'Two elements drove
policy in the post-war
Persian Gulf region:
oil and the fear that
Western access to oil.'
The American Spark
Prelude To The U.S.-Backed 1953 Coup Of Iran's Democracy
By Cliff Montgomery - June 30th, 2019
The first of the American Spark’s promised studies on U.S. socio-economic hit-men will discuss the part they
played in the 1953 coup of Iran’s democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq.
The popular prime minister was too left-wing for the personal prejudices of U.S. businesspeople and the
politicians owned by them.
The Spark’s report documenting the 1953 coup will be too large to cover in a single article. So we will work to
cover the matter in three articles, one after the other.
Today’s article will cover the basic background of Iran-U.S. relations before Mosaddeq was elected prime
minister. It is taken verbatim from a U.S. report first compiled in 1998, but only released in a fairly coherent
form in 2017. Before that, versions of this report - entitled Zendebad, Shah! - were substantially redacted.
Our next article, which we will publish in the coming days, will cover the man Mohammad Mosaddeq and
some of his activities as Iran’s pro-democracy prime minister.
After that will come a brief overview of the coup itself, which received substantial help from the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA).
We will provide our other promised studies with the same three-part treatment. They will cover:
- An especially troubling plan proposed by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff against Castro’s Cuba
- The overthrow of Chile’s democratically-elected socialist president Salvador Allende
- U.S. involvement with the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela against democratically-elected socialist
president Hugo Chávez.
The material quoted below, which discusses the lead-up to the Iran coup, comes from the previously-
mentioned 2017 version of the study Zendebad, Shah!.
At the time of the coup, U.S. officials called their involvement against Mosaddeq the TPAJAX Project.
“ ‘TP’ was the CIA country prefix for Iran, while ‘AJAX’ seems, rather prosaically, to have been a reference to
the popular household cleanser,” stated Hugh Wilford in his 2013 book America’s Great Game: The CIA’s
Secret Arabists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, “the implication being that the operation would
scour Iran of communist influence.”
Lastly, remember that the remarks quoted below are from an official U.S. government report. Therefore,
Soviet actions are routinely referred to as “aggressions,” while the same actions performed by U.S. officials
are instead called such things as ‘acts of support’ or ‘assistance.’ It pays to remember the inherent prejudices
of the writers when sifting through government-sanctioned studies.
Iran and the United States to 1951
“During the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, Washington considered the Middle East in general and Iran
in particular to be among the great strategic prizes in the geopolitical and ideological struggle against the
Soviet Union. [But] It was not always so. For almost 175 years, American policymakers ignored Iran because
they had no reason to do otherwise.
“That changed during World War II and the immediate postwar years. During the war, Iran was an important
route for American aid to the Soviet Army, engaged in a life-or-death struggle with Hitler’s Wehrmacht.
“Soviet troops remained in northern Iran immediately after the war, encouraging pro-Communist separatist
regimes in Iranian Azerbaijan and in the Kurdish region. For a time it appeared to Washington that Moscow
would demand the ‘unification’ of Iranian Azerbaijan with Soviet Azerbaijan, but this problem evaporated once
Stalin understood that the United States would not permit such an aggressive move.
“The United States would have preferred to withdraw from the Persian Gulf after the end of World War II, but
the postwar British retreat and retrenchment ‘East of Suez’ created a vacuum that the US felt obligated to fill.
After London announced that it could no longer supply military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey,
President Harry Truman publicly declared in March 1947 that the United States would support free peoples
everywhere, ‘resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”
“For Iran, the Truman Doctrine - as this pledge came to be known - meant that the United States was
replacing Britain as the main geopolitical counter-weight to the Russians.
“For the first three years after President Truman’s declaration, the United States paid relatively little attention
to Iran even though that oil-rich country was experiencing serious economic problems, widespread discontent
with the government, and growing agitation by the Tudah - Iran’s Communist Party.
“In April 1950, the Director of Central Intelligence [DCI], RAdm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, drew Secretary of
State Dean Acheson’s attention to ‘the urgent need for additional intelligence coverage of Iran.’ Hillenkoettcr
wrote that CIA was unable to draft reliable national intelligence estimates on the country because it simply did
not have enough information.
“All the Agency could do, according to the DCI , was ‘tell US policy makers that some sort of crisis does
exist, but [CIA] cannot confidently answer such specific pertinent questions as : (1) how serious the situation
actually is; (2) how adequate are Iran’s own resources for meeting its present difficulties; and (3) how capable
the Iranian Government is of using these resources.’
“Hillenkoetter proposed two solutions. Either existing facilities could be expanded to seek information from
more diverse sources or ‘coverage might be expanded through the establishment of a consulate in the
strategically important southwestern part of Iran.’
“The records do not contain Acheson’s reaction to Hillenkoetter’s letter, but the still-classified copy in the
National Archives has three handwritten notes attached to it.
“The first is from Fisher Howe, Deputy Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, forwarding the letter to
John D. Jernegan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs.
“The second is from Jernegan to C. Vaughan Ferguson, Officer in Charge of Iranian Affairs, Office of Greek,
Turkish, and Iranian Affairs.
“The final is from Ferguson to Jernegan.
“Howe thought Hillenkoetter’s letter was largely for the record, ‘to show that CIA is fulfilling its overall
responsibility for calling attention to weaknesses in intelligence coverage.’ Jernegan had his own unspecified
recommendations and doubted whether State should adopt CIA’s [redacted].
“The State Department clearly did not view the paucity of intelligence on Iran with the same urgency as CIA.
“Even without the most basic intelligence on Iran, two elements drove American foreign policy in the post-war
Persian Gulf region: oil and the fear that political instability might jeopardize Western access to oil. Ever since
Shah Muzaffar al-Din granted William Knox D’Arcy an oil concession covering three-fourths of Persia (as Iran
was known until 1935), Iranian oil had helped fuel the British economy in peace and war.
“The United States was then producing enough oil for its needs, but it knew that Western Europe depended
on oil exports from the Middle East.
“In January 1951, nine months after Hillenkoetter’s letter to Acheson, the Central Intelligence Agency's Office
of National Estimates (ONE) wrote that the British economy would suffer if it lost Iranian oil. The loss of all
Middle Eastern oil, ONE said, would have profound and far-reaching consequences for the economies of the
“Political instability in the Middle East and the Gulf region threatened the continuing supply of oil to the West
“Before the Cold War, the domestic politics of what later came to be called the Third World had made no
impact on American foreign policy decision-making.
“[But] During the Cold War, Washington could not afford the luxury of indifference because doing so would
spur Soviet intrigue. Domestic politics almost anywhere abroad - and especially in strategically valuable areas
- became important arenas for the international ideological struggle between East and West.
“Washington was determined to win this struggle through policies promoting long-term democratization. The
result, American officials hoped, would be stability - and victory.”
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