Return on Investment
Holmes Alexander’s Homage to the Shah (1967)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | October 26, 2017                      

“...not many royal restorations in history have been so complete and satisfying [as the 1953 coup].”
Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) greets Queen Farah Pahlavi at a State Department reception for the Shah of Iran. Sec. of State Dean Rusk and wife are in back with the Shah. (April 13, 1961)

In 1956, journalist, author, and former politician Holmes Alexander (1906-1985) argued persuasively in his syndicated newspaper column that U.S. intervention abroad was actually un-American, and that abandoning her principles in exchange for expediency and “short-term interests” just wasn’t worth it.

That was then. In October 1967, the Shah of Iran was about to hold an extravagant, self-indulgent coronation ceremony marking 2,500 years of Persian monarchy. While in Iran as a “guest”, Alexander wrote a glowing tribute to the 48 year-old King, whose position had been largely consolidated and maintained by the American government. In direct contradiction of his previous credo, he lauded the “expertly managed” CIA coup in Iran that toppled its elected Prime Minister in 1953 and paved the way for the oppressive Pahlavi autocracy.

Ironically, Alexander chose to open his piece with the words of LBJ’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, personally praising the Shah. Humphrey, too, had been two-faced on the subject. When he greeted the royal couple at a State Department reception in April 1962, however, there was no indication of his firm belief that the Shah’s days were numbered. “They are dead”, warned Humphrey in a private June 1961 Congressional session, referring to the allegedly imperiled monarchy. “They just don’t know it . . . It is just a matter of time”.

A major crux of Alexander’s stance was that the Shah’s formidable U.S.-funded military apparatus would protect his country from outside aggression, particularly from its Soviet neighbor to the North.

Quoth then-Senator Humphrey in May 1961: “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!”

Fighting the Russians was not very likely. As Holmes Alexander emphasized, the Shah was greatly expanding trade relations with Russia and other Soviet nations, something that one would have expected the United States to frown upon. Indeed, a certain U.S. official was concerned enough to alert Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about the Shah’s recent dealings.

In a July 28, 1966 letter, he wrote, “The fact that he is now turning to the Soviet Union to purchase arms is regrettable. Our intelligence services report that his movement toward the Russians could be far more serious than the immediate issue at hand. I wonder if the situation is correctable?”

That official, of course, was Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

October 19, 1967
Shah Of Iran Spells Good News
For United States

Holmes Alexander

Columnist Holmes Moss Alexander TEHRAN, Iran — “You are good news—and we need good news.” This was the Vice President’s toast at a recent luncheon for His Imperial Majesty, the Shahanshah, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Hubert Humphrey was saying a mouthful, and not a morsel of it was malarkey. Not only does the Shah of Iran wear his crown on a head that rests easily in popularity and influence at home, he also rules a country which is in many ways the very best example of American foreign policy under duress.

Some of us are over here as guests in the coronation season, but I have not yet talked with any except American officials. It is hard to recall any other U.S. Embassy which regards the country where it serves as such a signal success—and this despite the fact that Iran is internally a socialist state, and externally a deal-maker with the Soviet Union.

The Shah is good news on a number of points. He was a 21-year-old puppet in 1941 when the British and Russians dethroned his father, [Reza Shah Pahlavi] an Army officer who had seized the crown, and made him a nominal monarch. He was temporarily dethroned himself in 1953 when Prime Minister Mossadeq forced him to leave the country. [He fled on his own accord and was never dethroned] But not many royal restorations in history have been so complete and satisfying. The Shah returned in a coup that was expertly managed by the CIA. Since then he has been a gradualist-reformer in a part of the world where radicals are the usual order.

The vast petroleum resources—reaching well over 100 million tons of oil production tips year—were nationalized. A consortium of foreign countries handles production, and pays a royalty of around half a billion dollars a year to the Iranian government. The Shah, seeing to it that the proceeds are used for internal improvements, has redistributed his own and other feudally held farmlands to the peasants, and undertaken many uplift programs in education and health.

Less well-known than these publicized reforms are his shrewd politics in absorbing former opponents into his administration. As an American official remarked to me, “It’s almost impossible for the Left Wingers to find an issue. The country’s biggest socializer and its biggest get-along-with-Russia man always turns out to be His Nibs.”

Iran, the nation, is good news for America mainly because its monarch has taken us at our word. Every U.S. preachment since the end of World War II has been that the emerging countries should strive for self-sufficiency. Almost never, except in the case of Iran, has it happened that way. Since 1946 we have supplied some $120 billion in foreign aid to more than 100 countries. About $1.6 billion (1.3 per cent) has gone to Iran, and $887 million was for economic development purposes. But the AID money has been well spent, and we are now phasing out the entire operation. Only a corporal’s guard of about 40 Americans will remain to wind up the work at the end of this year.

The rest of the giveaway in Iran—about $714 million—has gone into military assistance. The Iranian armed forces of some 180,000 men are not going to invade any other country. But they give a sense of security along the common border with Russia, as well as against the threats of subversion that are represented by Nasser of Egypt. [President Gamal Abdel Nasser] Despite much foolishness about arms-distribution spoken in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere, a showy military force inculcates the sort of pride that inspires a small nation to protect itself until outside help can arrive. This would happen in the case of Iran, by all accounts of U.S. military spokesmen here.

It is the self-sufficiency that has allowed Iran to undertake some cautious trading with Russia and the Soviet Bloc. The most talked-about deal is the planned piping of Iranian natural gas into Russia, and the feeling is that Iran will be disappointed in what it eventually gets in return. Meanwhile a barter agreement, effective last April, calls for bartering Iranian ores and textiles for Soviet railroad rolling stock and farm equipment. There are also recent agreements with Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Poland.

The American attitude, in the over-all, is that we have helped to make Iran a mature nation which now has to learn by trial and error. There is hardly a better illustration anywhere of how the USA chose the right time to act, did the right thing in acting, picked the right leader, got the full return on its investment.

What we need in our foreign policy are more kings and countries like these.

Alternate titles:

The Shah and Us
The Shah Good News On Number of Points

SAFER AT HOME: U.S. Implores Shah To Stay In Iran (Feb. 1953)
SAFER AT HOME: U.S. Implores Shah To Stay In Iran (Feb. 1953)


Related links:

1953 Coup In Iran One of CIA’s “Best Investments”, Writes Nixon Aide Ray Waldmann (1979)

Mossadegh: A Lesson For Nasser? | Holmes Alexander, August 7, 1956

What Went Wrong in Iran? | The Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 5, 1952

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

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