Washington’s current foreign policy in the Middle East has largely hatched a string of failures. It seems to have amassed all the downsides of being a global hegemony. It is within this line of thought that the involvement in Iran must be analysed. In a famous Cairo speech in 2009 president Barack Obama acknowledged the role which US played in the 1953 coup. It is important to note that the history of the coup might be public but is not well founded. The most common narrative is that CIA plot was chiefly responsible for toppling Mosaddeq and spoiled the brief democratic moment in the history of Iran. This is also a narrative which gives ammunition to the clerics, right-wingers and certainly fuels the thriving anti-American sentiments across the Middle East. Pundits and some historians alike have injected this narrative into political discourse. United States has been at times unfairly blamed for some of the world problems for having a hand in them and also took or have been awarded credit for the good things which had little involvement or nothing to do with United States.
It is the intent of this article to argue that in reality, the CIA’s impact in 1953 was somewhat marginal. Regardless of whether United States was involved or not Mosaddeq was bound to fall after he adamantly refused all the concessions made to him by the British and went too far with ideological defence of nationalization at the expense of the people’s welfare. While I am not a big fan of United States’ slippery foreign policy it is important to put things into perspective. What happened in 1953 still affects the relationship between Washington and Tehran and that has repercussions for the region. Tehran is committed to be a regional hegemony and could help with strategic balancing and ensure mutual dissatisfaction in the middle east. To accomplish this, there is need for engagement with Washington these relations have been strained by such events like 1953 coup. It is because of this that it is more than a matter of correcting narratives, this would help United States develop a more strategic and carryout a less self-defeating foreign policy in the Middle East.
As correctly put by IR scholar Stephen Walt, pundits and mainstream journalists always find possible heavy links of US involvement but the world “links” does lot of heavy lifting and save interests especially when politicians want to make conflicts and threats loom larger than what they are supposed to be. This has certainly been the case in the narrative on what really happened in Iran. There is no doubt that oil is a leading cause of war. Many of the interstate wars and conflicts since 1973 can be all linked to oil. The need to control oil and trade and production as a motivating factor to US involvement in 1953 coup has been exaggerated. The influence of oil and other resource wars on international politics is often poorly understood. In US debates on the involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran focused excessively on the question of whether the United States was engaging in order to protect the oil reserves and trade routes. There is reasonable justification for such arguments but this argument did not seek a broader understanding of how the need to control and have the ownership of the resources by Mosaddeq regime shaped the preconditions of his own downfall.
There are many reasons and historiographies on why the United States was involved in the overthrow of Musadiq. This article has already conceded that CIA played a very marginal role in the coup but nonetheless it is important to address those minimal reasons which got Washington involved. It is beyond the scope of this article to exhaust all the reasons why Washington was involved rather the emphasis will be on strategic considerations, Soviet threat and economic interests. The economic argument as a driving factor in the foreign policy can be described by the responses to oil nationalization. There were similarities between the US and British policies even though the Americans were not as assertive in their approach like the British. James Bill makes an argument that in the economic realm “There is little doubt that America and Britain shared the same overall goals in Iran in the 19440s. They were both interested in having a significant share of oil production. In this framing US involvement might have been influenced by economic factors. In exchange for American support the British would reluctantly permit US companies to have more stake in Iranian oil. The counter argument to this narrative is that economic interests’ argument is not entirely historical perspective. The revision of Anglo Iranian Oil Corporation agreement was agreed to after the coup and addressed most of Musadiq demands but did not concede at his own peril.
Arguments have been made that potential Soviet threat was a decisive factor behind American involvement in the coup. The US policy towards Iran must be viewed as the manifestation of the change in Washington global strategy to contain the Soviet Union. As Mark Gasiorowski recounts “Whereas U.S policymakers were “pursuing a strategy of “strongpoint defence” in their efforts to contain Soviet expansionism “during the late 1940s, the adoption of NCS-68 US strategy shifted to containing Soviet Union everywhere. The considerations for an immediate Soviet threat takeover through Tudeh party might have pushed the Americans to be involved. However, the growing strength of Tudeh was very much exaggerated. Tudeh was not a serious threat to Musadiq it was severely compromised by its connection to the Soviet Union in Iran with nationalist sentiments at their peak. With these shortcoming the threat of Soviet take through Tudeh is not a convincing precursor for Americans to be involved.
After the second world war Iran was plagued with famine and poverty as the result of the war hence the need to nationalizes and take ownership of the resources. It was a devastated country but also wealthy with oil which fuelled the British throughout the war. This need to take control of resources brought together liberal reformers, middle class and some clerical elements into a coherent political movement led by an upper class lawyer Musadiq. What united this movement was a common oppression not unitary or agreement in political ideologies. This explains why it was easy for the coalition to crumble and led to the fall of Musadiq. Westminster as a declining colonial responded to the nationalization with fury and imposed the embargo on Tehran. The embargo was somewhat effective bringing the Abadan refinery to a halt. President Harry Truman was not opposed to nationalization since it violated no international law. Washington did not side with her ally which demonstrated that indeed president was concerned about Iran’s autonomy and national interests. He dispatched a group of negotiators to Iran to talk with the British to mitigate some of the demands and for the Iranians to provide some compensation. United States played the role of an honest broker though with ulterior motives. Musadiq seemed to think that no economic price was too high to protect Iran’s national pride and autonomy. The embargo deprived Iran of its vital revenue Musadiq after the British standoff had allowed the economy to take a further nosedive. This resulted in rising dissent, the nationalization cause was very popular but the public and important elements in the parliament were frustrated with the prime minister. He responded to these criticisms with dubious constitutional referendums and taking special control of the armed forces. All these problems sufficiently explain why the fall Musadiq was imminent. There is a strong argument that even way before the Americans came up with their plots the prime minister had already alienated his own people, lost control and paved his own way out of power.
Indeed, president Eisenhower approved the CIA and MI6 operations but the truth of the matter is that Musadiq was already on his way out. The Western intelligence organizations utilized fertile grounds for their misguided machinations. Overthrowing Musadiq with this plan was like beating a dead donkey since he was already seriously compromised what was left was for the Shah to denounce him. Arguments have been made that Musadiq was a victim of CIA machinations. It is very true he was a victim but only a victim of himself, by refusing to concede to some of the agreements at the expense of the economy he destroyed his legacy and necessitated his own downfall. In his orientalist and self-aggrandising book “Countercoup: The Struggle for the control of Iran” Roosevelt made it seem as if the Americans were in control of what was happening on the ground and he himself manipulated the Iranians as if they were not aware of their daily economic struggles and poverty. Contrary to this account William Dorman and Mansour Farhang argued that the Eisenhower administration was hardly in control and was in fact surprised by the way events played out in Iran. This plays down the overestimation of the role which the CIA played. Another important point to make is that the Shah was still quite popular, young and respected the limits of his powers. During this time, he was not as bad as he turned to be in the 1970s.
Whether the United States was heavily involved or not it still remains a matter of academic and public debate. However, the implications of these events still affect the relationship between Washington and Tehran, acknowledging the role which U.S played is very important but that must not be politicized and considered through skewed media perspectives. As argued earlier above United States has been blamed too much on some world conflicts and have taken credit where it didn’t deserve to. Given these circumstances it is important to challenge the common narrative on what actually happened in Iran. The conclusion here is that Musadiq was bound to fall with or without the American involvement. His adamant approach costed Iranians an entire economy and sowed seeds of discord which he failed to deal with.