So let’s talk about Michael Flynn. It’s hard to keep up with all this, so a quick recap: Flynn is a lifer in the the Army, makes Lieutenant General, and serves for two years as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Obama. The DIA coordinates military intelligence and acts, kind of, as the Department of Defense’s version of the CIA. Military spooks.
Flynn gets forced out of the DIA in 2014. Inside sources, including Colin Powell, say that it’s because of a chaotic leadership style in which he was “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc.” Flynn alleged he’d been made to leave because of his controversial views on security, namely that the Us was less safe from terrorism now than before 9/11 and that the President wasn’t saying the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ enough.
Flynn starts an intelligence consulting firm along with his son, which, along with whatever else it does, seems to have been lobbying for the government of Turkish president Erdogan, a religious authoritarian, in Washington. Through 2014 and 2015, Flynn makes multiple appearances as an analyst on the Russian state-owned English-language propaganda arm, RT. RT masquerades as a news agency in the US.
In the same way that any scientist who regularly appears on Fox News is pretty reliably morally compromised, any member of the Us military establishment who’s flexible enough to appear on RT is probably too flexible to be trusted. RT is a big cheerleader for Donald Trump and is now one of the few outlets, like Fox and Breitbart, that qualify as ‘real’ news among the Republican base.
In 2015, Flynn flies to Russia to attend an RT gala and give a talk, for which he is paid by the Russian government.
I spent the fall studying for the LSAT and applying to law schools and scrounging enough cash to stay alive, so the show kind of fell by the wayside. That’s over with now, though, and this next series is set to come out pretty regular.
We’re turning to Iran to look at the coup against Mohammad Mossadegh and all the ways that Operation AJAX have affected Iran and our relationship with it right through to the present day.
This first episode gets all of our key characters onto the main stage and the next one will bring us up through that night in July 1953. We heard about this coup and how it shaped Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers’ perspective on clandestine interventions way back in the first show and now we get to see it play out.
We’re diving way back in history to get the context for what happens in the fifties, so here are some maps for context.
This is pretty much every political entity that you would call or which included Persia for all of recorded history. Neat.
Here we’ve got something much more specific to our episode. These are losses of both territory and sovereignty Iran goes through during the 19th century, from the Treaty of Gulestan up through the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention.
And this is the Caucasus region we’ll be referring to a lot. You might not typically think of Russia as being part of the Middle East, but you’d be wrong. The reason Russia’s constantly meddling in Afghanistan and Syria in the present day is that a finger of Russian territory pushes down between the Black and Caspian seas to touch the little republics between it and Turkey and Iran. And at varying points in Russian Imperial history, to touch them directly. The borders on the map are again related to the treaties of Gulestan and Turkmenchay.
Now how about some characters.
The man in the center of that photograph is the Lord Curzon of Kedleston, later the Earl Curzon of Kedelston, Viceroy of India and later Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Cuzon was the face of British imperialism in its last great grasping gasp and he had his eyes on Iran before, during, and after the First World War.
Curzon, in some senses metaphorically and in other ones totally literally turned over the torch of British imperial ambitions over to Winston Churchill.
I don’t know that most of us have ever heard of a time when Churchill was young, but he comes onto the scene in Iran almost immediately after his military service in the Raj and South Africa.
By the time he’s First Lord of the Admiralty at the outset of WWI, he’ll be taking an interest in Iranian affairs.
And once he’s almost literally become too old to be alive, he’ll be Prime Minister for the second time and destroying Iranian democracy with American help in an effort to hold onto the last imperial jewel still in Her Majesty’s crown.
On the Iranian side, this early on, we’ve got the Qajar Shahs, exemplified in pretty much every way by this guy:
And their throne was usurped (more or less rightfully), by this guy, the first Pahlavi Shah:
Who will brutally modernize and organize Iran, in time to turn it over to his dilettante son:
Who the UK and the US will vocally, economically, and finally clandestinely and militarily support, and who will work out for the Iranians about as well as Bashar al-Assad did for his people.
And as always:
The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly and Charles Melville. Vol. VII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations New Press, 2013.
Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran: Between Two Revolutions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.