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From Washington to Tehran AN INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN KINZER

— JUSTIN SCHUSTER —

Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered more than 50 countries on five continents. His articles and books have led The Washington Post to place him “among the best in popular foreign policy storytelling.” His national best-selling book All the Shah’s Men examines the lead-up, execution, and legacy of the CIA’s overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953: the CIA’s first overthrow of a democratically elected government.

TP Most people are familiar with the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, but surprisingly few are well-versed with the 1953 CIA overthrow of Mossadegh, the country’s prime minister. Could you provide a quick background to the premise of your book All the Shah’s Men? SK Americans and Iranians have parallel narratives of their relationship, and these narratives never coincide. For Americans, the beginning and end of American-Iranian relations was the hostage crisis. For Iranians, however, that was just a minor episode, and the real, key moment in this relationship was 1953 when the United States participated in the overthrow of the democratic government of Iran. For Iranians, that moment is definitely seen as a key turning point both in their own history and in their relationship with the United States. TP This was the CIA’s first overthrow of a democratically elected government, and you stated in your book that “Iran was the place where the Dulles brothers chose to start showing the world that the U.S. was no 16

longer part of ‘Dean Acheson’s College of Cowardly Communist Containment.’” How did U.S. foreign policy change after that point, and do you think that Eisenhower attributed the “success” of the overthrow to a changing foreign policy? SK Eisenhower did not arrive in office determined to overthrow Mossadegh. I think that John Foster Dulles (secretary of state) and Allen Dulles (CIA director) did. They had a long history with Mossadegh, dating back to their years as corporate lawyers in New York, because Mossadegh had been bothering a number of their most important clients. They saw him as a threat to American and Western economic power, as well as a geopolitical danger. Eisenhower was persuaded essentially by John Foster Dulles that this operation was necessary. Afterward, however, he seemed quite satisfied with it. He seemed from his writings and his comments genuinely to have believed that Iran was poised to fall into the Soviet orbit and that the CIA had done something decisive to change the course of history. Certainly, this intensified his enthu-

siasm for future operations. TP In response to British imperialism before 1953, Iranians turned to a nationalist figure in the form of Mossadegh; however, in the lead up to 1979 and the Islamic Revolution, Iranians turned to a religious leader in the form of Ayatollah Khomeini. What is it that happened between 1953 and 1979 in Iran that eliminated those nationalist aspirations and drove people into the arms of Khomeini? SK The shah imposed a repressive form of rule that made it impossible for independent institutions to exist. There was no civil society. Every kind of organization had to be tied in some way to the government and controlled directly or indirectly by the government. This meant that it was not possible for political parties to provide alternatives to the shah’s rule. Therefore, over the last decade of the shah’s rule, people who were genuinely in opposition had only one place to go and that was the mosque. That was the one place that the shah didn’t dare crush. Over a period of time, opposition figures in Iran came to be linked

with mullahs, and they found their political space in a religious context. That was the only place where opposition to the shah was allowed. The result of that was that when people looked for an alternative to the shah, there was no secular alternative. The shah had systematically crushed every possible other alternative. As a result of his policies, the regime that followed took on a religious tint, which might not have been the case had there had been other secular, political alternatives allowed to thrive in the previous years. TP In your preface to the newest version of All the Shah’s Men, you presented an argument as to why the current course of American policy towards Iran is going in the wrong direction. Why is that so? SK The United States over many years has gotten into the habit of treating small, faraway countries as if they were just pawns on a geopolitical map that could be pushed around pretty easily from Washington. Somehow Iran got thrown into this category along with Paraguay and Burundi and countries like that. Iran doesn’t think of itself that way. This is a country with a tremendously rich history. Iranians have a very strong sense of themselves. They don’t think of themselves as a country that should be pushed around by foreign power, because so much of the tragedy in their history has resulted from the imposition of foreign will. The United States still hasn’t gotten used to the idea of trying to treat Iran with the respect that Iranians think they deserve. There is a deep element of emotion guiding American policy towards Iran. Many people in Washington still have a sense of deep bitterness about what Iran did to the United States through the hostage crisis and the actions that Iran has taken in the decades since then, many of which have been aimed directly and sometimes quite violently at undermining American and Western power all over the world. The emotion leads people in Washington to wish to crush Iran and to teach Iran a lesson and to show the world that there is an unacceptably high price to pay for defying the United States. Emotion is always

Primer Minister Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran waves as he leaves for the Iranian Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1951

the enemy of wise statesmanship. We are following now an emotionally guided policy that has only intensified the differences between Tehran and Washington. TP With a state that is close to becoming nuclear-capable and a president who is threatening to wipe Israel off the map, can the United States afford to let a country like Iran with its current leadership become nuclear-capable? SK I hope that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. I hope that Iran is sincere when it says that it’s never going to do that. I don’t want other countries to get nuclear weapons, either. In fact, I would like to see the number of countries with nuclear weapons reduced. The reality is that in the 21st century, more countries are going to have nuclear weapons. Whether it is going to be Iran or others, we don’t know, but we are going to have to live with more nuclear-armed countries. That’s almost a certainty in the coming decade. I also agree that it is urgently in the interest of the United States to

try to domesticate the Iranian nuclear program and bring it under some form of international control. The question is, “How do we get there?” Do you get there by hectoring and threatening and sanctioning and pushing Iran into a corner and making it feel angry and alone and friendless? Or do you try to coax Iran out of its isolation? You may look at an analogy in Europe, and that is Germany after World War II. When you look at a map of the Middle East right now, one thing jumps right out at you and that is that Iran is a big country right in the middle. There is not going to be stability in that part of the world so long as Iran is angry and hostile. That was the same situation with Germany after World War II. There was a tremendous amount of anti-German emotion in the world for very obvious reasons. At the beginning — at the period when World War II was just ending — the United States adopted a policy called the Morgenthau Plan, under which Germany was going to be forbidden to ever have a factory again; it was going to become only an agricultural country. This was a way to punish Germany and also to 17

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