Anglo interest in Iran has always centered around oil and gas, which is unsurprising. The British discovered oil early on in the 20th century and promptly set up shop. Fast forward to 1941, and in the midst of World War II, Iran was once again strategically important. Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had been in power since 1925 sought to modernize Iran, and in doing so had invited German assistance so as to reduce the British oil-centric influence.. This became a problem for the British from the onset of war, and after the Germans attacked the Soviets, Iran became vitally important to both countries as an conduit for arms supply between them.
The shah refused to cut ties with the Germans however, proclaiming that Iran was a neutral country. So the Soviets and British put the squeeze on him, invaded Iran and forced him to abdicate the throne so that his son, the more amenable Mohammed Reza Shah, could take over. After the war, both the British and the Soviets withdrew their troops (although the latter required some ‘coaxing’), and the arrangement went back to how it had been before. The British controlled the oil interests, and the Shah went about implementing modernizing reforms as his father did.
In doing so, he came into conflict with factions which wanted to nationalize the oil, and who were concerned with the Shah’s growing power accumulation versus a more equal relationship with Parliament. This came to a head in the early 1950s, when the Mohammad Mossadegh spearheaded the Parliamentary move to nationalized the oil, against the wishes of the Shah (and of course The West). On the back of this, Mossadegh became Prime Minister and sought to kick the British out, while attempting to consolidate power himself and thus weaken the monarch.
In the process, Mossadegh also came into conflict with the religious clerics (mullahs). Although they approved of the nationalization of the oil, and opposed the Western-influenced secularization and modernization efforts of the Shah, they were concerned that their role and influence would be even further diminished in a new Mossadegh-led order as opposed to the standard quo of the monarchy. So they joined the growing chorus concerned that Mossadegh was getting too big for his britches (as the shah himself was also accused of), and supported his ouster.
This came in 1953, and included help from the British and the CIA, who of course were interested in the oil above anything else. Much has been made of this 1953 ‘coup,’ but the reality was that even though there was CIA involvement, it wasn’t a clean operation. Furthermore, to the extent the CIA intervened, it was in line with the domestic trend of the day, which was to get rid of Mossadegh.
One aspect that caused a lot of consternation, and opened the door for a lot of historical revisionism was the fact that the shah was quite feckless and indecisive. He had every right under Iranian law to get rid of Mossadegh, and even though he wanted Mossadegh out, if it had come from his hand it would have reinforced the growing idea that he was an authoritarian riding roughshod over the rule of law. Thus, he sought support from the British and Americans in fomenting internal discord before doing what he had the right to do on his own.
This dynamic has been twisted a bit in contemporary accounts of 1953, which almost universally state that Mossadegh was a ‘democratically elected’ leader who was overthrown by the CIA. This is not accurate. Mossadegh was democratically elected to Parliament. From there, however, he was nominated by the Shah to become Prime Minister, and approved by the rest of Parliament in a vote. ‘The people’ had no say in Mossadegh ascending to the premiership, and it had always been the shah’s right to nominate and get rid of Prime Ministers at necessary.
Indeed, all it takes is a cursory glance at the list of Iran’s Prime Ministers to see that during Mohammed Reza Shah’s 36 year rule, there were 33 different terms. One was lucky to be in the job for more than a year. PM’s coming and going had always been the way of things, and Mossadegh’s order to leave was no different.
The fact that Mossadegh arrested the officials who informed him of the Shah’s decree, and the shah’s subsequent fleeing to Italy is suggestive of the fact that a coup was going on – but one led by Mossadegh, who at that point was illegally in the office. This was August 13th. By August 16th, Mossadegh had surrendered under the weight of pro-shah protests and the realization that many officials both in government and the military supported the shah. Recall that Mossadegh himself was viewed as becoming increasingly authoritarian, and his actions in 1953 were probalby seen as confirmation of that. CIA influence or not, the Iranians themselves ultimately preferred the Shah to Mossadegh.
The shah returned to his rightful place – not ‘installed’ as some say – a few days later, with a new Prime Minister who was loyal to him, and Western interests. A new arrangement was brokered between the Americans, British and Iranians, and the shah was free to rule, which he did for the next 25 years or so. This period brought him into conflict with the mullahs again, which did not appreciate the rapid Westernization Iran went through, preferring the more backwards ways of pure Islamism.
In fairness, the shah actually had become a bit drunk on his own power, behaving as typical Middle East strongmen do. He had even managed to anger his Western allies in the mid 1970s with oil price shenanigans in a bid to raise revenues at a time when both Britain and the United States were undergoing severe oil-price related recessions. Thus the situation was ripe for Revolution, which came in 1979. The mullahs overthrew the shah as the West looked on. Jimmy Carter displayed similar fecklessness and indecision as the Shah by tacitly allowing the latter to be deposed, and then angering the new Ayatollah by giving the exiled Shah asylum in the United States. This turned Iran from a reliable ally of the West into its mortal enemy, almost overnight.
It is important to understand this background in relation to the more recent flash points in US-Iran relations, namely the 2009 protests, the 2015 Nuclear Deal and the recent protest of the last week or so. The most recent protests, and more specifically Trump’s tweets and his administration’s loud support of the protests, has alarmed many in the dissident right, fearful that this cheerleading is a precursor to neocon-style ‘regime change.’
While it is true that the neocons, as well as Israel would love nothing more than for Iran’s current rulers to be ousted in favor of more Western-friendly puppets, the fact of the matter is that the mullahs are no angels themselves, and are more than likely sowing the seeds of their downfall internally, as has been the case of the last 100 years of Iran’s rulers.
The bottom line is that owing to oil and gas, the West is always going to have an interest in Iran. This means Iran has a few options. They can play ball with the West, allowing the Anglos to run the oil, using the proceeds to Westernize and secularize the country. Or, they can choose to not play ball, nationalize the oil and run it themselves (aka Russia). No matter the scenario, a strongman-type will rule the country as has always been the case for that region.
Where the shah allowed the Anglos to run the oil while secularizing the country, the mullahs have chosen to stand in opposition to the Anglos while Islamicizing the country. They have essentially created an Islamic version of Venezuela, which is why those on the left are in support of the current regime. It has also naturally created internal destruction as the elites have spent its wealth maintaining its domestic dominance and bolstering its external defenses against Western interests through outfits like Hezbollah. All the while the average Iranian has struggled.
Because of that refusal to play ball with the West the mullahs are looked on fondly by large portions of dissident right, who seemingly view foreign policy through a lens of accepting any and all developments which are anti-Neocon to be good no matter what. They also look somewhat fondly on President Obama’s Nuclear Deal with Iran for the same reason, despite recent reporting showing that it was brokered in large part by allowing Hezbollah to funnel drugs into the United States in torrents to avoid annoying the mullahs. That deal effectively bolstered Iran in its defenses against the West, something Obama always in favor of as a principle. His remedy for American Imperialism was to actively support other major powers in their ability to become a check on neocon visions of world domination.
I’m with those in the dissident right with respect to opposing bog standard neocon foreign policy. I do not want to see any sort of Libya/Syria/Iraq style ‘intervention’ take place in Iran, particularly under the guise of ‘humanitarian’ efforts to introduce democracy to a people which have never had, nor seemingly wanted democracy. As I referenced before, those in the Middle East seem to prefer their leaders to have a bit of strongman about them, and strongmen are always going to rough a few people up, to put it mildly, to maintain order. Iran has been no different. Part of the reason Carter stood aside as the Ayatollah Khomeini took over was because of pressure from his left in America that the shah was an inhumane tyrant.
By all accounts, however, the mullahs have made the shah look worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize by comparison. This, in conjunction with the fact that nearly half of Iran’s population are under 35 years old, and (along with some of their parents) have had firsthand exposure to the West through travel and studying abroad, are always going to be inclined toward rebellion. It has naught to do with neocons and everything to do with a growing preference among many for a more Westernized Iran versus the current Islamic socialist theocracy of Iran.
Just because that preference is along the lines of a neocon wet dream doesn’t mean it should be fought against, however. In fact, there really should be no fighting on the part of Americans, regardless of what happens. Of course the neocons basically want to wage war with Iran to prevent a Russian/Iranian/Syrian pipeline and rather establish its own Qatar/Syria/Turkey pipeline, keeping the Saudis and Israelis happy in the process.
And with Trump’s loud cheering on of the protests in Iran, many of the blackpillers in the dissident right have bemoaned their luck, crying themselves to sleep with a tale of woe is me at Trump ‘revealing’ himself as a Zionist fraud who is just like the rest of ‘em. In my view, Trump is a pragmatist, who is without ideology. He doesn’t share the neocons religious devotion to war in the Middle East, but he does recognize that if the mullahs were to fall it would solve a few problems, particularly if they were replaced by a pro-West regime.
It is not a certainty that such a regime would take over Iran, however, and owing to its nuclear status, an ISIS style Jihadist regime would be that much worse for the region. My hope is that there is a regime change in Iran – led by Iranians who seek to restore the pre -1979 secularizing Iran which was a US ally. But it must be led by the Iranians with no outside help. Paraphrasing President Trump in his inaugural address, the United States must become a country which doesn’t impose its will on the world, but rather stands as an example for the world to follow if it chooses.
That means the US must return to its position as a manufacturing powerhouse, including oil and gas, which means slashing regulations and turning up the exploration. This way we’re less and less reliant on neocon oil wars and other Imperialist plays to keep the American Machine ticking over. In the more immediate term, the Trump administration should stay in the background and allow whatever happens in Iran to happen, and accept all outcomes. Even if the mullahs are toppled, if it is seen as being the result of yet more American intervention on any level, it will cause more harm than good.
Regardless, I do think the mullahs have had their time. Demographics and economics have sealed their fate. The only questions are the date of the change, and how much blood, if any will be shed in the transition.