Home   Genealogy   Forums   Search   Contact
MHO Home
MHO Home
 17th Century
 18th Century
 19th Century
 American Civil War
 World War I
 World War II
 20th - 21st Century

 Write for MHO
 Search MHO
 Civil War Genealogy Database
 Privacy Policy

Member Articles
Margaret Cochran Corbin
Sherman's March
The French vs. German Strategy of Warfare 1871
South Africa in WWI
USS North Carolina vs Bismarck
Imperialistic Wars
Book Review: Gallipoli
Operation Compass
Book Review: APc-48
Book Review: Fighting Blind
Book Review: The Secret State
Was the Civil War Modern?
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
MacArthur and Baseball
Movement around Pope's Army
The Battle of Tondibi
From Shell Shock to PTSD
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
The Morality of Okinawa
Invention of Counterinsurgency
U.S. Army Model 1913 Cavalry Saber
The Somme
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Second Battle of Ypres
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Soviet Invasion of Manchuria
Battle of Buna Gona
Timothy Webster, Pinkerton Man and Spy
Khrushchev’s Last Bluff
Origins of WWI
Korean War Chronology – Pt 1
Military Intel of WWI
Battle of Thatis River
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt4
In Memoriam: Lt(jg) James A. Nist, USNR
Third Romano-Samnite War - Phase 1
War Nurses
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
The New York Naval Militia - Part II
LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff, C.B. (1869-1914)
Al Asad Air Base, Iraq During Desert Storm
The New York Naval Militia - Part I
Alfred Thayer Mahan: Advocate for Seapower
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt3
Into the Special Forces: Rudi Horvath
American Airborne Units in WWII
Czechoslovak Exile Units of WWII
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
The Fulda Gap
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
The Third Battle of Megiddo
The Third Battle of Anchialus
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Return of Rogers' Rangers
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Siege of Mazagan, 1562
T.E. Lawrence and Asymmetric Warfare
The Borinqueneers: 65th Inf Regt
Americans in the Boer War
Logistics and Western Way of War
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
The Third Day at Gettysburg
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt2
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
Response to Everett L. Wheeler’s review
Marching to Timbuktu
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Adolphus, Genius of Sweden
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
British Infantry Tactics in WWI
Lodge Act Soldier
The Sharif and the Sultan of Fishermen
The Fate of the Kido Butai
From Small Causes, Great Events
Charge of the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra
Second Samnite War Phase 2
Air Recon in WWII
The Roman Disaster at Adrianople
Cyberwar in the 21st Century
Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution
Bullets Quickly Write New Tactics
Second Lebanon War
WWII Veteran Interview - Walter Holy
The influence of Neurotechnology on Just War
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Fury, Fumaroles and Brimstone
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
Son of an Artilleryman Follows Father’s Footsteps
Colonel Patrick O'Rorke
Plague of the Spanish Lady
Cairo’s Fortress on the Mountain
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
SMS Dresden's War
Air Recon in WWI
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Betrayed by a Mason?
Angel of Mons
Who Killed the Red Baron?
Armenian Warriors, Japanese Samurai
Benedict Arnold in Canada
D-Day Gate Crasher
Vets Tell All -- He Listens
308th Infantry during Argonne
Battle for the Seaports
British Officers and Gentlemen
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
The War between Norway and Sweden 1808
Armenians in Strategikon
Suez Canal Guerrillas
Birth of a PMC
Sir Thomas Stukeley
Cuban Missile Crisis
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Memorials Past and Future
Second Samnite War
Korea: Study In Unpreparedness
Intelligence in the Philippine Insurrection
Stanley at Shiloh: A Improbable 'Indiana Jones'
The Green Beret Affair: A Factual Review
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Gulf War Press Mobilization
Special Order 191: Ruse of War?
Mexican Revolution and US Intervention 1910-1917
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
War in So. Italy 342-327 BC
Avoiding World War III
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Chosin Reservoir
Lausdell Crossroads
Asian Art of War
Kasserine Pass
Gonzales: Crucible of Texas Revolution
Sheridan's Southern Plains Campaign
Milvern Harrell: Dawson Massacre
Arnhem Startline
15th Illinois Infantry
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Lion Polish Eagle
British Offensive Operations
Decisions of Disaster: Jutland 1916
Endgame in Flanders, 1918
Constantinople - Citadel at the Gate
Bacon's Rebellion
First Samnite War
Phoenix Reven
USS Charger
English Way of War
Roman Expedition into Dacia
Sir Winston Churchill
Chinese Support for Vietnam
Fannin's Regiment
Battle of Poyang Lake
German Commerce Raiders
Indecisiveness of Battles
8th New Hampshire Infantry
American Stubbornness at Rimling
Mexican American War
The OSS in Greece
China Marines
Pompey and Ancient Piracy
The Northwest Army
MacArthur and the Cavalry
Naval Infantry in US Military History
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Breaking Seelow Heights
Soviet Experience in Afhanistan
Apocalypse Then
American Revolution
Western Way of War
American Way of War
The Battle Tannenberg
The Rape of Nanking
The Kitona Operation
Solferino: Slaughter and Rebirth
Siege of Osaka
Confederate Railroad
Shenandoah Campaign
Fredericksburg Campaign
Commanders and Censors
Tet Offensive
Battle of Lundy's Lane
Battle of Paris
Flip Side of Containment
Small Battle: Big Implications
Unconventional Warfare
Harris Class APA
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Sun Tzu and Overland Campaign
ACW Military Theory
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
MacArthur: 1931-1935
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Bear River Massacre
Reflections on Iran
The Success of Napoleon
Battle of Surigao Strait
Cuba's Operation Carlotta
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Battle of Great Bridge
Seapower in the Yuan Dynasty
Frederick: Battle of Leuthen
Nutmeggers on Antietam Creek
Nathan Bedford Forrest
G. Washington and J. Monroe
Mao and Giap On Guerrilla Warfare
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Stephen Douglas and Popular Sovereignty
The "Green Beret Affair"
The Start: Ft. Necessity
Napoleon's Campaign of 1809
Clark Field, Philippines
Winter Warfare
The Great Retreat
The Raid on Thurso, 1649
The City Point Explosion
Capture of USS President
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
The Hundred Years War: An Analysis
Why France Lost the Seven Years' War
A Cold War Retrospective
Dalton to Atlanta-Sherman vs. Johnston
The Fenian Raids
Military History of War of 1812
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
A Path Across the Rhine: Remagen
Failures during the Spanish Civil War
Surface Actions of World War II
Austerlitz: Napoleon Makes His Own Luck
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
The Battle of Cowpens
The Failures at Spion Kop
Combatants in Black Hawk War
Japan's Monster Sub
Britain's Participation Justified?
Popski's Private Army
The Maple Leaf Adventure
An Odd Way to View WWII
America's Paradoxical Trinity
The Soviet Formula for Success
Basic Counter-Insurgency
The Onin War
The Battle of Pea Ridge
Tunisian Army in Crimean War
Japan's TA-Operation
The Cambodian Incursion
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
Dien Bien Phu: A Battle Assessment
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Lafayette Escadrille Pilots
Governor Kieft's Personal War
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
History of 138th PA
Giuseppe Garibaldi
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Caterpillar Club
Foundation of Modern Army Regiments
One of Ten Thousand
The Design Was Not Passed On
Subverting the Sultan
John Paul Jones and Asymetric Warfare
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Dien Bien Phu 50 Years Later
The Battle of Mogadishu
"A Time of Testing": Battle for Hue
StuIG at Stalingrad
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
What if?
The Effect of Industrialization
Tanks in the Garden of Eden
Early Texas Military History
Office of Strategic Services
The Mitrailleuse
The Grande Armee of 1812 in Russia
Role of Artillery in Korea
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
Battle of Mantinea
Pearl Harbor
American Revolution in the Caribbean
The French Campaign of 1859
The Battle of Midway
The Battle of Franklin
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Want of a Nail: Confederate Ironclads
Changing Generalship and Tactics
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Boudicca: What Do We Really Know?
Rulers of the World: The Hitler Youth
The Master's Misstep
The Order of St. Lazarus
Breakout From the Hedgerows
St. Etienne: US 36th Division in WWI
Memories of D-Day
Life and Death of the 10th NJ Infantry
The Raid on Dieppe

More Archived Articles...

Bruce Brager Articles
Book Review: Operation Paperclip
Book Review: Midnight Rising
Cuban Missile Crisis
Memorials Past and Future
American Way of War
Flip Side of Containment
Stephen Douglas and Popular Sovereignty
The Start: Jumonville's Glen
Winter Warfare
The City Point Explosion
A Cold War Retrospective
John Paul Jones & Asymetric Warfare
Early Texas Military History
The Office of Strategic Services
The Battle of St. Etienne

Book Reviews
Security First

Books by Bruce L. Brager 

The Texas 36th Division

John Paul Jones America's Sailor

There He Stands: The Story Of Stonewall Jackson

The Iron Curtain: The Cold War in Europe

Ads by Google

by Bruce L. Brager

Blowback is an interesting term. Apparently the term was created to describe the unintended results of covert operations, by implication the unpleasant unintended results. This is just particularizing a more general and much older concept -- the law of unexpected consequences. "Be careful what you ask for (pray for, for those more religious) you might get it." In science, perhaps the most basic law of physics is that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In life, reactions tend to be neither equal nor opposite. Blowback is more updated, more self-directed, perhaps more deserved, unexpected consequences. If I knew then what I sure as hell should have known then. . . Blowback is cost, and everything has a cost.

Blowback with Iran may actually have started February 22, 1946, in the American embassy in Moscow. Embassy staffer George Kennan sent a "long telegram," back to the State Department in Washington, D.C., answering an inquiry as to why the Soviets seemed so reluctant to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Kennan's "telegram", actually five telegrams for a total of about 8,000 words, explained a lot more than why the Soviets did not like multi-national lending institutions.

Kennan began by stating that "Soviet leaders are driven by necessities of their own past and present positions to put forward a dogma which pictures the outside world as evil, hostile and menacing. . . "[1] The Soviets, Kennan wrote, expected no permanent co-existence with the West, particularly with the West's strongest power, the United States. The Soviets would compete with the west by what Kennan called "official" and "unofficial" means. Official means would focus militarily by building up Soviet strength and dominating the countries bordering the Soviet Union, including, significantly, Iran. Unofficial means meant, basically, quiet subversion.

Kennan dealt with ways to handle the Soviets. He pointed out that the Soviets did not like to take unnecessary risks and did not work by set timetables, in both cases unlike Adolf Hitler. When they met resistance they would withdraw. (At about the same time Kennan was writing the telegram, Western resistance led to the Soviet withdrawal from northern Iran and dropping of Soviet demands for bases in Turkey, seemingly proving Kennan's point). The West would have to stand up to the Soviet Union, but should try to do so in ways that Soviet prestige was not put on the line, allowing the Soviets to back down. The West would have to provide nations a better alternative to the future the Soviets could provide them. The West would also have to provide political and economic security.

Kennan's Long Telegram was a statement of this view for government. The views were advanced to the public, and the concept of "containment" expressed, in a paper written at the end of 1946 and published the next year in Foreign Affairs magazine. Kennan would later state that he was speaking politically when he wrote that

". . . it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward to the Soviet Union must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. It is important to note, however, that such a policy has nothing to do with . . . threats or blustering. . . While the Kremlin is basically flexible to its reaction to political realities, it is by no means unamenable to considerations of prestige. Like almost any other government, it can be placed by tactless and threatening gestures in a position where it cannot afford to yield even though this might be dictated by its sense of realism. . .

It would be an exaggeration to stay that American behavior unassisted and alone could . . . bring about the early fall of Soviet power in Russia. But the United States has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which the Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the breakup or the gradual mellowing of Soviet Power."[2]

A far less well know corollary to containment was proposed by Kennan in April 1948. Kennan, now back in Washington, proposed that the Policy Planning Committee of the State Department, which he was now running, begin a program of covert action against the Soviets. A less well known part of Kennan's "X" article than the basic containment idea had called for "counter-force" at shifting points. This was a call for specific action and, since Kennan did not want to provoke a full-scale war, covert action.

Kennan wrote up a plan for what he proposed, which was adopted by President Harry S. Truman as NSC 10/2.[3] Kennan stated that it was not "our primary aim in time of peace to set the stage for a war regarded as inevitable [but] . . . we are aiming at the creation of circumstances and situations which would be difficult for the present Soviet leaders to stomach, and which they would not like. It is possible. . . that they would not be able to retain their power in Russia."[4] Secretary of State George Marshall opposed the State Department engaging in covert operations, so the work was given to the CIA.

The first action under this program, secret American involvement to try and sway the Italian elections of 1948, can be considered successful, since a feared Communist electoral victory did not occur. A second effort had more uncertain results. Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin's post war purges may have at least partly resulted from active American and British covert action. The purges are usually credited to Stalin's paranoid reaction to Yugoslavia's break with the Soviet bloc in 1948 and its pursuit of an independent foreign policy. The desire to find scapegoats for economic problems is also credited with a role.

British and American efforts at infiltration of active saboteurs behind the Iron Curtain were badly done, and were betrayed by Soviet moles within American and British intelligence. The Soviets were quickly able to round up all they knew about. But Stalin might well have considered that perhaps Soviet moles in the West did not know about all the Western agents in the Soviet bloc. Individuals arrested during the purges were usually denounced in the Communist press as being in league with the West. The United States and its allies, including Britain, were directly denounced.

The Western intelligence services were delighted by the purges and the damage they were doing to Soviet bloc leadership. If they did not cause the purges they certainly tried to contribute. September 1949 National Security Council policy papers included the statement that "The propensity of the revolution to devour its own, the suspicions of the Kremlin regarding its agents and the institutions of denunciation, purge and liquidation are grave defects in the Soviet system which have never been adequately exploited."[5]

A recent analysis of the history of American and British anti-Soviet intelligence puts things well in writing that "Stalin's fantastic paranoia was the central factor in the extraordinary wave of arrests and executions that swept over the Eastern block between 1948 and 1953. But the purges had more than one cause and Western intelligence played its part – after 1949 quite intentionally. . ."[6] The purges were targets of opportunity for the Western nations, and they seem to have taken advantage.

Different unexpected consequences occurred as the result of another active CIA operation. About the time the Korean War started, in 1950, Iran first burst onto the world scene as a trouble spot. Then, as now, Iran was one of the world's largest producers of oil. However, in 1950 Iran did not control its own oil. Iranian oil drilling and production was under the control of a company called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, AIOC, 51% percent owned by the British government. The British had been involved in Iran since the 1800s, for its strategic location on the route to British-controlled India, and for its oil.

In 1950 AIOC was working under an agreement signed back in 1932 with Reza Shah, the then ruler of Iran. This agreement gave most of the profits of the oil company to the company, though Iran was supposed to receive a minimum payment of 975,000 British pounds per year, very roughly $30,000,000 in 2005 American dollars.[7] For comparison, a July 2006 article in the Boston Globe reported that the Iranians expected to earn $54 billion from oil exports in the year ending March 21, 2007.[8] One does have to have the slightest sympathy for the current Iranian regime to notice the gross disparity.

In 1941 Reza Shah, considered pro-German by the British, was forced to abdicate the Iranian throne. The British did not want a leader they did not trust to be in charge of a country as strategic as Iran. His 21-year-old son, Mohammed Reza, replaced Reza.

In 1949, AIOC and Iran signed a supplemental agreement that barely improved the Iranian share of the oil profits. With the support of the British government, AIOC refused to negotiate a better deal with the Iranian government. (The British government was getting 100 million pounds per year in taxes from AIOC, and low cost oil for the Royal Navy, which inclined them to support the company.) AIOC also refused to let any Iranians audit the company's books.

By 1949, political sentiment within Iran for nationalizing the oil industry was growing. The oil issue was key in the elections that year for the Majlis, the Iranian parliament. Nationalists in the Majlis were determined to renegotiate the agreement. However, negotiations in 1950 resulted in only minor improvements for the Iranians. The Majlis committee on oil matters, headed by a veteran politician named Mohammad Mossadegh, rejected the agreement.

A second try at an agreement failed. General Ali Razmara had become prime minister in June 1950, but he failed to convey to the oil company the strength of the nationalist feeling in the country and the Majlis. The company still did not offer the Iranians satisfactory terms. On March 7, 1951, Razmara was assassinated by an Islamic militant. On March 15, 1951, the Majlis voted to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. When last ditch talks between the United States and Britain failed to budge the British, on May 1, 1951 the Shah signed the nationalization law. On May 6, 1951, the Majlis approved Mossadegh and his cabinet and Mossadegh became Prime Minister.

British oil technicians left the country, and Britain imposed a worldwide embargo on Iranian oil. In at least one case, an Italian oil tanker with Iranian oil was intercepted and forced to turn back and unload the oil. Britain took the case to the International Court of Justice, which issued a recommendation, with no force of law, that Iran allow the British company to keep running the oil industry while negotiations were under way. Mossadegh announced that Iran would ignore the ruling, since the dispute in question was between what was technically a private company and a government. The International Court, set up to try to settle disputes between governments, had no jurisdiction, Mossadegh said.

The United States began to pressure AIOC to improve its offer to Iran. However, by this time anti-British feeling in Iran was so strong that the government refused all offers. Mossadegh grew more powerful, and in the summer of 1952 got into a political dispute with the Shah. Under Iranian law, the Prime Minister, with the consent of the Majlis, appointed all members of the cabinet except the Minister of War. The Shah's appointment of this minister gave him, at least in theory, control of the military. Mossadegh demanded the right to appoint the Minister of War.

When the Shah refused, Mossadegh resigned, but did not stay out of office for long. Three days of pro-Mossadegh rioting followed Mossadegh's departure. The Shah was forced to restore Mossadegh as Prime Minister, and to give Mossadegh the power to appoint the Minister of War. Economic conditions in Iran, due to the British embargo, worsened. Mossadegh responded by getting the Majlis to give him full powers of government for a six-month period, and then for six months after that. Mossadegh also got the term of office of the pro-Shah Senate, the upper house of the Majlis ("Majlis" referred to both the lower house and the entire parliament) reduced from six to two years. Since the Senate had been established in 1950, it was effectively dissolved.

On August 3, 1953, responding to a decline in support in the Majlis, Mossadeqh held a plebiscite on whether to dissolve the Majlis and plan new elections. Mossadeqh claimed victory and dissolved the Majlis.

American and British opposition to Mossadeqh now began catch up to him. The British government had wanted to get him out of office almost from the time he came into office. Winston Churchill, back in office since 1951, was unable to convince the Democratic administration of Harry Truman, sympathetic to nationalism and anti-colonialism, to support the British. This changed when Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in January 1953.

The British changed their argument to that of anti-Communism. Mossadegh, though not a communist himself, had been working with the Iranian communist party, the Tudeh. The British convinced Eisenhower and his senior administration officials that this was making it possible, even probable, that the Tudeh would take power in Iran. This would give the Soviets control of Iranian oil, and of the main trade and communication routes to India.

In June 1953 Eisenhower approved Operation Ajax, a plan to overthrow Mossadegh. CIA case officer Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, went to Iran to begin to carry out the plan. Roosevelt spent the next two months lining up support among key members of the Iranian government, through use of the argument that Mossadegh was a danger to Iran, and through the use of bribes. By August Roosevelt was ready to act.

In early August the Shah agreed to sign two firmans, the Iranian term for royal decrees, dismissing Mossadeqh and appointing as prime minister a retired army general, Fazlollah Zahedi. The decrees were not entirely legal, since the prime minister had to be confirmed by the Majlis. The Shah was not entirely confidant, and told Roosevelt "If by any horrible chance things go wrong, the Empress and I will take our plane straight to Baghdad."[9]

The plan was for the firmans to be prepared and brought to the Shah on August 10 at his palace in Tehran. The Shah and his wife would then fly to a refuge in rural Iran. The courier arrived late at the Shah's palace, and the Shah had gone. It took about a day to get the Shah's signature. And then Roosevelt ran into the Iranian weekend, Thursday and Friday. (The Islamic Sabbath is Friday.) The coup would have to wait for Saturday night, August 15, 1953.

The coup began with a pro-Shah colonel, Nematollah Nasiri, taking a column of soldiers for the first step, to arrest Army Chief of Staff General Taqi Rahi. Nasiri found that Rahi was not home, so he headed to Mossadegh's house to present the firmans firing him and replacing him with Zahedi. However, Nasiri himself was arrested, taken to general staff headquarters, and ordered imprisoned by Rahi. Roosevelt knew the first effort at a coup had failed when Mossadeqh himself went on Radio Tehran the next morning to announce its failure. The Shah and his wife quickly flew to Baghdad. As a trained pilot, the Shah flew his own aircraft. Roosevelt reported failure to CIA headquarters, and was authorized to leave Iran if he was in danger. However, Roosevelt decided to try again.

On Monday, August 17, Roosevelt sent his agents into the street to stir up riots. Anyone who might be able to organize a pro-Shah or anti-Mossadeqh crowd would be asked to do so, bribed if necessary. Others would be bribed to riot destructively in Mossadegh's name. Roosevelt also placed reports in friendly newspapers that Mossadegh had staged a coup against the Shah, but had been thwarted by loyal military officers.

Mossadegh and his senior ministers responded too mildly to the coup attempt. They spent the next day or two debating whether the Shah had staged the coup, and the meaning of the Shah's flight to Iraq. Had the Shah abdicated his thrown? Troops loyal to Mossadegh were taken off the streets.

Two days of demonstrations and rioting followed. Mossadegh had initially ordered police not to interfere with demonstrations, not wanting to curb the right of freedom of expression. But on Tuesday, he was forced to order a crackdown and to ban further demonstrations. Neither order worked. Excessive force was used in the crackdown, which turned people against Mossadegh. By Wednesday, pro-Mossadegh demonstrators were staying home while pro-Shah forces were demonstrating. Tudeh party members were taking no action. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had died a few months before. The members of the Tudeh were not getting instructions from Moscow and did not want to act on their own.

By the end of Wednesday, August 19, Mossadegh had been forced to flee his own house and was effectively out of power. Zahedi had declared himself the lawful prime minister. His forces were taking control of Tehran and quieting the streets. The next day Mossadegh called to arrange his surrender. Two days later the Shah arrived back in Iran. Mossadegh was tried for treason, but was allowed to remain under house arrest in his village until his death in 1967. Hundreds of his supporters in government were arrested, with a few sentenced to death. The Shah quickly moved to secure his power. Roosevelt left Iran quietly on Sunday August 23, 1953. He wanted to avoid an American "signature" on the coup and the Shah being restored to power. The Shah would remain an ally of the Americans as long as he remained in power. But efforts to keep American involvement quiet failed. The Iranians would eventually learn that the United States was involved in overthrowing a lawful Iranian government.

Actions have consequences. These consequences can come many years later. When the Mossadegh government was overthrown, the American government thought the CIA "signature" was not on the success. The government also thought it had a strong and secure American ally in the Shah.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was far more decisive after 1953 than he had been in the early years of his rule. With the open assistance of the United States, the Shah would remain in power until 1979. A few years later, the Robert Huyser, deputy commander of NATO, stated that Iran, in words echoing the British after World War One, "from a military standpoint, was a key strategic area for the United States. If Iran could establish a significant defense capability, as it was in the process of doing, we could save our country millions of dollars."[10] Britain, whatever its many policy errors in dealing with Iran in the late 1940s and early 1950s, had been right about Iran's importance.

The United States government, and the CIA, assumed that the Shah was securely in power. Even when serious trouble began in 1978, they assumed the Shah would stick it out. They failed to anticipate the degree of popular opposition to the Shah, and the effects of the Shah having come down with the cancer that would kill him in 1980. In August 1978, in fact, a CIA analyst reported to President Jimmy Carter "Iran is not in a revolutionary or even pre-Revolutionary situation."[11]

Accurate reports were coming in from case officers in Iran, but CIA analysts were ignoring them. The CIA assumed that the Shah would crush the opposition, as he had done in the past. Stansfield Turner, DCI at the time, later commented, "We were aware that the shah had opposition. One difficulty was it was hard to appreciate that a man with the military and SAVAK [Shah's secret police] would be toppled by people parading in the streets. When you make an intelligence forecast, you make an assumption. We thought he would use the powers he had, but he didn't."[12]

Within two years the Shah was out of power and dead of cancer, over fifty American diplomats were being held hostage in the American embassy, and Iran and Iraq were at war. The United States "tilted," in the phrase of that time, towards Iraq, feeling that Iranian covert support for terrorism made it the greater danger.

An equally important event occurred on December 25, 1979. The Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, its neighbor to the southwest, to prop up a communist regime facing armed revolts, some of them led by Islamic radicals. This was the first use of Soviet troops for military action outside of Eastern Europe or the Soviet border with China. The Soviet timing may have been influenced by the United States involvement with the Iranian hostage crisis, making it a second level unexpected consequence from Mossadegh's overthrow.

This invasion provides an opportunity for the United States to aid, secretly, active military resistance to the Soviet Union. During the last year of the Jimmy Carter administration – not under President Ronald Reagan, as most people think -- the decision was made to secretly aid the anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan. Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzesinski, wrote in a memo to the President, "It is essential that Afghanistan's resistance continues. This means more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels, and some technical advice."[13] DCI Stansfield Turner worried about using American arms in direct combat with Soviet troops, but in the end decided to support the operation. The ten year effort, greatly expanded under President Ronald Reagan, seemed to pay off on February 15, 1989. After suffering at least 10,000 casualties, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. Lieutenant-General Boris Gromov, clad in combat fatigues, walked over a bridge back onto Soviet soil, symbolically the last Soviet combat soldier in Afghanistan. Less then three years later, the Soviet Union faded into history.

Whatever the ultimate advantages of confronting the Soviets in Afghanistan, William Casey, chief of the CIA under Reagan, came up with an unfortunate idea for a source of manpower for this opposition. Casey himself was a religious Catholic. He thought that religious Muslims would be natural allies of the Christian West in confronting the atheistic communists. In 1986, an independent group appeared in Pakistan for the purpose of recruiting dedicated religious Arab volunteers to fight the Soviets. This group, the Islamic Salvation Foundation, had one particularly rich and ardent supporter, a young Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden.

Afghanistan faded from governmental radar screens when the Soviets left. Most were satisfied to look for other issues. George H. W. Bush was concerned about Iraq and Kuwait, after Saddam's 1990 invasion. Bill Clinton came into office promising to focus on domestic affairs, particularly the economy. The CIA pretty much withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving the field open for the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, with its own agenda. The Pakistanis were motivated by some religious sympathy for the ardent Muslims, and a strong desire to build an ally in their continuing disputes with India.

The United States paid little attention when, in 1995, the communist regime was overthrown by a coalition led by a rural group known as the Taliban. The Taliban attracted attention in the years that followed, when it instituted a series of harshly repressive measures, a high percentage of which were aimed at women. Failure to follow these rules, or any other opposition to the Taliban, could earn a series of harsh penalties, such as amputation of the hand, up to execution.

The United States protested the Taliban's behavior, but took little direct action. American attention more closely focused on the Taliban when they became closely associated with Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden's organization, Al Qaeda, started to come up in reports of anti-American terrorism around the world. By 1998 there were serious discussions among the various parts of the American government about what to do about Bin Laden and his organization, but little was done.

The CIA planners noted that time was not on their side in getting Bin Laden. "Sooner or later," one briefing paper stated," Bin Laden will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [Weapons of Mass destruction]."[14] But this did not cut through the bureaucratic discussions. The State Department, for example, on several occasions raised legal objections to kidnapping Bin Laden, particularly when it became clear that the CIA was not totally concerned that Bin Laden might be killed.

In October 2000, Al Qaeda terrorists killed 17 American sailors when suicide bombers blew up a small boat near the destroyer USS Cole. This was near the end of President Clinton's term, and no action was taken. When George W. Bush took over as President on January 20, 2001, he needed time to get fully up to speed on all issues. Bush also seemed not to be convinced that terrorism was a major issue. His staff took time to study action against Bin Laden and Al Quada. Despite warnings from DCI George Tenet, though not expressed as urgently and as strongly as they might have been, Bush and his people seemed to think time was on their side. It was not.

Afghanistan was probably – the law of unexpected consequences requires the use of such modifiers -- settled as an immediate problem by a quick military campaign in October 2001. Al Qaeda remains an uncertain quantity, though probably very damaged. Saddam Hussein, the entertaining side issue in the Middle East, is dead – though Iraq is gradually becoming, if it has become already, a no-win situation. The quality of United States intelligence analysis, if not its collection, remains uncertain four years after 9/11.

Understanding at least one historical motivation for Iranian behavior, the overthrown of Mossadegh, is only a tool for dealing with this behavior. We also have to look at how the Iranian leadership might view interesting recent dichotomy. Saddam Hussein denies having nuclear weapons, and gets invade and overthrown. Kim Sung Ill claims to have nuclear weapons, and gets negotiations. Cold War historical studies frequently comment on how Western behavior and inconsistency could sometimes confuse the Soviets.

* * *

Show Footnotes and Sources

* * *

Copyright © 2007 Bruce L. Brager.

Written by Bruce L. Brager. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Bruce L. Brager at:

About the author:
Bruce Brager is a writer specializing in military history, defense and foreign policy. He is the author of ten published books and over fifty published articles.

Published online: 05/20/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
© 2018, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: