During the Cold War, the USA authorities implemented policies that are highly debatable nowadays. Some historians consider them to be imprudent and note their negative global consequences. At the time, the US and Great Britain pursued policies against a democratic government in Iran. The outcome of their actions not only undermined the US reputation but also influenced Iranian history and provoked considerable changes in its political state of affairs. This essay will review the 1953 coup d’état in Iran and consider the US involvement in the overthrow. It will also discuss the impact of the events on the further development of the situation in the Middle East and regard the attitude change towards the Western countries.
At first, the USA did not intend to support Britain in its plan to launch a coup in Iran. When the British sought help from America, President Truman expressed reluctance to support this plan as he opposed imperialist ideas. Moreover, Kinzer explains that the CIA had never overthrown a government, and Truman did not wish to set a precedent. However, the new American president, Dwight Eisenhower, who replaced Truman in November, had another opinion on the subject. The UK decided to persuade the new leader that the Iranian government must be toppled and, according to Kinzer, emphasized Communist threat to Iran rather than the need to recover control of the oil industry. This argument became one of the reasons why the American government agreed to participate in the overthrow. Kinzer describes that Iran had immense oil wealth, a long border with the Soviet Union, an active Communist party, and a nationalist prime minister. The possibility of the establishment of the communist regime terrified both the UK and the US. That is why, when Britain proposed to topple the current government in Iran and promote a pro-Western prime minister, America backed the idea.
As a result of American policies, the democratic regime of Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in favor of the monarchial rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1953. Islamic Fundamentalists tend to describe US interference with Iranian politics as a manifestation of Western imperialism. Petras asserts that America made several interventions, and the Iranian one was also connected with specific economic interests. British authorities aimed to hinder Iran from the nationalization of oil and keep control over it. Mossadegh posed a threat to the British monopoly on Iranian oil as he tried to liberate Iran from exploitation by a foreign power. To achieve their goal, imperialist countries put economic pressure on Iran by imposing sanctions.
These policies towards Iran seem to serve imperialist goals, such as to extend the power and gain control of peoples and territories. Kinzer writes that American authorities viewed any country not decisively allied with the United States as a potential enemy, which was part of the great East-West confrontation. This position may also reflect imperialist goals and principles as it represents the US aspiration to take a dominant place in the world. The result of the coup was the establishment of a pro-Western government in Iran and the reinforcement of the American strategic and geographic control over the Middle East countries.
The Western intervention in Iranian internal affairs is considered one of the reasons for the Iranian Revolution, which took place in 1979. The coup provoked strong opposition in the Middle East countries that aimed to liberate their people from the Shah’s rule and regain freedom. The Shah persecuted members of the opposition and sentenced Mosaddegh to a lifelong house arrest. Kinzer states that the US toppled the Iranian government, which was the only democratic one in the country’s history. I believe that Kinzer’s arguments concerning this aspect of the events are reasonable and warranted by the historical evidence.
For a long time, Iran had been moving towards full democracy, and Anglo-American intervention derailed all efforts. If the West had not meddled in the country’s internal affairs, Middle East countries might have another regime now, and Iran could have become the first state with a democratic government in the region. All in all, the coup has exerted a negative impact on the development of democracy in Iran.
The events changed Middle Easterners’ attitudes towards America and the West in general. Kinzer writes that before the coup, the United States was still new to Iran, and its citizens treated Americans as friends, supporters of the fragile democracy. At the time, Iranians thought positively about Americans, and their anger was directed at Britain. Kinzer notes that the Iranian people treated the British as the colonialist oppressor that exploited them. For many years the UK had a monopoly on Iranian oil getting enormous profit from it while Iranians suffered from poverty.
By overthrowing the Iranian democratic government, the USA not only changed the course of history in the whole world but also undermined its authority and alienated Middle Easterners. They began to treat Americans as enemies who interfered with their politics and disrupted the peace in the country. In my opinion, Kinzer’s arguments about the change of the perception of the West by the Middle East people are justified and true. It seems that his point of view is supported by other historians. Moreover, Kinzer underpins his statements with factual evidence from world history.
Democracy was one of the main goals that Iranian people had been achieving throughout their history, and Western countries ruined everything in several days. This led to a violent denunciation of imperialism and a hostile attitude towards the West. The coup followed the Islamic Revolution, which brought to the government that pursued the policy against the United States. Hence, the plan that seemed to be successfully turned out to be a failure for America as its allies.
In conclusion, the Anglo-American actions in Iran are still a controversial issue. The 1953 coup, which resulted in the overthrow of a democratic government, had a negative influence not only on the Middle East countries but also affected the West. The events led to the Islamic Revolution and the change in the Iranians’ attitude towards the Western countries. Cordial relations with the US turned into long-standing hostility and confrontation.
Moreover, America itself suffered from the results of the coup as the new government carried out a policy against it. Many historians view American involvement in the overthrow as a continuation of Western imperialism because it served imperialist interests and goals, such as the extension of the economic and political influence over other countries. I believe that these events should serve as a lesson to all countries, which could help to prevent similar situations in the future.
Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
Petras, James. US Imperialism: The Changing Dynamics of Global Power. New York: Routledge, 2019.