The first actual CIA intervention in Iran took place in 1953.

A coup attempt against Prime Minister Mosaddegh began on August 16, 1953, but failed when the prime minister was warned ahead of time that he was to be ousted.

[As soon as the failed attempt became known, the shah rushed out of the country. While the events of August 1953 are always described as a coup, the shah had, in fact, issued a decree dismissing Mosaddegh and appointing Fazlollah Zahedi in his place. Neither the shah’s actions nor  Mosaddegh’s were in any way democratic.]

As news of the attempted coup became public

Communist mobs with red flags tore down statues of the shah and his father, pillaged shops, attacked the offices of opposition groups, and threatened Americans. In Isfahan, demonstrators marched outside the United States consulate chanting ‘Yankees, go home!

In the days to follow, street protests continued with the Tudeh warning the government to break with the United States.

On August 18, the American ambassador met with Mosaddegh and demanded that Americans in Iran be protected and that public spaces be cleared of protesters.

The next day men organized with $100,000 worth of CIA funds marched out of south Tehran, eventually crashing the gates of the prime minister’s home and later taking the Foreign Office and other government buildings.

Meanwhile, Kermit Roosevelt (a CIA officer who later became vice-president of Gulf Oil) decided to go ahead with his plans to move paid mobs into the street along with royalist military officers.

Soon shouts of “long live America” were heard in the street. Mobs continued to rule, but now they were pro shah mobs that many observers say were demonstrating only because they were paid by the CIA.

The protesters created quite a disturbance, leading some to assert that there remained a great deal of support for the shah. According to Barry Rubin in his book Paved with Good Intentions:

Gangs with clubs, knives, and rocks controlled the streets, overturning Tudeh trucks and beating up anti-shah activists. Quick-witted entrepreneurs sauntered up and down Tehran’s streets selling full-color pictures of the shah. One embassy political officer later recalled how his car, flying American flags for protection, was cheered along the entire nine-mile route from the embassy to his home in the northern suburbs. The CIA payments alone could not explain the rapidity of the movement’s spread and the enthusiasm that greeted the shah’s return to power. Roosevelt had been correct: there was still a reservoir of support for the shah among tens of thousands of Iranians either tired of the chaos of the Mosaddegh regime or fearful of the Tudeh.

Accounts of the coup in the academic and policy literature remain contradictory. Still, it is clear that the CIA and the British played a defining role. At the same time, domestic factors are central — particularly the active involvement of Ayatollah Kashani.  ( See our previous post on Gaming Cold War Iran.)

In actuality, while the idea that external powers conspired to destroy democracy is provocative, Mosaddegh fails as a democratic champion. So does the shah.

In fact, the scholar Richard Cottam in his book Nationalism in Iran argues that “liberal democracy does not merit the predominance it has often been given.” He goes on to say that “nothing is easier than to exaggerate the role of liberal democracy in Iran.”

At any rate, in July 1952, Mosaddegh demanded dictatorial power for six months along with a War Ministry portfolio which would give him control over the armed forcers.

When Kashani became president of the Majles, Mosaddegh dismissed first the Senate and later the entire parliament.

In January 1953 when the prime minister’s special powers were extended for an additional 12 months, his demands and prerogatives alienated many in his coalition and, as we have seen, Kashani (who did not presume to be a democrat) went over to the opposition. Subsequently Mosaddegh’s base eroded and the prime minister decided to dissolve parliament and call a national referendum.

A vote to dissolve the Majles was held on August 3, 1953, in the midst of mounting Tudeh demonstrations supporting Mosaddegh. Since the Tudeh had become the best organized and most disciplined for in the country, Mosaddegh’s only option was to rely on them for continued support. The shah was the only other political force with a political base.

Nationwide, 2,043,380 voted to dismiss the parliament, while only 1,207 voted to retain it.

The shah was required to adhere to the election results and order a new election, even though most accounts agree that the count was manipulated.

Despite evidence that Mosaddegh’s support had faded and that he had become increasingly autocratic, in the end, perception is what matters and it is essential to acknowledge that the CIA’s role in the affair ended the American “honeymoon” with the Iranian populace.

The US was now seen by most Iranians as an imperial power intent on manipulating Iran for its own benefit, ignoring the political rights and constitutional integrity of the nation by returning an unpopular shah to the Peacock throne.

Both the Tudeh Party and the Ayatollah Kashani condemned America’s actions, equating them with the former distasteful activities of Great Britain and the Soviet Union. In fact, according to James Bill in The Eagle and the Lion:

After the fall of Musaddiq the acronym CIA became the most pejorative political term in the vocabulary of Iranian nationalists. It implied a particularly vulgar type of imperialism that was increasingly associated with US policy.

Moreover, the newly established US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) played an objectionable role in the coup attempt. A participant stated:

Now when this crisis came on and the thing was about to collapse, we violated our normal criteria and among the other things we did, we provided the army immediately on an emergency basis blankets, boots, uniforms, electric generators, and medical supplies that permitted and created an atmosphere in which they could support the Shah . . . . The guns that they had in their hands, the trucks that they rode in, the armored cars that they drove through the streets, and the radio communications that permitted their control, were all furnished through the military defense assistance program . . . had it not been for this program, a government unfriendly to the United States would now be in power.

These actions became of overriding importance in the 1970s when three Iranian brothers who had taken part in the 1953 coup operation, the Rashidian brothers, received payoffs from agents for the Long Island based Grumman Corporation in return for their efforts to cement the firm’s sale of F-14 fighter planes to the Iranian government.


A major question — especially relevant in the context of today’s “Arab Spring” — concerns the oil crisis of the 1950s and the extent to which Iran’s internal debate over the nationalization of oil reflects democracy at work.

Most accounts of the period center on the importance of Mosaddegh and his legacy. However, the role of Ayatollah Kashani who headed the religious wing of the National Front is also important.

By the way, Indie Games has created a game called, The Cat and the Coup, a documentary game in which you play the cat of  Dr. Mohammed Mosaddegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran.  As I’ll discuss over the next couple of posts, a coup attempt against Mosaddegh began on August 16, 1953, but failed when the prime minister was warned ahead of time that he was to be ousted.  The CIA played a role, but I’ll discuss that later. Anyway, you can find information about the game at http://coup.peterbrinson.com/.

As a player, you coax Mossadegh back through significant events of his life by knocking objects off of shelves, scattering his papers, jumping on his lap and scratching him.

You can also learn about the coup attempt called Operation AJAX on your iPad. Information is at:



Okay. Back to business — and to Ayatollah Kashani.

Kashani, in the early 1950s, espoused many of the same issues later attributed to the Ayatollah Khomeini. He was able to rally large numbers of lower class and lower middle class Iranians to the nationalist movement.

While it has been argued that the subsequent British/American covert operation imposed an imperial dictatorship on Iran which the revolution of 1978-1979 succeeded in unseating, the personalities of both Mosaddegh and Kashani were central to the debate as played out by the various actors — the Tudeh Party, the National Front, and the royalists.

Initially held together by the prime minister’s personal charisma, Mosaddegh’s coalition was, in the end, quite fragile.

On the far left was the communist Tudeh Party, a popular and well-funded organization maintaining political ties with the Soviet Union. This group drew its membership from the middle and working classes of society and was quite active in industrial cities such as Isfahan as well as in oil areas. At its peak in 1953, the party had over 25,000 members and about 300,000 sympathizers.

The group originally supported Mosaddegh but later broke with him, calling him a tool of the United States.

Mosaddegh himself represented the National Front coalition, a group which was intense in its dislike of both the shah and the British.

The National Front was made up of diverse interests representing the traditional middle class and the professional middle class. The traditional middle class was comprised of the Toiler’s party, the Society of Muslim Warriors, the Ayatollah Kashani and his closest followers, and the Devotees of Islam.

Membership in the Toiler’s party was dominated by bazaaris who wanted a constitutional monarch, political equality, and an end to imperialism.

Religious organizations were led by Kashani who was outspoken in his opposition to the British and the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).

Kashani’s father had been killed fighting the British in World War I, and he himself had previously led uprisings against the British and had also been charged in 1941 with collaborating with the Germans. His main supporters included distinguished clerics, but he stood alone among leading Iranian mujtahids in supporting the nationalist movement.

The professional middle class was made up of liberals, moderates, and those with modern education. It included the Iran party, the National party, the Third Force, and independent supporters. The intellectual core of the group was the Iran party whose members (for the most part) had been educated in Europe. They provided the ideological infrastructure for the National Front, promoting liberal democracy, nationalism, and reform. Mosaddegh’s personal ideas approximated those of this group.

The National Party was made up of high school and university students who were important in providing street and organizational support.

The Third Force advocated socialism and liberalism.

These formal groupings were bolstered by various independent supporters who opposed the shah, the court, the large landowners, and the military officer corps.

As Mosaddegh began to seek stronger political powers for himself and the Tudeh Party became increasingly assertive, the bazaar and religious groups split from the coalition.

The Kashani faction had always distrusted the prime minister because of his class background and his indifferent approach to Islam. Rightists charged that he was leading Iran toward communism, while leftists accused him of being a tool of American imperialism. Meanwhile, the shah and the royalists were able to coopt some of the traditional middle class with Kashani himself cooperating to a certain extent with the regime.

Kashani is also said to have cooperated with American intelligence agents when the Eisenhower administration shifted to a policy of intervention.

Eisenhower’s change in policy should not have been unexpected. There was a growing perception that communism posed a direct threat to the United States.

Given the role of the Tudeh Party in the nationalist movement in Iran — and in the context of Joe McCarthy’s dominance in US domestic politics — the administration’s decision to support a move against Mosaddegh is unsurprising. Bolstering this thinking, of course, was America’s growing interest in controlling access to Iranian oil along with the inability of US officials to distinguish between communist and nationalist movements throughout the Third World.

Mosaddegh himself advanced US insecurities regarding Iran by raising the specter of a communist threat to his country and arguing that American assistance was essential if Iran were to stay out of the communist camp.


As the 1940s progressed, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) continued to be a lightening rod for Iran’s nationalist discontent.

(For background see my previous post Pre Cold War Oil: The Anglo Iranian Oil Company.)

In 1948, the Iranian government presented the AIOC with a document listing 25 areas of concern.

In January 1949, when a second round of oil talks proved unsuccessful, several Majles deputies presented a bill to cancel the AIOC concession outright.

As a compromise, a commission was established to formalize Iran’s complaints, and foreign legal experts were hired to present their views.

The spirit of the complaints is summed up in the widely quoted observation that the company paid more in taxes to the British government for importing Iranian oil than it paid in royalties to Iran.

As resentment and enmity toward the British increased, support for the nationalist movement intensified.

The Iranian government demanded that the British accept a 50-50 profit sharing arrangement, similar to the terms Venezuela and Saudi Arabia had arranged with American firms. The British refused this demand.

On March 15, 1951, the Iranian Majles passed a bill to nationalize the oil industry. The Senate ratified the action five days later.

In April 1951, amidst public protests and general strikes, Mohammad Mossadegh, leader of the nationalist opposition was appointed prime minister.

Mossadegh’s acceptance of the post was contingent on the nationalization of Iran’s oil.

Importantly, financial considerations were no longer the chief consideration. Nationalists who supported the new prime minister were concerned predominantly with questions of national sovereignty.

Mossadegh was pragmatic, warning his supporters in the workers’ movement that their actions could invite a British invasion. Still , pro-Tudeh unions waged an aggressive campaign, holding large demonstrations to demand collective bargaining and the removal of military personnel from factories.

The impasse between Britain and Iran continued throughout the remainder of 1951. In October 1952, Iran ended diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the AIOC had imposed an international boycott on Iranian oil with exports dropping from more than $400 million in 1950 to less than $2 million in the two-year period from July 1951 to August 1953. American companies supported the boycott.

In spite of an opinion favorable to Mosaddegh in the International Court of Justice, England continued to bring lawsuits against companies that purchased Iranian oil, causing Iran great hardship.

Iran’s only external form of income, US assistance, had grown from $500,000 in fiscal 1950 to $23.4 million in 1952. However, this was not enough to handle Iran’s economic crisis.

At first, the Truman administration was rather sympathetic to the Iranian cause, with a US negotiating team admitting the legitimacy of Iranian labor grievances. Almost as soon as Eisenhower came to power, however, he sided with Britain.

In June 1953, the Eisenhower administration advised Mossadegh that an Iranian request for increased aid would not be approved. Assistance would be frozen at an annual rate of $22.1 million, an amount that would prevent the country’s total collapse by assuring that military and bureaucratic salaries could be paid.

The onset of the Korean War contributed to American’s growing perception that communism posed a direct threat to the US. In this context, Eisenhower’s refusal to support Iran is puzzling, if, indeed, the country’s location and its oil were thought to be strategically important.

Meanwhile, the oil crisis had undermined Iran’s domestic political stability.

The labor movement became more significant when Mosaddegh and the National Front were forced to admit that the war for the working class had been won by the Tudeh Party.

A ranking member noted:

Our country is being torn apart by strikes, demonstrations, and labor disputes. What can we do about it? . . . . In most factories, there are three distinct groups: first the communists who hammer away with the propaganda that the rich in our country are corrupt and own everything while the workers own nothing; second, the patriots who support the National Front; third, the neutrals who follow the lead of any organization that will represent their economic interests vis-a-vis the managers and the factory owners . . . . We must admit that at present the initiative lies with the first group. The communists lead the neutrals, and, consequently, control the vast majority of the urban working class.

Therefore, in the end, domestic factionalization and outside powers were equally to blame for Iran’s predicament.


By the time the KMT arrived in Taipei in 1949, the economic situation was disastrous. The city’s industry and infrastructure had suffered serious damage as a result of Allied bombings during World War II. In fact:

It was reported that on VJ Day in 1945 when Taiwan was retroceded to the Republic of China, about three-fourths of industrial productive capacity and two-thirds of power-generating capacity were destroyed, over one-half of the existing rails, bridges, station facilities, and rolling stock were incapacitated, and only one-fourth of the highways remained serviceable for motor vehicles, while harbors were largely ruined and blocked by sunken ships. As a result, agricultural output dropped to 45 per cent and industrial output to less than one-third of their respective pre-war peaks.

Agricultural production — which had been tied totally to Japan — continued to fall in the postwar period.

Between 1945 and 1949 products had been shipped to mainland China but, when the mainland was lost, the external market for Taiwan’s agricultural produce was lost also.

By 1946, Taiwan’s agricultural production was at the 1920 level.

Meanwhile, the rate of industrial production in 1945-46 declined to one-half the peak attained during the colonial period.

The arrival of the KMT in 1949, and the ensuing suspension of American assistance and military support, exacerbated Taipei’s existing economic disarray.

The city was directly affected in several ways.

  • First, a huge jump in spending for public administration and defense increased the severity of already existing budget deficits associated with prior heavy military spending in support of the Nationalist war effort.
  • Second, concurrent with the large influx of mainlanders, inflation soared to 3,400 per cent by the end of 1949, reflecting shortages in critical necessities.

The Taipei wholesale price index rose 260 per cent in 1946, 360 per cent in 1947, 520 per cent in 1948, and 3,500 per cent in 1949.

  • Third, the government (determined to avoid the kinds of problems which the peasantry had caused on the mainland) embarked on an ambitious program of land reform which immediately impacted the population of the city.

Together, the creation of service type jobs connected with the arrival of the Nationalist government in Taipei and the successful implementation of land reform spurred internal migration from the countryside to the capital.

In contrast to the city’s stable prewar demographics, by 1956, fully 33.6 per cent of the residents of Taipei were rural-urban migrants.

In fact, between 1949 and 1961, the proportion of the population in cities of 50,000 and over increased from 25 per cent to 41 per cent of the island’s total population.

The floundering government was rescued by President Truman’s response to the invasion of South Korea in June 1950.

When war broke out the Seventh Fleet took up position between Taiwan and the mainland, solidifying the integration of Taiwan, Japan, and the world economy.

The action was critical to the future economic stability of Asia because (as the Japanese economy  began to revive in 1948-1950) US occupation forces were struggling to determine

how a prewar political economy that got raw materials and labor from the Northeast Asian periphery could survive in the postwar world without a hinterland?

As for Taiwan

its geographic proximity to Southeast Asia and South China made it ‘a natural location for processing certain raw materials brought in from, and for producing some manufactured goods for export to, these areas.’

A linkage was cemented between the economies of Taiwan and Japan as “the Korean War effectively drew the lines of the ‘grand area’ in East Asia.”

In the wake of the North Korean invasion, a large infusion of US economic and military aid flowed into Taipei, diminishing internal competition for domestic assets and transforming the capital into a strategic arsenal.

Between 1951 and 1961, US economic aid amounted to about 37 per cent of total domestic investment.

While the value of the military aid is hard to assess, if one assumes that because of fears of invasion from Mainland China that Taiwan would have built up the military with its own resources, then the military aid made it possible for more government resources to be devoted to economic development than would have been possible otherwise.

Top government officials in Taiwan spoke of two goals.

  • The first was of retaking the mainland by defeating the communists militarily and unifying China.
  • The second was of ‘catching up’ with the advanced countries.

Both goals were linked to national security and served to strengthen the military.

Neither goal was possible without some sort of outside assistance.

The Korean War brought economic and military aid on an unheard-of-scale, allowing Chiang’s regime to have both “guns and butter.’

The continued militarizaiton of Taipei was a by-product.


Like many of the rest of you, I’m totally ready for spring. It starts on March 20 this year by the way. So I just went to the bookstore — Borders is in bankruptcy and is having a great sale — and bought The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I’ve actually read the book once before but then I was only looking for romance. Now I want to learn about the Prague Spring. Can it tell us anything about the Arab Spring that’s getting so much media hype right now?

I’m hoping that many of you will join me in discussing the book sometime the end of March. (If you want to cheat, I guess you can watch the movie instead.) By then we’ll know more about what’s happening in the Middle East. We can make some comparisons — or decide that everything is so different that the two ‘Springs’ are just not comparable.

I’m going to go out on a limb here too, and list some other — more academic sources that have to do with the Cold War in Eastern Europe.

As you’ve probably guessed if you’ve visited Cold War Studies before, my specialities are the Cold War in the Third World — especially Cuba, Iran, and Taiwan. So I’m going to be taking a look at these sources with you.

Please let me — and Cold War Studies readers — know what you think. What you like and what you don’t like. If you have other readings that you think are important, please pass them along.

As always, the links send you to Amazon, a Cold War Studies affiliate. You help support us when you buy from them. The list is below in no particular order — happy reading!

Garton Ash, Timothy. The Magic Lantern: the revolution of ’89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague. New York: Vintage, 1993. (also available as an e-book)

Kovaly, Heda Margolius. Under a Cruel Star: a Life in Prague 1941-1968. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1997. (also available as an e-book)

Held, Joseph, ed. The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century. Columbia University Press, 1996.

Okey, Robin. Eastern Europe 1740-1985. Feudalism to Communism. University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Stokes, Gale, ed. From Stalinism to Pluralism: A Documentary History of Eastern Europe since 1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Rothschild, Joseph. Return to Diversity. A Political History of East Central Europe since World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Kovrig, Bennet. Of Walls and Bridges. The United States and Eastern Europe. New York: Twentieth Century Fund Books,  1991.


A recent list compiled by the Associated Press reveals the top 20 oil-producing countries (in barrels per day). According to 2009 statistics by the U.S. Energy Information Administration Iran is #4 on that list, producing 4.0 million barrels of oil daily.

Whether we like their nuclear program or not, Iran’s oil is critical to meeting the world’s energy needs.

Importantly, the strikes and protests currently shaking the Middle East are also affecting Iran.

Last I heard, an important occurrence was taking place at the oil refinery installation at Abadan, the most important refinery in Iran.

In 1978, strikes in the Abadan refinery were instrumental in bringing down the shah. But, from the beginning, the history of the oil industry in Iran is full of stories of protests and turmoil. They often revolve around workers’ grievances.

Today, at least officially, workers are claiming that unpaid wages for the last six months are the main reason behind their strike.

Here’s a short history of the early oil industry in Iran.

A concession for oil rights in Iran was signed by the W.K. D’Arcy group in 1901.

This concession provided for a 60 year exclusive privilege to explore for and develop petroleum sites over a 500,000 square mile area of Iran.

The provinces that bordered on the Soviet Union in the north of the country were excluded from the concession.

The Iranian government agreed to protect the interests of the company in Iran and, in return, was to receive 16 percent of the company’s net profits.

Eight years later, in 1909, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the precursor of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), began its operations. They exploited a major field that had been discovered in the southwestern province of Khuzistan a year earlier.

In May 1914, the British government acquired 51 percent ownership of the company, becoming a direct partner in corporate affairs.

With the onset of World War I, the strategic significance of oil was widely acknowledged.

Churchill’s decision to fuel the British naval fleet with oil rather than the traditional coal was critical.

The Central Powers and the Americans also became concerned with the security of their oil supply.

Iran became disgruntled with the British early on, expressing dissatisfaction with the financial terms of the agreement.

The Iranians argued that the 16 percent profit-sharing arrangement extended to all companies under the Anglo-Persian Oil Company umbrella.

Britain, on the other hand, countered that profits from the refining and distribution of Iranian oil outside of Iran were excluded.

Accordingly, as early as the mid 1920s, the Iranian government — headed by its new leader Reza Khan — began to pressure for fundamental changes in the terms of the concession.

A more advantageous arrangement giving the Iranian government 25 percent of the company’s shares was agreed to by the British in 1928-1929.

The Iranians refused to approve the plan, hoping to acquire even more favorable adjustments.

Reza Shah canceled the D’Arcy Concession in November 1932. He then negotiated a new agreement that took effect in 1933.

This arrangement pulled back the original concession area to 100,000 square miles, exempted the company from all taxes other than those provided for in the original concession and, most importantly, extended the concession for another 60 years.

The AIOC became a chief target of Iranian nationalists in the late 1940s, and the 1933 agreement became the center of criticism.

By this time, oil had been identified as the key to Iran’s social and economic development.

Despite the oil industry’s importance, however, during the course of the war, conditions for workers in the oilfields deteriorated markedly.

As Manucher Farmanfarmian, a former Minister of Finance and board member of the National Iranian Oil Company writes in his memoir:

Wages were 50 cents a day. There was no vacation pay, no sick leave, no disability compensation. The workers lived in a shantytown called Kaghazabad, or Paper City, without running water or electricity, let alone such luxuries as iceboxes or fans. In winter the earth flooded and became a flat, perspiring lake. The mud in town was knee-deep, and canoes ran alongside the roadways for transport. When the rains subsided, clouds of nipping, small-winged flies rose from the stagnant waters to fill the nostrils, collecting in black mounds along the rims of cooking pots and jamming the fans at the refinery with an unctious glue . . . . In every crevice hung the foul, sulfurous stench of burning oil — a pungent reminder that every day 20,000 barrels or 1 million tons a year, were being consumed indiscriminately for the functioning of the refinery, and AIOC never paid the Iranian government a cent for it.


In the British section . . . there were lawns, rose beds, tennis courts, swimming pools, and clubs . . . .

As in earlier protests involving textile workers in Isfahan, oil industry laborers began to press for higher wages and better living conditions.

Protest actions included wildcat strikes, newspaper campaigns, and street demonstrations supported by nationalist and communist groups.

In July 1946, for example, a widespread riot killed forty-seven and injured more than 170 workers.

Importantly, demonstrations were not limited to workers associated with the AIOC. Nor were they confined to any one region of the country. According to Ervand Abrahamian:

As soon as news of the street killings reached Isfahan, the pro-Tudeh unions organized sympathy strikes in the main textile mills, in the smaller factories, and even in the bazaar workshops. Ettela’at-e-Haftegi reported that the strikes involved over 30,000 workers and were the most impressive in the city’s history. To contain the strikes, the military placed machine guns, tanks, and armoured vehicles around the mills and the working class districts. Despite these precautions, one worker and one policeman were killed as some 10,000 demonstrators tried to make their way from the mills to the city’s central square.

AIOC officials complained of Communist penetration and used Tudeh involvement as an excuse to avoid financing reform. Nationalist groups as well as the Tudeh Party continued to pressure for change.


Can 250,000 people really speak for a nation of 80 million?

What do people really want from their government? Do they want order and stability so that they can live their everyday lives without the threat of uncertainty? Or do they prefer democracy with its freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and dueling political parties even if their daily life becomes less certain? These questions are central to the events we are currently observing in Egypt and other areas of the Middle East.

Samuel Huntington — a Cold Warrior if there ever was one — wrote a book  (published in 1968) called Political Order in Changing Societies. Named one of the most significant books of the last 75 years by Francis Fukuyama writing in Foreign Affairs, the book came out just when the US war in Vietnam was reaching its apex.

The book — a foundational work on political development — was controversial when it first appeared because it argued that order, itself, was an important goal of developing societies. And it didn’t matter if that order was democratic, authoritarian, socialist, or free-market.

It’s worth looking at this issue 40 years later. How important is order? And how much authoritarianism are people willing to put up with in order to have stability in their everyday lives?

Huntington’s main thesis is that violence and instability result in large part from rapid social change and the rapid mobilization of new groups into politics. Since political institutions have not developed at a rapid enough pace they are unable to deal with the surge in political participation.

This is especially true in countries like Egypt where opportunities for political association have been extremely limited.  While, by its constitution, Egypt has a multi-party system, in practice the National Democratic Party (the long-time ruling party) is dominant.  Opposition parties are allowed, but are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power.

In addition, Law 40 of 1977 regulates the formation of political parties in Egypt. This law prohibits the formation of religious-based political parties, so groups such as the Kefaya movement have lost traction and the Muslim Brotherhood has long been outlawed.

In sum, political organization and institutions have not kept up with social mobilization and the demand for political participation.

In keeping with  Huntington’s argument, the result is political instability and disorder.

As always, though, there is another argument. According to this other perspective, the problem is not really one of order and stability. It’s not about getting to work, or buying food, or making sure that the kids get to school. Instead the problem surrounding political participation — and democratization — in the Arab world is all about what political scientists call “external actors.”

According to this alternate perspective, even though there is a good deal of popular support for democracy in the Arab world, there are also significant pockets of support for authoritarian regimes. This is because citizens perceive that it is absolutely essential that their governments please the United States.

In fact, a recent study suggests that citizens continue to profess support for existing authoritarian regimes even though they hold strong democratic values.

But why? It’s obvious proponents say. After all, Arab countries are highly dependent on the US for military security and for economic aid. So while resentment is high against the US, citizens understand that they need the US  to sustain their nation’s stability.

If this perspective makes sense to you, the level of support for any existing leader in the Arab world is all about how well the leader is doing in maintaining the country’s alliance with the US. In fact, the need to please the US is why residents of Egypt — and elsewhere in the Middle East — remain committed to authoritarian rule.

[If you want to find out more about what the people of the Middle East are thinking take a look at the Arab Barometer project.]

I don’t know where you stand regarding political stability and the need for order. But it’s clear that the Egyptians are mulling over both of the arguments presented above. What do you think will happen?

If  the Egyptian citizenry opts for some semblance of stability and puts up with a corrupt and authoritarian regime in the name of an orderly transition to democracy, will the government hold up its end of the bargain?

And is the United States really so central  to the decision making of ordinary citizens in the Arab world?

By the way, before you think the answer is an easy one, take a look at this recently released news report by Human Rights Watch. Then think about your neighborhood — unprotected and subject to unrest and chaos.

COLD WAR IRAN: 1945 -1959

As World War II ended, Iran’s problems intensified. While the last American troops left the country on January 1, 1946, and Britain announced that it would meet a March 1 deadline, Moscow refused to withdraw its forces. Instead, the Soviets vowed continued support for a separatist movement in the northern province of Azerbaijan, establishing a “puppet Kurdish state” as well. These activities (along with on-going concern over Tudeh operations in other parts of the country) convinced the United States that the Soviets were scheming to take over part or even all of Iran.

Moscow’s perceived objective was to create a buffer zone in northern Iran while it established the conditions for permanent direct access to the Persian Gulf.

According to Barry Rubin in his book Paved With Good Intentions:

This involved the establishment in power of a puppet Tehran government ‘led by men under Soviet influence amenable to Russian demands and hostile to other foreign nations.’ Soviet propaganda seemed to further indicate that the Russians might be paving the way for a coup d’etat.

The Soviets were also demanding an oil concession in the north.

With American support, Iran complained to the United Nations Security Council about Moscow’s behavior. Soviet activity in the north violated the Russian-Iranian Treaty of 1921 which promised noninterference by the Soviets in the internal affairs of Iran. It also violated the Allied troop withdrawal agreement of 1943.

The Security Council agreed to observe the situation over time, but urged Iran and the Soviets to negotiate a settlement.

Persuaded that Soviet leverage was dominant, the US became convinced that military supplies and financial credits were the only means by which Iran could regain its independence.

Truman’s administration had previously been reluctant to increase aid to Iran, now both the military and the State Department felt there was no other choice.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff asserted that the protection of Iran was in the American national interest. Iran was of strategic importance to the US, both as a source of oil and as a defensive position to protect American-controlled oil wells in Saudi Arabia. It might also serve as a territorial “cushion” by preventing any Soviet attack from overrunning the Middle East.

The US committed to an Export-Import Bank loan, some military aid for defensive weapons, an enlarged American military advisory mission, and increased cultural exchanges. A 1948 military-aid program gave Iran $60 million in military equipment.

Still, a complete understanding with Iran’s leaders proved elusive.

The shah believed that the US would provide massive economic and military assistance.

The American intention, on the other hand, was to do only as much as necessary to prevent a Soviet takeover.

In other words, US officials believed that only token amounts of aid were required even though the shah was demanding large tanks, jet planes, and a 150,000 man army.

As mentioned in a previous post, a US-Iran Military Mission Agreement (ARMISH) was formally established in October 1947. The mission was a response to global stimuli as well as to the shah’s perceived requirements.

Importantly, the State Department recommended against any assistance that would contribute to an expansion of Iran’s military or police budget. Instead, the pressure was for social and economic reform.

State’s opposition was based on a July 1947 report — Report on Programs for the Development of Iran — prepared by the American consulting firm Morrison-Knudsen. Their analysis encouraged investment in agriculture and transportation as well as in a private Persian oil company. While they acknowledged the probability that Iran would receive both economic and military assistance from the US, the consultants preferred a focus based on the provision of technical advisers in agriculture, public health, education, and industrial training.

The US agreed to support an Iranian Seven Year Plan (funded by the World Bank and based on oil revenue) which was designed to expand capital-intensive development and commit to a preservation of the monarchy.

The Americans made clear that they would not support the shah’s extensive aid demands, particularly his vision of an expanded state-of-the-art military. As the US ambassador to Iran stated in a letter to Secretary of State Acheson in August 1949:

No one imagines that now or in future Iranian army could prevent Soviet invasion. As we understand it, object of MAP from military point of view is to insure internal security and to increase cost of invasion in terms of personnel and time required . . . .

It was now clear that (regardless of the shah’s expectations) Iran would have to depend on its own oil revenue for most development funding. Subsequently, the issue of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company gained critical importance.

Soon the politics of oil and the American strategy for dealing with the Soviet threat combined to create long-term tensions between the two countries.

Meanwhile, even limited military support proved a provocation. As one Iranian nationalist noted:

Why should a poor nation such as ours that has gone through years of poverty be armed to defend the selfish interests of the millionaires of America and England? This is the story of the wolf and the lamb? Why doesn’t the United States give us aid to help us improve our education, agriculture, and health . . . .

At the same time, the Soviet threat that had spurred the postwar security dialogue between the US and Iran receded when, in 1947, the Fifteenth Majles rejected the Soviet-Iranian oil proposal.