George Bush, Iran, and the Ghost of Kermit Roosevelt and Operation Ajax
by Mark Dankof
In his riveting and informative history of the sordid methodology employed by Kermit Roosevelt and the Central Intelligence Agency in overthrowing Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in August of 1953, author and New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer posits the theory that, "It is not far-fetched to draw a line from Operation Ajax through the Shah’s repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York."
Kinzer’s impressive tome of twelve chapters, epilogue, and concluding scholarly notes and bibliography appeals to intelligent popular reader and scholar alike. To the uninitiated in Iranian history and culture, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2003, 258 pp.) sketches the foundational importance of the pre-Islamic Achaemenid and Sassanian dynasties; the 7th century invasion of Persia by the Arabs armed with the new religion of Islam; the Safavid dynasty; the role of both the Zoroastrian faith and the Shiite version of Islam in shaping contemporary Iranian thought on authority, divine favor, martyrdom and revolution; the core cultural, historical, and political significance of the eschatological doctrine of the Twelfth Imam; and the corruption and incompetence of the Qajar dynasty which ruled Iran from the end of the 18th century until 1925, setting the stage for ongoing foreign intrigue and intervention there--first through Britain and Russia and subsequently through the expansion of the American Empire after World War II.
Of particular focus in the narrative is the history of British imperialism in Iran, inextricably linked to the D’Arcy concession, the creation of the Anglo-Persian [Iranian] Oil Company, and the infamous 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement which effectively reduced Iran to the status of a British protectorate. In the anti-colonialist political milieu of the post-World War II scene in the developing world, the burgeoning conflict between Iranian nationalism and British oil interests takes concrete form in what Kinzer describes on pages 52-53 in chapter 4:
The Iranian labor movement was not the only long-dormant institution that came back to life after Reza Shah’s [Reza Shah Pahlavi’s] departure. So did the Majlis [Iranian parliament]. It had never ceased to exist, but Reza Shah had not allowed it to function freely. Now, angered like the rest of Iran by the rioting at Abadan [center of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company operations], it began asserting itself. In 1947 it passed a bold law forbidding the grant of any further concession to foreign companies and directing the government to renegotiate the one under which Anglo-Iranian was operating. This law was the first blow in a long battle. It set Iran on the course of cataclysmic confrontation with Britain. The deputy who wrote it and pushed it through the Majlis had been an active nationalist in the early years of the century but was forced out of politics by Reza Shah and had lived in obscurity for twenty years. Now he was back, as fervent a defender of Iranian interests as ever. His name was Mohammed Mossadegh.
Two central beliefs shaped Mossadegh’s political consciousness. The first was a passionate faith in the rule of law, which made him an enemy of autocracy and, in particular, Reza Shah. The second was a conviction that Iranians must rule themselves and not submit to the will of foreigners. That made him the nemesis, the tormentor, the implacable foe of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In mid-twentieth century Iran, he and the company faced off in an epic confrontation. Fate bound them together. The story of one cannot be told without the story of the other.
The story develops and intensifies with the role of the United States in the British-inspired covert operation to eliminate Mossadegh as Prime Minister of Iran, while re-establishing the Pahlavi throne as the most effective conduit for the protection of Western interests through the suppression of a potpourri of Iranian nationalist and independence movements, ranging from the Tudeh Communist Party and the National Front to the Islamic mullahs. Of particular historical interest is the author’s documentation of the proven opposition of both Clement Attlee and Harry Truman to this sinister course of action, followed by the wholehearted support of Winston Churchill and the Eisenhower Administration for it--expressed in the explicit Executive Authorization for British MI6 and the American Central Intelligence Agency to proceed with the Ajax project . Kinzer especially notes the conversion of Eisenhower from a position of compromise with Mossadegh and the recognition of the legitimate grievances of the Iranian people, to the incredible endorsement of a coup only two months after the former’s inauguration (p. 157).
In All the Shah’s Men, the role of the Dulles brothers proves pivotal to the process of tracing the President’s reasons for radical departure from the Truman policy course on Iran. In what would come to be a prototype for clandestine American interventionist policies worldwide, the justification provided to Eisenhower by his Secretary of State and Director of Central Intelligence was cast in terms of opposition to the threat of the ascendancy of Soviet-inspired Communist movements in the oil-rich Middle East. Once convinced that the achievement of this objective was necessarily linked to the elimination of Mossadegh and a viable National Front movement in Iran, the green light was given to Kermit Roosevelt to launch Operation Ajax in August of 1953, on the basis of the Wilber (CIA)-Darbyshire (MI6) blueprint for the coup.
It is a tragically familiar blueprint in terms of later American black-op projects in Guatemala, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Kinzer quotes Roosevelt’s description of the plot as based upon "four lines of attack" (p. 10)–an orchestrated CIA-controlled press and media campaign against Mossadegh; the covert recruitment and subsidization of organizers for staged political protests leading to mob control of the street; the bribing and recruitment of key factions of the Armed Forces with royalist sympathies; and the subversion and suborning of parliament. While providing a fascinating account of the players and angles which led to the successful overthrow of the regime and the re-introduction of the Pahlavi Peacock Throne in Iran, Kinzer proves similarly successful in his analysis of the down side of America’s first success in the overthrow of a foreign government. His thesis that the success of Operation Ajax in the short-term led to Iranian resentment and anger which culminated in the longer-term reversal of American fortunes in Iran in the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 seems easily sustainable.
The corollary thesis of All the Shah’s Men is equally sustainable in its presentation of a clear and cohesive case for convicting the United States of moral duplicity in its rhetorical support for human rights and global democracy while depriving Iran of the same by the forcible elimination of the latter’s popularly elected government. The derivatives of this action include the indefensible role of the American government in assisting the Pahlavi regime in the development of the SAVAK secret police force, and the utilitarian employment of Saddam Hussein as an American asset in the incitement of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War which caused 500,000 deaths on the Iranian side of the equation alone. Disturbingly, Kinzer leaves the reader with the distinct impression that the tragic results of August of 1953 will continue to unfold in history, with the precise endgame yet to be determined.
The author’s linear line of development drawn between Operation Ajax, the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, and the World Trade Center conflagration can and should be extended to the Bush Administration’s preemptive war in Iraq, its War on Terrorism, and the development of a burgeoning American domestic police state culminating in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In this regard, Mr. Bush and his advisors Rumsfeld, Perle, and Wolfowitz bear an eerie resemblance to Mr. Eisenhower and the worst aspects of the influence wielded over the latter by the Dulles Brothers. Both Presidents have rightly identified movements and threats to the national security of the United States, while failing to grasp the underlying causes, themes, and legitimate grievances of these movements which are only exacerbated through calculated indifference and the employment of ruthless methodologies designed to increase the intensity of anti-American feeling globally and the mathematical addition of those who experience them. Mr. Bush and his neo-conservative advisors routinely and categorically reject the sage advice and counsel of those from Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer to Pat Buchanan and Colonel David Hackworth who eschew the Administration’s preemptive war on Iraq and hints of unilateral actions in the future against the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). In this regard, Mr. Bush’s catatonic state mirrors Eisenhower and Dulles, and the refusal of the latter to heed the prophetic wisdom of Roger Goiran, the chief of the CIA station in Tehran at the time of the contemplation of Operation Ajax who warned of its perils as documented by Kinzer on page 164:
Goiran had built a formidable intelligence network, known by the code name Bedamn, that was engaged in propaganda activities aimed at blackening the image of the Soviet Union in Iran. It also stood ready to launch a nationwide campaign of subversion and sabotage in case of a communist coup. The Bedamn network consisted of more than one hundred agents and had an annual budget of $1 million–quite considerable, in light of the fact that the CIA’s total worldwide budget for covert operations was just $82 million. Now Goiran was being asked to use his network in a coup against Mossadegh. He believed that this would be a great mistake and warned that if the coup was carried out, Iranians would forever view the United States as a supporter of what he called "Anglo-French colonialism." His opposition was so resolute that Allen Dulles had to remove him from his post (reviewer’s emphasis).
Finally, Stephen Kinzer’s blockbuster of a book would be well served by a sequel highlighting the historic role of the United States and Britain in supporting an action in the Middle East which dwarfs even the tragedy of the implementation of Operation Ajax in Iran–the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine in 1948 and the accompanying endorsement of the Zionist ideology which undergirds it. An honest chronicling of the historical developments leading up to May of 1948, the tactics of the American and Israeli national security establishments up to the present moment in sustaining the notion of Eretz Yisrael, the genocidal deprivation of the legitimate political aspirations of the Palestinians, and the subterranean activities of the Israeli lobby worldwide, would unmask the same political and moral deficiencies inherent in what happened in Iran in August of 1953. It would also chart predicted disasters ahead for all involved, unless hearts and minds can be changed in a world where time is running out. Can Bush and Sharon chart a new and enlightened course when the clock to apocalypse is ticking? Hope for it, but don’t bet on it.
(Mark Dankof is a Lutheran pastor and free-lance journalist, occasionally contributing to Iran Dokht, Al Bawaba, Nile Media, CASCFEN, and other Internet news sites. Once a 3rd party candidate for the United States Senate in Delaware , he maintains the web-site Mark Dankofs America while pursuing post-graduate theological education at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.)
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