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Lessons From The Philippines Insurrection And Our Overthrow Of Mossadegh, Part II.

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Summary For Op Ed News

America's overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953 has had long running consequences that are bedeviling us today.

January 19, 2007

Re: Lessons From The Philippines Insurrection
And Our Overthrow Of Mossadegh, Part II.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

On July 11 and July 31, 2006, this writer posted essays based on a 2006 book by Stephen Kinzer called Overthrow: America's Century Of Regime Change From Hawaii To Iraq. One essay involved the Philippines Insurrection around the turn of the 20th Century. The other involved the fact and the still bedeviling consequences of the American overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadegh of Iran in 1953. It also set forth some ideas regarding peace in the Middle East.

Unfortunately but expectably, the facts and ideas discussed in those postings are still as relevant six months later as when the original postings occurred. For six months later, of course, we are still dealing with continuous American military interventionism, grave problems with Iran, and a disaster in Iraq. Indeed, certain of these problems, maybe all three of them, may be rushing to a head. And now, after the November 7th elections, there may also be increased receptivity to the ideas in the two July posts.

For all these reasons, two postings based on Kinzer's book have been or are being reposted, one yesterday and the other today. The (forlorn?) hope is that they might make some modest contribution to the debate over conflicting ideas that is currently taking place in this country.

The July 31, 2006 essay on the overthrow of Mossadegh, and its consequences for the United States, is appended below.*

This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at

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July 31, 2006

Re: Overthrowing Mossadegh; Iranian Hatred For The U.S.;
And The Crisis In Lebanon.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

In the post discussing Stephen Kinzer's writing on the Philippines Insurrection in his recent book entitled Overthrow: America's Century Of Regime Change From Hawaii To Iraq, it was said that a future post would discuss what Kinzer wrote about our conduct in Iran. There, in 1953, we manufactured the overthrow of an Iranian patriot and nationalist manned Mohammed Mossadegh. We had him replaced by a cruel tyrant, the Shah, Mohammed Reza Palevi -- who, among other repressive actions, created the notorious and ultra cruel secret police force called Savak. The Iranians, who generally liked America before we orchestrated the overthrow of Mossadegh, have largely hated us ever since. Our 1953 action paved the way for the rise to power of the mullahs, led to the Shah's overthrow and the one year seizure of our embassy personnel in 1979, and, as said, led to enduring hatred of the United States.

Fortuitously, the present time is, of course, a somewhat odd moment to write about our horrendous misconduct towards Iran. For few if any doubt that Iran, along with Syria, is behind Hezbollah and in reality is, again with Syria, the cause of what one might sardonically call the current unpleasantness in the Middle East. This is not a time when this writer would feel very charitable towards Iran or Syria. (The Syrians also are, as I have always understood it, a very cruel people. Witness the first Assad's leveling of the Syrian city of Hama because it was a center of dissent, and to his murder of, it is estimated, 30,000 to 40,000 of Hama's people. Also, twenty-some years ago, when touring the Golan Heights, this writer was shown Syrian machine gun positions in caves where, to prevent the gunners from retreating or running, the gunners, the Israelis said, had been chained to the walls until killed. I know of no reason, then or now, to disbelieve the Israelis, and one's reaction, as with the slaughter at Hama, is "nice people, those Syrians.")

The current unpleasantness makes it more likely than ever that we are going to have to decide what, if anything, to do about Iran and Syria: we may be unable to continue to use America's favorite foreign policy tactic of pretty much ignoring something until faced with budding or partially accomplished disaster, as we did before Pearl Harbor and as occurred with regard to Muslim fundamentalism in the 1990s and up until September 11, 2001 despite various bombings such as bombings of the World Trade Center (in 1993), of American embassies, and of the Cole. For one can just imagine what the situation might be in the current unpleasantness if Iran now possessed nuclear weapons, or what the situation would be in the future. Hezbollah's fantastic build-up on the Lebanon-Israel border did not occur because Iran and Syria desire abiding peace in the Middle East -- at least so long as there is an Israel -- and it would be better to deal with those bums now than to wait until Iran is nuclear armed. For at that point maybe the Iranians would sponsor, cause, encourage -- use whatever word you want -- the building-up and progressive worsening of situations that could lead at minimum to a vast regional conflagration and, quite plausibly, to nuclear war. Israel is not going to go gently into that good night wished for Israelis by the Iranians and the Syrians, you know. It will be more like Samson pulling the temple down on the Philistines, or in this case on the effing Syrians and Iranians. Or maybe the U.S., Britain and other western countries will have to join a large Middle Eastern conventional war against those two countries. Who knows what might happen? Better to deal with it now, before Iran is nuclear armed. Maybe -- let us fervently hope, let us devoutly pray (to use Lincolnian phraseology) -- that negotiations, jaw jaw jawing instead of war war warring (as I think was said by Churchill), resolve or at least immensely tamp down the Middle Eastern furor. But we may as well concede that, so long as Iran and Syria persist in seeking the destruction of Israel, there can be no permanent peace in the Middle East. They have to be dealt with -- and before Iran has the bomb.

Even though one has no use whatever for the current governments of Iran or Syria, it may nonetheless be useful to know what we did to Mossadegh, so that one will understand a major reason why Iran hates us, and can understand as well how the ground got prepared for the rise in Iran of Muslim cleric fundamentalists, mullahs, who seem to preach hatred against us and the west for religious reasons as well as nationalistic ones.

* * * * *

Kinzer's Iranian tale starts with John Foster Dulles.

Dulles was a child of exceptional privilege. A man who made decisions by lengthily communing with himself, his legal mind and the extraordinary contacts arising from his privileged birth and upbringing propelled him quickly to the top of what became one of America's leading law firms, Sullivan & Cromwell. His clients were a roster of leading multinational corporations. He played ball with the Nazis until a threatened revolt of his law partners forced him to stop.

Dulles was devoutly, maybe even "wacked outly" religious, and after World War II, became a wacked out anticommunist, partly because of his religiosity. His views also were those of the elite, the privileged, and the multinational corporations he spent most of his adult life representing.

As a person he was stiff, confrontational, adversarial, and "wished neither to meet, accommodate, or negotiate with the enemy." (P. 116.) (He thus counseled Eisenhower against summit meetings.) And, as said, he communed with himself to make decisions.

Dulles wanted to be Secretary of State. He machinated for this purpose, and "[d]uring the 1952 presidential campaign . . . . made a series of speeches accusing the Truman administration of weakness in the face of Communist advances." (P. 117.) This was bushwa of the worst order, I would say; it was Truman who went into Korea (without Congressional authorization), after all. Dulles "promised that a Republican White House would 'roll back' Communism by securing the 'liberation' of nations that had fallen victim to" it. (P. 117.)

From John Foster Dulles, Kinzer turns to Britain and Mossadegh. From 1901 until the 1950s, Britain, through the largely government owned Anglo-Iranian oil company (today BP, I believe), had a monopoly on Iranian oil, on which England's military power, industries and standard of living was largely dependent. Anglo-Iranian had a "grossly unequal contract, negotiated with a corrupt monarch" for the oil; the contract "required it to pay Iran just 16 percent of the money it earned from selling the country's oil." (P. 117.) It probably paid even less in actuality, "but the truth was never known" since no outsiders could audit the books. (P. 117.) However, it apparently is known that "Anglo-Iranian made more profit in 1950 alone than it had paid Iran in royalties over the previous half century." (Pp. 117-118.)

Iran, in short, was a country that had long been and was continuing to be screwed over by Britain.

Enter Mossadegh. An aristocrat, idealistic, a believer in both nationalism and democracy, he became Prime Minister of Iran in 1951. In Spring, under his leadership, the Iranian oil industry was nationalized, just as, he would say, Britain had nationalized its coal and steel industries for its own people's benefit (or so the British thought at the time). Iran paid compensation for the oil industry; Kinzer thinks it was paying much more than it fairly had to.

The British were outraged. They could not believe that a "backwards country like Iran" could deal them a blow, sahib. (P. 118.) "They scornfully rejected suggestions that they offer to split their profits with Iran on a fifty-fifty basis, as American companies were doing in nearby countries. Instead they vowed to resist." (Pp. 118-119.)

This they did:

At various points they considered bribing Mossadegh, assassinating him, and launching a military invasion of Iran, a plan they might have carried out if President Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson had not become almost apoplectic on learning of it. The British sabotaged their own installations at Abadan in the hopes of convincing Mossadegh that he could not possibly run the oil industry without them; blockaded Iranian ports so no tankers could enter or leave; and appealed unsuccessfully to the United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice. Finally, they concluded that only one option was left. They resolved to organize a coup. (P. 119.)

Having "suborned" (p. 119) many local leaders over generations (as colonialists always did), Britain set in motion a coup d'etat. But Mossadegh discovered it and "ordered the British embassy shut and all its employees sent out of the country. Among them were the intelligence agents who were organizing the coup." (P. 119.)

What's a girl, er Britain, to do? Enter John Foster Dulles, his brother, CIA head Allen Dulles, and the "chief of CIA operations in the Middle East, Kermit Roosevelt," the grandson of Theodore. (P. 120.)

When Kermit Roosevelt passed through London from the Middle East shortly after Eisenhower was elected, the Brits proposed to him that the CIA carry out the coup. He told them there was no chance of this under the Truman administration, which was still in office, but the incoming Republicans might be a different story. Even before Eisenhower was inaugurated, therefore, the Brits sent a man to Washington to talk to Foster Dulles, told him that Mossadegh must be overthrown because he was leading Iran to Communism -- which was a bunch of co*k and bull -- and "gave Dulles the idea that he could portray Mossadegh's overthrow as a 'rollback' of Communism" -- though Dulles knew Mossadegh was not a Communist. (P. 121.) Dulles knew that he would be able to work well with the CIA because his brother Allen was its Director, and together they overcame Eisenhower's concerns at a National Security Council meeting. This gave Dulles the green light to pursue 'two lifelong obsessions: fighting Communism and protecting the rights of multinational corporations." (P. 122.)

Under the plan drawn up for us by the British, we would bribe journalists, preachers and other opinion leaders to create hostility to Mossadegh, would hire thugs to attack people, making it look as if the attacks were ordered by Mossadegh, would bribe parliament members, and would have General Zahedi, whom we anointed as future leader of Iran, arrest Mossadegh if necessary. Thus:

Roosevelt slipped into Iran at a remote border crossing on July 19, 1953, and immediately set about his subversive work. It took him just a few days to set Iran aflame. Using a network of Iranian agents and spending lavish amounts of money, he created an entirely artificial wave of anti-Mossadegh protest. Members of parliament withdrew their support from Mossadegh and denounced him with wild charges. Religious leaders gave sermons calling him an atheist, a Jew, and an infidel. Newspapers were filled with articles and cartoons depicting him as everything from a homosexual to an agent of British imperialism. He realized that some unseen hand was directing this campaign, but because he had such an ingrained and perhaps exaggerated faith in democracy, he did nothing to repress it. (P. 124.)

When Mossadegh nonetheless managed to initially thwart this plan, Roosevelt came up with a new plan. He would have the shah sign royal decrees dismissing Mossadegh as prime Minister and replacing him with Zahedi, with soldiers to arrest Mossadegh if he refused to step down. The courage-free shah was afraid to do this and vacillated, so Roosevelt had first the Shah's sister and then the first General Norman Schwarzkopf speak to him. The unbrave Shah, a pilot, agreed on condition that he would immediately fly away as soon as he signed the decrees. Not for him the line of fire. But Mossadegh had discovered and managed to thwart this Rooseveltian plot too.

Now what was a girl (Roosevelt) to do? He called in "two of his top Iranian operatives," who "had excellent relations with Tehran's street gangs," and told them he wanted 'to use those gangs to set off riots around the city." (Pp. 126-127.) The two agents didn't want to do it because they feared arrest. Roosevelt gave them a choice. Accept $50,000 to do the job or he would kill them. They accepted the $50,000, "left the embassy compound with a briefcase full of cash" (p. 127), and

That week, a plague of violence descended on Tehran. Gangs of thugs ran wildly through the streets, breaking shop windows, firing guns into mosques, beating passersby, and shouting "Long Live Mossadegh and Communism!" Other thugs, claiming allegiance to the self-exiled shah, attacked the first ones. Leaders of both factions were actually working for Roosevelt. He wanted to create the impression that the country was degenerating into chaos, and he succeeded magnificently. (P. 127.)

Mossadegh did not engage in counter street fighting, and did not realize that many of the commanders of police units which he sent to restore order were on Roosevelt's payroll. Tehran "fell into violent anarchy." (P. 127.) Roosevelt "drove to a safe house where he had stashed General Zahedi, who proceeded to proclaim "that he was 'the lawful prime minister by the Shah's orders,'" and attackers tried to storm Mossadegh's house, finally succeeding by using tanks. Mossadegh surrendered, the Shah came back, and Palevi told Kermit Roosevelt "'I owe my throne to God, my people, my army -- and to you.'" (Pp. 127-128.)

After Mossadegh was gotten rid of, the Shah got rid of Zahedi, who was a strong figure, and from then on would be "free to shape Iran as he wished." (P. 200.) With America as "Iran's most important, political, economic, and military partner" (p.200), our oil companies -- Gulf, Standard of New Jersey, Texaco and Mobil -- received a 40 percent share in the new National Iranian Oil Company, and the shah established a tyrannical dictatorship, with the dreaded Savak doing dirty work for him. Dissent was not tolerated by the shah, and he

repressed opposition newspapers, political parties, trade unions, and civic groups. As a result, the only place Iranian dissidents could find a home was in mosques and religious schools, many of which were controlled by obscurantist clerics. Through their uncompromising resistance to the regime, these clerics won the popular support that secular figures never achieved. That made it all but inevitable that when revolution finally broke out in Iran, clerics would lead it. (P. 201, emphasis added.)

In the late 70s, a revolt against the Shah began gathering steam:

. . . angry crowds began surging through the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities crying "Death to the American shah!" That amazed many in the United States. Worse shocks lay ahead. The cleric who emerged as the revolution's guiding figure, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, turned out to be bitterly anti-Western. His movement became so powerful that at the beginning of 1979, it forced the shah to flee into exile. A few months later, the new Khomeini regime sanctioned the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran and the taking of American diplomats as hostage.

The hostage crisis deeply humiliated the United States, destroyed Jimmy Carter's presidency, and turned millions of Americans into Iran haters. Because most Americans did not know what the United States had done to Iran in 1953, few had any idea why Iranians were so angry at the country they called "the great Satan." (P. 202.)

Thus, our coup against Mossadegh in 1953, says Kinzer, left Iran under the "shah's harsh rule for a quarter"

of a century. His repression ultimately set off a revolution that brought radical fundamentalists to power. Not satisfied with the humiliation they visited on the United States by holding fifty-four American diplomats hostage for fourteen months, these radicals sponsored deadly acts of terror against Western targets, among them a United States Marines barracks in Saudi Arabia and a Jewish community center in Argentina. Their example inspired Muslim fanatics around the world, including in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban gave sanctuary to militants who carried out devastating attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. None of this, as one Iranian diplomat wrote half a century after Operation Ajax [the coup] might have happened if Mossadegh had not been overthrown. (Pp. 202-203.)

So our misconduct of yesterday contributed greatly to, probably caused, the terrible situation in the Middle East we find ourselves in today.

What to do? Even though we disastrously were the cause of the current Iranian government and position, that government and position nonetheless do exist, and we can hardly say, "Sorry. Since we were the cause of the Iranian government and position, we will let Syria and Iran freely sponsor terrorism in the world and proceed to destroy Israel if they wish and are able to." As bizarre as it sounds to say so, maybe we should apologize to Iran for what we did, just as the U.S. government has apologized for slavery and as doctors are now beginning to use apologies to help prevent bitter malpractice actions. But an apology is as far as we could go, and anyway don't hold your breath waiting for the Bush/DICK administration to issue one.

Of course, it is obviously desirable at this point -- maybe even essential at this point -- that there be some kind of overall Middle East settlement, or as close to one as we can get, regardless of the fact that we largely caused the Iranian part of the problem. With this in mind, my off-the-top-of-the-head recommendation, which should be attempted via a general conference of all the parties (including Hezbollah and Hamas -- let's have none of the shape of the table bullshit of Viet Nam days) would be this:

1. Pace George/DICK, but the United States would apologize to Iran for what America did to Mossadegh.

2. Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah would agree no longer to ever attack Israel in any way, whether directly, by guerrillas or by terrorists.

3. The area of Lebanon south of the Litany River will forever be a demilitarized zone: no rockets, no tanks, no artillery, no mortars, no heavy weapons of any type. This will be monitored and enforced by either a United Nations or a NATO force.

4. Hezbollah will disarm completely.

5. Israel will pledge not to bomb or invade southern Lebanon or any part of Lebanon.

6. There will be a Palestinian state in Gaza and wherever else it has already been decided that there should be such a state. That state will be a demilitarized one: no rockets, no tanks, no fighter planes or bombers, no artillery, etc. This will be monitored and enforced by either a United Nations or a NATO force.

7. Hamas will be totally disarmed.

8. Israel will agree never to militarily attack the Palestinian state (which will in turn agree never to attack Israel (and will be demilitarized anyhow).

9. Iran (and Syria too) will forsake nuclear weapons.

10. Iran and Syria will agree not to sponsor, assist, or finance terrorism anywhere in the world.

11. The United States will agree not to invade or take military action against Iran or Syria.

12. A group of the world's more powerful nations, together perhaps with some Muslim countries, will be the guarantors of the entire arrangement, with the obligation to act militarily against a violator if necessary to prevent or stop the violation. The guarantors will include the United States, even though it will also be an obligated party under the agreement and could in theory be the target of military action by other guarantors if it were to violate the agreement.

It is always possible for, and often occurs that, international agreements are broken or prove unenforceable. Nonetheless, an agreement along the foregoing lines would, one think, mean peace. Is such an agreement achievable? Is it not achievable because it asks too much, is too idealistic as to what can be accomplished? Quite possibly, especially because all parties would have to be reasonable for it to be achieved. Unhappily, history shows that a need for reasonableness is the biggest argument against it. But it may nonetheless be worth a try. For it is transparent that a failure of settlement -- of overall settlement -- could be truly fraught.

It is a measure of how badly off our own country has become that another of the major obstacles to successfully using what, perhaps curiously, is an opportunity could conceivably, God forbid, be the stubbornness, lack of intelligence and lack of imagination of Bush, Cheney, Rice & Co. They are so wacked out on the subject of restraint-free, unilateral use of American power, from which we have suffered so much disaster under their so-called leadership, that they might be unwilling to impose on the U.S., the restraints which a true overall settlement might be likely to require. And to hope for the courage-and-intelligence-free congress and media to fill in the administration's mental void with intelligent discussion that creates pressure would be to hope for too much.

Sad to say, another and possibly insuperable obstacle to the opportunity that is before the world is, quite conceivably, the hatred for Jews held by such as the Palestinians, Hezbollah, the Syrians, and maybe even the Iranians. There are those among those four groups who hate Jews far more than they love life. Far more than they love their children's lives. Who are willing to fight to the last man and woman. It is people like that who may one day cause Armaggedon if people - often their allies of better will -- don't control and suppress them, as Lebanon did not control or suppress Hezbollah. Will the world stand up to such people now? Will the world say, "You must not do this. You must make peace now, and we will stop you now from proceeding with your plans to eventually destroy Israel?

Why do I think the world will not do this? Why do 2000 years of history (and emails I receive from nutbags of left and right) persuade me that most of the world will not give a damn about the Jews? Which may leave Israel itself with only one choice to make. Shall it destroy the front line of the anti-Israel movement now, i.e., Hezbollah and likely Hamas too, and then maybe turn its attention to the Syrian and Iranian governments if it possesses the power and a need? Or shall it wait, hoping against hope that the balm of time will cure matters over the next 50 or 100 years, while it will nonetheless face a possibly ever-increasing threat of destruction, at least early on, if time works against a permanent peace instead of for it (e.g., the Iranians get the bomb and Israel's opponents became emboldened against it)?

All such calculuses are very unhappy ones. Better by far to resolve the whole business with a comprehensive peace now. But such a peace is reachable only if mankind puts aside its historical unreasonableness and sheer stupidity, not to mention its millennia of Jew hating. Sadly, one is not hopeful.
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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.
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