The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment

By David W. Lesch | Go to book overview

3
U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Iran
During the Mussadiq Era

Mark Gasiorowski

Muhammad Mussadiq, who served as the Iranian prime minister from April 1951 until August 1953, is revered by almost all secular democratic Iranians and admired even by many supporters of the regimes of the shah and Ayatollah Khomeini. He ended a long period of British hegemony in Iran by nationalizing the British-controlled oil industry, instilling a strong sense of national pride in most Iranians, and setting the stage for several decades of rapid economic growth fueled by oil revenues. He also tried to democratize Iran's political system by reducing the powers of the shah and the traditional upper class and by mobilizing the urban middle and lower classes. Although he ultimately failed in this latter endeavor, his efforts made him a hero in the eyes of those Iranians who have dreamed of establishing a democratic regime in their country.

At the start of the Mussadiq era the United States had a very positive image in Iran, created by the small group of U.S. teachers, missionaries, archaeologists, and administrators who had ventured there and by the commitment to freedom, democracy, and independence espoused by the U.S. government and most Americans. The United States initially supported Mussadiq, upholding Iran's right to nationalize the oil industry, trying to mediate an agreement with the British, giving Iran a small amount of economic aid, and generally praising Mussadiq and his democratic aspirations. However, U.S. support for Mussadiq gradually declined, and under the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower the United States engineered a coup d'état that drove Mussadiq from office and ended the movement toward democracy he had been leading. The United States thereafter strongly backed the shah, greatly facilitating his efforts to create an authoritarian regime in the decade after the coup. Consequently, the Mussadiq era also marked a period in which the popular image of the United States in Iran began to change from that of benevolent outsider to malevolent supporter of the shah's despotic regime.

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