Last night I attended a talk by Stephen Kinzer, who is one of the speakers at our upcoming June 6-8 conference “Restoring the Republic 2008: Foreign Policy & Civil Liberties.” The talk was held at the Washington, D.C., campus of the University of California and was part of a 22-city tour by Kinzer entitled “The Folly of Attacking Iran.”
Kinzer delivered one of the most fantastic, captivating talks I’ve ever heard. Drawing on his great book All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which has just been reprinted with a new introduction, Kinzer provided a fascinating 40-minute encapsulation of the CIA’s 1953 coup in Iran and the long-term blowback that resulted from the coup.
Kinzer carefully explained the process by which the CIA was able to oust the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, from office, reinstalling the Shah of Iran into power.
Mossadegh had persuaded the Iranian Parliament to nationalize the nation’s oil, an act that was not well-received by the British Empire, given that it owned most of it. Bucking the British Empire was considered a real no-no, especially by smaller countries that were expected to behave like British colonies.
Faced with the possibility of adverse action by the United Nations, Mossadegh traveled to the United States, where he figured that his opposition to the British Empire would be well-received by a nation that was born out of opposition to the British Empire. His rousing speech to the United Nations succeeding in preventing UN action against Iran. In a train trip to Washington to meet with President Truman, he stopped to visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and then insisted on visiting George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. He was later named Timemagazine’s Man of the Year.
British officials were intent on getting rid of Mossadegh in order to get their oil back. But Mossadegh was able to stymie their efforts by throwing British diplomats out of the country. The British turned to the United States to accomplish the dirty deed. Led by a flamboyant agent named Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, the CIA hired gangs of thugs and bribed the Iranian news media to foment an environment of chaos and violence that led up to the coup. Mossadegh was removed from power, and the brutal dictator the Shah of Iran, who hated American values but who would do what U.S. officials told him to do, took over.
That was the root of the anger and resentment that finally boiled over in the 1979 Iranian Revolution in which U.S. officials were taken hostage. Kinzer related a fascinating story about one of the a high-ranking U.S. diplomats that were taken hostage. After a year in jail, one of his captives opened the door to his cell and the U.S. diplomat began screaming and berating him, exclaiming that civilized people don’t take innocent people hostage. After patiently listening to the man’s tirade, the Iranian told the man that he had no right to complain, given that the United States had taken his entire country hostage in 1953 and had held it hostage ever since.
Kinzer then carefully outlined the long-term consequences of the Iranian coup, including the U.S. government’s partnership with Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Kinzer then pointed out the obvious lesson — that U.S. interventions into other countries produce horrific long-term consequences, including for the American people.
It was a fascinating, gripping talk. Kinzer’s passion and commitment to getting America back on the right track exuded through his talk. I cannot recommend his books highly enough:
The title of Kinzer’s talk at our upcoming conference is “Regime Change: Promise and Peril.” His speech will definitely be one of the highlights of the conference, which promises to be one of the finest, most important conferences in the history of the libertarian movement.