All The Shah’s Men
by Stephen Kinzer
This book tells the story of America’s first coup: overthrowing Mohammed Mossedegh and a struggling democracy and putting into place the autocratic Shah of Iran. The coup has had an undeniable impact on the history of the Middle East and American foreign policy. The book lives up to its subject and provides an engrossing account of the coup and some of its aftermath.
The story of the coup revolves around a British oil company: the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, known today as British Petroleum. The company had full control of Iran’s vast oil reserves and gave little back to the people of Iran. The Iranian workers used for lower level positions were housed in squalid ghettos and paid next to nothing. Little of the profit was paid to the country’s government. Mossedegh’s time in office was consumed with one issue: nationalizing AIOC. The British were bound and determined not to let this happen; they refused any compromise and displayed staggering arrogance and contempt for Iran. Despite this being the story of America’s coup, the fault lays to a large degree at the feet of the British. The Truman administration attempted to bring Mossedegh and Britain to a compromise numerous times, but it was rejected time and time again. The British, in turn, began (fruitlessly) pushing Truman’s administration to help them subvert Mossedegh’s government. During the conflict all British residents of Iran were expelled and aspirations of doing such a thing themselves ended. The Truman administration then left office and Eisenhower was elected. A much more aggressively anti-communist administration than Truman’s, they (particularly the Dulles brothers) signed on to Britain’s plans and carried out the coup.
The story is an interesting and complex one, far more so than the brief summary above. Kinzer makes connections to our current unpopularity in the Middle East, which is undoubtedly correct. Guessing what would have happened if the coup had not been carried out is difficult, but it would certainly be a different world. Would Iran be a stable democracy? Would they be friendly to the U.S.? We’ll never know.