In a riveting nattative that reads like a thriller, All the Shah's Men brings to life the 1953 CIA coup in Iran. It was selected as one of the best books of 2003 by the Washing Post and the Economist.
~ A MUST-READ FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO BE ABLE TO PUT CURRENT EVENTS INTO PERSPECTIVE (4.5 stars) ~
ALL THE SHAH'S MEN: AN AMERICAN COUP AND THE ROOTS OF MIDDLE EAST TERROR was a terrific book - a detailed and well-balanced historical non-fiction that at times reads like a spy thriller and throughout made me unbelievably angry and sad. Stephen Kinzer does a wonderful job of taking you behind the scenes of Mossadegh's overthrow and includes information from all the key players. He provides an enlightening brief history of Iran and a well-written explanation of what led up to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's problems, Mossadegh's rise to power, his nationalization of the oil industry, and the subsequent problems that eventually resulted in the end of his political career and his public life.
The arrogance of these men who thought they could play with a people and a nation as if they were playing a game of Risk . . . it's seriously abhorrent. To think of what has happened as a result of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's greed (a company now known as BP), the British Empire's inability to let go of colonialism, and the US's obsession with stopping the spread of Communism at all cost - it boggles the mind. The covert institutions of these two countries literally played with the Iranian people and the country's future as if it was just a child's board game, disregarding not only the longterm implications of their actions, but also the unbelievable immorality of them.
So many times --- so many times! --- the Iranian people and democracy won out despite manipulations, backhand deals, palm-greasing, propaganda, and outright lies. After all that shady work by the US and Britain, the CIA's first attempt to overthrow Mossadegh on August 15, 1953 didn't even work!! And if Mossadegh hadn't been such a scrupulously honest and moral person and so devoted to the idea of democracy, freedom, and keeping his word, their second attempt on August 19 would also have failed. But it didn't, and we are all the worse off for it.
As Kinzer and other historians point out, one can trace a line from the CIA and MI6's overthrow of Mossadegh to the attacks against Americans and US institutions in Iran in the 70s, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the embassy hostage crisis, the current (deplorable) state of democracy in the Middle East, and the emergence and strength of extremist and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
In the last chapter of ALL THE SHAH'S MEN, Kinzer writes: "It is not far-fetched to draw a line from Operation Ajax [the name of the operation to overthrow Mossadegh:] through the Shah's repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York. The world has paid a heavy price for the lack of democracy in most of the Middle East. Operation Ajax taught tyrants and aspiring tyrants there that the world's most powerful governments were willing to tolerate limitless oppression as long as oppressive regimes were friendly to the West and to Western oil companies. That helped tilt the political balance in a vast region away from freedom and toward dictatorship" (p203-204).
How does the saying go? . . . Oh right: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (George Santayana, 1905). I fear that the lessons from Mossadegh's overthrow aren't ones we've forgotten, but ones we unfortunately never learned to begin with.
OTHER BOOKS BY STEPHEN KINZER:
BITTER FRUIT: THE STORY OF THE AMERICAN COUP IN GUATEMALA (1982)
CRESCENT AND STAR: TURKEY BETWEEN TOW WORLDS (2001)
OVERTHROW: AMERICA'S CENTURY OF REGIME CHANGE FROM HAWAII TO IRAQ (2006)
BLOOD OF BROTHERS: LIFE AND WAR IN NICARAGUA, with co-author Merilee S. Grindle (2007)
A THOUSAND HILLS: RWANDA'S REBIRTH AND THE MAN WHO DREAMED IT (2008)
RESET: IRAN, TURKEY, AND AMERICA'S FUTURE (2010)