All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terrorby Stephen Kinzer
As zealots in Washington intensify their preparations for an American attack on Iran, the story of the CIA's 1953 coup-with its many cautionary lessons-is more urgently relevant than ever. All the Shah's Men brings to life the cloak-and-dagger operation that deposed the only democratic regime Iran ever had. The coup ushered in a quarter-century of repressive rule… See more details below
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As zealots in Washington intensify their preparations for an American attack on Iran, the story of the CIA's 1953 coup-with its many cautionary lessons-is more urgently relevant than ever. All the Shah's Men brings to life the cloak-and-dagger operation that deposed the only democratic regime Iran ever had. The coup ushered in a quarter-century of repressive rule under the Shah, stimulated the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East, and exposed the folly of using violence to try to reshape Iran. Selected as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post and the Economist, it's essential reading if you want to place the American invasion of Iraq in context-and prepare for what comes next.
About the Author:
Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has worked in more than fifty countries. He has been New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul, Berlin, and Managua, Nicaragua
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All the Shah's MenAn American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
By STEPHEN KINZER
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Stephen Kinzer
All right reserved.
Most of Tehran was asleep when an odd caravan set out through the darkness shortly before midnight on August 15, 1953. At its head was an armored car with military markings. Behind came two jeeps and several army trucks full of soldiers. The day had been exceptionally hot, but nightfall brought some relief. A crescent moon shone above. It was a fine night to overthrow a government.
Sitting in the lead car, Colonel Nematollah Nasiri, the commander of the Imperial Guard, had reason to be confident. In his pocket he carried a decree from the Shah of Iran dismissing Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh from office. Nasiri was on his way to present this decree to Mossadegh and arrest him if he resisted. The American and British intelligence agents who plotted this rebellion assumed that Mossadegh would immediately call out the army to suppress it. They had arranged for no one to be on the other end of the phone when he called. Colonel Nasiri was to stop first at the home of the military chief of staff and arrest him, then move on to deliver the fateful decree.
The colonel did as he was told. When he arrived at his first stop, however, he found something most unusual. Despite the late hour, the chief of staff, General Taqi Riahi, was not at home. Neither was anyone else. Not even a servant or a doorkeeper could be found.
This might have alerted Colonel Nasiri that something was amiss, but it did not. He simply climbed back into his armored car and ordered the driver to proceed toward his main objective, Prime Minister Mossadegh's home. With him rode the hopes of two elite intelligence agencies.
Colonel Nasiri would not have been foolhardy enough to attempt such a bold mission on his own. The decree he carried was of dubious legality, since in democratic Iran prime ministers could be installed or removed only with the permission of parliament. But this night's work was the culmination of months of planning by the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. The coup they were staging had been ordered by President Dwight Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
In 1953 the United States was still new to Iran. Many Iranians thought of Americans as friends, supporters of the fragile democracy they had spent half a century trying to build. It was Britain, not the United States, that they demonized as the colonialist oppressor that exploited them.
Since the early years of the twentieth century a British company, owned mainly by the British government, had enjoyed a fantastically lucrative monopoly on the production and sale of Iranian oil. The wealth that flowed from beneath Iran's soil played a decisive role in maintaining Britain at the pinnacle of world power while most Iranians lived in poverty. Iranians chafed bitterly under this injustice. Finally, in 1951, they turned to Mossadegh, who more than any other political leader personified their anger at the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). He pledged to throw the company out of Iran, reclaim the country's vast petroleum reserves, and free Iran from subjection to foreign power.
Prime Minister Mossadegh carried out his pledges with singleminded zeal. To the ecstatic cheers of his people, he nationalized Anglo-Iranian, the most profitable British business in the world. Soon afterward, Iranians took control of the company's giant refinery at Abadan on the Persian Gulf.
That sent Iran into patriotic ecstasy and made Mossadegh a national hero. It also outraged the British, who indignantly accused Mossadegh of stealing their property. They first demanded that the World Court and the United Nations punish him, then sent warships to the Persian Gulf, and finally imposed a crushing embargo that devastated Iran's economy. Despite this campaign, many Iranians were thrilled with Mossadegh's boldness. So were anticolonial leaders across Asia and Africa.
Mossadegh was utterly unmoved by Britain's campaign against him. One European newspaper reported that Mossadegh "would rather be fried in Persian oil than make the slightest concession to the British." For a time the British considered launching an armed invasion to retake the oil fields and refinery, but they dropped the idea after President Harry Truman refused his support. Only two options remained: leave Mossadegh in power or organize a coup to depose him. Prime Minister Churchill, a proud product of the imperial tradition, had no trouble deciding for the coup.
British agents began conspiring to overthrow Mossadegh soon after he nationalized the oil company. They were too eager and aggressive for their own good. Mossadegh learned of their plotting, and in October 1952 he ordered the British embassy shut. All British diplomats in Iran, including clandestine agents working under diplomatic cover, had to leave the country. No one was left to stage the coup.
Immediately, the British asked President Truman for help. Truman, however, sympathized viscerally with nationalist movements like the one Mossadegh led. He had nothing but contempt for oldstyle imperialists like those who ran Anglo-Iranian. Besides, the CIA had never overthrown a government, and Truman did not wish to set the precedent.
The American attitude toward a possible coup in Iran changed radically after Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in November 1952. Within days of the election, a senior agent of the Secret Intelligence Service, Christopher Montague Woodhouse, came to Washington for meetings with top CIA and State Department officials. Woodhouse shrewdly decided not to make the traditional British argument, which was that Mossadegh must go because he had nationalized British property. That argument did not arouse much passion in Washington. Woodhouse knew what would.
"Not wishing to be accused of trying to use the Americans to pull British chestnuts out of the fire," he wrote later, "I decided to emphasize the Communist threat to Iran rather than the need to recover control of the oil industry."
This appeal was calculated to stir the two brothers who would direct American foreign policy after Eisenhower's inauguration. John Foster Dulles, the incoming secretary of state, and Allen Dulles, the incoming CIA director, were among the fiercest of Cold Warriors. They viewed the world as an ideological battleground and saw every local conflict through the prism of the great East-West confrontation. In their eyes, any country not decisively allied with the United States was a potential enemy. They considered Iran especially dangerous.
Iran had immense oil wealth, a long border with the Soviet Union, an active Communist party, and a nationalist prime minister. The Dulles brothers believed there was a serious danger that it would soon fall to communism. The prospect of such a "second China" terrified them. When the British presented their proposal to overthrow Mossadegh and replace him with a reliably pro-Western prime minister, they were immediately interested.
Soon after President Eisenhower took office on January 20, 1953, John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles told their British counterparts that they were ready to move against Mossadegh. Their coup would be code-named Operation Ajax, or, in CIA jargon, TPAJAX. To direct it, they chose a CIA officer with considerable experience in the Middle East, Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Like other members of his famous family, Kermit Roosevelt had a penchant for direct action and was known to be decisive in times of crisis. He was thirty-seven years old, chief of the CIA's Near East and Asia Division, and an acknowledged master of his clandestine trade. The Soviet agent Kim Philby described him as the quintessential quiet American, "a courteous, soft-spoken Easterner with impeccable social connections, well-educated rather than intellectual, pleasant and unassuming as host and guest. An especially nice wife. In fact, the last person you would expect to be up to the neck in dirty tricks."
CIA agents in those days shared a profound idealism, a conviction that they were doing the vital dirty work of freedom. Many combined the best qualities of the thinker and the adventurer. None epitomized that combination more fully than did Kermit Roosevelt.
At the beginning of July, ignoring a CIA doctor's order that he first submit to urgent kidney surgery, he flew off on his secret mission. He landed in Beirut and from there set out by car across the deserts of Syria and Iraq. As he entered Iran at a remote crossing, he could barely contain his excitement:
I remembered what my father wrote of his arrival in Africa with his father, T. R., in 1909 on the African Game Trails trip. "It was a great adventure, and all the world was young!" I felt as he must have felt then. My nerves tingled, my spirits soared as we moved up the mountain road.... As it turned out, on July 19, 1953, we encountered an unusually listless, stupid and semi-literate immigration/ customs fellow at Khanequin. In those days US passports carried, as they do not now, some brief description of any notable features of the holder. With encouragement and help from me, the guard laboriously transcribed my name as "Mr. Scar on Right Forehead." This I found a good omen.
Roosevelt spent his first two weeks in Tehran conducting business from a villa rented by one of his American agents. Decades of British intrigue in Iran, coupled with more recent work by the CIA, gave him excellent assets on the ground. Among them were a handful of experienced and highly resourceful Iranian operatives who had spent years assembling a clandestine network of sympathetic politicians, military officers, clergymen, newspaper editors, and street gang leaders. The CIA was paying these operatives tens of thousands of dollars per month, and they earned every cent. During the spring and summer of 1953, not a day passed without at least one CIA-subsidized mullah, news commentator, or politician denouncing Prime Minister Mossadegh. The prime minister, who had great respect for the sanctity of free press, refused to suppress this campaign.
Iranian agents who came in and out of Roosevelt's villa knew him only by his pseudonym, James Lockridge. As time passed, they naturally developed a sense of comradeship, and some of the Iranians, much to Roosevelt's amusement, began calling him "Jim." The only times he came close to blowing his cover were during tennis games that he played regularly at the Turkish embassy and on the campus of the French Institute. When he missed a shot, he would curse himself, shouting, "Oh, Roosevelt!" Several times he was asked why someone named Lockridge would have developed such a habit. He replied that he was a passionate Republican and considered Franklin D. Roosevelt to have been so evil that he used Roosevelt's name as a curse.
The plan for Operation Ajax envisioned an intense psychological campaign against Prime Minister Mossadegh, which the CIA had already launched, followed by an announcement that the Shah had dismissed him from office. Mobs and military units whose leaders were on the CIA payroll would crush any attempt by Mossadegh to resist. Then it would be announced that the Shah had chosen General Fazlollah Zahedi, a retired military officer who had received more than $100,000 from the CIA, as Iran's new prime minister.
By the beginning of August, Tehran was afire. Mobs working for the CIA staged anti-Mossadegh protests, marching through the streets carrying portraits of the Shah and chanting royalist slogans. Foreign agents bribed members of parliament and anyone else who might be helpful in the forthcoming coup attempt.
Press attacks on Mossadegh reached new levels of virulence. Articles accused him not just of communist leanings and designs on the throne, but also of Jewish parentage and even secret sympathy for the British. Although Mossadegh did not know it, most of these tirades were either inspired by the CIA or written by CIA propagandists in Washington. One of the propagandists, Richard Cottam, estimated that four-fifths of the newspapers in Tehran were under CIA influence.
"Any article that I would write-it gave you something of a sense of power-would appear almost instantly, the next day, in the Iranian press," Cottam recalled years later. "They were designed to show Mossadegh as a Communist collaborator and as a fanatic."
As the plot gathered momentum, Roosevelt faced his most serious obstacle, Mohammad Reza Shah. The thirty-two-year-old monarch, only the second shah in the Pahlavi line, was timid and indecisive by nature, and he doggedly refused to be drawn into such an audacious plot. "He hates taking decisions and cannot be relied on to stick to them when taken," one British diplomat reported. "He has no moral courage and succumbs easily to fear."
More than personality traits held the Shah back. Mossadegh had been the most popular figure in modern Iranian history, and although Britain's campaign of subversion and economic sabotage had weakened him, he was still widely admired and beloved. It was not even clear that the Shah had the legal authority to remove him. The plot could easily backfire and endanger not only the Shah's life but the monarchy itself.
None of this daunted Roosevelt. To carry out his coup, he needed signed decrees from the Shah dismissing Mossadegh and naming General Zahedi in his place. Roosevelt never doubted that he would ultimately obtain them. His battle of wits with the Shah was unequal from the start. Roosevelt was clever and well trained, and behind him lay immense international power. The Shah was weak, immature, and alone.
Roosevelt's first gambit was to send emissaries who might have special influence over the Shah. First he arranged for the Shah's twin sister, Princess Ashraf, who was as sharp and combative as the Shah was dull, to visit her brother and try to stiffen his backbone. Ashraf 's tongue-lashings of her brother were legendary, including one in the presence of foreign diplomats when she demanded that he prove he was a man or else be revealed to all as a mouse. She detested Mossadegh because he was an enemy of royal power. Her attacks on his government became so bitter that the Shah had felt it best to send her out of the country. From her golden exile in Europe, she watched events in her homeland with undiminished passion.
Ashraf was enjoying life in French casinos and nightclubs when one of Roosevelt's best Iranian agents, Asadollah Rashidian, paid her a call. He found her reluctant, so the next day a delegation of American and British agents came to pose the invitation in stronger terms. The leader of the delegation, a senior British operative named Norman Darbyshire, had the foresight to bring a mink coat and a packet of cash.
Excerpted from All the Shah's Men by STEPHEN KINZER Copyright © 2003 by Stephen Kinzer. Excerpted by permission.
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Award-winning former New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer gives an account of how the U.S. and British governments overthrew the Iranian government in his All the Shah¿s Men: an American Coup and the roots of Middle East terror. Their target was Mohammad Mossadegh. In 1951, Mossadegh was democratically and constitutionally appointed as the prime minister of Iran. In an effort to insure a more fair distribution of the wealth generated by Iran¿s huge oil reserves, and to improve conditions for the Iranian workers who helped to produce that wealth, he nationalized the British run Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. For this, the British government insisted that he be removed from office. Mossadegh also supported women¿s rights, believed in religious freedom and permitted courts and universities to function independently. The CIA code name for the coup was ¿Operation Ajax¿, and American Kermit Roosevelt (the grandson of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt) was its mastermind. He would lie under a blanket at the back seat of a car, while being transported to and fro Muhammad Reza Shah¿s palace for his secret meetings. He used audacious tactics in carrying out his plan. For example, ¿His agents would spread across Tehran to bribe politicians, mullahs, and anyone else who might be able to turn out crowds at a crucial moment.¿ When bribes failed, he was not above using threats and violence to achieve his objectives. Consequently, after an initial failed attempt, a second attempt at the coup was successful, and in 1953 Mossadegh was forcefully removed from office and placed under arrest. Muhammad Reza Shah was a tyrant who ruthlessly exploited his people until 1979, when the Islamic revolution overthrew his government. Kinzer, with a ¿keen journalistic eye, and with a novelist¿s pen,¿ has crafted a thought-provoking book. In the end, readers come away with a better understanding of why there is such disgust and distrust for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and especially in Iran.
Stephen Kinzer says it as it is. No holds barred; he puts it bluntly and succinctly, no sugar coating. An eye opening read that will challenge what you think and how you see the world and the United States's international relations.
An excellent inside look on how the CIA toppled Mossadegh installing the Pro-Western Shah. Kermit Roosevelt's CIA operations and a true account of how much the US played its role in regime change. This regime change serves as the stepping stone to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Have our regime change operations created more future headaches much larger if we had left well alone? Read this book and you will be convinced to our role in Iran's reaction to the west presently today.
One of the greatest book for understanding Iran today. As an American I am shamed what CIA/British did in Iran in 1953. Blame could be given most to British for their greed for Iranian oil. By overthrowing democratic elected leader of Iran in 1953, CIA and British are blamed for the Fundamentalist terror regim of Iran today. As a taxpayer I wonder why our tax money is going toward distroying other countries. Great book for those who can connect the dots from 1953 to 9-11.
As an American I am a shamed to see how TAXPAYERS money were spend in 1953 in Iran to overthrow democratic elected leader of Iran, because block head british wanted to suck the blood out of this poor country. We also can see due to this act 1979 revolution in Iran was very anti-west, because what CIA / MI6 did in 1953. And if we connect the dots 9-11 could be the result of CIA deeds in 1953 in mideast.
Very good book. Slight bit of backtracking and foreshadowing makes the text hard to follow in places at first, but this is an excllent book that I would truly recommend. I have read many books on Middle Eastern history and this is one of the better ones I have read.
This book brings out all the documented facts to the open. Problems in Iran starting back with the Imperial Oil company of England, the root cause of hate and evil. Greed by the oil company, taking it into any possible way to continue its teeth even at the cost of Nationalization to the Iranian people. America getting caught in the middle of it. As one can see this is exactly how America paid for after the Iranian ouster of Shad in 1979 and placement of a British Puppet called "Ayatollah". Why? look what happened after the take over, all American interests were completely shut down while British, European, Russian and Chinese started to grow.....
This book took me about 4 hours to read since it has extrememly big font. It seems to be written on a 10th grade reading level, and most of the information is presented in an informative, non-argumentative fassion. For this reason, this book is a great tool for those who don't know much about the history of the Middle East, but for scholars like myself, it left much to be desired. There are many times when the author leaves out an important bit of information that would shine a slightly different light on American foreign policy. It is very factual and doesn't jump to very many conclusions. It even presents arguments for both sides in the final chapter (although the rest of the book is more or less one sided). Like I said, though, it is a great book for beginners who are looking for some background information to modern day policy, and it shouldn't bias the reader (much) toward either side.
The author fails to take into account the times in which these events occured. The world was divided into two spheres and the United States could not allow Iran to fall into the Soviet camp, threatening the Arabian oil fields upon which the global economy depended.