Although the United States and Russia were allies in World War II, that relationship was not one of friends but one of common enemies.
After the war, political rhetoric in the United States centered around the fear of communism and, by extension, Russia.
On March 21, 1947, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) issued Executive Order 9835, also known as the Loyalty Order, which mandated that all federal employees be analyzed to determine whether they were sufficiently loyal to the government. Truman’s loyalty program was a startling development for a country that prized the concepts of personal liberty and freedom of political organization. Yet it was only one of many questionable activities that occurred during the period of anticommunist hysteria known as the Red Scare.
Evidence of the US fear of communist expansion: Truman embarked on an arms race after Russia announced it had developed atomic weapons in 1949.
In 1950, a National Security Council Report known as NSC–68 had echoed Truman’s recommendation that the country use military force to contain communist expansionism anywhere it seemed to be occurring. To that end, the report called for a four-fold increase in defense spending [during peacetime] (emphasis added).
By 1951, British and American intelligence worried that Iran would join the “Soviet orbit” if Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq remained in power. They were also worried about oil: in 1953, Mosaddeq had “nationalized an Iranian oil industry previously operated by British companies.”
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, America had firmly linked national security and Middle East oil in 1945.
The CIA cajoled, threatened, and bribed its way into influence… On August 19, 1953, the military, backed by street protests organized and financed by the CIA, overthrew Mossadeq. The Shah [Mohammed Reza Pahlavi] quickly returned to take power and, as thanks for the American help, signed over 40 percent of Iran’s oil fields to U.S. companies (emphasis added).
According to Foreign Policy, this was the first of America’s coups.
In 1972, Saddam Hussein directed the nationalization of Iraq’s oil industry. Hussein forced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to leave Iraq on 06 October 1978. In 1979, Iranians made Khomeini the religious leader of the Iranian revolution.
In 1979, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, David Rockefeller, orchestrated a pressure campaign on President Jimmy Carter. His successful campaign brought the deposed Iranian Shah (Pahlavi) to the United States.
Exploiting clubby networks of power stretching deep into the White House, Mr. Rockefeller mobilized a phalanx of elder statesmen.
They included Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state and the chairman of a Chase advisory board; John J. McCloy, the former commissioner of occupied Germany after World War II and an adviser to eight presidents as well as a future Chase chairman; a Chase executive and former C.I.A. agent, Archibald B. Roosevelt Jr., whose cousin, the C.I.A. agent Kermit Roosevelt Jr., had orchestrated a 1953 coup to keep the shah in power; and Richard M. Helms, a former director of the C.I.A. and former ambassador to Iran.
Less than two weeks later, on 04 November 1979, Iranians took approximately 70 American hostage. The 444-day ordeal helped Ronald Reagan defeat President Carter in his bid for re-election.
As Tehran’s coffers swelled with oil revenues in the 1970s, Chase [had] formed a joint venture with an Iranian state bank and earned big fees advising the national oil company.
In 1989, in the G.W.H. Bush Administration, the US State Department released an official version of the “coup period” that “made not a single reference to American and British actions in connection with the event.”
“It was the potential … to leave Iran open to Soviet aggression — at a time when the Cold War was at its height and when the United Sates was involved in an undeclared war in Korea against forces supported by the U.S.S.R. and China — that compelled the United States [REDACTED] in planning and executing TPAJAX [the code name of the coup operation].”
According to the George Washington University National Security Archive:
For decades, neither the U.S. nor the British governments would acknowledge their part in Mosaddeq’s overthrow, even though a detailed account appeared as early as 1954 in The Saturday Evening Post.
The documentary COUP 53, “directed and co-written by award-winning Iranian-born film-maker Taghi Amirani,” tells the story of British and American efforts to “oust a key figure in Iran’s oil nationalization movement.” Also partners in production: American film editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Conversation,The English Patient) and English actor Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Schindler’s List, The English Patient).
An ingeniously structured tutorial on the American-British led removal of Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953, and the action’s disastrous ripple effects.
Was the 1953 Iranian coup about a fear of communism or was it about oil? What role did bank profits play? The official word has always been communism but the history shows a messy intersection of government and business interests.
[Iran] covers an area of 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the fourth-largest country entirely in Asia and the second-largest country in Western Asia behind Saudi Arabia. Iran has a population of 85 million, making it the 17th-most populous country in the world.
Also see Mapped: The 7 Governments the U.S. Has Overthrown Foreign Policy, 20 August 2013.
- Cold War history (original)
- Red Scare (original)
- Foreign Policy (original)
- JSTOR (original)
- History.com Overturn Iran (original)
- Britannica, Saddam Hussein (original)
- Britannica, Khomeini (original)
- NYT, Rockefeller (original)
- Jimmy Carter Library (original)
- Vox, Reagan (original)
- GWU Archives, 1989, briefing book (original)
- GWU Archives, 2011 (original)
- GWU Archives, COUP53 (original)
- Washington Post, COUP53 (original)