All the Shah's Men

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All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
All The Shahs Men book cover.jpg
Author Stephen Kinzer
Subject 1953 Iranian coup d'état
Publisher John Wiley & Sons
Publication date
July 18, 2003
Pages 272
ISBN 978-0-471-67878-6

An American Coup & the Roots of Middle East Terror Half a century ago, the United States overthrew a Middle Eastern government for the first time. The victim was Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. Although the coup seemed a success at first, today it serves as a chilling lesson about the dangers of foreign intervention. In this book, veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer gives the first full account of this fateful operation. His account is centered around an hour-by-hour reconstruction of the events of August 1953, and concludes with an assessment of the coup's "haunting and terrible legacy. "Operation Ajax", as the plot was code-named, reshaped the history of Iran, the Middle East, and the world. It restored Mohammad Reza Shah to the Peacock Throne, allowing him to impose a tyranny that ultimately sparked the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Islamic Revolution, in turn, inspired fundamentalists throughout the Muslim world, including the Taliban and terrorists who thrived under its protection. All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror is a book written by American journalist Stephen Kinzer. The book discusses the 1953 Iranian coup d'état backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in which Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran's prime minister, was overthrown by Islamists supported by American and British agents (chief among them Kermit Roosevelt) and royalists loyal to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.


In 1933 Reza Shah signed a deal selling Iranian oil extraction rights to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later called British Petroleum (BP). Though Iran was officially neutral at the start of World War II, its monarch was friendly towards the Axis. Following the 1941 Allied Invasion of Iran, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Mohammad Reza Shah, who upheld the oil agreement with APOC, which by then had been renamed the "Anglo-Iranian Oil Company". When the first democratically elected parliament and prime minister in Iran took power in 1950 they planned to seize the oil assets in Iran that had been developed by the British, violating the still running oil contract with British Petroleum. The British government followed to court in Belgium's International Court, lost the case against Iran's new government and reacted by blockading the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, halting Iran's trade and economy.

The US was concerned that Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was seeking help from the local superpower, the Soviet Union, against Britain. The Eisenhower administration agreed with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill government to restore the pro-Western Shah to power. In the summer of 1953, the CIA and Britain's MI6 arranged a coup in Tehran. Mossadegh was successfully overthrown and spent the rest of his life on his country estate under house arrest, and Iran remained a staunch Cold War ally of the West. After more than 20 years of the Shah's rule, there was a bloody revolution in 1979 and brought into power an Islamic republic, which has ruled ever since.

Regarding US policy as it developed towards Iran in the early 1950s, the book portrays it as having been variously driven by the fear of annoying the British, an attempt to be an honest broker, or a effort the spread of Communism. The fact, stated at the end of the book, that US companies were granted the majority of the oil concessions from the Shah's government after the coup, does not feature significantly in the earlier part of the narrative. However, that it was the chief reason for the coup is the tacit conclusion of the book.

British critic David Pryce-Jones takes strong issue with this conclusion in his essay "A Very Elegant Coup" (link below). In his view, the attempted Communist takeover of Iran was the chief issue, and the portrayal of the CIA by Kinzer as "arrogant, thuggish and immoral" was originally a notion put forward by leftists who sympathized with the attempt.

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