ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi
ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi

Ray Takeyh’s Ultra-revisionism
Calls coup “one of the most mythologized events in history”

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | September 15, 2010                    

Council on Foreign Relations fellow Ray Takeyh On the day before the 57th anniversary of the 1953 coup, The Washington Post published an Op-Ed by Council on Foreign Relations fellow, author, and former senior advisor to the Obama administration on Iran policy, Ray Takeyh.

Takeyh’s astonishingly politicized narrative blamed the coup almost entirely on Dr. Mossadegh’s Islamic enemies, and dismissed the Western role as “largely inconsequential”. This version actually contradicts Takeyh’s previous writings in books such as Hidden Iran.

Here is our letter to the editor, and Takeyh’s original article, Clerics responsible for Iran’s failed attempts at democracy.

Letter to the Editor
August 22, 2010

The fact that members of the clergy and other Islamic extremists helped to bring about Mossadegh’s downfall in 1953 is not new information, despite Ray Takeyh’s “breathless” retelling. Yes, the CIA worked with any factions that would assist in their coup plot, including, to quote their own internal report, a “terrorist gang”. Mobilizing these elements was essential to the success of the operation, for it was to be ultimately executed by traitorous Iranians.

Even if the actual US role were marginal as Takeyh falsely claims, the intent was abundantly clear. Thus, American motivations would have been no less unwise or unprincipled, regardless of the potency of their actions. And if we are to believe Takeyh’s tenets that 1) Mossadegh was wildly unpopular, and 2) the US role was non-critical, then the US need not have implicated itself in the atrocity in the first place, and simply allowed nature to take its course.

Takeyh also fails to account for the impact of the oil embargo and frozen assets as part of the plan to undermine Mossadegh, just as US sanctions against Iran are used as economic warfare today. It’s no accident that foreign enmity contributed to the conditions that made Iran unstable enough for "Operation Ajax" to succeed.

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project

Clerics responsible for Iran's failed attempts at democracy
By Ray Takeyh
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thursday marks the anniversary of one of the most mythologized events in history, the 1953 coup in Iran that ousted Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq. CIA complicity in that event has long provoked apologies from American politicians and denunciations from the theocratic regime. The problem with the prevailing narrative? The CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential. The institution most responsible for aborting Iran's democratic interlude was the clerical estate, and the Islamic Republic should not be able to whitewash the clerics' culpability.

The dramatic tale of malevolent Americans plotting a coup against Mossadeq, the famed Operation Ajax, has been breathlessly told so much that it has become a verity. To be fair, the cast of characters is bewildering: Kermit Roosevelt, the scion of America's foremost political family, paying thugs to agitate against the hapless Mossadeq; American operatives shoring up an indecisive monarch to return from exile and reclaim his throne; Communist firebrands and nationalist agitators participating in demonstrations financed by the United States. As Iran veered from crisis to crisis, the story goes, Roosevelt pressed a reluctant officer corps to end Mossadeq's brief but momentous democratic tenure.

Yet this fable conceals much about the actual course of events. In 1953 Iran was in the midst of an economic crisis. An oil embargo had been imposed after Tehran nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., and by that summer, the situation had fractured Mossadeq's ruling coalition. Middle-class Iranians concerned about their finances gradually began to abandon Mossadeq. The merchant class was similarly anguished about the financial consequences of Mossadeq's stubborn unwillingness to resolve the stalemate with the British. The intelligentsia and the professional classes were wary of the prime minister's increasingly autocratic tendencies. Rumors of military coups began circulating as members of the armed forces grew vocal in their frustrations with the prime minister and began participating in political intrigues.

Not just the stars but an array of Iranian society was aligning against Mossadeq.

Now, the CIA was indeed actively seeking to topple Mossadeq. It had made contact that spring with the perennially indecisive shah and Iranian officers, including Gen. Fazollah Zahedi, an opportunistic officer who sought the premiership himself. Roosevelt had laid out a plan in which the shah would issue a monarchical decree dismissing Mossadeq; it was to be served to him on Aug. 15. But the commander who was to deliver the message was arrested, and the plot quickly unraveled.

This is where the story takes a twist. As word of the attempted coup spread, the shah fled Iran and Zahedi went into hiding. Amazingly, U.S. records declassified over the past decade indicate, the United States had no backup plan. Washington was largely prepared to concede. State Department and CIA cables acknowledge the collapse of their subversive efforts.

But while crestfallen Americans may have been prepared to forfeit their mission, the Iranian armed forces and the clergy went on to unseat Mossadeq. The senior clerics' reaction to the developing nationalist crisis was always one of suspicion and concern. The clergy had always been averse to the modernizing penchants of secular politicians such as Mossadeq and their quests for republican rule and liberalization. The mullahs much preferred the deference of the conservative, if vacillating, shah to the secular enterprise of Mossadeq. After the attempted coup, the esteemed men of religion in Qom gave their tacit endorsement to the speaker of Parliament, Ayatollah Kashani. Through their connections with the bazaar and their ability to galvanize the populace, they were instrumental in orchestrating the demonstrations that engulfed Tehran. Mossadeq was already isolated. As the street protests tilted toward the shah, the military stepped in and displaced Mossadeq. A few days after the failure of the CIA's putsch, the shah returned to Iran amid national celebration.

Through all of this, Roosevelt and his conspirators were more surprised observers then active instigators. Roosevelt's most significant contribution to Iranian history was to publish an embellished account of his misadventures more than two decades after the coup. This flawed account went on to define the debate and capture the popular imagination -- even though, in reality, Washington was caught flat-footed about how to respond to events in Tehran. President Dwight Eisenhower conceded to his diary after hearing Roosevelt's account, "I listened to his detailed report and it seemed more like a dime novel than historical fact."

American politicians have a penchant for acknowledging guilt and apologizing for past misdeeds. But responsibility for the suffocation of the Iranian peoples' democratic aspirations in the summer of 1953 lies primarily with those who went on to squash another democratic movement in the summer of 2009 -- the mullahs. It is they who should apologize to the Iranian people.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Related links:


ORIGINAL SIN | Response to Ray Takeyh’s What Really Happened in Iran in Foreign Affairs

Slandering Mossadegh With Impunity For Over A Decade: Edgar Ansel Mowrer

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

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