Academic journal article
By Abrahamian, Ervand
The Middle East Journal , Vol. 57, No. 3
All the Shah's Men: The Hidden Story of the CIA Coup in Iran, by Stephen Kinzer. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003. xiv + 228 pages. Notes to p. 243. Bibl. to p. 249. Index to p. 258. $24.95.
Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, ed. by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcom Byrne. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, forthcoming, n.p.
Hayden White, in his classic Metahistory, argues that historical narratives tend to follow one of four basic structures - that of Tragedy, Comedy, Satire, or Romance. If White had taken more interest in American foreign policy, he would have been tempted to add to either Tragedy or Irony the subcategory Benign Intent. Much American writing on US foreign policy begins with the premise that American decision-makers have noble intentions even though the consequences of their actions may not always be so noble. Even if US intervention sometimes paves the way to dictatorship, death squads, mass killings, or (as now in Iraq) a Hobbesian nightmare, these "unforseen and unfortunate occurences" should be severed from the ideals that initially generated that policy - ideals such as Manifest Destiny, spreading civilization (especially Christianity), defending democracy, or, in more recent decades, protecting rthe world from the evils of communism and international terrorism. Other states might be Machiavellian and malevolent, but the United States is altruistic, idealistic, and benevolent.
The two books under review share this underlying theme of benign intent. All the Shah's Men, written by Stephen Kinzer veteran New York Times reporter and author of the well-known Bitter Fruit: The Story of the Coup in Guatemala - is a highly readable story of the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq that ends with an indictment of the ensuing "dictatorship" and with an epilogue which recounts, touchingly, the author's visit to Mossadeq's home and the reminiscences of local villagers. Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran is a collection of conference papers delivered at St. Antony's College, Oxford. Dedicated to "Iranians who have struggled for independence and democracy," the volume is co-edited by Marc Gasiorowski, who years ago established himself as a leading authority on the subject; and by Malcom Byrne, who, as a Deputy Director of the Na-tional Security Archive, has taken on the frustrating task of persuading the US government to declassify documents, including those on the 1953 coup.
In addition to co-editing this volume, Gasiorowski has contributed an article on the coup itself and Byrne a separate one on US policy towards Iran from 1945 to 1953. The volume also contains articles by Homa Katouzian on the problems of democracy in Iran; Fakhreddin Azimi on the internal opposition of Mosaddeq; Maziar Behrooz on the Tudeh Party; William Roger Louis on Britain's role in the coup; and Mary Heiss on how the oil companies mustered a successful international boycott against Iran. All of the articles are meticulously researched and thick with detail. Moreover, many of them, as well as Kinzer's book, use interviews to supplement the available written sources. One could well say that these two books give readers all the details they would ever want to know about the 1953 coup, and more. This is a refreshing contrast to earlier generations of Anglo-American historians, whose treatment of the subject of US involvement in the 1953 coup was silence, denial, or blame of the Shah and Iran (not the United States) for the fact that the coup had not produced a better outcome.
While these two books share the new liberal consensus that the coup was a tragic disaster for Iran as well as for US-Iran relations, they nevertheless conform, on the whole, to the dominant theme of benign intent. They place the crisis squarely in the context of the Cold War, emphasizing that the overwhelming reason for US involvement was fear of, and the desire to save Iran and the Middle East as a whole from international communism. …