 
the British.


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