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OIL AND COUPS (PART II)

June 30, 2014

OIL AND COUPS (PART II)
America was falsely told the 1953 coup in Iran occurred as “a popular uprising to reinstate Shah Reza.” Cold War warriors (Eisenhower’s Dulles Brothers, with the aid of McCarthyism at the time) broke out the usual threat of communist takeover from the Soviets, one of Iran’s then contiguous neighbors. We later learned that we had been propagandized from without and within with our government’s admission that the coup was indeed M-16 and CIA-led, though even today many of such records of this odious intervention in the sovereign affairs of another state remain classified or are said to have been lost. Yeah, right. The lying hasn’t stopped.
Let’s be honest: The 1953 coup was not a popular uprising and it was not about “the threat of communism.” It was about oil. How dare a government in Iran or elsewhere have any say in extraction of its national resources! Don’t these people know their place in the colonial scheme? Time for a coup!
Our background for the coups starts with BP, successor to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and better known today for its recent Gulf oil spill and blown-up refineries in Texas (in an exercise of cost-cutting v. safety – cost cutting won). British explorers found oil in significant quantities in Iran in 1908, and gathered “concessions” from one shah after another up until 1951. The shahs were, of course, paid off and ordinary Iranians stiffed in the process.
The shahs decided who would serve in the Iranian parliament and in the absence of democratic reform were little short of dictators. Along comes a reformist prime minister named Mohammad Mossadegh, a Western-educated individual who held doctors of law degrees, and managed to persuade the restive parliament to nationalize the oil industry in 1951. They were rightly tired of watching tankers full of oil leave their shores with the approval of monarchial shahs on the take. Unlike 1979, mullahs were not directly involved, but along with rented mobs, they were also bribed by the CIA to take to the streets.
There was a short window of opportunity under Mossadegh when Iran might well have turned into a democracy for the some two years between the nationalization of the oil companies and the coup that reinstated the shah and his cozy arrangement with BP, but big oil (which by now included the American oil company Aramco as a party in interest – a party which had managed to secure a concession with the Saudis in neighboring Saudi Arabia with a 50-50 deal in 1950 – the best in the Middle East) had other ideas, which one would expect when big oil is asked to choose between profit margins and democracy (as we have seen repeatedly in other contexts). British and American oil companies effectively boycotted purchase of Iranian oil (like buying one day’s production of Iranian oil per year during the interim between nationalization and coup) in order to put the heat on the democratic-minded Mossadegh and set the stage for the coup which removed him from power and sent him to the jailhouse for the rest of his life. (It is clear to me in retrospect that the wrong people were sent to the jailhouse.)
This failed opportunity to bring democracy to Iran because of big oil greed and its influence on the governments of Britain and the United States to do by coup what big oil could not and would not do via negotiation with Iran has a short history of its own, and in a nutshell, goes like this: Mossadegh was a secularist and beloved by the Iranian populace. Shah Reza was largely persona non grata in Tehran. Mossadegh broke off relations with the shah in the spring of 1953, just before the coup. The shah was a non-entity in all events in his role as monarch; he spent his two years after nationalization of the oil companies before his reinstatement to power playing cards and reading detective stories, oblivious to the wants and needs of ordinary Iranians. He, unsurprisingly, went along with the coup and its aims. It returned him to power – and his BP conduit to Swiss banks – while his people watched the tankers come and go. Then came 1979. . .
Mossadegh was not entirely blameless in this series of events. As a democratically-minded prime minister, he lost substantial American support when he allowed the Tudeh (a communist movement) to participate in the Iranian political process, knowing that Americans were obsessed with the “communist threat.” Some say he took this risk of losing American support in order to show his commitment to democracy, to demonstrate that he was indispensible and that the alternative to his government was a communist takeover (or so he pretended). His indulgence of the Tudeh amounted to a dangerous and ultimately disastrous strategy designed to disrupt cooperation between Britain and the United States. It instead backfired; it brought Britain and the United States together, as proved by their collaboration in their later joint spook effort which resulted in Mossadegh’s removal from power and a trip to the jailhouse (which he never left). We can never know, of course, since alternative history is full of slippery slopes, but it is conceivable that if BP had made a deal with Mossadegh’s government in 1951, or if American foreign policy had not been a one-dimensional exercise in “dealing with the communist threat,” the world today would look like a different place. I will discuss further political positions and postures and provide commentary on them in Part III. Stay tuned. GERALD E

 

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