Empire and Nationhood
The United States, Great Britain, and Iranian Oil, 1950-54
by Mary Ann Heiss
New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. 328 pp. $49.50 (paper, $19.50).
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
Much anti-American mythology arises out of the 1953 overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mussadiq (with help from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)) and Heiss provides a good example of how the "blame America first" crowd analyzes these events. To be sure, she has done extraordinarily detailed research in the Western sources. But for all her complaints that British and U.S. officials did not understand Mussadiq in his cultural context, Heiss herself is blind to the Iranian side of the story, making no use of the very many memoirs, documents, and analyses available in Persian. Reflecting this limitation, her account focuses on U.S. and British actions and presents only sketchy information about the Iranian domestic politics that drove Mussadiq and were the overwhelming factor in his downfall.
In fact, Mussadiq fell not because of CIA actions but because he had alienated large segments of the Iranian population, including the devoutly religious. He was no democrat: when they were sympathetic to him, he was happy to rely on crowds, mobilized by the communist Tudeh party, to pressure parliament. And the famous coup to overthrow him consisted simply of the shah exercising his constitutional power to dismiss the prime minister. Readers must look elsewhere for a balanced analysis of the overthrow of Mussadiq.1
1 For example, Gavin Hambly, "The Pahlavi Autocracy: Muhammad Riza Shah, 1941-1979," The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 7, From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, ed. Peter Avery, et. al (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 244-296.
Related Topics: History, Iran, Oil, US policy | Patrick Clawson | September 1998 MEQ
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