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Entries in Mohammad Mossadegh (2)


Rewriting Iran's History: The 1953 Coup, the CIA, the Clerics, and "Democracy" (Emery)

On Wednesday, The Washington Post published a re-presentation of the 19 August 1953 coup in Iran by Ray Takeyh, fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and former State Department Official, "Clerics Responsible for Iran's Failed Attempts at Democracy". (The opening paragraphs of the article are at the bottom of this entry.)

Much has been written about the US involvement, notably through the Central Intelligence Agency in the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and the support for renewed power of the Shah, but Takeyh writes, "The CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential. The institution most responsible for aborting Iran's democratic interlude was the clerical estate, and the Islamic Republic should not be able to whitewash the clerics' culpability."

Iran Cartoon of the Day: 1953 Speaks to 2010

EA's Chris Emery, a specialist on US-Iran relations, is not so sure that Takeyh's revision is accurate. Indeed, he is not even convinced that the primary aim is historical accuracy:

1. This opinion piece seems needlessly insensitive at a time when many ordinary Iranians would take heart from a note of contrition from US-based observers --- which is reasonable, even according to the version of events presented by Takeyh. In timing and in tone, this is an extremely provocative (but not intellectually rigourous) attempt to re-frame a genuine area for historical debate. I would expect it from a professional polemicist, but not one with an academic pedigree. It reads like scholarly sabre rattling, which in my mind compliments much of the other kind we have seen recently.

2. Are ordinary Americans being told they shouldn't apologise for trying to remove democratically elected leaders as long as their removal is reliant on other factors as well? Is intent irrelevant?

3. Is Takeyh consciously trying to establish a wider historical context for the belief that Iran's suffering is entirely self-inflicted by the "Mullahs"? Clearly this will resonate well with many opposed to engagement between the US and Iran.

4. Considering the provocative headline, would it not have been better to devote more space to actually proving the allegation? Takeyh does not even direct the reader to recent scholarship that might support his conclusion. Instead we get precisely one sentence outlining how "the clerics" ousted Mossadegh: "Through their connections with the bazaar and their ability to galvanize the populace, they were instrumental in orchestrating the demonstrations that engulfed Tehran." He then seems to suggest that further proof lies in the hyperbole of Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA officer overseeing US covert operations, written more than 25 years after the events.

In other words Takeyh cannot find a US source acknowledging the pivotal role supposedly played by the clergy. He does not even acknowledge that the CIA possibly bribed Ayatollah Kashani, the former Speaker of the Majlis, with a large sum of money.

5. The final sentence of the piece --- "Responsibility for the suffocation of the Iranian peoples' democratic aspirations in the summer of 1953 lies primarily with those who went on to squash another democratic movement in the summer of 2009: the mullahs" --- is deliberately disingenuous, suggesting a link between the clerical elite then and now that Takeyh knows is false or at least far more complex (politically, doctrinally, and historically) than presented here.

Has Takeyh really failed to notice "mullahs" such as Mohammad Khatami, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, Grand Ayatollah Sane'i, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, and Ayatollah Dastgheib who have protested the suppression of rights and denial of justice since June 2009?

Clerics Responsible for Iran's Failed Attempts at Democracy
Ray Takeyh

Thursday marks the anniversary of one of the most mythologized events in history, the 1953 coup in Iran that ousted Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq. CIA complicity in that event has long provoked apologies from American politicians and denunciations from the theocratic regime. The problem with the prevailing narrative? The CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential. The institution most responsible for aborting Iran's democratic interlude was the clerical estate, and the Islamic Republic should not be able to whitewash the clerics' culpability.

The dramatic tale of malevolent Americans plotting a coup against Mossadeq, the famed Operation Ajax, has been breathlessly told so much that it has become a verity. To be fair, the cast of characters is bewildering: Kermit Roosevelt, the scion of America's foremost political family, paying thugs to agitate against the hapless Mossadeq; American operatives shoring up an indecisive monarch to return from exile and reclaim his throne; Communist firebrands and nationalist agitators participating in demonstrations financed by the United States. As Iran veered from crisis to crisis, the story goes, Roosevelt pressed a reluctant officer corps to end Mossadeq's brief but momentous democratic tenure.

Yet this fable conceals much about the actual course of events. In 1953 Iran was in the midst of an economic crisis. An oil embargo had been imposed after Tehran nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., and by that summer, the situation had fractured Mossadeq's ruling coalition. Middle-class Iranians concerned about their finances gradually began to abandon Mossadeq. The merchant class was similarly anguished about the financial consequences of Mossadeq's stubborn unwillingness to resolve the stalemate with the British. The intelligentsia and the professional classes were wary of the prime minister's increasingly autocratic tendencies. Rumors of military coups began circulating as members of the armed forces grew vocal in their frustrations with the prime minister and began participating in political intrigues.

Not just the stars but an array of Iranian society was aligning against Mossadeq.

Now, the CIA was indeed actively seeking to topple Mossadeq. It had made contact that spring with the perennially indecisive shah and Iranian officers, including Gen. Fazollah Zahedi, an opportunistic officer who sought the premiership himself. Roosevelt had laid out a plan in which the shah would issue a monarchical decree dismissing Mossadeq; it was to be served to him on Aug. 15. But the commander who was to deliver the message was arrested, and the plot quickly unraveled.

This is where the story takes a twist. As word of the attempted coup spread, the shah fled Iran and Zahedi went into hiding. Amazingly, U.S. records declassified over the past decade indicate, the United States had no backup plan. Washington was largely prepared to concede. State Department and CIA cables acknowledge the collapse of their subversive efforts.

But while crestfallen Americans may have been prepared to forfeit their mission, the Iranian armed forces and the clergy went on to unseat Mossadeq....

Read rest of article....

Iran Cartoon of the Day: 1953 Speaks to 2010 

Nikohang Kowsar's cartoon, published in Rooz Online, links the 19 August 1953 coup that overthrew the Government of Mohammad Mossadegh to today's events in Iran: "Mosadegh to Mir Hossein Mousavi: Don't Let the Coup Gang Knock You Down"