Ray Takeyh: Clerics Responsible for Iran's Failed Attempts at Democracy





[The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.]

Thursday marks the anniversary of one of the most mythologized events in history, the 1953 coup in Iran that ousted Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq. CIA complicity in that event has long provoked apologies from American politicians and denunciations from the theocratic regime. The problem with the prevailing narrative? The CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential. The institution most responsible for aborting Iran's democratic interlude was the clerical estate, and the Islamic Republic should not be able to whitewash the clerics' culpability.

The dramatic tale of malevolent Americans plotting a coup against Mossadeq, the famed Operation Ajax, has been breathlessly told so much that it has become a verity. To be fair, the cast of characters is bewildering: Kermit Roosevelt, the scion of America's foremost political family, paying thugs to agitate against the hapless Mossadeq; American operatives shoring up an indecisive monarch to return from exile and reclaim his throne; Communist firebrands and nationalist agitators participating in demonstrations financed by the United States. As Iran veered from crisis to crisis, the story goes, Roosevelt pressed a reluctant officer corps to end Mossadeq's brief but momentous democratic tenure.

Yet this fable conceals much about the actual course of events. In 1953 Iran was in the midst of an economic crisis. An oil embargo had been imposed after Tehran nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., and by that summer, the situation had fractured Mossadeq's ruling coalition. Middle-class Iranians concerned about their finances gradually began to abandon Mossadeq. The merchant class was similarly anguished about the financial consequences of Mossadeq's stubborn unwillingness to resolve the stalemate with the British. The intelligentsia and the professional classes were wary of the prime minister's increasingly autocratic tendencies. Rumors of military coups began circulating as members of the armed forces grew vocal in their frustrations with the prime minister and began participating in political intrigues.
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Not just the stars but an array of Iranian society was aligning against Mossadeq....


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Arnold Shcherban - 8/20/2010

<The merchant class was similarly anguished about the financial consequences of Mossadeq's stubborn unwillingness to resolve the stalemate with the British.>
Not true.
According to the pre-Mossadeq's British-Iranian oil agreement the Iranians would receive just 17% of the profits from their own oil, the rest would go to British - outrageously unfair arrangement, by all standards.
Mossadeq's government tried to renegotiate the Iranian share to merely 40%, but British with customary imperial arrogance refused even discuss that. Only then the nationalization action took place.


Arnold Shcherban - 8/19/2010

<The CIA's role in Mossadeq's demise was largely inconsequential. The institution most responsible for aborting Iran's democratic interlude was the clerical estate.>
But the rest of the article makes no
attempts to submit any evidence in favor of the quoted conclusion.
What the author does is to throw out such statements as <Middle-class Iranians concerned about their finances gradually began to abandon Mossadeq.>,
<The intelligentsia and the professional classes were wary of the prime minister's increasingly autocratic tendencies.> and so on.
Regardless of the validity of these statements, they tell us zelch about
the suggested crucial role of "the cleric estate"...