Thursday, August 20, 2015

Iran: 1953, 1979, and Now

Iran is much in the news these days, mainly because of the conflicting views about the “Iran deal,” which is highly touted by the Obama administration and highly trashed by most Republicans—and some Democrats such as Senator Schumer.
And most people remember well, and with great negativity, the events of the Iranian Revolution in 1979—and the Iran hostage crisis when 52 Americans were seized and held for 444 days.
The latter was particularly a bitter pill for President Carter: it was perhaps the decisive reason he was not re-elected for a second term. Most of you will perhaps recall that the hostages were released as President Reagan was being inaugurated in January 1981.
But not so many people now remember what transpired in Iran back in 1953.
On August 15 that year, exactly eight years after the surrender of Japan, the U.S. began to determine the fate of another country. That was the start of Operation Ajax, the coup d’état orchestrated by the CIA against the democratically elected prime minister of Iran.
That prime minister was Muhammad Mossadegh, and his story is told in Christopher de Bellaigue’s notable book Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup (2012).
Perhaps few now remember Mossadegh. He was, however, widely known 65 years ago—so much so that he was Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1951, chosen over such outstanding personages as General Eisenhower and General McArthur.
The 1953 crisis in Iran developed, not surprisingly, because of oil. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was an English firm—the first company to extract petroleum from Iran, beginning in 1908 when Iran was still called Persia. (The year after the coup, the company’s name was changed to what we know it as today: British Petroleum or BP.)
The strong dissatisfaction with Mossadegh as the political head of Iran was primarily because of his drastic act of nationalizing the oil company that was so lucrative for Britain, but which seemed exceedingly unfair to most Iranians.
President Truman refused to approve the U.S. action to overthrow Mossadegh, but soon after President Eisenhower took office, the plan was approved and executed that summer. The pretext was the necessity of combatting a possible Communist takeover of Iran.
Two powerful brothers were behind the planning and implementation of the coup: John Foster Dulles, who was Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, and Allen Dulles, the Director of the CIA. (The new airport on the Virginia side of Washington, D.C., which opened in 1962, was named for the former.)
Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, was the head of the CIA’s Middle East Department and charged with carrying out the coup. His undercover activities and details of the coup are well told in journalist Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (2003).
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the Shah (king) of Iran beginning in 1941, but his direct rule came mostly after the 1953 coup. According to Kinzer, in the 1960s and 1970s he “became increasingly isolated and dictatorial. He crushed dissent by whatever means necessary” (p. 196).
Strong dislike of the Shah’s cruel rule fueled the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Much of Iran’s current hatred of the U.S. can be traced back to the CIA sponsored coup in 1953 and to the Shah being put in power then. As Kinzer concludes, “Operation Ajax has left a haunting and terrible legacy” (p. 215).
The “Iran deal” will, we hope and pray, be the beginning of an improved relationship between the U.S. and Iran.


  1. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, who has just moved from the Kansas City area to Chicago, sent the following comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments about Iran.

    "The recent deal with Iran is definitely preferable to the alternatives, so I fully support it. After reading about its details, it is a better agreement than what I had thought. It is more likely to enhance, rather than diminish, Israel's security."

  2. Comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson:

    "We’ve made terrible mistakes in diplomacy in the Middle East, as you indicate in the overthrow of Mossadegh. We won’t be able to regain Iranian trust, but I think, as you conclude, that we could begin with this treaty in which other nations join us to show that we will try to have a more peaceful and cooperative relationship with them. I’ve wondered if we could not find a way to cooperate in opposition to the threat of ISIS."

  3. This blog reminds me of a book I recently finished reading, Naomi Klein's 2007 work, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." In it she recounts the interconnected history of political neo-conservatism and economic neo-liberalism. They are just the reverse sides of the same coin, and coin is a very appropriate metaphor, for the purpose of the whole ideology is to make the elite richer, no matter how disastrous the results for everyone else. Iran is just one of many countries ravished for profit in the last several decades. The most recent was its neighbor, Iraq. Cheney and Rumsfeld both personally made a bundle off the war. Didn't you?

    No wonder a certain someone called America, "The Great Satan."

    See link here for the book:

    I see I also posted on this book July 25, so see there for a longer discussion. I have been to California since then, and am a little fuzzy on what I did before my vacation!

  4. Very well said Leroy and you are changing my thinking about world affairs by your Very well documented information that most of us haven`t taken the time to research.
    Thanks for your diligence in getting to the Truth and sharing it with us.

    I Love your Blogs!

    Best Wishes,

  5. This morning I posted the following comment, and a link to this blog article, on the Facebook timeline of the group "Progressive Baptist Conversation."

    "As you may have seen over the weekend, Britain re-opened its Embassy in Iran and Iran re-opened its Embassy in London. Who knows when, or if, that will happen with the U.S."

    To this point there have been two responses; the first was from Jim Meisner Jr., who wrote, "This is why the US opposition to the Iran deal is ridiculous. France, Germany, Russia, England, China, are all going ahead with the deal -- the USA can either get on board, or conservatives can ensure the US is hurt economically by not approving the deal."

  6. The second comment was from Facebook friend Mike Greer who lives in Kentucky:

    "Leroy. Fantastic post! Some very inconvenient truths. America has been a force for destabilization and turmoil in the Middle East for more than half a century. It should be obvious to all that Iraq war the latest disaster that helped create fertile ground for ISIS.

    "I attribute some of our basic Western motivations to the lingering influences of the Crusades and a fundamental evangelical antipathy to Islam. The unqualified support for Israel has also severely diminished our political and moral capital in the region. It is easy to see why the people in the region want nothing to do with our brand of 'democracy' or religion."

  7. Exceptionally told stories, Leroy. The recollection of memory is surely among our most urgent eucharistic task. Maybe the risky work of truthtelling will in fact set us free. —Ken Sehested

    1. Thanks, Ken. I much appreciate you reading this blog article and your affirming words.

    2. I'm just now remembering: In '79, after the hostages were taken in the American embassy, 3 Southern Baptists--Charles Kimball, Jimmy Allen and John (?forgetting his last name) went to Tehran and talked with the captors. After they returned home, Jim Newton, a Baptist Press journalist stationed at the Home Mission Board, wrote a story. The ExDir of the HMB (Tanner, I think), squashed it. Jim told me it was the only censoring he faced in his lifetime of writing.