August 25, 2003
The Lessons of History: "All The Shah's Men"
BUZZFLASH READER REVIEW
"All the Shah's Men" is a detailed and incredibly well done telling of precisely how the CIA overthrew Iran's first democratically elected government in order to restore the Shah, and get U.S. oil companies to obtain the exclusive oil concession the Brits had had up until that point. It's written by a talented and longtime NY Times writer who drew it from interviews and extensive CIA and Truman/Eisenhower records made public a couple years ago. It's a great read -- and should be a movie -- and really puts into perspective so much of what has gone down and is currently going down in the Middle East.
It details how the Brits installed and then bribed a Shah (king) and in 1931 got him to sign a deal basically giving away Iran's oil to the Anglo Persian Oil Company (which today is called British Petroleum). When the first democratically elected parliament and prime minister in Iran got control in the early 50's, they took away nearly all powers the Shah had, in a peaceful revolution, and gave it to the parliament.
BP then refused to negotiate or renegotiate with Iran when it demanded decent working conditions for their people working in the refineries, and the Brits refused to offer the same terms as Saudi Arabia was getting from the US at the time (50/50, where the Saudis had the right to audit the books). The Iranians were getting about 3% of net profits from the Brits and had no right to audit. The Brits refused *any* change in the terms or working conditions, taking an Imperialist stance that they had basically bought and sold the Shah in 1931 to sign the document, and nothing else mattered.
So Iran ended up nationalizing their oil biz in response. The Brits were furious, went to court in the Belgium world court -- and lost. The Brits tried to undermine and make a coup in Iran, were unsuccessful and all Brits were kicked out of Iran. The Brits then established a military blockade to prevent Iran from selling any of "their" oil to any other country. When an Iranian shipment bound for Italy was intercepted by the Brits and seized by the Brits, no other country would do business with Iran for the oil, thus the Brits had laid siege to try to force Iran to let them back in.
While Truman refused Brits' repeated requests to help overthrow the elected government in Iran -- which was moderate and based on Jeffersonian principles -- the Dulles brothers were soon itching to do so, reasoning that with Iran cut off from trading with the West, they would eventually become friendly with Russia and the communist block, even though Russia was traditionally Iran's enemy. Truman refused to overthrow a democratically elected moderate government in favor of reinstalling the Shah as absolute ruler. He said the Middle East and much of the world who loves the US would hate us if we went around overthrowing democratically elected governments simply for the economic interests of our oil companies. He said the US should be on the side of nationalism, since it was the basis that we came into being, by throwing off the British Empire.
The book details exactly how the US ended up getting involved and overthrowing the government in Iran, and it's an absolutely fascinating read. They hired mobs to pretend they were supporters of the prime minister who then went through and ransacked Teheran, in an effort to make him less popular and create unrest. They bribed, bought all the newspapers they could and put out fake stories and propaganda and did everything possible to destabilize the country. Once they did that, they went to Eisenhower who was now President and convinced him Iraq was coming apart and presented a danger (they didn't mention to Eisenhower that it was coming apart because our own CIA was orchestrating it), and they got Eisenhower to agree to the coup, and agree to install a bunch of Iranians paid by the CIA into the Iranian parliament to replace those who were actually elected. (They played with the ballot boxes to rig the elections.)
So the CIA folks (run by Kermit Roosevelt -- grandson of Teddy) bought off generals and everyone they could with millions they lavished on the situation. They tried, failed, then tried again and succeeded in the coup, and brought the Shah in from Rome to take over. Then the US got 40% of Iran's oil, Iran got 40% and some other countries shared the remaining 20% (and Iran still didn't have any right to audit). BP was paid $1 billion by the other countries to "buy out" its contract that was to run until the 1960's.
The book is also chock full of quotes and insights from several well respected historians discussing the unintended consequences of our actions in 1953. One was that we sent a message around the world that the US endorsed and supported ruthless dictatorial regimes, with secret police like Savak, who suppressed, tortured and killed their own people -- so long as the rulers were friendly with our oil companies or other US businesses. The 1979 revolution that put Khomeini in place is directly a result of our policies (most historians say Iran would today be a mature democracy if the US hadn't overthrown them), and it shows convincingly why the US was and is viewed as "the great Satan" in Iran -- because we definitely were, by installing a Hitler over there and putting a stop to their democratic experiment. Prior to that happening, Iran worshiped the US and saw us as the model they wished to emulate to form a secular government based on the rule of law.
The US hostages taken at our embassy in Teheran in 1979 were also a direct result of our coup to install the Shah in 1953 -- the hostages were taken in a response to Jimmy Carter's allowing the Shah to stay in the US for 6 weeks while he underwent cancer therapy. Iran was convinced that the US was once again planning a coup to put the Shah back in power so we could get access to the oil -- since this is exactly what we did in the 50's. The 1950's coup by the US was also the reason Reagan/Bush ended up investing so heavily in Saddam in the 1980's and encouraging and supporting his attack on Iran, where we provided weapons, intelligence, and WMD to Iraq to help defeat Iran. (Saddam is, of course, another monster the US put into power, but that's another book...)
Anyhow, it's a real page turner, exciting, engaging -- and all true, with great jacket quotes from people like Senator Richard Lugar and others. It's based on reports of meetings and blow by blow accounts from the participants which were made in reports at the time, but not released until 50 years later.
It's a very instructive tale for what's happening today with another secretive US administration looking to use our military and intelligence to fight for US business interests in the middle east, this time using " terror" rather than "communism" as the pretext for the adventure. It's certain from reading this book -- and from watching the news we're already seeing daily -- that the US will be suffering a lot more unintended consequences for quite some time to come, from our current self-interested adventures in Iraq.
This book should be required reading for every American. People would feel very differently about our Middle East policy, and when there is more understanding, there's more chance for peace.
BUZZFLASH READER REVIEW
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