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Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future

Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future

2.2 6
by Stephen Kinzer

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The bestselling author of Overthrow offers a new and surprising vision for rebuilding America's strategic partnerships in the Middle East

What can the United States do to help realize its dream of a peaceful, democratic Middle East? Stephen Kinzer offers a surprising answer in this paradigm-shifting book. Two countries in the region, he argues,


The bestselling author of Overthrow offers a new and surprising vision for rebuilding America's strategic partnerships in the Middle East

What can the United States do to help realize its dream of a peaceful, democratic Middle East? Stephen Kinzer offers a surprising answer in this paradigm-shifting book. Two countries in the region, he argues, are America's logical partners in the twenty-first century: Turkey and Iran.

Besides proposing this new "power triangle," Kinzer also recommends that the United States reshape relations with its two traditional Middle East allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This book provides a penetrating, timely critique of America's approach to the world's most volatile region, and offers a startling alternative.

Kinzer is a master storyteller with an eye for grand characters and illuminating historical detail. In this book he introduces us to larger-than-life figures, like a Nebraska schoolteacher who became a martyr to democracy in Iran, a Turkish radical who transformed his country and Islam forever, and a colorful parade of princes, politicians, women of the world, spies, oppressors, liberators, and dreamers.

Kinzer's provocative new view of the Middle East is the rare book that will richly entertain while moving a vital policy debate beyond the stale alternatives of the last fifty years.

Editorial Reviews

John Lancaster
…Kinzer argues persuasively that despite their very different governments—one friendly and free, the other hostile and theocratic—both Turkey and Iran are host to vibrant democratic traditions that make them natural long-term partners of the United States. He deftly interweaves the stories of the Iranian and Turkish democracy movements, whose roots are deeper than most Americans realize.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Kinzer (Overthrow), columnist at the Guardian, takes an iconoclastic approach in this smart policy prescriptive that calls for elemental changes in America's relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and even more remarkably, for the U.S. to find more sensible and natural allies in Turkey and Iran, “the only Muslim countries in the Middle East where democracy is deeply rooted.” This “radical break from diplomatic convention” has its roots deep in the cold war history that Kinzer spends most of the book attentively mining. When he's corralling Middle Eastern history, Kinzer does an excellent job at stitching essential facts into a coherent and telling whole, demonstrating why, for instance, Turkey's recent return to greater religiosity is a victory against “Islamist policies” and how Israel's willingness to do America's dirty work (e.g., selling arms to Guatemala's military regime) tied the U.S. to Israel and Saudi Arabia so powerfully in the past. He's less successful in analysis, though, and is prone to repetition; this astute book builds toward convincing new ideas, but doesn't provide the necessary scaffolding to hold them up. (June)
From the Publisher
"Kinzer elaborates grand ideas in the conversational voice of a story-teller and challenges conventional wisdom in the most reasonable tones." ---Gary Sick, author of All Fall Down
former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and u Thomas R. Pickering

Stephen Kinzer's deep knowledge of the Middle East is complemented by his lucid style and new ideas. He sees Turkey as a key state for the region and the world, suggests new and innovative ways to deal with Saudi Arabia and Iran, and calls for the United States to play a much more robust and determined role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. His historical perspective and trenchant analysis make Reset an informative read for experts and newcomers alike.
coauthor of Tournament of Shadows and Kingmakers&# Karl E. Meyer

I read and relished Stephen Kinzer's Reset - kudos to him for approaching the enduring problem of the Middle East in a fresh way. Even old hands may learn something new in these fluent, timely, and provocative pages.
author of The Limits of Power: The End of Amer Andrew J. Bacevich

A vivid account underscoring the persistent folly of Western, and especially U.S. policy in the Middle East. This is history with bite and immediacy. Yet Stephen Kinzer sees cause for hope: The possibility of change exists if we but seize it.
Kirkus Reviews
An original, unsettling critique of America's many blunders in the Middle East. In Iran, a statue honors Howard Baskerville, and streets and schools bear his name. A young American teacher, he died in 1909 leading volunteers in defense of this nation's fledgling democracy. After delivering this surprising bit of history, journalist Kinzer (International Relations/Boston Univ.; A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It, 2008, etc.) states bluntly that Iran, along with Turkey, the only Islamic nations in the area with vibrant democratic traditions, should be America's closest allies, replacing Israel and Saudi Arabia. The author makes his case by recounting their recent history. Most readers recognize the name Kemal Ataturk, the charismatic leader who single-handedly revolutionized Turkey after World War I by introducing European institutions. Turkey is prospering and gets along with all Middle Eastern nations including Israel. When Iran threatened to nationalize British oil concession, a CIA-financed coup destroyed its democracy and established Mohammed Reza as absolute ruler. Kinzer reminds readers that after a broad-based-and not solely Islamic-1979 uprising overthrew the Shah, Iran opposed Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. After 9/11 it cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan until, in early 2002, President Bush branded it a member of the "axis of evil" along with North Korea and Iraq. Cultivating Turkey and Iran instead of the reactionary Saudi monarchy and pugnacious Israel makes sense, but Kinzer admits a major barrier: America is also a democracy. Smarting over the humiliation of the 1979 hostage crisis-but ignoring Iran's humiliation in 1953-most American voters loathe Iran and support Israel uncritically. An imaginative solution to the Middle-East stalemate, though perhaps too imaginative for most American readers. Agent: Nancy Love/Nancy Love Literary Agency

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Iran, Turkey, and America's Future

By Stephen Kinzer

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2010 Stephen Kinzer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4828-9



The sunburned, dust-covered gentleman who stepped out of a rough carriage in Tehran at dusk on May 12, 1911, arrived like a lawman into a terrified town. He came to help a once-proud country that had fallen pitifully from past glories. Two foreign powers, Russia and Britain, had signed a "convention" dividing Iran between them. To consummate it, they needed to crush Iran's fledgling Parliament. Members of Parliament cast desperately about for a way to resist and save their country's democracy. They decided they had but one hope: hire an American.

The one they found, Morgan Shuster, agreed to serve for three years in a post Parliament created especially for him: Treasurer General of the Persian Empire. His assignment, with no tool other than law, was to force the Russians and the British to submit to Parliament's will.

Turning to an American was a logical step for Iranian democrats. The United States was their inspiration: a former British colony that had thrown off its chains and advanced to glorious self-rule, just as Iran hoped to do.

"The United States at this stage looked like the partner Iran had long hoped to find in the West — anti-feudal, anti-colonialist, modern but not imperialist — a truly benevolent foreign power that would, for once, treat Iran with respect," one historian has written. "If we think of the British and the Russians in the nineteenth century as the ugly sisters, then at this time Morgan Shuster and his United States looked like Prince Charming."

Though he was just thirty-four years old, Shuster had impressive experience in the esoteric art of organizing chaotic countries. He had designed a tax system for the Philippines, where he worked under governor-general William Howard Taft, and then became director of the Cuban customs service. In both posts he had won a reputation as hardworking and utterly incorruptible.

"I had never even dreamed of going to Persia before my appointment," he later wrote, "but the eloquence of the Persian chargé d'affaires at Washington, Mirza Ali Kuli Khan, removed my early doubts, and I finally decided to do what I could to help a people who had certainly given evidence of an abiding faith in our institutions and business methods."

Upon arriving in Tehran, Shuster made an instant and shocking impression, not by something he did but by something he failed to do. Foreigners normally called on diplomats from Russia and Britain — the countries that had divided Iran into "spheres of influence" four years earlier — to beg permission to begin work. Shuster ignored this custom. He let it be known that since he worked only for Parliament, he would pay fealty to no one else.

This was the beginning of his rise and fall.

Iran had made remarkable strides toward democracy in the five years since its Constitutional Revolution. There had been two elections. A royalist counterrevolution — the one in which Parliament was bombarded and Howard Baskerville killed — had been defeated. Universal male suffrage had been proclaimed. Religious minorities were guaranteed seats in Parliament. Two vigorous political parties had emerged, one favoring women's rights and public education, the other promoting conservative religious values.

This vibrant democracy, though, was only a shadow. Parliament had no authority over most of the country. British and Russian occupiers ignored its laws. Between these commanding imperial powers and an increasingly assertive Parliament, conflict was inevitable.

A few days after Shuster arrived in Tehran, parliamentary leaders visited him at Atabak Palace, the thirty-room stone villa they had given him as an office and residence. He told them he intended to follow the same principle that had guided his work in the Philippines and Cuba: taxation is the indispensable foundation of a stable state, and therefore taxes must be collected vigorously and impartially. In Iran, though, many wealthy landowners lived under British or Russian protection and paid no taxes to the central government. They would do so only if forced.

Shuster asked Parliament to raise a twelve-thousand-man gendarmerie dedicated exclusively to enforcing tax laws. Parliament agreed, and recruitment began. The first trained units were sent to confiscate property from tax delinquents in the Russian sphere of influence. That set off a fateful crisis.

The aroused Czar Nicholas II sent thousands of troops to Russian bases in northern Iran and threatened to occupy Tehran if Parliament did not stop its meddling. Britain joined the saber-rattling, reinforcing its garrisons in the south.

Shuster did not flinch. Parliament, he later wrote, "more truly represented the best aspirations of the Persians than any other body that has ever existed in that country. It was as representative as it could be under the difficult circumstances which surround the institution of the Constitutional government. It was loyally supported by the great mass of the Persians, and that alone was sufficient justification for its existence. The Russian and British governments, however, were constantly instructing their Ministers at Tehran to obtain this concession or block that one, failing utterly to recognize that the days had passed in which the affairs, lives and interests of twelve millions of people were entirely in the hands of an easily intimidated and willingly bribed despot."

The final confrontation began at midday on December 9, 1911, with an ultimatum from the Russian ambassador in Tehran. Parliament must dismiss Shuster within forty-eight hours — and also promise "not to engage in the service of Persia foreign subjects, without first obtaining the consent of the Russian and British legations."

Many Iranians were outraged by the directness of this demand. Shuster's insistent defense of democracy had captivated them, and he suddenly found himself the embodiment of a nation's dreams. Patriots clamored to defend him. One of the country's most beloved poets, Aref Qazvini, vented his passion in a tasnif, or popular song:

The thief is out for theft and the brigand for brigandage, my friend,

Our history will become the laughingstock of the world if we allow Shuster to go from
Iran, from Iran Shuster to go.

O life of the body, O soul of the world, O real treasure, O eternal pleasure — O Shuster!

May God keep thee here ... Thou art a part of us, how can we live apart from thee, O Shuster?

By agreeing to dismiss Shuster, Parliament would be accepting the rule of foreign powers over Iran. Refusing would bring unknown but certainly terrible consequences. When Parliament convened on the morning of December 11, all of its members knew that Iran's infant democracy was facing its first decisive choice. Shuster was there, and described the scene in his poignant memoir, The Strangling of Persia:

It was an hour before noon, and the Parliament grounds and buildings were filled with eager, excited throngs, while the galleries of the chamber were packed with Persian notables of all ranks and with the representatives of many of the foreign legations. At noon the fate of Persia as a nation was to be decided....

The proposal was read amid deep silence. At its conclusion a hush fell upon the gathering. Seventy-six deputies, old men and young, priests, lawyers, doctors, merchants and princes, sat tense in their seats.

A venerable priest of Islam arose. Time was slipping away, and at noon the question would be beyond their vote to decide. This servant of God spoke briefly and to the point: "It may be the will of Allah that our liberty and our sovereignty shall be taken away from us, but let us not sign them away with our own hands!" One gesture of his hands, and he resumed his seat.

Simple words, these, yet winged ones. Easy to utter in academic discussions; hard, bitterly hard, to say under the eye of a cruel and overpowering tyrant whose emissaries watched the speaker from the galleries and mentally marked him down for future torture, imprisonment or worse.

Other deputies followed. In dignified appeals, brief because the time was so short, they upheld their country's honor and proclaimed their hard-earned right to live and govern themselves.

A few minutes before noon the vote was taken. ... And when the roll call was ended, every man, priest or layman, youth or octogenarian, had cast his own die of fate, had staked the safety of himself and his family, and hurled back into the teeth of the great Bear from the North the unanimous answer of a desperate and down-trodden people who preferred a future of unknown terror to the voluntary sacrifice of their national dignity and their recently earned right to work out their own salvation.

By its defiance, Parliament invited its own destruction. Russian troops marched on Tehran and occupied it. Their commander then ordered the submissive Ahmad Shah — actually his British-educated regent, since the shah was just fourteen years old — to dissolve Parliament and dismiss Shuster. The orders were quickly drawn up. Soon afterward, a despondent former Treasurer General of the Persian Empire stepped into an automobile to begin his long trip home.

"Our task in Persia, to which we had looked forward with both pleasure and pride, had come to a sudden and most unpleasant end," Shuster wrote. "As I stood in a circle of gloomy American and Persian friends, about to step into the automobile, I could not help recalling the evening of my arrival at the same spot just eight months before, and there swept over me the realization that the hopes of a patient, long-suffering Muhammadan people of reclaiming their position in the world had been ruthlessly stamped out by the armies of a so-called civilized and Christian nation."

Iran's first experiment with democracy was over, crushed by foreign power. It left a vivid imprint on the nation's collective psyche. During these early years of the twentieth century, Iranians discovered what democracy is. They wanted it — and might have had it if their country had not been found to be sitting atop an ocean of oil.

In photographs, William Knox D'Arcy looks like the eminent Victorian solicitor he was: portly, round-faced, and generously mustachioed, usually with a pipe in his mouth and a watch chain across his vest. In his youth he made a fortune backing gold miners in Australia, and then he did what many a man would do in such circumstances: he moved to Europe to enjoy his money. He married an actress, toured extravagantly, lived in palaces, and hired Enrico Caruso to sing at his Grosvenor Square dinner parties. By the beginning of the twentieth century, his fortune was running out.

The petroleum age was just dawning, but geologists had already guessed that the Middle East would become a rich source of oil. British leaders wanted to know whether Iran had any; D'Arcy was looking for a speculative project that could make him rich again. They were ideal partners.

To drill in Iran, D'Arcy needed permission from the decadent and sickly Mozaffer al-Din Shah, who ruled with the aid of soothsayers and financed his regime by selling concessions to foreigners. British diplomats helped him secure the necessary royal order. Under their tutelage, he bribed everyone in the royal court from the prime minister to the servant who brought the shah his morning pipe and coffee. The concession agreement, signed in 1901, gave D'Arcy the exclusive right to seek oil in almost all of Iran's territory, and then, if he found any oil, the exclusive right to extract, refine, and sell it. For this concession, which was to run for sixty years, he paid £20,000 in cash, then equivalent to about $95,000; promised to pay an equal amount when he began production; and agreed to give Iran 16 percent of his future profits.

"Such was the contract that turned out to be one of the more significant documents of the twentieth century," one scholar has written. "Its subsequent fate, the vast industrial complex to which it gave rise, the passionate hatred it evoked, the conflicts it precipitated, could not have been guessed by its signers, who, in a city remote from the centers of world power, in almost total secrecy, acted out a drama the implications of which they were only half aware."

At four o'clock on the morning of May 26, 1908, after several years of frustration, geologists working for D'Arcy at a stony outpost called Masjid-iSuleiman were awakened by a tremendous explosion. Oil was spurting high into the air. They had made the greatest find in the history of the young petroleum industry.

Winston Churchill, who became Great Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty soon after this spectacular strike, fully grasped its meaning. He understood that in the coming era, navies and national economies would be powered by oil, meaning that countries with oil would rule. Britain had none, nor any colony that produced it. Upon learning of the gusher at Masjid-i-Suleiman, Churchill realized that controlling Iran would be a key to the survival of British power in the new century. On the eve of World War I he arranged for the D'Arcy concession to be transformed into a corporation, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and for the British government to buy 51 percent of its shares.

"Fortune brought us a prize from fairyland beyond our wildest dreams," Churchill later wrote. "Mastery itself was the prize of the venture."

This proved to be no exaggeration. In World War I, as the British statesman Lord Curzon observed, the Allies "floated to victory on a wave of oil." That made British leaders more determined than ever to control Iran. With the Russians gone — they renounced their claims in Iran after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution — the British seemed to have a free hand. In mid-1918 they sent twenty-five hundred soldiers to fan out across Iran. Once they were in place, Curzon unveiled a staggeringly one-sided "Anglo-Persian Agreement" under which Britain would turn Iran into a protectorate by taking control of its army, treasury, communications system, and transport network. The three Iranian officials who signed this agreement were induced to do so by generous bribes. They were also promised asylum in the British Empire "should necessity arise."

Lord Curzon, a former viceroy of India who became foreign secretary in 1919, considered Iran one of "the pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for dominion of the world." Britain, he eloquently argued, must hold it at all costs:

If it be asked why we should undertake the task at all, and why Persia should not be left to herself and allowed to rot into picturesque decay, the answer is that her geographical position, the magnitude of our interests in the country, and the future safety of our Eastern Empire render it impossible for us now — just as it would have been impossible for us any time in the last fifty years — to disinherit ourselves from what happens in Persia. Moreover, now that we are about to assume the mandate for Mesopotamia, which will make us coterminous with the western frontiers of Asia, we cannot permit the existence between the frontiers of our Indian Empire and Baluchistan and those of our new protectorate, a hotbed of misrule, enemy intrigue, financial chaos and political disorder. Further, if Persia were to be alone, there is every reason to fear that she would be overrun by Bolshevik influence from the north. Lastly, we possess in the southwestern corner of Persia great assets in the shape of oil fields, which are worked for the British navy and which give us a commanding interest in that part of the world.

The Iranian people erupted in a paroxysm of outrage when the Anglo-Persian Agreement became public. Newspapers demanded that Parliament refuse to ratify it. Politicians venomously denounced it. Mullahs issued a fatwa declaring that any Iranian who endorsed it was an enemy of Islam. Warlords vowed to fight any regime that accepted it. Nationalists in Tehran formed a "Punishment Committee" dedicated to assassinating officials who supported it. They killed four of the prime minister's aides; the prime minister resigned.

"It does not appear to be realized at home how intensely unpopular Agreement was in Persia," the British military commander wrote in a dispatch to London. "Secrecy with which Agreement had been concluded, fact that [Parliament] was not summoned and attempt created to pack [Parliament] by resorting to most dishonest methods in carrying out elections, all added to conviction that Great Britain ... was in reality no better than the hereditary foe, Russia."

Little is known about the childhood of the soldier called Reza. He was born in the Caspian province of Mazandaran, probably in the early spring of 1876. His father, a soldier, died when he was still an infant, and his mother took him from their mountain village to live with her family near Tehran. According to legend, a blizzard broke out during their trek. Reza froze, apparently to death, but revived after his mother was able to find shelter and place him beside a fire.


Excerpted from Reset by Stephen Kinzer. Copyright © 2010 Stephen Kinzer. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Kinzer is the author of Reset, Overthrow, All the Shah's Men, Crescent and Star, and numerous other books. An award-winning foreign correspondent, he served as The New York Times's bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua and as The Boston Globe's Latin America correspondent. He teaches international relations at Boston University and is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and a columnist for The Guardian. He lives in Boston.
Stephen Kinzer is the author of The Brothers, Reset, Overthrow, All the Shah’s Men, and other books. An award-winning foreign correspondent, he served as the New York Times’s bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua and as the Boston Globe’s Latin America correspondent. He is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University and writes a column on world affairs for The Boston Globe. He lives in Boston.

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Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future 2.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
DikranKaligian More than 1 year ago
Stephen Kinzer's new book a refreshing change from most US journalists in his realistic analysis of the leadership and policies of Iran. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Kinzer's sections on Turkey. There he repeats many of the misinterpretations of Turkish history we see from journalists and then goes even further, living down to the reputation he has acquired as "Turkey's Goodwill Ambassador" ever since he served as the Istanbul bureau chief for the New York Times. This can be seen in his selectiveness in which episodes of Turkey's history he chooses to present to his readers. Thus they are treated to several pages describing the personal life of Kemal Ataturk including his romance with a woman named Corinne and supposed liaison with Zsa Zsa Gabor. Yet somehow Mr. Kinzer is unable to find the room to include even one page on Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus. This invasion put the US in the uncomfortable position of having one NATO ally, Turkey waging war with another NATO ally, Greece. The only inkling we have of the fact that this "model of democracy" (p. 198) has continued its military occupation of one-third of the territory of a neighboring democracy (and EU member) for 36 years is one sentence calling it a "frozen conflict". Similarly, Mr. Kinzer's description of events of 1913 bears little resemblance to any history of Turkey I have ever read. On page 33 he writes that on January 23, 1913 an angry mob of Muslim refugees surrounded government offices, killed the Minister of War and forced the Grand Vizier to resign. Then into the void stepped the Young Turks to take power. Contrast this tale of good fortune for the Young Turks (aka Unionists) with the account of an actual historian, Erik Jan Zurcher, on page 113 of his book Turkey: A Modern History: "A group of Unionist officers rode to the Porte, burst into the room where the cabinet was in session, shot the War Minister and took the members of the cabinet prisoner, forcing Kamil Pasha to resign." Professor Zurcher's account sounds much more like a coup than a popular uprising and Mr. Kinzer often resorts to this kind of spin doctoring of history when discussing Turkey. Of course, Mr. Kinzer most resembles a PR flack when he discusses the issue that the Turkish Government annually spends millions of dollars to distort and cover up: the 1915 Armenian Genocide. As readers might expect, Mr. Kinzer provides a stenographic regurgitation of the Turkish government line: the Armenians formed armed bands with Russian support and started uprisings and attacked Van and other towns (p. 37). Never mind that this version of history is rejected as absurd by all genocide scholars and reputable historians of Ottoman and Middle Eastern history. In fact, the majority of Armenian men had joined the Ottoman army and were disarmed and murdered, leaving women, children, and the elderly to be marched into the desert and murdered en route. In all, 1.5 million Armenians were annihilated because they were ethnically, linguistically, and religiously different from the ruling Young Turks. This success in homogenizing Turkey by eliminating a troublesome ethnic group (and the fact that the rest of the world has let them get away with it) encouraged subsequent Turkish governments to apply similar methods to the Kurds, tens of thousands of whom have been murdered by the Turkish military over the past three decades. None of this appears in Mr. Kinzer's rose-colored history of Turkey.
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