Well, we finally made it. I thought I’d blow from the ancient Persian Empire straight through to the plot of Persepolis in one episode, but just like with Guatemala, things got away from me. This time, though, we’re getting to the coup in August 1953 and looking forward to its consequences as they echo down through Iranian history to the present.
Alright, let’s take a look at some faces. Here we’ve got the Eisenhower crew dead-set on destroying Iranian democracy:
John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower.
Allen Dulles, JF’s younger brother and head of the CIA.
And Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, who’d been head of the CIA under Truman and became Undersecretary of State under Eisenhower. He used his later role in the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala to get a well-paid spot on the board of directors of the United Fruit Company.
And here’s Kermit Roosevelt, the American spy in Tehran who put the whole thing together, and without whom the whole thing would have fallen apart after the first failed attempt.
“Beetle” Smith was a slimeball and the Dulles brothers, however much they might have been ostensibly protecting “democracy” against “communism,” seem to have slipped pretty quickly into the ‘power corrupts’ camp.
Roosevelt, though, I don’t know. He was definitely the lynchpin of the coup, but he wasn’t an ideologue, and the excitement he recorded as he passed into Iran was understandable. He wasn’t the cynical CIA man here to put down a fledgling democracy, but the newest patriot of the Roosevelt family, convinced that he was fighting the good fight. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but whereas in the aftermath of AJAX the Dulles brothers were already looking hungrily towards Guatemala, Kermit turned down the opportunity to run that operation and later went on record condemning pretty much every attempt the CIA made to replicate its ‘success’ in Iran.
And here’s some impartial British coverage of events:
Here we are at Episode 7. Like I say in the cast, I thought we’d get farther down the road with this one, but podcasts are long and history’s longer, and we’ll have to wait until Episode 8 to get all the way to the coup. In the meanwhile, though, we’ve got the rise of Mohammad Mossadegh, struggles over nationalization, the battle between the Anglo Iranian and the National Iranian, and a trip to the World Court in the Hague.
Next time around, we’ll hit Operation AJAX and Kermit Roosevelt and all the rest, but for now sit tight and enjoy.
Some principal players now. Mossadegh himself’s up there at the top. His Time cover for Man of the Year is even less complimentary (and has a terrible pun to boot).
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.