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The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and The Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations Hardcover – February 5, 2013
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The CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 that deposed Muhammad Mossadeq, Iran's popular prime minister, is often noted as a failure of interventionist foreign policy. In this slim, readable volume, Iran scholar Abrahamian (A History of Modern Iran) delves into the genesis and aftermath of that operation, challenging the idea that Mossadeq's intransigence made the putsch inevitable. Making extensive use of recently declassified diplomatic cables and the archives of multinational oil companiesespecially the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now BPthe author makes the case that the U.K. and the U.S., unwilling to back down over the hard issue of nationalization [of the oil industry]... were the main stumbling blocks’ in the relationship between Iran and the West. . . . his primer skillfully weaves together primary sources to tell an engaging tale of the machinations, intrigues, and personalities at the heart of the crisis.”
"Abrahamian has done for Iran what de Tocqueville did for France."
Edward Mortimer, author of Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam, on Ervand Abrahamian’s A History of Modern Iran
"A relevant, readable study of the foreign-engineered 1953 Iranian coup reminds us of the cause that won’t go away: oil."
"In this thorough, wellresearched work, Abrahamian (Iranian & Middle Eastern history & politics, CUNY) breaks down the generally accepted understanding of the details behind the 1953 CIArun coup that ousted Iran’s prime minister, Muhammad Mossadeq, and supported the shah. The author reveals some of the primary motivations behind the current Iranian hostility toward the United States and other Western governments. Through his welldocumented research, Abrahamian paints a picture of the coup in the context of British and U.S. oil interests, contrasting these motivations with the desire to curb the spread of Soviet influences. In his examination of information recently made available from the British Foreign Office, the U.S. Department of State, the AngloIranian Oil Company (now BP), and other government documents, Abrahamian pieces together the intricacies of the relationships among these parties and provides a sound argument for the control of oil resources as the dominating issue behind the coup. VERDICT This latest research from Abrahamian is a must read for anyone wanting a clearer understanding of the history behind current U.S.Iranian relations. Recommended for Middle Easthistory enthusiasts and specialists, as well as those seeking a full understanding of current international affairs."
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Abrahamian's book is the definitive historical account of the military coup engineered by American and UK intelligence agencies, a hostile overthrow of an independent, democratic, sovereign nation to exploit its natural resources and substitute in its place a brutal dictatorship. The files of the American and UK intelligence agencies are still classified, no surprise, so Abrahamian account is culled from the files of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, better known today as British Petroleum (BP), Foreign Office and State Department publications, correspondence, contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, and interviews and memoirs from the individuals involved in the events described. It is also a definitive account of the history of Iran in the Twentieth Century.
As the author admits, there have been other books written about the military coup in 1953 which overthrew Mohammed Mossadeq. One such book was written by Teddy Roosevelt's grandson, Kermit Roosevelt, one of the principle CIA operatives involved in engineering the coup. This book however has long been out of print, and if available, as it is on this website, the price befits the scarcity of the book. Roosevelt's account of how he overthrew Mossadeq is hardly an objective account or a good source of information. What sets Abrahamian's account apart from other books on the subject is the exacting and scholarly detail with which the author gives to the background of the Iran's nationalization of the oil industry, with a history of BP and its dealings with Iran, influence on the UK and American governments, of the origins of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, better known today as British Petroleum (BP), and the step-by-step account of how the overthrow was achieved.
He expertly describes the post-nationalization negotiations conducted by BP, the UK and American governments, and Mossadeq. Abrahamian definitively describes the schizophrenic policy of the UK government, publically placating the Iranian government, supporting on the one hand the nationalization as a legitimate action of a sovereign nation, but privately on the other doing anything and everything it could to bring about its failure. In this regard Abrahamian debunks the long-held, official view that Mossadeq was responsible for the coup happening because of his intransigence and unwillingness to compromise. Following nationalization BP used every non-military means at its disposal to undo Iran's action. This included legal action to the World Court (they did not prevail, the English judges on the panel finding against the UK!), seeking American support for an invasion of the oil fields (Truman wouldn't have anything to do with it), seeking US help to sanctions (they failed and the UK ultimately experienced significant political blowback later from those efforts), seeking US assistance in brokering some accommodation (they failed too), having English envoys negotiate with Iranian officials (they failed), and petitioning the UN to resolve the dispute (failed). After all these diplomatic and political efforts at arriving at a solution agreeable to both sides failed, US negotiators fashioned a plan which Mossadeq accepted and which appeared to be facially even-handled and fair -- Britain refused the proposed settlement!
One is struck with the healthy and vibrant Iranian democracy which existed before the coup. The nationalization of the oil industry was the result of a long democratic process -- not all Iranian politicians supported nationalization -- and was the result of legislative and congressional (in pre-coup Iran, called Mejlis) debates and discussions. One is struck with the futility and similarity -- then as in now -- of commercial and economic sanctions the Western powers imposed on the country short of actual intervention. One is also struck with the naked exercise of Western Imperialism by BP, the UK, and the US when all other non-invasive methods failed. To be clear nationalization was driven by the long history of officially- sanctioned business abuses and corrupt business practices of BP. Abrahamian goes into great, painstaking detail of these corrupt business practices and of how and in what manner BP systematically shortchanged the Iranian government of royalties due while the concessions were in effect while at the same time exploiting its natural resources.
Abrahamian's tendency is to stick to the documentary record and chronological sequence of events, and this can sometimes be tedious. But this is strength of his account. He is not writing a polemical political tract charged with accusations or invective, although it might be very easy to do so. This is a serious historical account and Abrahamian sticks to and preserves the documentary and/or historical record in all its shocking glory. The effect is dramatic and will make for unforgettable reading.
I bought this book for a Middle Eastern History class that I took in college. It is a lot easier to read than some other history texts out there, which I appreciated. I hope it can help you get a better understanding of what took place.
Abrahamian utilizes the major known sources well: the files of the AIOC and the international oil producers (the Seven Sisters), the documents of the UK that have been de-classified under the 30 year rules, and the US records , some de-classified State Dept. Records as well as some CIA memos and memoirs that have become available since especially 2000.There is plenty of long quoted passages from these primary sources to provide the evidence for Abrahamian's arguments.
But Abrahamian also offers a nice analysis of the historical literature on the coup, showing how the interpretations have evolved. The early accounts were mainly official justifications reflecting President Eisenhower's speech on the coup, that Iran was faltering into instability that could have led to communism and the US could not sit by and watch that happen. The Shah became a central figure as a cornerstone of support for the West against communist threats to Iran and the Middle East. The advent of the Islamic Republic and the collapse of the Shah in 1979 saw the first major revisions by historians, who discovered Mossadeq as an alternative to both the Shah and Khomeini. Since then analysis has focused on the rise and fall of Mossadeq and the National Front and the origins of the coup. Abrahamian emphasizes the issue of control over Iran's oil reserves as the crucial point of the contest and argues that Mossadeq's position was more flexible than that of the UK and the oil producers. That the fall of Mossadeq brought on the revolution of the Islamic Republic, the end of the shahs, and the advent of Islamic fundamentalism is a widely shared perspective now.