Arrogance and Cupidity

Hamilton Butler — April 15, 1951

The Mossadegh Project | May 29, 2023                     

A column on Britain and Iran by Hamilton Butler (1882-1953), a Far East expert and former interpreter in China. Butler wrote for The Detroit Free Press since 1928.

April 15, 1951
The Detroit Free Press

How Britain Outsmarted Itself


Hamilton Butler (1882-1953) of The Detroit Free Press Again the British are asking us to bail them out of a mess for which they themselves are solely responsible. The trouble this time is in Iran, where their arrogance and cupidity have provoked the Iranian Parliament into authorizing the nationalization of the oil industry, which has been exploited for half a century by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co.

The British have thought up a clever way out. A dispatch from London explains it. Sentiment for nationalization in Iran is to be met by a compromise that will preserve Britain’s interest in the business. The Iranians are then to be sugared up with a social and economic development program.

The first is primarily a “task for Britain,” the dispatch states, and “the second a task for the United States.” The British, that is to say, will write the ticket and we will pay for it.

A perfect illustration of Sir George Paish’s thesis that the postwar world would be saved by British experience and American dollars.

AMONG THE ironies of the situation is that our British friends, whose oil policy for more than 30 years has been deliberately calculated to “drain” the United States of its oil so that eventually it would have to come to the Empire for its needs, are now compelled to appeal to Washington to save them.

The British Isles have no oil. With the withdrawal of Burma the Empire lost its only important petroleum supply until Alberta came in. Yet by the end of World War I the British had in hand or in right control of half the earth’s known oil. This was not achieved by accident.

The British Government backed Sir Henri Deterding and other entrepreneurs in infiltrating the oil industry in the East Indies, the Middle East, Venezuela and Mexico. The Royal Dutch-Shell interests invaded the United States.

THE BRITISH realized earlier than most others that the nation which controlled the world’s oil would have a powerful means of controlling its destiny. Among the principal causes of World War I was Britain’s determination to keep Germany out of the Middle East and grab off the rich Mosul oil fields.

Among the prominent financial backers of Adolf Hitler, when he was building up to World War I, was Sir Henri Deterding, who depended upon Hitler to get back from Russia the Baku oil that the Soviet Government had seized.

After World War I, although, we had largely fueled the Allies, the British fought tooth and nail to keep us out of Mesopotamia. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes fought back. All the American companies could get, though, was less than a quarter share in the Iraq Petroleum Co., and a half share in the Kuwayt Oil Co. [Kuwait]

THE BRITISH ended up with all of Iran’s oil and half of Iraq’s and Kuwayt’s, while we had on paper half of Kuwayt’s and 23 per cent of Iraq’s. The only exclusively American concessions are in Saudi Arabia and in the Shaykhdom of Bahrayn (Bahrein) and even these can’t draw their own breath. [Bahrain!]

The political influence of Great Britain in this area is (or was) such, writes Prof. Ephraim Spicer in his volume on “The United States and the Near East,” that “even the wholly American holdings (are) dependent in ever so many intricate details on British favors.”

THE IRANIANS not only want more for their oil but also representation on the Anglo-Iranian board, a chance for young Iranians to train as technicians and a cessation of the employment of Hindu labor, which irks Iranian workers.

The Iraqi accuse the British-controlled IPC of cheating them by agreeing to pay for oil in one currency and then paying in an other. They, too, are talking nationalization. The Egyptians also are incensed at Britain and have closed the Suez Canal to tankers from the Persian Gulf to the Haifa refinery. American companies have raised no such animosities in their fields.

YET WE, who will have to defend the Middle East and its oil if Russia takes advantage of the unrest the British have created, there to attack it, are now asked to pour our money into Iran to save British profits.

A happier solution would be for Anglo-Iranian to turn its properties over to the Iranian Government and for the Iranian Government then to form an operating company in which the shares would be divided equally among itself, American oil interests and British interests.

Any such proposal in London would start a run on the aspirin supply.

Yet our British friends have shown no such anxiety to cooperate with us in other areas that we should go on paying, for free, for a brand of “experience” that threatens to engulf us in war not only in the Near East but also in the Far East.

What Went Wrong in Iran? | Amb. Henry Grady Tells All (1952)
What Went Wrong in Iran? | Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 5, 1952


Related links:

Underwriting Colonialism | Hamilton Butler on Iran, Jan. 6, 1952

Birthplace Of Civilization, Easy To See How It Could Die | Stewart Alsop, Dec. 3, 1951

Scare That Failed | Herald and Review (Decatur, IL), Oct. 6, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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