Monday, June 22, 2009

Mosssdegh, the Shah, Khamenei and "outside interference" in Iran

The Iranian government's claim that the mass demonstrations of the past week are instigated by foreign enemies sounds laughable to Western ears, and perhaps at this point to most Iranians. Mousavi counters this claim with his own revolutionary credentials and professions of fealty to the 1979 Revolution.

It's worth remembering, though, that by reviving this one-hopes-by-now-exhausted old charge, the regime is tapping into the founding trauma of modern Iranian history -- the CIA-controlled coup that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and installed the Shah as sole ruler. Fury over that disastrous action, which arrested Iranian political development, was the fuel that allowed Khomeini to hijack the revolution of 1979. Stephen Kinzer, in his fair-minded and thorough account of Mossedegh's leadership and the coup, All The Shah's Men: an American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (2003), recounts that fear that the U.S. would try to reinstall the Shah prompted the taking of the U.S. Embassy hostages:
Soon after the Shah was overthrown, President Jimmy Carter allowed him to enter the United States. That sent Iranian radicals into a frenzy of rage. With the blessing of their new leaders, they stormed the American embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two American diplomats hostage for more than fourteen months. Westerners, and especially Americans, found this crime not only barbaric but inexplicable. That was because almost none of them had any idea of the responsibility the United States bore for imposing the royalist regime that Iranians came to hate so passionately. The hostage-takers remebered that when the Shah fled into exile in 1953, CIA agents working at the American embassy had returned him to his throne. Iranians feared that history was about to repeat itself (p. 202).
That paranoia, rage and opportunism shaped the major player on today's stage:
One of Ayatollah Khomeini's closest advisers, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who later succeed him as the country's supreme leader, justified the regime's radicalism by declaring, "We are not liberals like Allende and Mossadegh, whom the CIA can snuff out" (p. 203).
John McCain's suggestion that the U.S. President call the Iranian election "a sham" would surely resonate in Iran. As usual, though, McCain is deaf to exactly how his self-righteous simplicities resonate in the country with which he concerns himself.


  1. Although I think Obama is pursuing the wise course, I don't know how much the '53 coup would "resonate."

    There seems to be a whole mythology around the Mossadegh episode that has been designed as rhetorical ammunition against the West. It's written for Leftist ears, of both Iranian students and of the foreign Left, which would be open to any comparison to the CIA and Allendi.

    Mossadegh was appointed by parliament, and only "popularly elected" by his district. The same parliament was trying to vote him out, which Mossadegh was trying to prevent by contravening the Iranian Constitution.

    The Mullahs supported the Shah's coup against Mossadegh. They even voiced their approval to the CIA.

  2. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad should be grateful to Eisenhower for overthrowing Mossadegh and installing the Shah. Had there never been a Shah, he couldn't have been overthrown. Khomeini could never has seized power. Eisenhower didn't know that 20th-century monarchies with real power are always followed by ferocious dictatorships. Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are ingrates.

  3. Every Iranian I have ever met knows about Mossdegh - Iranian Americans, Kurdish exiles in Southeast Asian cities, Jewish Iranian college students in America.

    Many educated people around the world know about Mossadegh.

    Hardly any Americans know about Mossadegh and the US led coup, and some that do dismiss it as meanlingless.

    You decide what will matter.

  4. the neocons are one-sided in their thinking. the iranians do not want u.s. intervention because of past transgressions we committed on their political process, if for nothing else than they would be afraid we wouldn't know when to stop intervening. for those who think the mossadegh episode is "ancient history", it is worth reminding them the lessons of pearl harbor still resonate today.

  5. For many years I worked for an Iranian family living in the U.S. They had been members of the elite and fled Iran in 1979. Although they were very grateful to the U.S. for the opportunity to come here and establish a new life, they were also very bitter over the events of 1953. They were by no means leftists; in fact some of their family members had ties to the Shah. But they fully understood the connection between 1953 and 1979, and what that did to their country. The people I worked with were also born after 1953; they did not experience the events first hand, but they did experience the aftermath of U.S. intervention.

  6. As a side note: Kinzler's account of the coup is far from fair-minded and thorough. He mainly uses Kermit Roosevelt's account of what happened during the events, and Kermit Roosevelt was a renowned self-promoter who blew his role, and the role of the CIA in the coup, out of proportion. There are far better, and fairer, accounts of what happened in a number of other books out there, but mainly in passing. I'd recommend Turban for the Crown, which is also a history of the '79 revolution, and a very good one at that.

  7. Since the U.S. and the Cia knew the Shahs days were numbered,they courted the Mullahs because at least they werent communists.And since its all about oil... Carter was done in by the oil companies..the hostages were held till Reagan inauguration {cooinky dink?}and Reagan sold them weapons against international law.

    How much have they spent in iran so far?

  8. Again, I agree with Obama's present course, but two things I read recently:

    One is Christopher Hitchens quoting an Iranian author:

    ***Nowadays, in Persian, the phrase "My Uncle Napoleon" is used everywhere to indicate a belief that British plots are behind all events, and is accompanied by ridicule and laughter. ... The only section of society who attacked it was the Mullahs. ... [T]hey said I had been ordered to write the book by imperialists, and that I had done so in order to destroy the roots of religion in the people of Iran.***

    The other was an Iranian protester going by the name Mohammad, in an interview with CNN:
    ***Mohammad: Americans, European Union, international community, this government is not definitely -- is definitely not elected by the majority of Iranians. So it's illegal. Do not recognize it. Stop trading with them. Impose much more sanctions against them. My the international community, especially I'm addressing President Obama directly [...] We need your help international community. Don't leave us alone.

    Chetry: Mohammad, what do you think the international community should do besides sanctions?

    Mohammad: Actually, this regime is really dependent on importing gasoline. More than 85% of Iran's gasoline is imported from foreign countries. I think international communities must sanction exporting gasoline to Iran and that might shut down the government.***

    So definitely not now, but maybe in the not-too-distant future, we should do something in support of those who voted for Moussavi and Karoubi.

  9. Speaking of '53 and the CIA...I wonder what the CIA is up to or has been up to so far in the present upheaval. I hope, not much.