Symptoms In Middle East

Dorothy Thompson — May 4, 1951

The Mossadegh Project | February 17, 2023                   

Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) on Iran in her syndicated newspaper column On the Record. Thompson was a well known journalist, author and broadcaster.

“Almost Everything Is Wrong with Iran”

Oil Question Must Be Settled

By Dorothy Thompson

Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) That politics makes strange bedfellows is illustrated in Iran where the illegal Tudeh Party supposedly spearheaded by Communists, joined hands with a fanatical Moslem group to help end the life of the Anglo-Persian Oil Co. [Anglo-Iranian Oil Company] Fanatical Moslems are not progressives, and the alliance would seem senseless from an ideological viewpoint.

But nationalism allied with social radicalism is sweeping many eastern countries and it is erroneous to assume that these originate in a Russian-Communist conspiracy. The Russians have simply backed native movements which could be anticipated as emerging from World War II—for war is itself the breeder of revolutionary change—while the Western Powers have largely fought a defensive struggle for the maintenance of the status quo.

Persia (Iran), once one of the world’s great powers, is a vast country, potentially rich in natural resources, and with the historic memory of a great civilization. Almost everything is wrong with it today — wretched poverty, disease, illiteracy, superstition, and opium addiction among the masses; callous indifference and greed among the ruling classes; corruption.

There is so much to rebel against that one wonders it has not occurred earlier. And it is well to keep in mind that in the Middle East anyone who expresses public indignation or voices demands for reform is likely to be denounced as a Communist or a Russian agent. In condition of social consciousness the most diehard American Republican would seem like a Red to many Middle Eastern potentates.

But the most influential leader in the Iranian nationalization movement is the new Premier, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, who is neither pro-Russian nor Communist. He has been in public life for 50 years without receiving a cent, and his honesty is unquestioned—in itself remarkable in Persia.

The disappointment of all classes with the West was reported from Teheran in this column last December, when British and American relations were visibly deteriorating.

The war hit the Iranian economy heavily, through the loss of its German markets. Western influences have tried to prevent trade agreements with Russia, but in vain because the West could not, itself, take Iranian surpluses of rice, cotton, wool and hides, while Russia offered to take them in exchange for sugar, cement paper, glass, etc., on a straight barter basis.

The American financial aid anticipated under Point Four has not been forthcoming, despite the fact that the government paid $3,000,000 to American technicians to investigate economic possibilities and recommend projects.

Whatever Russian intervention there may be is invisible, while British economic and political intervention has a long history, and has been highly visible in the oil companies and their aloof personnel.

The anti-foreign feeling was, therefore bound to be directed against the Anglo-Americans unless these confidently allied with themselves with the nationalist-reform forces, and vigorously contributed to the build up the economy instead of concentrating on denunciation of Iran’s political and military neutrality.

Neutrality, in the present atmosphere, is the best we can hope for in any Middle Eastern country except Turkey.

With more confidence and imagination—though not without sacrifice—it ought to be possible to settle the oil question. Iranian oil cannot go to Russia for physical reasons. The fields near the Persian Gulf are 1,000 miles from the Russian frontier. To build a pipeline over the mountain ranges that lie between them and this frontier would be an impossible engineering feat.

The lranian Government, which now owns the oil, needs is natural customers—the British Navy and Western Europe. The greatest danger to the supply would arise from the ousting of foreign technicians, in a fit of nationalist fury. Nothing should be done to add to this fury. What might have been prevented by foresight now can be salvaged, in part, only by cooperation with existing reality.

Alternate titles:

Symptoms In Middle East


Related links:

Iran More Dangerous Than Korea | Dorothy Thompson, May 18, 1951

Persia (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) | May 1, 1951

Troubles in Iran Are Serious | Walter Lippmann, May 15, 1951

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

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