Among the little gang of revisionists espousing the outlandish Coup-denial vagary, one foreign policy analyst has emerged as the movement’s determined poster boy.
In three separate articles in 2010, 2013, and 2014, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh has assailed the popular rendition of the 1953 coup in Iran with nary an ounce of subtlety or nuance, dismissing the internationally verified, richly-documented event as a “fable” and “one of the most mythologized events in history.” In particular, he argues, Islamic clerics were the “most responsible” party involved. And the CIA?—“largely inconsequential”.
He’s assembled little more than a patchwork of fancified anecdotes and loose innuendo, interlaced with false dichotomies, conjecture and flagrant obscurantism, impudently masquerading as serious scholarship.
Let’s begin with outlining what exactly Takeyh is purporting to demonstrate. The coup is a myth, he tells us, because the initial phase on August 15-16, 1953 failed, and that it was Iranians who salvaged the operation while befuddled officials back in Washington panicked.
For added plausibility, Takeyh emphasizes two twin developments: the eroding popularity of Premier Mohammad Mossadegh (a “populist demagogue” with a dictatorial penchant) and the sanctity of the institution of the monarchy, as embodied by the Shah (a beloved figure who acted constitutionally and appropriately throughout the entire drama).
Indeed, Takeyh is so replete with certainty of his position that he issues this remarkable edict:
“Regardless of anything the United States did or did not do, Mosaddeq was bound to fall and the shah was bound to retain his throne and expand his power.” [FA]
For affirmation, Takeyh provides discriminately plucked excerpts from CIA and State Department files with their analysis of the Shah’s solid standing in Iran and mounting dissatisfaction with Mossadegh. He also quotes U.S. officials reacting to the first foiled coup attempt, dazed and virtually resigned to defeat.
With his keen powers of prophecy, Takeyh even proclaims that practically the entire course of modern Iranian history was predestined:
“It is often suggested that the events of 1953 made the 1979 Islamic Revolution inevitable. This is another mythological narrative with little relationship to the facts.” [WS]
A far more credible voice—with a front row seat to the entire drama—thought otherwise. William E. Warne, director of the U.S. Point Four assistance program in Iran from 1951-1955, who knew the Shah, Mossadegh, and Zahedi extremely well, stated in 1988:
“If we had supported Mossadegh in anything like the degree that we supported Zahedi, he would have succeeded and we would never have had Khomeini.”
Truman Library Oral History Interview, May 21, 1988 (by Niel M. Johnson)
The former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who worked at the American Consulate in Iran in 1972, later dubbed “America’s Lawrence of Arabia” by Pres. George W. Bush, also refutes this argument:
“We’ve tried regime change once in Iran, as you know, with Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953. That did not turn out well. And I think the seeds of the 1979 revolution were planted in ‘53.” Radio Free Europe interview, June 12, 2013 (by Golnaz Esfandiari)
Even author Salman Rushdie, decades after Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his death (which Iran has never withdrawn), has suggested that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism was partially attributable to foreign policy, citing the coup as a case in point:
“The west was involved in toppling the Mossadegh government. That ultimately led to the Iranian revolution.”
Interview in The Guardian, September 16, 2012 (by Stuart Jeffries)
And naturally, Ray Takeyh himself disagrees with Ray Takeyh:
“In a sense, the coup of 1953 made the Islamic Revolution of 1979 possible, even predictable.”
Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic (2006) by Ray Takeyh, pg. 93
America’s apparent preoccupation with the region, Takeyh flippantly contends, is yet another deceptive “myth” he aims to puncture:
“Contrary to popular myths and conspiracy theories about Washington’s desire to control the Middle East, for the past six decades, U.S. policymakers have usually sought to minimize the United States’ involvement there.” Near Eastern Promises: Why Washington Should Focus on the Middle East in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2014 (with Kenneth M. Pollack)
Finally, he has an imaginative explanation for why the 1953 “myth” persists. The Islamic Republic of Iran has peddled this narrative for so long, he says, it has seeped into the minds of not only the public, but U.S. statesmen, who now feel compelled to “apologize” for the transgression at nearly every opportunity (there has never been a formal U.S. apology for the coup). This, coupled with the disillusionment of the post-Watergate / Vietnam years, contributed to Americans’ willingness to buy into such silly conspiracy theories.
In short, Takeyh bases his pronouncements not on empirical evidence, but mere inference.
Ray Takeyh: self-refuting malcontent
Though Ray Tayeyh chastises those who “cling to” and proliferate what he has sarcastically referred to as their “cherished myth”, he himself used to be one of those people he now shames. Yet seemingly overnight, Takeyh transformed into a full-fledged Coup-Denier, hustling tales that were traditionally the domain of monarchists like diehard Shah crony Ardeshir Zahedi—the son of Mossadegh’s ouster and a proven coup participant—whom Takeyh now cites as a reliable source of information.
His latest and most ambitious attempt at erasing the coup “myth” he feels so incensed by, “What Really Happened In Iran”, was featured in the July/August issue of the venerable Foreign Affairs magazine, published by his employer, CFR. Some were dazzled by his diatribe, but the feebleness of his arguments can actually be measured with almost scientific precision simply by weighing its contents.
In a piece totaling 4,912 words, only 134 proffer specific information about mullah antagonism toward Mossadegh and tangible support for his ouster. THAT’S 2.7% OF THE ARTICLE.
[346 reference the clerical role, most of which is not documentation but exposition (“the clergy itself played a major role in toppling Mosaddeq”, etc.), leaving only 134 substantive words]
Remember—Takeyh demands we believe that the CIA coup, considered a resounding success by the agency, was an utter failure, and that Mossadegh’s demise should be attributed—more than any other factor—to the native Islamic contingent. Given that brassy declaration, one might reasonably expect at least half of the article to address these nefarious mullah activities. Instead, the overwhelming majority describes royalist elements (the army, Gen. Zahedi, the Shah himself), and CIA, State Department and British MI6 maneuvers to mobilize these factions.
In an article clearly intended to both minimize and excuse the foreign role, Takeyh toiled away at a piece swarming with references to the conniving of....U.S. and British spy agencies. While brushing off Operation Ajax as a trivial footnote, his actual testimony overwhelmingly reconfirms what he intends to negate. His relatively generous summaries of the key British role in undermining Mossadegh, initiating a coup plot, and arranging for its success, for example, are not only lengthier but far more convincing than his puny Islamic content:
“The British intelligence agency, MI6, had identified and reached out to a network of anti-Mosaddeq figures who would be willing to take action against the prime minster [sic] with covert American and British support....Given its history of interference in Iran, the British government also boasted an array of intelligence sources, including members of parliament and journalists, whom it had subsidized and cultivated. London could also count on a number of influential bazaar merchants who, in turn, had at their disposal thugs willing to instigate violent street protests.” [FA]
To further demonstrate just how derelict he can be in supporting his own position: Takeyh wrote three coup-denying articles in a space of three years attempting to make the case that, to quote the title of his 2010 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Clerics Responsible for Iran's Failed Attempts at Democracy”. Note the plural clerics. Yet none of them specifically named more than a single cleric—Ayatollah Kashani (in fact, his 2013 Weekly Standard piece named literally no one).
The Islamic connection
Not to worry, since Takeyh’s having so much difficulty, we here at the Mossadegh Project (now in our 10th year) are more than happy to help illuminate the clerical aspect. Please note that the following non-comprehensive summary weighs in at over double the length of all of Takeyh’s relevant content combined.
The CIA/SIS Initial Operational Plan for Operation Ajax from June 1953 arranged to instigate religious figures to “spread word of their disapproval of Mossadeq”, “stage political demonstrations under religious cover”, “reinforce [the] backbone of the Shah”, endorse the new coup regime as being “faithful [to] Moslem principles”, and “threaten direct action against pro-Mossadeq deputies.”
Other than Kashani, another prominent figure who joined the anti-Mossadegh coalition was Ayatollah Seyed Abdollah Behbehani. Kashani and Behbehani were key figures in fomenting the bloodthirsty No’he Esfand mob scene that took place outside Mossadegh’s residence, and CIA documents show that Premier Fazlollah Zahedi maintained close ties to these clerics after the coup (the newspaper Kayhan reported that Zahedi had a personal meeting with Kashani just three days after 28 Mordad). The CIA also funneled money to Behbehani to be used to rally mobs for the cause.
On the day of the coup (August 19), Ayatollah Seyed Abolghassem Kashani unleashed violent knife and club wielding thugs on the streets of Tehran. He later stated callously that the imprisoned Mossadegh deserved the ultimate penalty—death. The extremist Feda’ian Islam organization, which had previously threatened to murder Mossadegh, opportunistically attributed his fall to the “devastating blows of the Muslims”, a clear indication of their disdain for the strictly secular Prime Minister.
Their legacy carried on after the 1979 “Islamic revolution”. Feda’ian Islam’s late terrorist boss, Navab Safavi, was a great inspiration to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei (who has never publicly complimented Mossadegh). After the revolution, the gun-wielding teenage assailant associated with the cult who had attempted to kill Mossadegh’s loyal Foreign Minister Hossein Fatemi in 1952 went on to serve as a deputy in the very first Majles of the Khomeini autocracy. Ayatollah Khomeini himself, a Kashani disciple, condemned Mossadegh as an enemy of Islam and therefore a heretic. Kashani’s most direct link to the Islamic Republic was to spawn two sons who joined the government, including politician and former Presidential candidate Mahmoud Kashani, who eagerly trashes Mossadegh’s legacy at any opportunity. More infamously, Mossadegh torch-bearers like Shapour Bakhtiar, Dariush Forouhar and Parvaneh Forouhar have been savagely murdered by agents of the despotic Islamic regime, who only trot out the subject of the coup to augment their anti-American rhetoric.
The role of certain religious leaders, particularly the powerful and ruthless Kashani, with his profound ability to fill the streets with mobs, was clearly of great significance—which would explain why the CIA sought their assistance. But was the clerical role in Mossadegh’s downfall the decisive blow? Based on the available information thus far, there is no particular reason—other than convenient political posturing—to obsessively fixate on that factor above and beyond all others. And, it should be noted, not everyone wearing a turban opposed or betrayed Mossadegh.
The CIA attributed the result to a number of ingredients, but never came to the determination that TP-AJAX owed its success primarily to the clergy (the army, for example, is to me a much more obvious factor). Even assuming this were so, clerical activities were, nevertheless, linked with the foreign plotters who utilized them, so they didn’t act completely alone, as some would like to imply. Unfortunately for Coup-denial cult members, this still wouldn’t expunge the prevailing moral framework they resist—the sinister and hypocritical foreign attitude both during and after 1953.
The fact that the United States—shaken to the core by 9/11, the 2013 Boston bombings, the rise of ISIS and other horrors; and currently mired in an endless War on Terror—was perfectly willing to collude with a “terrorist gang” (to use their own description) and loathsome religious radicals whose descendants would later rule over Iran with impunity—and that the traitorous Shah and Zahedi were also in alliance with this element—only further emphasizes how unprincipled (and shortsighted) all these parties—royalists, Islamists, and Western imperialists alike—were in this equation.
Nothing new here
Literally nothing Takeyh has presented is new—he has either reinterpreted selectively cited old information, or resuscitated theories and Western propaganda dating as far back as the 50’s. The difference is, rarely have those who shared his observations come to the same conclusion.
For example: in arguing that Operation Ajax was a failure, Takeyh makes quite a big deal about the fact that the first CIA-hatched attempt flopped, as if this were some profound revelation. Yet this chapter has always been detailed in the popular accounts he ridicules, in addition to being recorded in the CIA’s own secret documents. If Takeyh is to be believed, why, then, did nearly every historian and author in the world, in addition to the CIA, arrive at the opposite conclusion?
If the U.S. plot failed, why did the Central Intelligence Agency internally determine their methods most potent, heartily commend Tehran-stationed personnel on their professionalism leading to the “successful result”, and use Iran as a rough blueprint for future covert operations? (Two of which, in Guatemala and the Congo, were expertly conducted under the same administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the fabulous Dulles brothers).
CIA Director Allen Dulles Praises Operation Ajax As a “Major victory”
For one thing, in addition to the foreign-inspired momentum and successful manipulation of the Shah to cooperate with the scheme, the elaborate Anglo-American plot, consisting of non-negotiation, stonewalling, planted propaganda, legal bullying, and psychological warfare, was far bigger than that initial hiccup in plans. The CIA actually referred to their malicious anti-Iranian campaign as a “war of nerves”.
Mossadegh faced opposition—so what?
“Mosadeq has the backing of 95 to 98 percent of the people of this country. It is utter folly to try to push him out . . . it is my opinion there is no chance of any reasonable Prime Minister succeeding him.”
— Ambassador Henry F. Grady, telegram to the State Dept. — Tehran, July 1, 1951
Another of Takeyh’s central themes is denigrating Dr. Mossadegh. Faced with mounting domestic opposition, he argues, the Premier was floundering politically and trampling the law, while the glamorous young Shah, the symbol of the nation, was still looked to with reverence. This, too, is misleading.
Like any other leader, Mossadegh had his share of vehement critics and opponents deriving from an array of sources—including the Communist Tudeh party he was constantly accused of “flirting” with. Takeyh admits that Mossadegh was legitimate and popular, but suggests his “intransigence”, “authoritarianism”, and other failings led to “rising dissent” in Iran, eroding his formerly strong base.
While it is certainly true that Mossadegh’s alliances were dwindling and Iranians were tiring of the heavy financial pressures nationalization brought on, it is presumptuous to conclude authoritatively that whatever loss in support for the government took place was profound enough to ensure his violent overthrow. It is also foolhardy to assume that the few thousand people who took to the streets on 28 Mordad (genuinely or not) necessarily represented the will of a nation populated by millions of people.
If economic hardship pushed Iranians to gather in frenzied mobs to savagely overthrow a humane, democratically elected, secular government after only 28 months in office, why haven’t decades of “crippling” sanctions succeeded in compelling them to boot out a diabolical, repressive, flagrantly criminal dictator regime?
Alternatively, it would be ludicrous to argue that Iranians had grown so intolerant of their government for behaving slightly autocratically during a national crisis, that their chosen remedy was to place their destinies in the hands of a marauding military dictatorship helmed by an untested monarch—younger than the mimimum legal age to be President in America—who had already begun displaying authoritarian tendencies.
Furthermore, whatever ‘authentic’ opposition did exist against Mossadegh at that point would have likely been influenced by the derogatory articles and cartoons placed by the CIA in Iranian media, misunderstanding over the Premier’s loyalty to the monarchy, and other externally orchestrated factors. Though it’s impossible to quantify just to what extent foreign pressures, such as the British blockade of Iranian oil commerce, threat of invasion, stalling and bluffing during negotiations, and various schemes by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (including sabotage) contributed to the conditions for Mossadegh’s demise (as they were intended to), they obviously had a palpable effect.
“In Iran, CIA and SIS propaganda assets were to conduct increasingly intensified propaganda effort through the press, handbills, and the Tehran clergy in a campaign designed to weaken the Mossadeq government in any way possible. In the United States, high-ranking US officials were to make official statements which would shatter any hopes held by Premier Mossadeq that American economic aid would be forthcoming, and disabuse the Iranian public of the Mossadeq myth that the United States supported his regime.”
— Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq in Iran — CIA document, March 1954
As debating the coup is apparently a game with no rules, everyone can supposedly set their own goal posts when it comes to defining what actions qualify as a “coup” and what was simply hardball transatlantic diplomacy. The CIA, for example, determined that several disparaging public statements from Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in July and August 1953 had “tremendous impact” in Iran and “contributed greatly to Mossadeq’s downfall”. Is that a coup?
Ray Takeyh, conveniently, does not seem to count anything prior to August 1953—no matter how calculated or vicious—as a component in the foreign role in overthrowing Mossadegh. In fact, he places the onus squarely on Dr. Mossadegh, “a victim of himself”, for each and every setback Iran experienced.
If one were looking to support Takeyh’s theory, numerous examples of dissent both in the Majles and in the streets in the period leading up to and including the summer of 1953 could be cited as demonstrable evidence that Mossadegh had pushed the country too far and badly mismanaged its affairs.
Yet did you know that there were irate Parliamentarians accusing him of ‘gangsterism’, noisy street protests, scathing newspaper editorials, and domestic intrigues from practically the moment Mossadegh assumed the Premiership? Never mind 1953, in 1951—the height of his popularity— assassination threats drove him to take shelter in Parliament and carry a gun for protection, Majles members conducted sit-in strikes against him, Communists accused him of selling out to the West, opposition figures heckled him in Parliament...you name it, Mossadegh endured it.
So had Mossadegh been overthrown via a foreign conspiracy even as early as the first month or two of his Premiership, contrarians could argue, with plenty of circumstantial back-up, that he was detested in Iran and got what was coming to him.
In the most famous such episode, in September 1951, Majles members staged a boycott against Mossadegh by refusing to allow a quorum, preventing him from being able to address the body. In response, Mossadegh left the building, stood on a stool in Baharestan Square and spoke directly to cheering crowds of his adoring supporters.
If the inevitable resistance to Dr. Mossadegh, elected overwhelmingly by the Majles in late April 1951, serves as some kind of proof of the wholesomeness of his fall, then by that logic, virtually any other leader in history, had they been victimized by an illegal foreign coup plot, could be blamed for alienating their people as well. The inverse premise, too, might bestow implied legitimacy to immovable tyrannies.
According to this asinine, presumptuous reasoning, the undeniable longevity of the ruthless, undemocratic Islamic Republic of Iran—still going strong after 35+ years—ably demonstrates that it must be quite beloved by its citizens. See how easily the cause-and-effect sophistry of circumstantial evidence can backfire on you?
Harry S. Truman left office in 1953 as one of the most unpopular Presidents in U.S. history. “We have never had such a man in the White House”, fumed the editors of one anti-Truman newspaper in 1952, who accused him of lying at will. “One might almost add that we have rarely had such a man anywhere in public office.” His own personal appointee, famed financier Bernard Baruch, once publicly blasted Truman as “a rude, uncouth, ignorant man”.
In April 1951, the month Mossadegh became Premier, The Chicago Tribune condemned Truman and his “small and twisted mind” for heading “the most corrupt administration this country has known”, which was surrounded by “Communists”, “traitors”, “corruptionists”, “incompetents” and “sycophants”. Had there been a coincidental foreign-inspired coup against Truman, no doubt we’d have people denying that happened, too.
The same could be argued about such revered American icons as Abraham Lincoln, who was elected President in 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote. Frequently vilified in his time, Lincoln’s legendary Gettysburg Address was dismissed by one newspaper at the time as “silly remarks” destined for “oblivion”. So what?
The fact is, there will never be a way to clinically evaluate Mossadegh’s ratings among the people in August 1953 because the trial has already been tainted. The CIA launched an aggressive disinformation program calculated to achieve “maximum public opposition”, planting highly derogatory anti-Mossadegh propaganda in Iran and even America. Their operation, designed to “create, extend, and enhance public hostility and distrust and fear of Mossadegh and his government”, included accusing him of such nonsense as “spying” on Iranians and consorting with Soviet and Communist elements.
Once you tamper with history by launching a vast, malicious smear campaign, you don’t get to say that the target of your slander was hated anyway.
Takeyh insists, however, that discontent with Mossadegh was entirely homegrown. Describing the February 28, 1953 incident known as No’he Esfand, when an angry mob besieged Mossadegh’s home, Takeyh concludes:
“This episode is particularly important, because it demonstrated the depth of authentic Iranian opposition to Mosaddeq; there is no evidence that the protests were engineered by the CIA. The demonstrations also helped the anti-Mosaddeq coalition solidify. Indeed, it would be this same coalition, with greater support from the armed forces, that would spearhead Mosaddeq’s ouster six months later.” [FA]
Actually, the idea that this episode was purely organic is not entirely founded. Mohammad Mossadegh himself said at the time that, in addition to discharged civil servants and military personnel, the eruption was “caused by agents sent by foreign hands”. In his memoirs, Mossadegh revealed suspicions that U.S. envoy Loy Henderson, who had been behaving very strangely that day—calling him away for an “urgent” meeting and then had nothing important to discuss—was setting him up to be killed. CIA cables acknowledged such talk.
“Mossadeq is blaming the crisis on the United States”, noted one subsequent CIA report, “alleging that the American Ambassador improperly interfered by actively encouraging the Shah and other elements to oppose the Prime Minister.” It then goes on to confirm Mossadegh’s distrust, describing Henderson’s concerted efforts to not only persuade the Shah to stay, but to “take a more active role” in politics, with the ultimate goal of creating a “new government” (read: non-Mossadegh) loyal to His Majesty. But even if Takeyh were correct, this would certainly make good debate fodder, but it still wouldn’t prove that the success of the August coup was inevitable with or without the U.S. and Britain, as he so cavalierly contends. CIA report: The Iranian Situation — March 3, 1953 [Declassfied 2/29/00]
Describing Zahedi’s distribution of copies of the Shah’s farmans after the first coup attempt, Takeyh observes:
“The efforts to publicize the shah’s decree and Mosaddeq’s studied silence are instructive. Many accounts of the coup, including Roosevelt’s, cast the shah as an unpopular and illegitimate ruler who maintained the throne only with the connivance of foreigners. But if that were the case, then Zahedi and his allies would not have worked so hard to try to publicize the shah’s preferences. The fact that they did suggests that the shah still enjoyed a great deal of public and institutional support, at least in the immediate aftermath of Mosaddeq’s countercoup; indeed, the news of the shah’s departure provoked uprisings throughout the country.” [FA]
If we are to accept this premise, then we must also ask why the Shah—despite his smoldering resentment of the Prime Minister and their ongoing power rivalry—was so reluctant to dismiss Mossadegh in the first place—and why when this backfired, he panicked and quickly fled the very country where he was so worshipped? (Cue crickets).
“Many chroniclers of these events”, rationalizes Takeyh, “refuse to acknowledge that the shah was at the time a popular figure and the monarchy a trusted institution.” [WS] Fine, but what was the traditional and constitutional role of this institution, and what was this ceremonial figure, playboy and glorified socialite, whose primary concern at the time was spawning a male successor, popular for?
When a citizenry has been indoctrinated into a system which superstitiously portrays ‘the Crown’ as an anchor point of society, and that nation’s deified ruling ‘sovereign’—whose ubiquitous image decorates posters, stamps, and all local currency—flees his own country, the effect can be very upsetting. The ominous flight of the monarch, shown in the context of his disagreements with the Prime Minister, leaves the impression that Mossadegh was the cause of all the chaos which has driven the king away. Publicizing the Shah’s decrees would cause alarm among the people about the country’s stability, leading many to clamor for his return.
That does not necessarily mean, however, that Iranians (including royalists) were demanding that the young Shah take over the government as their eternal, indomitable Supreme Leader!
Funnily enough, one of the main challenges the CIA faced was overcoming Mossadegh’s widespread acclaim, which would explain the necessity of spreading black propaganda and staging false flag capers in order to neutralize this factor. “Recent coups in other Near Eastern countries were far easier to carry out”, they assessed, “since they were not complicated by...the presence of a head of government having powerful popular following”.
One should also keep in mind that the Prime Minister appointed to replace Mossadegh, Fazlollah Zahedi, headed this new government, too. It would be hard to argue that Zahedi enjoyed any particular broad support—even the Shah disliked him, quietly sacking him after just 20 months in office. Where was the public clamor for his return, as in July 1952 after Mossadegh resigned, or in the aftermath of the coup, as pro-Mossadegh demonstrations repeatedly erupted in the bazaar during his sham trial?
A shameless opportunist who rapidly faded into obscurity, Zahedi was a figure who found himself thrust into the center of historical events by virtue of random, highly unusual circumstances—and despite the notoriety gifted by fate, left behind a legacy celebrated by virtually no one. Dr. Mossadegh, on the other hand, the lifelong civil servant, is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Persian civilization, and remains an inspiration to people worldwide.
“There is increasing pro-Mossadegh talk now that the shock of the coup has abated. No one I’ve talked with outside the Cabinet and court had a bad word to say about the old man...”
— TIME magazine correspondent James Bell, who had a front row seat at Mossadegh’s military trial, quoted in IRAN: Rescue Operation, TIME — September 7, 1953
Takeyh also makes a point of shaming the non-transparent Premier for not disclosing the fact that the Shah had attempted to remove him, implying that this was shady and dishonest. I fail to see the problem here, but what we should really be asking is why His Imperial Majesty hid from ‘his people’ the fact that outsiders twisted his arm into making the move in the first place.
The truth would have to be pried from the Shah’s cold dead hands, as he kept this dirty little secret from his Persian compatriots all the way to his Egyptian crypt.
The Shah’s Absolutely Crucial Role
In my estimation, the most critical component of the coup was its opening salvo—the dismissal of Mossadegh and appointment of Zahedi by the Shah. This is the act, after all, that set everything in motion.
The legality of the Shah’s decrees themselves has been a long contested topic, but of more pertinence to this discussion is what led him to issue them in the first place. The answer, of course, is the United States. “By nature a creature of indecision, beset by formless doubts and fears, [the Shah] must be induced to play his role...”, predicted the CIA, which deemed his participation “essential”.
Even Takeyh, who describes the monarch as “insecure”, “tentative”, “perennially indecisive” and “easily intimidated”, concurs:
“Indeed, the shah would be the plot’s central actor, since he retained the loyalty of the armed forces and only he had the authority to dismiss Mosaddeq.” [FA]
Yet self-refuting Takeyh regards the second coup attempt as being unrelated to the first, even though, as he himself makes a point of emphasizing, “[Zahedi] sought first to publicize the fact that the shah had dismissed Mossadeq and appointed him prime minister, and therefore Mossadeq’s claim to power was unconstitutional.” [WS]
Since the Shah’s decrees only happened because the U.S. pressed him to issue them under duress (as Takeyh agrees), and they were also used to set the stage for the successful attempt, they cannot possibly be separated from the August 16th attempt since they are a crucial remnant of that episode.
As if that weren’t enough—the U.S. then aided Zahedi in publicizing the decrees, just one part of their active role in the second attempt which Takeyh ascribes purely to Iranian actors.
And after the first attempt, Zahedi went into hiding, a fugitive from the law evading capture by the authorities. Guess who kept him hidden in the meantime, nice n’ safe? CIA.
CIA records indicate that on August 17th, the day after the first “failure”, it was the agency who arranged Zahedi’s “secret press conference” announcing that he was the legal Prime Minister. Copies of the farmans they had printed and disseminated had a “tremendous impact” on the people of Tehran, after which, they said, “spontaneous” demonstrations began erupting in support of the Shah. “Station political actions assets also contributed to the beginnings of the pro-Shah demonstrations,” it says, adding that the military phase of the plan was now ready for action.
By August 19th, it was Kermit Roosevelt who stage-managed Zahedi’s first movements, directing him on the precise time to come out of hiding, catch a ride in a tank, and arrive at the Radio Tehran building where he would triumphantly announce his new position. To get the new regime rolling, the CIA then granted Zahedi an astonishing $5,000,000 sum within the first two days of his premiership.
It all started with the damned decrees. According to the CIA, the “weak” Shah would not have taken such action without the “all-out pressure” of the United States, nor would the people have been capable, “given the recognized incapacity of Iranians to plan or act in a thoroughly logical manner”.
Even if Iranian players had taken command of the coup all by themselves, the knowledge that they had the full backing of the United States and Britain was an essential motivator. They might not have chosen to take a leap like that—which could easily get them jailed if not killed—without the assurance of a strong safety net.
“So far as a military coup is concerned, we have no evidence to indicate that any group of officers has the capability which the initiation of a successful coup would require.”
— Prospects For Survival of Mossadeq Regime in Iran — CIA report, October 1952
In a related way, the Shah made one other move that may have also been crucial to the sequence of events—leaving the country. After Mossadegh turned the tables, the chicken Shah flew the coup, literally—flying to Baghdad and then Rome with his Queen. This cowardly departure, following the brazen move the U.S. coerced him into making, served to inflame the chaos that was developing, thereby proving an unexpected asset to the coup operation.
If the U.S. had done nothing more than persuade the Shah to dump Mossadegh—that alone rendered the coup an illegal foreign plot.
Yet the Anglo-American players did far, far more to push along the process even after its initial failure. Their activities included keeping Zahedi and others informed on the latest developments, coaching the Shah on what to say and do next after the first coup experiment, and helping to spread the news—both within and outside Iran—of the Shah’s attempt to dismiss Mossadegh. Self-refuting Takeyh agrees in spite of himself: “...the CIA station in Tehran appears to have helped distribute the message through both domestic and foreign media”, he adds nonchalantly. [FA]
All of these coup-conspirators, of course, had been assured of U.S. and British financial, diplomatic and moral support, emboldening them to carry on with the fight.
As for the young Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, he had been warned that if he did not cooperate with the coup plot, he would “bear responsibility for collapse of [the] country” and that his dynasty would fall and “U.S.-U.K. backing of you would cease.”
Make up your mind: CIA trustable or not?
It’s a pity Coup-deniers are too drunk on polemics to appreciate the irony of their wanton CIA-bashing. Self-refuting Ray Takeyh repeatedly wags a finger at them and other American statesmen for their “self serving” ways, contending that the reason so many officials admit to U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup is because it appeals to their vanity. In other words: don’t simply accept CIA claims at face value.
Yet nearly 100% of the information Takeyh cites to bolster his case and refute the so-called “myth” derives from the U.S. government—mainly the CIA.
For example, Takeyh selectively cites excerpts from special agent Donald Wilber’s well-known 1954 internal report Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran to prove that the coup failed. Yet the ultimate conclusion of the paper and of the agency was that they succeeded. Takeyh never mentions that a special honor was privately bestowed upon Wilber from none other than CIA Director Allen Dulles, who positively gushed with praised for his “invaluable” work on AJAX.
Some internal documents, such as the CIA’s August 17th assessment of the first failed coup attempt, refer to the event as if they were simply uninvolved observers, going as far as pondering the wildly ironic possibility that as a result of Communist propaganda and political scapegoating, the U.S. might be implicated and that “Mossadeq may come to view America and Britain as joint conspirators”.
There’s also plenty of inexplicably spurious “intelligence” in the CIA files. One recurring fear was the completely bogus, unfounded notion that Mossadegh planned to utterly abolish the Persian monarchy (even Takeyh repeatedly emphasizes his allegiance to its preservation). Another grievance was that Mossadegh, who had only been Premier for around half the length of a single U.S. Presidential term, was “disregarding the Iranian constitution” by staying in office too long! They also assessed that the volunteer Prime Minister, who accepted no salary, was motivated mainly by “personal power” (then why did he resign?) and had been ‘cooperating closely’ with the Tudeh (without citing a shred of evidence).
Did the CIA actually believe this junk, or were they deliberately lying to themselves? Either way, their data cannot be blindly cited without a good deal of intuitive skepticism. It’s too easy to cherry-pick only the CIA quotes that fit a specific narrative, however contradictory they may be to other statements. A true historian requires a far more transcendent approach in unraveling this knotted paper trail.
The point is, it’s entirely likely that U.S. officials and spies were being evasive about certain matters even amongst their own peers. It’s also possible that some of these highly optimistic statements about the chances of the coup’s success were morale-boosting rhetoric contrived to keep spirits up.
When men like Gen. “Beetle” Smith commented that the Shah acted constitutionally, they may have been protecting their conscience, as well as their self-image. Perhaps they were trying to justify their ethically problematic actions in their own minds by exaggerating favorable pro-Shah conditions in Iran and playing up the “quasi-legal” angle, making their dirty tricks feel more legitimate.
It doesn’t take a genius, after all, to imagine how “legal” America would have regarded the Shah’s decrees had they been dictated by the Kremlin for Soviet aims.
Loy Henderson: A Key Figure in the 1953 Coup
Ambassador Loy Henderson of the State Dept., an unsung major player in Mossadegh’s demise, is also quoted repeatedly to affirm Takeyh’s position, highlighting the alleged pro-Shah “holiday” mood in Iran in an August 20th telegram. On its face, this is the strongest card in Takeyh’s deck. However, this does not necessarily make him a reliable source, as one must consider several points:
1) Though Henderson was definitely in on the coup plot (even Mossadegh knew so), he was careful to leave no certifiable trace of his involvement. All of his dispatches, therefore, fraudulently pose as a mere uninformed observer and not a collaborator.
2) Many of Henderson’s memos do not entirely make sense and contain highly erroneous information. Chief among these is the notion that an intimate, co-dependent relationship existed between Mossadegh and the Tudeh Party, and the flawed idea that Mossadegh was determined to eliminate the Shah (which Takeyh strongly differs with, proving that he is cherry-picking Henderson’s claims only when it suits him). He also reported that “Tudeh reputed gathering for counterattack this morning” (which never occurred) and that even members of Mossadegh’s fallen government were among those “amazed” by the outcome (which members, and how would he know?).
3) Henderson severely contradicts himself in his account of his final visit with Mossadegh. Just one example: in his Aug. 20th cable, he wrote that Mossadegh blamed the British for inducing the Shah to dismiss him, a topic introduced much later in the conversation. In an interview during his retirement, Henderson claimed that as soon as he arrived, Mossadegh immediately accused the USA of doing so, with no mention of Britain. Which is it?
4) Henderson’s first detail in his August 20th cable was to report that Mossadegh “ordered streets cleared and cessation of demonstrations” leading to “serious fighting...between security forces and Tudeh”. This may have been a critical error on Mossadegh’s part—and also part of a trap deliberately set by Henderson. In their August 31, 1953 account of the coup, TIME magazine seemed suspiciously privy to the details of this trick :
Precisely at 6 p.m., U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson (back the previous day from two months’ vacation) mounted the stairs to Mossadegh's bedroom at 109 Kakh Street. Henderson stayed one hour; soon after he left, things began to happen.
What went on up in Mossadegh’s bedroom? Henderson began by protesting the stoning of six U.S. citizens’ cars that day, and asked assurances that U.S. lives and property would be protected. Otherwise, he would order all American women and children evacuated. That startled Mossadegh. Then the ambassador inquired politely about the legal validity of Mossadegh’s regime in view of the Shah’s parting decree, in which he fired Mossadegh and named General Fazlollah Zahedi in his place. When Henderson quit the room, Mossadegh was firmly convinced that the U.S. was undecided whether to continue to recognize him as Iran’s Premier.
Apparently this fitted together with other doubts and misgivings that were gathering in Mossadegh’s mind. Shaken, the old man went to the phone and ordered his army and police to drive the rioting Reds off the street. That call, turning the army loose on the most powerful street support he had, was Mossadegh’s fatal mistake. The troops were only too happy to oblige; they clubbed the rioters unmercifully and punctuated their thudding gun butts with shouts of “Long live the Shah” and “Death to traitors.” Growing bolder, they forced the Reds at bayonet point to cheer the Shah, too.
Twenty years later, Henderson stuck to his story, pretending that he knew nothing (then or now) of any U.S. coup plan and in fact was completely caught off guard by it. “I was surprised by the events that took place the next day”, professed Henderson in a rare 1973 interview, “and I think that if they are ever published, my telegrams to the Department will support what I am saying.” This statement is highly revealing, for it demonstrates his calculated foresight in not implicating himself in the crime.
[Truman Library Oral History Interview with Loy W. Henderson — Washington, DC, July 5, 1973 by Richard D. McKinzie]
How do we know for sure he was involved? Well, for one thing, once-secret CIA documents specifically name him as a knowing and willing participant.
Loy Henderson’s name comes up seventeen times in the CIA’s 1954 after action report Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, which revealed that he had been “fully consulted with regard to the objective and aims [of the coup plans] ...as well as CIA’s intentions to design covert means of achieving the objective and aims.”
The final plan was submitted on June 19th for the approval of only three Washington entities: the State Department, CIA Director Allen Dulles, and Ambassador Loy Henderson, who “was always fully cooperative” with the scheme.
In his interview, Henderson claimed he only returned to Tehran on August 17th, after he heard the shocking news of the Shah’s failed attempt to dismiss Mossadegh, which upset him so greatly that he couldn’t sleep. The CIA documents reveal that this was in fact a deliberate ploy—it was all part of the plan! They also explain that after the first failed attempt, it was Henderson and Roosevelt alone who strongly objected to the position that the operation be called off.
“As Ambassador to Iran in 1953, Henderson was a chief mover in the coup which overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh and put General Zahedi, a friend of Henderson’s and of the United States, into power.”
— Charles Edmundson in The Nation (November 1957)
More sloppy scholarship from Takeyh, referring to the year 1953:
During a meeting in January, Mosaddeq had warned Loy Henderson, the U.S. ambassador, that unless the United States provided him with sufficient financial aid, “there will be [a] revolution in Iran in 30 days.” [FA]
Actually, this meeting was on January 13, 1952, not 1953. Takeyh also misquotes Henderson’s alleged quote from Mossadegh, which was: “there will be Commie revolution within 30 days”, not “there will be revolution in Iran in 30 days.” There is no way to know if Henderson was accurately quoting Mossadegh or not, and obviously, there was no revolution.
This is just an abbreviated summary of Loy Henderson’s extremely significant role in the 1953 coup. As the CIA’s own internal documents overwhelmingly contradict his adamantly professed innocence of not only participation but even knowledge of the U.S.-British coup plot, we must conclude that Henderson—cunning, ruthless and supremely biased—is a proven liar and hence not a credible source of information for historians.
Kermit & Ray: Kindred Spirits
Self-refuting Ray Takeyh harbors a particular disdain for the “self-aggrandizing” CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., whom he accuses of “embellishing” his role in the 1953 affair.
“In his Orientalist rendition”, balks Takeyh, “Roosevelt landed in Tehran with a few bags of cash and easily manipulated the benighted Iranians into carrying out Washington’s schemes.” [FA]
Actually, Roosevelt never claimed to have singlehandedly toppled Mossadegh, and there was far more complexity in his version than Takeyh dishonestly suggests. In fact, perversely, Takeyh and Roosevelt share a narrative about Mossadegh and the coup that aligns almost completely, right down to the use of the highly charged CIA term “countercoup”.
Despite their common wavelength, Takeyh still can’t manage to get his facts straight, severely misrepresenting Roosevelt’s obvious and well known views on the Shah. In Foreign Affairs, he actually states (as quoted in context earlier in this article) that Kermit characterized the Shah as “unpopular and illegitimate”!
No, Roosevelt’s entire rendition—again, almost identical to Takeyh’s, ironically—was that the Shah was the rightful and cherished ruler of Iran, and the whole reason the coup succeeded was because the people wanted him in and Mossadegh gone. Instrumental in the so-called “restoration” of the monarchy, Roosevelt was an unrepentant Shah advocate quite literally to the end. If this preposterous blunder doesn’t confirm Ray Takeyh’s shaky expertise, nothing will.
Takeyh vs. Takeyh
Even if one were to rely on Ray Takeyh for their history lessons, which Takeyh do you trust? His previous writings sharply contradict his recent jeremiads.
THE FOLLY OF COUP-DENIAL | by Arash Norouzi
Take his 2006 book Hidden Iran, where Takeyh depicted Mossadegh as a “genuine patriot” simply seeking to emancipate his country from the “imperial arrogance” of the British empire. Now, Takeyh speaks rather harshly of the former Premier and more sympathetically of his imperialist adversaries’ motives.
In 2003, arguing that stringent U.S. policies were benefitting hardliners in Iran, Takeyh wrote:
“Iranians remain intensely suspicious of external influence, and while its disproportionately young population may not remember the revolution, they all revere the memory of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, toppled by a US-sponsored coup in 1953. As a result, Iranians are far less likely to be guided by US direction on how to fix their current predicament than their generally pro-American attitudes might suggest.” [Iran at a Crossroads — Middle East Journal, Volume 57, No. 1, Winter 2003]
Today, Takeyh advocates a far more confrontational approach to the regime, and claims Mossadegh was technically toppled by the efforts of Iranians only, not foreigners.
In a fascinating March 2006 New York Times Op-Ed titled The Key Lies In Iran’s History, co-written by Takeyh, our self-refuting friend rejected the “coercive diplomacy” of the Bush administration, which was “ill-advised” and “doomed to backfire”. “Historical sensitivity and judicious diplomacy are needed to steer the theocratic regime in the right direction”, it argued:
“For Iranians, history is a living enterprise. Throughout the 20th century, Iran was a stomping ground for the great powers. It was a pawn first in the struggle between Britain and Russia, then between America and the Soviet Union.
Behind every shah was a foreign hand that could empower or humble the Peacock Throne. An ancient and proud civilization was reduced to a vassal state, irked by the capitulation treaties repeatedly imposed on it by Occidental powers.
Americans fixate on the 1979 revolution and the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. But for Iranians, the events of 1953 loom much larger, when America and Britain teamed up to depose a nationalist regime, replacing it with a pliant but tyrannical monarchy.
This past has produced a nation deeply averse to international dictates. That is one of the main reasons the Islamic Revolution has had so much staying power. Iran's mullahs freed the country of great power domination for the first time in a century.
Themes of sacrifice and resistance remain the currency of Iranian politics; to resist American pressure is to validate national dignity.”
Nowadays, Takeyh, who now pushes for “coercive leverage” with Iran, exhibits no such sensitivity for Iranian national dignity, regarding this grade of rhetoric as filthy mullah talking points. The steaming contempt he has for anyone who echoes this narrative is so palpable it practically leaps from the page—yet until recently, he himself used to think just like those sniveling idiots he now ridicules. Doesn’t Takeyh at least owe everyone some kind of an explanation for his abrupt change of heart?
Admitting that “Mossadeq was certainly toppled due to American machinations”, Takeyh again emphasized U.S. underhandness in a section of his 2006 book Hidden Iran titled Mossadeq and the Politics of Intervention:
“The crucial legacy of the 1953 coup is the creation of not just a deep-seated suspicion of foreign powers but of the United States in particular. The fact that subsequent to the coup America has become the main patron of an unaccountable and dictatorial monarchy reinforced its image of obstructing democratic change to protect its economic and strategic interests.”
“...the events of 1953 would provide a cautionary note that the United States was not always true to its to clear principles and often abandoned the democratic cause when confronted with countervailing pressures.”
In his 2009 book Guardians of the Revolution, Takeyh sketched “America’s sense of superiority over Iran”:
“In 1953 the United States arrogated to itself the right to directly interfere in Iranian politics and depose an elected prime minister because he was insufficiently deferential to its own anti-Communist agenda. Furthermore, in the early 1960s Washington demanded the exemption of its personnel from Iranian law, thereby humiliating a country with a rich history and a well-developed system of justice.”
Yet in none of his lengthy coup-denying screeds do we find a single inference that America behaved irresponsibly or hypocritically either in the 1953 episode or in the post-coup decades. What changed?
And as averse as Takeyh is to parroting what he considers to be IRI narratives, it’s rather comical to find him raising the issue of the 1964 Status of Forces Agreement. Like Takeyh, the clerics have long referred to the abject “humiliation” of this act, and it was none other than the monstrous Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who famously condemned its passage, elevating his prominence in the society and helping pave the way for his ascent to power in 1979. Whoops!
The “Honest Broker” Ruse
“The United States, which did enjoy Iranian good will, not only has given the impression of supporting Britain’s efforts to overthrow the Mossadegh government, but has also put on heat by holding up a $25,000,000 Export-Import Bank loan.”
— The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 27, 1951
Another of Takeyh’s chief assertions is that America was an unbiased mediator in the oil dispute, in contrast with stubborn old Mossy, a “populist rabble-rouser”, who wore out all American patience and goodwill by refusing to compromise and accept Britain’s reasonable offers. “The close ties between the United States and the United Kingdom did not lead Washington to reflexively side with its ally”, Takeyh declares, adding:
“...when it came to the fight to control Iran's oil, the Americans played the role of an honest broker. Truman dispatched a number of envoys to Tehran who urged the British to acknowledge the legitimacy of the parliament's nationalization act while also pressing the Iranians to offer fair compensation for expropriated British assets.” In the meantime, Washington continued providing economic assistance to Iran, as it had ever since the war began -- assistance that helped ease the pain of the British oil blockade.” [FA]
Actually, this assistance consisted of military aid and contributions to the U.S. Point Four program which were mainly technical in nature and not nearly sufficient for Iran’s pressing post-nationalization needs. Had it been, there would have been no reason for Mossadegh to repeatedly implore the United States, via correspondence and face-to-face meetings, to extend an emergency loan to Iran. Both Truman and Eisenhower publicly turned him down.
The foreign aid program was, of course, motivated by self-interest—a way to keep third world nations from succumbing to Communism, preventing the Cold War from turning into another (far more costly) World War. An August 2, 1952 newspaper editorial Power Politics Has Its Price articulated the naked truth behind these U.S. policies:
“From our own standpoint, in one breath we assert that the aid we’re sending is merely out of the goodness of our hearts, and our humanitarian desire to see all peoples prosperous and happy. But in the next we make it clear that what we are doing is trying to build a wall of strong allies against the Russians. The inevitable reaction is part of the price of playing power politics. We will be most successful at it if we acknowledge our motives frankly, at least to ourselves.”
After the coup, U.S. military aid extended to maintaining the Shah’s stranglehold internally as well. “In Iran, our military aid is really directed not outward but inward”, observed famed columnist Walter Lippman in 1959. “It is not strategic and tactical but political and domestic.” A couple years later, an alarmed Senator Hubert Humphrey asked, “Do you know what the head of the Iranian army told one of our people? He said the army was in good shape, thanks to U.S. aid – it was capable of coping with the civilian population. That army is not planning to fight the Russians, it is planning to fight the Iranian people.”
According to Takeyh, the Truman administration was at least a neutral third party who offered Mossadegh every chance for a fair compromise, which Mossadegh, blinded by his supposed “need for popular acclaim” tragically squandered time and time again. This notion is itself a myth. But rather than take my word for it, I’d like to quote for the record what some commentators were saying at the time (all of whom, by the way, opposed Mossadegh):
As one prominent columnist at the time, Ray Tucker, explained in 1952:
“Secretary Acheson threw all our influence on the side of the British when Iran nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Company’s petroleum properties. He ordered American firms not to try to buy or to market Iran’s principal money product. He shared London’s belief that this joint starvation policy would force Mossadegh to come to terms or to be overthrown.”
Another nationally syndicated columnist, conservative pundit Constantine Brown, wrote in 1951:
“The British Labor government, in spite of its extreme liberalism at home, acted as it did in the days of Queen Victoria. It insisted on retaining the unfair division of profits with Iran and began to yield only when it was too late. Our own government played along with Great Britain and refused to give the Tehran government—when it still could have denied Russia control over the country—the promised (and badly needed) economic and military assistance. . . . Our State Department apparently concurred with London’s belief that Iran could be coerced by economic means.”
In October 1951, famed columnist and Washington insider Joseph Alsop wrote:
“The American policy-makers hope that United Nations Security Council action on the Persian oil dispute will lead to fourth resumption of negotiations between the Iranians and the British. They hope farther, in whispers, that this additional gift of time will allow the government of the extravagantly irrational Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh the time it needs to hang itself. Then, they say, the Iranian problem may be solved.”
That isn’t to say that there wasn’t any genuine sympathy for the Iranian position, but in actual practice, the Truman camp was not very helpful. Though Ambassador Henry F. Grady clearly empathized with Mossadegh and Iranian nationalism, Truman envoys W. Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson and George C. McGhee privately—and occasionally rather openly—opposed oil nationalization in Iran. There are numerous examples of this, thoroughly detailed in our article: Indecent Proposals : 1951 — Oil, Iran and the Anglo-American Art of Non-Negotiation.
As for Dean Acheson, he wasn’t nearly as unbiased toward Mossadegh as he may have let on. Immediately after the 1953 coup, the former Secretary of State reacted positively to news of Mossadegh’s demise, labeling the ex-Premier a “crazy man”. But you probably didn’t know that, did you Takeyh?
‘It’s Not Illegal When We Do It...’
Another of Takeyh’s main contentions relates to Law and Order. He hammers Mossadegh repeatedly for alleged illegal behavior both during his Premiership and in its controversial final days, while allowing the Shah and his Western backers full latitude in whatever maneuvers they so chose. This is an important precedent, for in doing so, Takeyh is tacitly making the case that following the rules matters—lawfulness is sacred and violators deserve our undiluted scorn.
Yet having established this imperative principle, Takeyh fails to contemplate the legality of British, American or royalist actions. In his fanciful reverie, everyone is basically noble and jurisprudent . . . except for Mossadegh.
“[B]y 1953”, Takeyh states, “Mosaddeq -- the constitutional parliamentarian and champion of democratic reform -- had turned into a populist demagogue: rigging referendums, intimidating his rivals, disbanding parliament, and demanding special powers.” [FA]
According to self-refuting Takeyh, Mossadegh was “a principled politician who revered the rule of law”, but also a renegade, authoritarian scofflaw who began “rebelling against the traditions of his state.” More classic contradictory Takeyh:
“Mosaddeq was not a revolutionary; he was respectful of the traditions of his social class and supported the idea of constitutional monarchy.” [FA]
“Mosaddeq was a principled politician with deep reverence for Iran’s institutions and constitutional order. He had spent his entire public life defending the rule of law and the separation of powers.” [FA]
“Mossadeq was too much a man of the system to remain on the run.” [WS]
“But the prime minister was too much of a creature of the establishment to remain on the run for long, and he soon turned himself in.” [FA]
Takeyh never discusses the behavior of the new coup regime, either. In February 1954, TIME magazine revealed that Premier Zahedi’s “unpleasant and undemocratic” tactics included election rigging, ballot suspension and forcing pro-Mossadegh deputies out of running. “[Zahedi] had simply let it be known that localities must vote his list [of Majles deputies] or none at all”, wrote TIME, adding that he was “winning no popularity contests”. IRAN: Comeback Trail — February 15, 1954
Ultimately, Takeyh finds Mossadegh to be the sole bad actor in the whole affair, reprimanding him for disobeying the reluctant Shah’s decree, with no recognition of the U.S. blackmail that produced it:
“It’s important to note that for all the talk of a coup, the reality is that it was Mossadeq who broke the law. The shah had the constitutional authority to dismiss his prime minister—refusing to step down in contravention of the monarch’s orders was an illegal act.” [WS]
As meddling in the internal affairs of a foreign country infringes upon both international law and basic decency, both the United Kingdom and the United States were way out of line in plotting to destroy Iran’s young democratic institution and replacing it with an unaccountable military dictatorship. Naturally, these and other breaches go unobserved in Takeyh’s one-sided writings.
Takeyh Caught Lying, Part 1: The “Dime Novel” Hoax
What could be more desperate, pathetic and anti-intellectual than an “expert” who resorts to fabricating talking points in order to impose their fake version of history.
In the first two of his three articles, Takeyh referenced an often-cited Eisenhower quote, yet intentionally mischaracterized its true meaning by removing its crucial context.
“I listened to his detailed report and it seemed more like a dime novel than an historical fact”, remarked Eisenhower in his 1960 memoirs, referring to CIA man Kermit Roosevelt’s “courageous” handiwork in Tehran. Takeyh told his audience that Ike was ‘dismissing’ Roosevelt’s account, rather than marveling at it. One look at the actual context in Eisenhower’s October 8, 1953 diary entry and anyone can easily see this is a shameless lie.
It’s probably no coincidence that Takeyh chose not to rekindle this mischief in his Foreign Affairs piece, after I elaborately exposed it in a June 2013 article The “Dime Novel” Hoax—How Eisenhower’s Words Were Deliberately Twisted.
The irony, as usual, is that what Eisenhower was actually saying—praising the tenacity of CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt in turning around what appeared to be a failed operation—is a major liability, not an asset, to Takeyh’s thesis. His writings on the coup are positively infested with this kind of self-refuting analysis.
Takeyh Caught Lying, Part 2: The “Snuggle Up” Fraud
Then we have Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, the former CIA chief who inspired its emphasis on covert operations, whom Takeyh also quotes triumphantly to demonstrate alleged CIA impotency in Tehran. “We now have to take a whole new look at the Iranian situation and probably have to snuggle up to Mosadeq if we’re going to save anything there”, Smith informed the President in an August 18th memo.
What Takeyh isn’t telling you is that then Under Secretary of State Smith’s brief memo was attached to a telegram he received from their Ambassador to Iraq, Burton Y. Berry, the day prior (August 17th). Berry sent the cable not to relay any specific information on the ground (which could have only been secondhand at best), but “in order to provide [State] Department with first hand account of recent Iranian events as Shah sees them.” [emphasis added]
On August 16th, holed up in a state guest house in Baghdad, the distressed Shah had called on Berry because he urgently needed “information and advice upon his next move”. He knew he had to make a statement soon, but needed to be “informed of the situation in Tehran” before choosing his words. “He will try to hold off giving out a statement until he gets advice”, Berry wrote, “but the pressure to issue is great and mounting.” Amazed by the failure of the coup “after being assured that everything was arranged and that there was no possibility of failure”, the Shah apparently felt that returning to Iran was not in the cards for him, and indicated that he would soon need to find a job, hopefully in America.
In his Aug. 18th memorandum to the President, Gen. Smith merely passed on Berry’s message, which was “self-explanatory and will give you the Iranian situation in a nutshell” with his succint note of defeatism presumably stapled or paper-clipped on top.
As it contained nothing more than a briefing on the Shah’s state of mind, Smith’s conclusion that America might be forced to hug it out with Mossadegh was based on no special intelligence whatsoever (other than what was already known to anyone who’d glanced at the front page of any newspaper) and hence is a rather meaningless detail as it pertains to the forensics of the coup.
Like the “dime novel” hoax, Takeyh clearly felt this decontextualized anecdote was a real winner, repeating it in both The Weekly Standard and Foreign Affairs. Yet all he has offered is more empty calories, since the “mood of resignation” in Washington after Mossadegh had the culprits arrested was just as irrelevant to the outcome as Mossadegh’s apparent ‘crushing’ victory over the coup-plotters on August 16th.
As Pres. Eisenhower later explained it in his private diary: “When we realize that in the first hours of the attempted coup, all element of surprise disappeared through betrayal, the Shah fled to Baghdad, and Mossadegh seemed more firmly entrenched than ever before, then we can understand exactly how courageous our agent [Kermit Roosevelt] was in staying right on the job and continuing to work until he reversed the entire situation.”
Besides, the “snuggle up” quote has been cited numerous times over the years—including Eisenhower’s own memoirs— always in the context of a conclusion counter to Takeyh’s. Wouldn’t it be more useful to get Smith’s assessment of the operation after Mossadegh’s confirmed demise one day later, and not one day prior? What do you imagine “Beetle” Smith, the CIA’s own George Washington who went on to help successfully orchestrate the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, would conclude about the agency’s efficiency in Iran?
Takeyh Caught Lying, Part 3: Distorting Dulles
After the February 1953 No’he Esfand episode in which an angry mob attacked Mossadegh’s home, Takeyh says the U.S. took notice, convinced the Shah still maintained a strong following:
“Secretary of State John Foster Dulles cabled the U.S. embassy in Tehran that “there appears to be [a] substantial and relatively courageous opposition group both within and outside [the] Majlis [Iran's parliament]. We gather Army Chiefs and many civilians [are] still loyal to the Shah and would act if he gave them positive leadership, or even if he merely acquiesced in [a] move to install [a] new government.” [FA]
Ah, but Takeyh is playing games once again, using his favorite trick, lying by omission. John Foster Dulles’ March 2, 1953 memo contained four numbered points summarizing the news to date, and all but the third portrayed quite a gloomy outlook. Naturally, Takeyh, chose only to quote #3, which began, “On the other side, there appears to be substantial and relatively courageous opposition group...” So Dulles’ assessment was 25% optimistic, 75% hopeless.
Dulles went on to (mistakenly) conclude that the Shah’s days were numbered. “On basis foregoing it seems likely Mosadeq will retain power and that this will mean early disappearance of Shah from Iranian political scene...”, wrote the Secretary. Sounding defeated and impotent, he added, “It is of course quite possible that we can do nothing in this situation and we shall be guided by your judgment in this regard.”
Takeyh was hoping you wouldn’t read that part.
1953 Coup Is Like Arson
Perhaps an apt metaphor will help crystallize everything: think of the foreign role in the 1953 coup as being analogous to the crime of arson.
The Anglo-American game plan of economic misery, incitement, exploiting and deepening partisan divisions, bribery, threat, blackmail and other psychological warfare techniques were designed to deliberately inflame the populace into panic, confusion and revolt—the precise conditions for an inferno that would smoke out their target.
Imagine a large forest during a severe drought in the peak of summer with high winds, and someone throwing a match into it. The CIA and MI6 not only worked diligently to create these combustible conditions, but lit the match to ensure it would ignite. Whether or not the flames were temporarily put out does not therefore mean that the second fire had nothing to do with the first. An ‘extinguished’ forest fire can easily flare back up at any time, drawing upon the heat, ash and hot embers that remain.
Yet as already described, the U.S. role in toppling Mossadegh in August 1953 was not completely abandoned after the first failed attempt, and even so, much of their preparatory work was still intact for the Iranian actors to capitalize upon.
In fact, it would be more accurate to consider the ‘second’ attempt as merely a continuation of the initial launch, much the way an ‘extinguished’ hot spot of intense heat, dry vegetation and smoldering timber can set aflame once again from as little as a single spark...
Rape Culture As Foreign Policy
Having presented his case that the U.S. was not technically responsible for the 1953 coup, Takeyh ups the audacity with a verdict that defies all rational logic: there’s absolutely nothing, therefore, to feel sorry about or make amends for, nor is there any cause for resentment or mistrust on the part of the Iranian people!
To help understand, by rough comparison, why imposing the “King of Kings” on Iran was so devastating to its political and social development, picture the U.S. installing, financing, and arming the absurd tyranny of the “Dear Leader”, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, or the despicable Assad dynasty in Syria...
None of that particularly impresses Takeyh, who thinks the problem is the U.S. is too soft. Without naming any examples, he declares “American politicians have a penchant for acknowledging guilt and apologizing for past misdeeds,” [WS] Even assuming this were so, could it be that America has much to atone for? Why do they keep apologizing for imaginary sins, are they crazy?
Blaming the victim being Takeyh’s new stock-in-trade, nearly all fault is laid at Mossadegh’s feet. U.S. mediation of the oil problem, he claims, “fell short, owing more to Mosaddeq’s intransigence than any American missteps.”
He also accuses the Prime Minister, who cordially appealed to American beneficence while distancing himself from Red coalitions, of actually provoking the U.S. into subverting him: “Meanwhile, Mosaddeq seemed determined to do everything he could to confirm Washington’s worst fears about him”, Takeyh claims, conjuring up the rancid ‘She was asking for it’ defense favored by rapists. Then he renders his final judgment:
“Mosaddeq was indeed a tragic figure, and a victim. But his tragedy was that he couldn’t find a way out of a predicament that he himself was largely responsible for creating. And more than anyone else, he was a victim of himself.” [FA]
Though he obviously believes Mossadegh ‘got what was coming to him’, Takeyh has merely asserted, not demonstrated, this charge.
This attitude towards global citizenship aligns comfortably with supremacist ideology, patriarchal dynamics, and rape culture—in which the victimized must accept complete ‘ownership’ for their own subjugation, forfeit all legal recourse, and suffer the requisite shame, trauma and social stigmatization accordingly.
The dysfunctional US-Iran relationship had an origin. In 1953, the USA, with no concern for the hopes and dreams of the people, labored premeditatively to incubate and then nurture a repressive, torturing autocracy in a friendly yet vulnerable democratic nation, all the while feigning concern for its welfare.
The longterm effects of this atrocity—the original sin, if you will—are self-evident.