We all want to remember a better time, when better leaders behaved better. But facts sometimes undermine myths. This August will mark the 60th anniversary of the Eisenhower Administration's destruction of Iranian democracy. It was the first time a U.S. president had the CIA destroy another country's democracy, and it wouldn't be the Eisenhower Administration's last.
As I wrote last August, the Truman Administration, under the advice of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, refused the idea of destroying Iran's democracy. Eisenhower approved it.
President Harry S. Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, sympathized with Iran's nationalist ambitions, and believed the best way to thwart Soviet expansionism was to side with the legitimate aspirations for freedom in less developed countries. Truman tried to mediate, but he and Acheson both were appalled by British intransigence. The British appealed to the World Court, and lost. Mossadegh became an international celebrity. But in late 1951, the British returned Winston Churchill to Downing Street, and in 1952, the Americans elected Dwight Eisenhower to the presidency. History was about to change.Good and decent people don't destroy democracies. Good and decent presidents don't leave a legacy of danger and horror and destruction that after sixty years haunts not only other nations but our own. But that's what Eisenhower did.
Eisenhower himself was not enthusiastic about supporting Churchill's intentions with Iran, but his secretary of state and CIA director, the Dulles brothers, eventually convinced him otherwise. A covert operation was led by Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., grandson of late U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and it included creating great social unrest and the hiring of some of Iran's most notorious criminals to stage violent riots in support of the Shah, which Mossadegh, being a champion of the rights to free speech and assembly, at first did not oppose. Coupled with the economic chaos caused by a British-led international boycott against buying Iranian oil, Mossadegh's rule was weakened, and a well-bribed military then took action. A first coup attempt failed, the Shah was forced to flee to Iraq, then Rome, but before a week had expired, a second coup attempt had succeeded. All of this was coordinated by Roosevelt, mostly out of the American Embassy in Tehran. The Shah was restored, Mossadegh turned himself in, and Iranian democracy was dead.
So pleased were they with their results, the Dulles brothers soon began planning their second coup, which would take place in Guatemala. Anglo-Iranian subsequently changed its name to British Petroleum. Mossadegh spent three years in prison, and the rest of his life under house arrest, in a small village where only his family and close friends were allowed to visit. The increasing repression under the Shah eventually led to his being overthrown, but it took more than two long decades, and because the Shah had so successfully crushed most secular opposition, that 1979 revolution quickly became fervently religious. Most Americans didn't understand why Iranian revolutionaries subsequently attacked the American Embassy in Tehran, taking dozens of hostages, and neither the politicians nor the media bothered to explain. But most Iranians knew that the 1953 demolition of their democracy, and the restoration of the Shah, had been planned from that very building. Many Muslims around the world also knew very well what had happened.
This is but a very brief outline, and there are many fascinating details and nuances, but understanding this history will be increasingly important, as the same neocons who so brilliantly propagandized for the so successful invasion of Iraq ramp up their pressure on President Obama to get more aggressive with Iran. It isn't much of a campaign issue, but with the theocratic Iranian regime the Eisenhower Administration made almost inevitable still pursuing the nuclear weapons that the nations that already have nuclear weapons say no one else must be allowed to have, the politics of nucelar proliferation will continue to grow more complicated and more dangerous, and Iran will remain its primary focus.