By Steve Kinzer
Iran’s recent development of uranium enrichment facilities has been referred to in the official national media as an event even more significant than the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1951. But while borrowing the historical imagery of Iran’s first great victory against imperialism, nothing is said by the country’s leaders of the man who led the charge, Mohammad Mossadeq.
“All The Shah’s Men” is a pulsating account of the rise of this champion of Iranian nationalism, his nationalisation of the oil industry and his subsequent downfall at the hands of the CIA in 1953 that shows just how big a part US foreign policy played in the creation of a “rogue state”. This book is essential reading for understanding the combination of reverence and injustice that many Iranians still feel having been robbed of their great nationalist hero, and why Iran’s current regime now has no place for him in their own national mythology.
Kinzer paints a sympathetic picture of this man who coughed blood seemingly as a direct consequence of the injustices that the British were being allowed to perpetrate in his country through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and later still, British Petroleum). For a people raised on the idea of personal martyrdom, the fainting fits, coughing blood and involuntary tears of this highly emotional character all added to his popular appeal.
Since oil had been discovered in Iran by British engineers in 1908, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and later still, British Petroleum), had become one of the key elements of the Empire. Safeguarding oil supplies ran parallel with protecting the entire imperial ideology whose foundations in monopolising the riches of other countries had already begun to look tenuous. Thus, to arch-imperialists such as Churchill and Eden, Mossadeq was a man who might have brought down an empire.
Across the Atlantic, two radically different ideologies were doing battle over how best to approach the threat of Communism. While Truman had thought it best to ride the wave of nationalist movements and help them to stand independently against the red tide, the incoming Eisenhower administration preferred a more “hands-on” approach. The British knew that the fear of Communism could drive the incoming president to extreme action and it was their encouragement that paved the way for the birth of the regime change rationale that was to characterise much of US foreign policy in the decades that followed.
Complete with its swashbuckling anti-hero, CIA agent, Kermit Roosevelt, at the helm of anti-Mossadeq operations on the ground, Kinzer’s book reads more like a spy thriller with political punch than it does a straightforward history. And it is indeed the good-natured ease with which he approached his job that highlights just how callous an approach to world politics his masters in Washington were taking. Covert action seemed, at the time, to be a satisfyingly direct and cost-effective device to ensure a more favourable regional situation, it is clear that with the Islamic world currently rising up in anger against US heavy-handedness, the real price of the coup is clearly still being paid.
Following the story of this national hero to its conclusion in the Mossadeq family estate where he spent his final years under house arrest, Kinzer gives touching accounts of the quiet memories that still echo around the village to which he was kind patron and generous benefactor. There is no escaping the question of what might have been if he had been allowed to lead the whole of Iran. What could have been if the British hadn’t been so intransigent, if the Truman doctrine had not given way to Eisenhower. If a national hero had been allowed to rule the country that had wanted him, that needed him and who had elected him.
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Thursday, April 20, 2006
By Steve Kinzer