Origins of the Cold War: An International History

By Melvyn P. Leffler; David S. Painter | Go to book overview

12

THE IRANIAN CRISIS OF 1946 AND THE ONSET OF THE COLD WAR

Stephen L. McFarland

Most histories of the Cold War attribute great significance to the Iranian crisis of 1946. In standard accounts of this crisis, the Soviet Union is portrayed as the predator, intervening in Iran’s internal affairs, encouraging separatist movements, demanding oil concessions, and seeking to grab a chunk of Iranian territory. In revisionist accounts, the United States is portrayed as a shrewd and self-interested actor, plotting to gain some leverage over Iranian oil, previously controlled by the British, or, at the very least, scheming to protect the rest of the Middle East’s petroleum from the outstretched claws of the Russian bear.

The following excerpt by Stephen McFarland offers an entirely new way to look at this crisis. He does not deny that the United States and the Soviet Union were acting in their respective self-interest. But he shows that the Iranians were important players in the crisis, that they saw themselves threatened by traditional British and Russian rivalries in the region, and that they maneuvered to bring in the Americans as a buffer against their traditional enemies. Moreover, he shows that Iranians were divided, that different regions, ethnic groups, classes, and factions identified their interests with different external powers. Each tried to garner foreign allies in their quest for domestic power and wealth. Out of this complex interplay of domestic and international politics emerged an enduring alliance between the Shah of Iran and the United States, an alliance that would have ominous implications during the 1970s.

Like some of the recent writing on the Cold War, this article shifts the focus of analysis away from Washington and Moscow. Third World nations and peoples were not simply pawns in the great game of power politics, but were often important actors. Indeed their actions may have

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