Are We Moving Toward Armageddon?

Dorothy Thompson — May 18, 1951

The Mossadegh Project | February 2, 2023                   

Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961), famed journalist, author and broadcaster, on the Anglo-Iranian oil crisis in her syndicated column On the Record.

Iran May Prove More Serious
Than Anything in Far East

By Dorothy Thompson

Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) New York, May 17—While we have a quarter million men in Korea, and recklessly air in Washington every detail of our foreign policy, another spot is erupting which may have far more serious consequences than anything in the Far East. That is Iran. It has a frontier with the Soviets and a treaty which permits Russia to send troops if any foreign power intervenes with armed force there, or should desire to use Iranian territory as a base of operations against Russia.

Since the beginning of the century the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has developed, in southern Iran, one of the world’s greatest oil industries. British engineers were originally heartily welcomed—indeed induced—into the operation. The British discovered the oil and built up over half a century, a half billion-dollar investment. The oil’s market lies in Europe. It cannot, for physical reasons, be pipelined to Russia. Therefore the short range Russian interest is not to get the oil for herself, but to withhold it from the British navy and western Europe, and eventually realize the ancient Russian dream of access to warm water—the Persian Gulf.

The means by which this may be achieved is not Russian armed aggression, but social overturn, which began with an unexpected unanimous parliamentary vote to nationalize and expropriate the industry. It cannot be proved that Communists initiated the move. But the result has been savage outbursts of violence, reducing south Iran to a mounting condition of anarchy.

If the government cannot itself restore order at the oilfields (and the Premier has barricaded himself in the parliament, declaring his life is in danger from “dark forces” whom he hints to be the British oil company—no indication of his power of authority), the situation can get entirely out of hand, providing the opportunity for the most coherent and intelligent revolutionaries to seize power. [The Prime Minister was Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, whose predecessor, she failed to note, was assassinated.]

On the other hand, if the British parachute troops into the country (as is apparently being considered) even for the strictly limited purpose of protecting the fields and refineries until the legal issue is settled, the USSR might invoke the treaty and send in troops.

That might, indeed, touch off a third world war, under the worst possible conditions for invoking the U.N. against an aggressor, and in the Middle East, an area of the utmost instability.

In case of war in this area, Russia would not only have the strategical advantage of her nearby industrial base, but would lead from a politically secure base, while the Allies would be surrounded west of Iran by latent anarchy, in states divided among themselves, six of them still officially at war with Israel, in an uneasy truce, all of them suffering from nationalist frustrations directed against past British and French rule, and all of them inflamed against the Unite States because of the creation of the state of Israel, which they attribute to American support.

This column has long considered the Islamic world an area of immense danger in an epoch combining war and revolution. Western relations with this world could hardly be more inept. Britain, who possesses an immense amount of expert knowledge of the area is, in a sense, a prisoner of past habits, in a world of change, while the American government, disregarding most of its own experts in the American universities, Near East missions and in its own Middle Eastern ministries and embassies, constantly reveals itself as ignorant, prejudiced, and contemptuous of the Islamic peoples.

Yet this area, stretching south and west of the Caspian, outflanks Europe and India, and has been the prize of every conqueror who ever sought world dominion, parts of it lying almost dead-center in the Eurasian land mass. It is not without significance that Biblical prophets set the final decisive world conflict in this area—at Armageddon. The prophesy was sound geo-politics. No outcome in Korea will be decisive for history.

Alternate titles:

The Danger In Iran
We Recklessly Disclose Our Policy—Iran More Dangerous Than Korea


Related links:

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Problem | Dorothy Thompson, May 28, 1952

Britain’s Attempt to Force Iran to Yield on Oil May Provoke Third World War | Sept. 29, 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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