We Need a Good Policy in Iran

Dorothy Thompson — August 1, 1952

The Mossadegh Project | November 15, 2023                   

Famed journalist, author and broadcaster Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) on Iran for her syndicated newspaper column On the Record.

U.S. Can’t Pull Chestnuts
From British Fire in Iran

By Dorothy Thompson

Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) While the political conventions were proceeding, the situation in the Middle East—and especially in Iran—has been blowing up.

The fury which has long raged against the British is engulfing the Americans, as Iranians demand U.S. military missions quit the country. What should we do?

There is a Persian proverb attributed to the great poet Saadi: “It is easy to read good poetry but hard to write it.”

It is easy to read good politics but hard to make them. We have not made good policies in Iran. Good politics, like good poetry, require imagination, whose political function is to foresee developments and cooperate with them.

Throughout modern history Persia (Iran) has been a pawn between Great Britain and Russia and has kept some degree of independence only by playing one off against the other. She has no reason to trust either, and her national leaders do not do so.

This tactic since World War II has become dangerous not only for the West, but for Iran in this situation. The United States has had the opportunity to cut the Gordian knot, provided we pursue a strictly American policy, as indeed was recommended by our former ambassador, Henry Grady.

We cannot pull British chestnuts out of the fire in Iran. It is not a situation in which we can use “good offices” as an arbiter, nor one which can be resolved by military pressures short of war.

The American military missions in Iran are useless for the defense of Iran. They comprise fewer than 150 persons, acting in an advisory capacity. They have, however, furnished the Soviet Union with a pretext to invoke the 1921 treaty, as she did last spring, which gives the Soviets the right to occupy the country if foreign organizations hostile to the Soviets are entertained on Iranian soil.

Far more important than these military missions is the morale of the Iranian army, and Iranian confidence in America’s constructive friendship.

Since the cessation of royalties from Anglo-Iranian oil, the government faces a perpetual treasury crisis, which even involves paying its own security forces.

Premier Mossadegh is in a desperate spot. The more desperate it becomes, the more he is driven toward his most fanatic advisers. The British, working to get him out, succeeded, and precipitated revolutionary riots that played right into Communist hands. Now he is back, for how long is dubious. But he won’t be succeeded, if he is, by a Qavam. [Ahmad Ghavam]

The British have no authority in Iran, and tomorrow we shall go the way of the British if we do not recognize, in a way every Iranian will see, these things.

Iran is a sovereign state with the right to determine the use of her own natural resources.

Iran is a sovereign state with the right to decide what military installations and advisers are on her soil, and the U.S. will not remain one instant longer than Iran desires.

The Iranian people are in a desperate budgetary and social condition which the United States can help alleviate only on condition that the thousand families who practically own the country cough up for its defense and reform.

The present National Front government has not passed a single piece of social legislation.

Its only effective opponent is the underground Tudeh Party which is led by a central hard core of Communist foreign agents.

But thousands of Iranians look toward it because it embodies the only internal reform movement. Fifty per cent of Persia’s schoolteachers are pro-Tudeh, not because they are Communists, but because, like other younger Iranians, they have glimmerings of social conscience and nowhere else to go.

An imaginative program would get the great bulk of these into a reformed National Front, before they take over power via the mob and their leaders invite the Russians—in in which ease American military missions would be useless.

Alternate titles:

Make An American Policy
Only Reforms Can Aid Iran
U.S. Advised Not To Play British Game In Iran

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Related links:

Mossadegh to Spurn Any Hague Decision | Dorothy Thompson, May 28, 1952

Importance of Colonialism To Britain Now Assessed | Marquis Childs, Dec. 15, 1951

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

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

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