Top critical review
Misinformation on Iran symptom of shallow analysis
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on April 30, 2021
I can certainly understand why the liberal establishment, as exemplified by the NYTimes, likes this book. It explains every failure of the Cold War as being due to American hubris, usually our alleged propensity to champion repressive and unpopular dictators who are eventually and understandably overthrown by anti-American extremists - Communists or Islamists. And we had it coming.
Let me take one egregious example to expose this flawed analysis. The author relates the usual chestnut about how the Iranian leader Mossadeq in 1953 nationalized the British oilfields and instituted democracy, causing the British to appeal to the US to engineer a coup, which was carried out by the CIA via Kermit Roosevelt. Ultimately, this is how we "lost" Iran.
The real story is much different, as Ray Takeyh relates in "The Last Shah"(Ray is an Iranian-American and a senior fellow on The Council of Foreign Relations). What really happened was that Mossadeq nationalized the oilfields that had been developed by British engineers as Iran lacked the technical know-how. Appealing to nationalist fervor, Mossadeq refused any arrangement that would have allowed the fields to continue to operate with any foreign profit-sharing or technical assistance, no matter how generous, even allowing for Iranian ownership. The result was a precipitous drop in state revenue, wiping out Iran's main currency source. Of course, the fraught situation was being exploited by the Soviets. Mossadeq, a neurotic hypochondriac, was irrational in his actions. In addition, he instituted land reform (offending the clergy who were large land owners) and women's rights (again offending the religious) and other modernizing and secularizing actions, the net result being to alienate Iran's traditionalist population. After all of these blunders, Mossadeq became hated by nearly every faction in the country, which clamored for a pro-Shah coup. The US only reluctantly acceded to the inevitable when the coup came. It was hardly engineered by Kermit Roosevelt, who spent much of his time hanging around the pool sipping cocktails. And, despite these reforms, Iran was firmly under the Shah's one-man control until 1979. Mossadeq's was hardly a genuine democratic revolution. As for the CIA, it had for decades warned about the instability inherent in the Shah's narrowly based, personal rule. The truth is, Iran was just an accident waiting to happen. Its populace are mostly illiterate, ignorant and reactionary. They have ultimately hated every lousy ruler they have had, and there's been very little we could ever do about it. Takeyh also claims that Eisenhower was very well-read and was no puppet of Dulles, contradicting Anderson's calumny. The author shamelessly scapegoats the American government for Iran's failures.
This book is an example of a very common view that the West has much greater power than it really does to direct change in the world. It's reflected in the author's shallow analysis of the local conditions prevailing in Iran and other countries. It's obvious that Ray Takeyh is much better informed about Iran as his book is much more in depth. Given these shortcomings, I would also mistrust the author's analysis on Vietnam and elsewhere. This book is a waste of time.