I’m back from down south in Oaxaca, and I’ve got the cut-down of the show that Rob Morris and I did, along with my buddy Ernie Piper, about a month ago. I met Ernie during a very brief stint in Istanbul, and since then he’s been all over the Near East and Eastern Europe, writing a couple of books and doing whatever else it took to stay about financial water far from home.
The three of us got together to talk about oil prices — that it looks like they might never go back up — and what they’ll mean for the world, and especially petro states, and we sail further into the 21st century.
Diminished US Power—A Conversation with Rob Morris Safe For Democracy
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I’m getting back on track after my internet outage, and as promised, here’s a make-up of a sort for those last couple of weeks. This is the show that Rob and I recorded back in December, and which went up earlier this week as the December news show on Patreon.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is going to be the second-to-last news show, since I’ve got to just buckle down on the four or five plates I’ve got spinning already. The Patreon site will keep trucking, hopefully with some support, but from here on out, the only exclusive content will be whatever I can cook up that doesn’t fit into the normal podcast, rather than a regular thing.
This one’s number twelve, and while we’re not done with Iran yet, number thirteen, Iran VIII and the very last Iran show, come hell or high water, is gonna be here in three weeks or less.
I get into it a bit in the show, but time’s going to be tight over the next ten months or so, and how much I spend with which thing I do is going to depend in part on what I’m getting paid to do each. That sounds pretty mercenary, and it is, but that’s the way things are shaking out right now—law school’s a lock for next August and it looks like I’m going to be taking on a part-time writing job, on top of this thing and the freelancing.
In any case, if you’re on Patreon, I can’t ask you to do more. And if you haven’t got a spare $5 a month, I’m in that boat too, and I get it. But Patreon grows when the audience grows, and everybody but everybody can help out with that. Twitter. Facebook. Tumblr (I don’t really use Tumblr). Rate the show: iTunes, Pocket Casts, Stitcher.
We’re talking this time about the revolution in earnest, the revolution in power, the period of jostling and consolidation that would see the debate over and the formation of the new Iranian state.
The Shah rang in the decade with a poorly-dated extravaganza attended by most of the ‘Free World’ heads of state, catered by Maxime’s of Paris and funded to the tune of anywhere from $17 to $200 million in 1970s dollars.
The party was supposed to mark, for the Shah, his assumption, finally, of full control, and of an authority equal to his father’s, and, presumably, the ancient kings of kings.
The party was, unfortunately for the Shah, also an indication of his total disconnect with his people. And to them, another example of the Iranian monarch’s profligate spending of what could, or might, have been the people’s share of Iranian petrodollars.
The knock-on effects of the Shah’s White Revolution, combined with distaste for American conduct, culture, and imposition, were beginning to create pervasive discontent with the Shah’s regime, both inside Iran and among its emigres in Europe and the United States. That Mohammad Reza Pahlavi failed to catch wind of that dissent was no surprise, as his brutal secret police, the Organization of Intelligence and National Security, or SAVAK, had been disappearing and torturing everyone who crossed the political line in the country, even in private, since the late 1950s.
Set up with the help of the CIA and Mossad, SAVAK operated first with the help of the American General Herbert Norman Schwartzkopf, the father of the General Schwartzkopf you know from Desert Storm. Once the General died in 1958, a team of CIA advisers took over his role with SAVAK, which effectively repressed nearly all political expression in Iran and did its best to silence the expatriate communities overseas as well.
But this man, in exile in Najaf, was waiting in the wings. And it would only be a matter of time before the grand edifice the Shah had built would come tumbling down.
And last but never least, references.
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.
Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 January 1975: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/001/1975/en/
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).
Part of what I want to get at in this blog and in the cast is why we as a country, culture, people do what we do abroad. Why and how we can continue seeding these disasters overseas. Part of the answer, unavoidably, is that we don’t see foreigners as people, not in the most important sense. Trying to overcome that barrier to human feeling was part of the post I wrote on Looking at History from the Outside.
Another element, I think, is optimism. Historical optimism. I don’t know exactly when the US as a country acquired that outlook, whether it came to us at some point or whether it was baked in from the beginning, but it’s thoroughly ours. One of the many definitions of the American Dream is providing better for your kids than your parents did for you. America, especially once we’d left the gold standard and gotten into Breton Woods, had a hand in creating a global economic system whose goal is year-over-year growth, forever. There’s a philosophy behind both those ideas and many other aspects of American life, which is that things are getting better, in the long run.