|Once upon a time, in
a mountainous land between Baghdad and the Sea of Caviar, there lived a nobleman. This
nobleman, after a lifetime of carping at the way the kingdom was run, became Chief
Minister of the realm. In a few months he had the whole world hanging on his words and
deeds, his jokes, his tears, his tantrums. Behind his grotesque antics lay great issues of
peace or war, progress or decline, which would affect many lands far beyond his mountains.
His methods of government were peculiar. For example, when he decided to shift his
governors, he dropped into a bowl slips of paper with the names of provinces; each
governor stepped forward and drew a new province. Like all ministers, the old nobleman was
plagued with friends, men-of-influence, patriots and toadies who came to him with one
proposal or another. His duty bade him say no to these schemes, but he was such a kindly
fellow (in some respects) that he could not bear to speak the word. He would call in his
two-year-old granddaughter and repeat the proposal to her, in front of the visitor.
Since she was a well- brought-up little girl, to all these propositions she would
unhesitatingly say no. "How can I go against
her?" the old gentleman would ask. After a while, the granddaughter, bored with the
routine, began to answer yes occasionally. This saddened the old man, for it ruined his
favorite joke, and might even have made the administration of the country more inefficient
than it was already.
In foreign affairs, the minister pursued a very active policy--so active that in
the chancelleries of nations thousand of miles away, lamps burned late into the night as
other governments tried to find a way of satisfying his demands without ruining
themselves. Not that he ever threatened war. His weapon was the threat of his own
political suicide, as a willful little boy might say, "If you don't give me what I
want I'll hold my breath until I'm blue in the face. Then you'll be sorry."
In this way, the old nobleman became the most world-renowned man his ancient race had
produced for centuries. In this way, too, he increased the danger of a general war among
nations, impoverished his country and brought it and some neighboring lands to the very
brink of disaster.
In the year of his rise to power, he was in some ways the most noteworthy figure on the
world scene. Not that he was the best or the worst or the strongest, but because his rapid
advance from obscurity was attended by the greatest stir. The stir was not only on the
surface of events: in his strange way, this strange old man represented one of the most
profound problems of his time. Around this dizzy old wizard swirled a crisis of human
He was Mohammed Mossadegh, Premier of Iran in the year 1951. He was the Man of the Year.
He put Scheherazade in the petroleum business and oiled the wheels of chaos. His acid
tears dissolved one of the remaining pillars of a once great empire. In his plaintive,
singsong voice he gabbled a defiant challenge that sprang out of a hatred and envy almost
incomprehensible to the West.
There were millions inside and outside of Iran whom Mossadegh symbolized and spike for,
and whose fanatical state of mind he had helped to create. They would rather see their own
nations fall apart than continue their present relations with the West. Communism
encouraged this state of mind, and stood to profit hugely from it. But Communism did not
create it. The split between the West and the non-Communist East was a peril all its own
to world order, quite apart from Communism. Through 1951 the Communist threat to the world
continued; but nothing new was added--and little subtracted. The news of 1951 was this
other danger in the Near and Middle East. In the center of that spreading web of news was
Mossadegh, by Western standards an appalling caricature of a statesman, was a fair sample
of what the West would have to work with in the Middle East. To sit back and deplore him
was to run away from the issue. For a long time, relations with the Middle East would mean
relations with men such as Mossadegh, some better, some much worse.
|The Iranian George
Washington was probably born in 1879 (he fibs about his age). His mother was a princess of
the Kajar dynasty then ruling Persia; his father was for 30 years Finance Minister of the
country. Mohammed Mossadegh entered politics in 1906. An obstinate oppositionist, he was
usually out of favor and several times exiled. In 1919, horrified by a colonial-style
treaty between Britain and Persia, he hardened his policy into a simple
Persia-for-the-Persians slogan. While the rest of the world went through Versailles,
Manchuria, the Reichstag fire, Spain, Ethiopia and a World War, Mossadegh kept hammering
away at his single note. Nobody in the West heard him.
They heard him in 1951, however. On March 8,
the day after Ali Razmara, Iran's able, pro-Western Premier, was assassinated, Mossadegh
submitted to the Iranian Majilis his proposal to nationalize Iran's oil. In a few weeks a
wave of anti-foreign feeling, assisted by organized terrorism, swept him into the
Oil Co., most of whose stock is owned by the British government, had been paying Iran much
less than the British Government took from the company in taxes. The U.S. State Department
warned Britain that Iran might explode unless it got a better deal, but the U.S. did not
press the issue firmly enough to make London listen. Mossadegh's nationalization bill
scared the company into concessions that were made too late. The Premier, whose mind runs
deep single track, was committed to nationalization--and much to the surprise of the
British, he went through with it, right down to the expulsion of the British technicians
without whom the Iranians cannot run the Abadan refinery.
I) the West lost the Iranian oil supply;
2) the Iranian government lost the oil payments;
3) this loss stopped all hope of economic progress in Iran and disrupted the political
life of the country;
4) in the ensuing confusion, Iran's Tudeh (Communist) Party made great gains which it
hoped to see reflected in the national
elections, due to begin this week.
Mossadegh does not promise his country a way out of this nearly hopeless situation. He
would rather see the ruin of Iran than give in to the British, who, in his opinion,
corrupted and exploited his country. He is not in any sense pro-Russian, but he intends to
stick to his policies even though he knows they might lead to control of Iran by the
The suicidal quality of this fanaticism can be seen in the two men closest to Mosadegh in
politics. Ayatulla Kashani is a zealot of Islam who has spent his life fighting the
infidel British in Iraq and Iran. He controls the Teheran mobs (except those controlled by
the Communists), and his terrorist organization assassinated Razmara. Hussein Makki
controls the oil-rich province of Khuzistan, in which the Abadan refinery lies. When the
British got out, Mossadegh put Makki in charge of the oil installations. Makki's view on
oil: close up the wells, pull down the refinery and forget about it. Neither Makki,
Kashani nor Mossadegh has ever shown any interest in rational plans for the economic
reform and development of their country.
Sometimes the crisis through which Iran is passing depresses Mossadegh to the point of
tears and fainting spells. Just as often, he seems to regard the state of affairs with a
light heart. When he came to the U.S. to plead his cause, mercurial Mossadegh was so ready
with quips, anecdotes and laughter that Secretary Achseon thought the visitor should be
reminded of the gravity of the situation. At a Blair House luncheon where Mossadegh was
guest of honor, Acheson told a story: a wagon train, crossing the American West, was
attacked by Indians. A rescue party found the wagons burned, and the corpses of the
pioneers lying around them. The only man still alive lay under a wagon, with an arrow
through his back. "Does it hurt?" he was asked. The dying man whispered:
"Only when I laugh." Acheson looked pointedly at Mossadegh--who just doubled up
with appreciative laughter.
The fact that Iranians accept Mossadegh's suicidal policy is a measure of the hatred of
the West--and especially the hatred of Britain--in the Near and Middle East. The Iranian
crisis was still bubbling when Egypt exploded with the announcement that it was abrogating
its 1936 treaty with Britain. The Egyptian government demanded that British troops get off
the soil of Egypt. Since the British were guarding the Suez Canal, they refused. The
Egyptians rioted, perhaps in the belief that the U.S., which had opposed any use of force
in Iran, would take the same line in Egypt. The U.S., however, backed the British, and the
troops stayed. But now they can only stay in Egypt as an armed occupation of enemy
Since Mossadegh's rise, U.S.
correspondents have been swarming over the Near and Middle East. Their general consensus
I) The British position in the whole area is hopeless. They are hated and distrusted
almost everywhere. The old colonial relationship is finished, and no other power can
2) If left to "work out their own destiny" without help, the countries of the
Middle East will disintegrate. The living standard will drop and political life become
even more chaotic. (Half a dozen important political leaders in the Near and Middle East
were assassinated during 1951.)
3) Left to themselves, these countries will reach the point where they will welcome
4) The U.S., which will have to make the West's policy in the Middle East, whether it
wants to or not, as yet has no policy there. The U.S. pants along behind each crisis,
tossing a handful of money here, a political concession there. At the height of the
Egyptian crisis (the worst possible moment), the U.S., Britain, France and Turkey invited
Egypt to join a defense pact. The invitation was promptly rejected.
5) Americans and Britons in the Near and Middle East spend a large part of their energies
fighting each other. No effective Western policy is possible without Western unity.
The word "American" no longer has a good sound in that part of the world. To
catch the Jewish vote in the U.S., President Truman in 1946 demanded that the British
admit 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine, in violation of British promises to the Arabs.
Since then, the Arab nations surrounding Israel have regarded that state as a U.S.
creation, and the U.S., therefore, as an enemy. The Israeli-Arab war created nearly a
million Arab refugees, who have been huddled for three years in wretched camps. These
refugees, for whom neither the U.S. nor Israel will take the slightest responsibility,
keep alive the
hatred of U.S. perfidy.
No enmity for the Arabs, no selfish national design motivated the clumsy U.S. support of
Israel. The American crime was not to help the Jews, but to help them at the expense of
the Arabs. Today, the Arab world fears and expects a further Israeli expansion. The Arabs
are well aware that Alben Barkley, Vice President of the U.S., tours his country making
speeches for the half-billion-dollar Israeli bond issue, the largest ever offered to the
U.S. public. Nobody, they note bitterly, is raising that kind of money for them.
The Deep Problem. What is the right answer to the seething problem of the Middle East? It
is much easier to see past U.S. mistakes, sins of omission and commission, than to plot a
wise and firm future course. The U.S. success in Turkey, gratifying as it is, does not
give much guidance on Western policy in the Arab countries and in Iran. Turkey had passed
through a drastic process of modernization which in most of the Moslem world is
still to come. But the U.S. cannot wait for Kemal Ataturks who are not in sight.
The West's new relationship with the East must start at a much deeper level than efforts
at economic help or military alliance. Economic and military cooperation will be of little
use unless they are part of a Western approach that involves the whole range of
culture--especially religion and law.
In its leadership of the non-Communist world, the U.S. has some dire responsibilities to
shoulder. One of them is to meet the fundamental moral challenge posed by the strange old
wizard who lives in a mountainous land and who is, sad to relate, the Man of 1951.