U.S. Fumbling Big Opportunity In Not Organizing Middle East

Joseph Alsop — May 7, 1951

The Mossadegh Project | April 11, 2023                      

Joe Alsop on Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh: “an aged extremist who lives in a private world of violent dreams”.

Columnist Joseph Alsop (1910-1989)

Joseph Alsop (1910-1989), influential syndicated newpaper columnist, on the Iranian situation in his column for The New York Herald Tribune, Inc.

On May 10th, Sen. Frank Ellis Smith (Democrat—Mississippi) had the column placed in the Congressional Record under unanimous consent. “Many of us are greatly disturbed about the apparent lack of any coordinated effort to prevent the Soviet from placing Iran inside the Iron Curtain”, he remarked.

The Pot Boils Over While
Chefs Watch Other Cooking

By Joseph Alsop

ATHENS, Greece—It is easy to sum up the impression of American policy making that is left by a tour in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. Evidently the men who make our national policy are like distracted cooks confronting an enormous stove covered with dozens of different pots, all bubbling away simultaneously. The cooks only watch the most conspicuous pots—Western Europe, for example. The other pots get no attention until they either scorch or boil over.

Even from the perspective of Athens, it is all too clear that Iran must now be placed in the category of pots that have boiled over, like China in in the past. When this reporter left Teheran, the American and British motto was that “time would cure all things, and that in time an agreed settlement of the oil nationalization issue could be arranged with the Iranian government.” Even then, it seemed that time was more likely to produce an explosion than a settlement, unless the Foreign Office and State Department could concert strong preventive measures.

The explosion has now occurred with the political triumph of the National Front leader, Dr. Mohammed Mussadegh, [sic] an aged extremist who lives in a private world of violent dreams. With Dr. Mussadegh as Prime Minister, it is pretty safe to predict that one of two things will have happened in Iran within the next few days. Either the British will have moved troops into southern Iran (presumably flying them from Suez) in order to protect their oil properties, or the Iranian extremists will have seized the British oil properties by man force.

In addition, there are signs that Dr. Mussadegh is contemplating a deal with the Soviet Union, and that the Shah, the only relatively stable element in Iranian politics, is again planning to flee. [No deal with USSR was discussed] Certainly it is childishly unrealistic to talk about “negotiating” with Dr. Mussadegh, as Foreign Secretary Morrison has been talking. [Herbert Morrison] A minor disaster is the best result that can now be hoped for from the long neglected Iranian situation; a major disaster, engulfing all the vital region of the Middle East, is all too possible.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is clearly in the other category, of pots that neglect will cause to scorch. At present, the opportunity still exists to tie the Greek, Turkish and Yugoslav armies into the Western security system. But it is troublesome to do what is really necessary in order to exploit this great opportunity to offer the Yugoslavs a sensible and adequate program of arms aid, and to give the Turks and Greeks the guarantees they want against aggression.

Moreover, there is the crucial problem of the Mediterranean command. Until recently, it was thoroughly taken for granted that Adm. Robert Carney would be the Mediterranean commander of the future. Carney even journeyed to Ankara and Athens to discuss liaison arrangements. If Admiral Carney were given the Mediterranean command, he could easily tie in the NATO area in the Western Mediterranean with this area in the Eastern Mediterranean. A British commander, for various local reasons of prejudice and sentiment, can not possible wield the same authority.

But the American Chiefs of Staff, with unparalleled short sightedness, accepted the Atlantic command for Adm. William Fechteler. As the British Chiefs of Staff must have realized at the time, this made it inevitable that a British appointment would be regarded as “only fair” here in the Mediterranean. And it is also troublesome to disentangle this silly mess, and name a British commander in the Atlantic and an American commander in the Mediterranean.

Because of the search for an easy way out the Turkish and Greek requests for guarantees are met with empty words; and the Yugoslavs are “aided” in driblets. Thus, the opportunity here is passing. If suspicion and disgust increase much further at Belgrade; if neutralism gains much more ground at Ankara, the opportunity will simply cease to exist.

On the surface, this sort of missed chance may not seem very grave. In fact, however, the Turks, Greeks and Yugoslavs represent a potential of seventy fighting divisions. These divisions are in being, and are located on the most sensitive Soviet flank, the flank of the always distrusted satellites. With reasonable equipment and good air support the Turks, Greeks and Yugoslavs could, in case of trouble, drive to the Danube, threatening the whole satellite area.

In short, throwing away this splendid opportunity in the Eastern Mediterranean will be like passively accepting a gigantic defeat in war. Equally if the Western world loses control of the vital oil resource and strategic positions in the Middle East, this will also amount to a staggering military defeat. And so improvidence, negligence and the search for the easy way will lead us, by a succession of such defeats, over the brink of final disaster.

The U.S.-Britain Alliance To Erase Mossadegh Was Not Inevitable
The U.S.-Britain Alliance To Erase Mossadegh Was Not Inevitable

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Related links:

Boiling Point Near In Iran | Alsop Brothers, July 30, 1952

Almost Everything Is Wrong With Iran | Dorothy Thompson, May 4, 1951

British Must Make Grim Choice in Iran | Alsop Brothers, May 23, 1951

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

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