Behind the Rhetoric


Sources are listed in abbreviations inside brackets at the end of each paragraph. See web/bibliography.

“Max Thornburg, a Standard Oil executive” who “was brought in as a consultant to the Iranian government,” and had “recommended rejection of the Supplementary Agreement,” later in a television interview in the US said that nationalization had been a “tragically unnecessary accident” which none of the Iranians really wanted and that “Persians” were incapable of running the oil industry and the Shah was the only hope for Iran. [EA1 p186 + LC1 remix]

British officials assured others, as well as themselves, that the National Front was “nothing but a noisy bunch of malcontents”; that Mossadeq – a “wily Oriental” – was “wild,” “erratic,” “eccentric,” “crazy,” “gangster-like,” “fanatical,” “absurd,” “dictatorial,” “demagogic,” “inflammatory,” and “single-mindedly obstinate”; and that Iranians were by nature “child-like,” “tiresome and headstrong,” “unwilling to accept facts,” “volatile and unstable,” “sentimentally mystical,” “unprepared to listen to reason and common sense,” and “swayed by emotions devoid of positive content”. In a printed document entitled “A Comparison Between Persian and Asian Nationalism in General,” [British ambassador] informed senior officials in the other ministries that Iranian nationalism was not “authentic” and desperately needed a “guiding hand”: “the salvation of Persia would be a twenty year occupation by a foreign Power (rather like the occupation of Haiti by the United States)”. He added that Mossadeq was “cunning,” “slippery,” “completely unscrupulous,” “short with bandy legs,” “looks like a cab horse,” “diffuses a slight reek of opium,” and is “clearly unbalanced” since he shuns the title Excellency, refuses to use the ministerial motor car, and, as final clincher, has a “daughter in a mental home in Switzerland”. Another printed memo from the British Embassy in Teheran theorized: [EA1 p193]

“Most Iranians are introverts. Their imagination is strong and they naturally turn to the agreeable side of things – they love poetry and discussion, particularly of abstract ideas. Their emotions are strong and easily aroused. But they continually fail to test their imaginations against reality and to subordinate their emotions to reason. They lack common sense and the ability to differentiate emotion from facts. Their well-known mendacity is rather a carelessness to the truth than a deliberate choice of falsehood. This excess of imagination and distaste for facts leads to an inability to go conscientiously into detail. Often, not finding the world to their dreams, they relapse into indolence and do not persevere. This tendency is exaggerated by the fatalism of their religion. They are intensely individualistic, more in the sense of pursuing their personal interest than in the noble one of wishing to do things on their own without help. Nearly all classes have a passion for personal gain and are ready to do most things for money. They lack social conscience and are unreadv to subordinate personal interests to communal ones. They are vain and conceited, and unwilling to admit to themselves that they can be in the wrong. They are always ready to blame other people.” [EA1 p194]

While dragging out the negotiations, the British lobbied aggressively in the United States. This did not require much effort with the oil companies. These companies may have favored the 50/50 principle, but certainly abhorred the notion of nationalization. Early in the crisis the British ambassador in Washington reported that the American companies were concerned about “probable repercussions in their areas, including Latin America and Indonesia”: “In these circumstances, their thinking has been more on the lines of our own basic contention, i.e., that it is necessary for the UK to maintain control”. The Minister for Fuel noted that Royal Dutch Shell was as concerned about the “issue of control” as AIOC, and that Standard Oil of New Jersey and Socony Vacuum were “doing their best to convince the State Department that if nationalization pays off in Persia it would have disastrous effects on their concessions.” He assured AIOC that the “big American companies do not see it in their interests to come to an agreement with Iran”. [EA1 pp191-92]

[The British representative] even before his Teheran mission, had been persuaded by American companies that too many concessions would be dangerous to “other oil producing countries”. [EA1 pp192]

In high-level discussions between the Foreign Office and the State Department, the latter reassured the former that they endorsed their policy of “maintaining control”. In follow-up discussions, the two concluded that the “situation in Iran was becoming increasingly serious”; that Mossadeq would not relinquish “control”; that his government was “essentially a bad government”; and that the Shah should be “encouraged to replace him with a general.” The meeting set up a joint exploratory group to “appraise” the military situation and the “question of the loyalty of the generals to the Shah”. This meeting was held in February 1952, eleven months before Eisenhower replaced Truman… [EA1 pp192]

As a US colonel stated “Unfortunately, Iran’s position geographically, bordering Russia on the north, with British oil interests in the south and its important strategic location in any war, will continue to make this country an object of basic interest to the major powers. It must be borne in mind that in any future war control of any part of Iran will allow the bombing either of the Russian oil fields in the north or of the British oil fields in the south. In the post-war period Iran’s location is of importance in connection with transit-landing facilities for the various world airway projects. It is these inescapable factors that give Iran an international importance and one beyond what its size and population would otherwise warrant. [BB pp 50-51]

“It is, therefore, not for any sentimental reasons nor even for any idealistic democratic principles, worthy as these may be, that the United States is forced to take a continuing interest in Iran.” [BB pp 50-51]

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