Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

All The Shah's Men

Sarah is taking a student-run course at Berkeley on the modern history of Iran, which led to some discussions in the living room, which led the Matthew bringing out All the Shaw's Men - An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer, 2003.

Long story short:
During the late 1800s, Iran had the misfortune to get a string of crappy kings who sold the wealth, rights, and resources of Iran to various buyers in England and Russia in order to fund their own opulant lifestyles. Notably in 1901, Muzzaffar al-Din Shah sold to William D'Arcy the exclusive right for sixty years to Iran's natural gas and petroleum. Oil had not at that point actually been found in Iran, but lots of it was found in 1908, which prompted the formation of the Anglo-Persion Oil Company. (Later named the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, later named British Petroleum.) In 1919, the British imposed the Anglo-Persian Agreement, under which "the British assumed control over Iran's army, treasury, transport system, and communications network." Let's read that again shall we. In 1919, the British imposed the Anglo-Persian Agreement, under which "the British assumed control over Iran's army, treasury, transport system, and communications network."
Fast forward past a series of puppet prime ministers and de facto puppet shahs to 1951, when Mohammad Mossadegh was unexpectedly elected prime minister of Iran and soon thereafter nationalized the oil industry. Not without reason. The Brits were taking all the oil, only kicking back like 10% of the cash, not letting Iranians see the books, running a deplorable shanty town, and generally being pricks. Obviously the Brtis were upset by the nationalization of their free oil, and a world crisis ensued.
The Truman administration seems to have legitimately done everything in its power to negotiate a solution to the crisis. The Brits mostly wanted to invade, but the USA wasn't having it. However Truman didn't run again, and Eisenhower came in. Meanwhile, this is the Cold War and there's lots of worry that since it can't run the refineries w/o British skill, Iran will be forced to seek support from the Soviet Union, which recall also purchased large portions of Iran's other resources back in the early 1900s, and the Soviets will then take over Iran and get all the oil and another communist satelite to boot. Whether the USSR actually had any schemes along these lines is still an open question, but they certainly could have. So. England and Churchill put the fear of the Reds into Eisenhower and basically convince the CIA (nee Office of Stategic Services) to stage a coup and overthrow Mossadegh. England can't do it itself because all British diplomats and therefore agents have been expelled.
America implements the coup by using a well-established (by the Brits) network of paid ruffians to stage protests against Mossadegh, which Mossadegh refused to crack down on until it was too late, and of course by bribing a coalition of politicians.
The coup was a near-failure, being actually discovered and thwarted the night it was happening, but thanks to the perseverence of the CIA operatives, they tried again the next day and succeeded. The Shah officially approved the coup, altho he fled the country as soon as it seemed to fail, but he was restored to Shah-dome afterwards. Naturally, Britain and the US were given substantial interest in Iranian oil.

The book's title is a misnomer, becuase the Shah is portrayed as having almost nothing to do with the action, and least of all with instigating the coup. The Brits and the CIA nearly had to threaten him to approve it, in fact.

By and large an extremely fascinating book, and pretty well written too.

Up Next!

Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, aka "A Report on the Banality of Evil", which covers the 1961/1962 trial of the high-ranking Nazi official Adolph Eichmann.

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, a graphic novel about growing up as girl in Iran during the perdiod just following that covered by All The Shah's Men, specifically w/r/t the Islamic revolution which overthrew the Shah in 1979.

This is My Best, an anthology of short stories by selected authors, chosen by the authors themselves as "their best" work.


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