Book Review: All the Shah’s Men – An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer

The book All the Shah’s Men was written by American journalist Stephen Kinzer.  The subject matter of the book is the America backed coup-de-tat carried out in Iran in 1953, in which its incumbent Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh was forcefully replaced by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  The latter was loyal to Western interests and it was institutions such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which masterminded his ascendency.

The book is a reliable source of historical information concerning the Middle East, especially that of 20th century Iran.  Much of the West’s interest in the region springs from the abundant natural resources found there, especially that of oil.  Starting in the year 1931, when Britain supported and installed the Shah in power, it has had commercial contracts pertaining to extraction and supply of oil.  In the early 1930s, the Shah signed a contract that sold Iranian oil pumping rights to the Anglo Persian Oil Company (later rechristened British Petroleum).  This favorable business relationship with Britain took a nosedive when the Shah sided with the Third Reich later in the decade.  This compelled Britain to sever its ties with the Shah and he was summarily dismissed.  With the collapse of the British Empire at the end of the Second World War and the rise of the United States of America as a global power center, it has been exerting much influence in events in the Middle East, including Iran.  Stephen Kinzer’s book is about the political intrigue, diplomatic maneuverings and other real-politik aspects of this strategically important thread of recent history.  One has to say that the author largely succeeds in bringing out the essence of the twentieth century Anglo-Iranian and U.S.-Iranian relationship.

Ever since the United States replaced Britain as the leading global superpower, it has attracted several enemies.  It’s relationship with Iran is no exception to the rule, as the relationship between the two countries has taken a downturn with the re-emergence of radical Islam in recent decades.  Author Stephen Kinzer attempts to give an explanation for America’s tendency to make enemies.  In other words, the author does a satisfactory job of answering President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous lamentation that “it was a matter of great distress to him that we seemed unable to get some of these down-trodden countries to like us instead of hating us.” (Robarge, 2007)  In the book, Kinzer suggests that America itself is to blame for much of its tattered reputation.  For example,

“the explanation may lie next door in Iran, where the CIA carried out its first successful regime-change operation over half a century ago. The target was not an oppressive Soviet puppet but a democratically elected government whose populist ideology and nationalist fervor threatened Western economic and geopolitical interests. The CIA’s covert intervention—codenamed TPAJAX—preserved the Shah’s power and protected Western control of a hugely lucrative oil infrastructure. It also transformed a turbulent constitutional monarchy into an absolutist kingship and induced a succession of unintended consequences at least as far ahead as the Islamic revolution of 1979—and, Kinzer argues in his breezily written, well-researched popular history, perhaps to today.” (Robarge, 2007)

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