As the late-summer date of August 20th passes stateside, very few Americans will recognize the significance of it in our nation’s history. It marks the 66th anniversary of a sinister turn in the history of American foreign policy, and while neocons and hawks of all sorts will tell you history started on September 12th 2001, a quick visit to the Tehran Times will remind you this is not the case.
In 1953 following a request for assistance by Great Britain, and enthusiastic support from Ike Eisenhower, the United States overthrew the democratically-elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddegh, in what was the first major coup d’état the United States would carry out since the end of World War II.
Dubbed Operation Ajax, it would set the stage for future decades of America’s sandpaper relations with the greater Middle East.
Dust and echoes
In cutting Britain out of the Iranian oil market, Mohammad Mosaddegh made not one but two terrible enemies as the British asked the Americans for help in reclaiming the oil supply. August 19th comes around and out goes Mosaddegh, his heinous crime being that he thought Persians should be able to elect whom they wish, and decide what happens with the resources extracted within their own borders.
Installed in his place, the shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and General Fazlollah Zahedi – members of a monarchical ruling class directed their efforts into the business of oppressing, torturing, killing, and turning what was becoming a prosperous and democratic country into a tyrannical Bronze Age satrapy.
Two decades later the Islamic revolution sends the shah and his secret police force packing, establishing what is now the Islamic Republic of Iran. Incensed by the attack on American interests, the United States brokers an agreement with neighboring Iraq to invade and repress the popular uprising, setting off the Iran-Iraq War, a horrible conflict that’s been likened to World War I because of the large-scale trench warfare, chemical weapons, bayonet charges, and massive casualty figures, which much like the first World War, all amounted to a steaming pile of nothing in terms of achieved geopolitical objectives.
Iraq started the war on the offensive, attempting to take advantage of the chaos following the Islamic revolution. Saddam Hussein, America’s ally at the time also had the logistical support of the Gulf States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France, while Iran stood alone.
The root of the problem
Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran stood up against the American-backed dictator, the goal of every presidential administration to take of residence in the White House has been vengeance. Nothing as of yet has stood in America’s way of a Mongol-like destruction of the Shiite Middle East beyond the weapons of Persia herself. Not even our former ally Saddam Hussein was spared from the directive to place the Islamic Republic under the highest degree of geopolitical, military, and economic pressure.
No matter how many times Saddam assured the west that the only WMDs under his belt were the decommissioned chemical weapons which NATO countries had given him to use against the Iranians, he and his Baathist regime would have to go. And thus the United States wrongly invaded Iraq, wherein about four and a half thousand Americans died.
Throughout the 21st century the names of the countries have changed but the victims are always those among her neighbors who Iran might look to for help. Meanwhile the Sunni states all around her pledge in unity to fight the Iranians until the last American, as Obama’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously told the French foreign minister in 2010.
Operation Ajax’s legacy
As Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zariff tweeted today: "66 years ago today, a coup instigated by the US and the UK overthrew the democratically-elected Government of Iran. This atrocity followed years of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iranians".
The maximum pressure levied now against the Iranians is breathtaking in scope. Upon the denizens of this ancient land the United States has placed crippling economic sanctions; upon her borders, an armada of military bases; upon her shores, the crosshairs of the most powerful navy in the world; and upon her neighbors, utter devastation.
President Barack Obama saw a need to "knock Iran down a peg," with a regime-change war containing all sorts of despicable behavior, such as arming "moderate rebels" like Jabot al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, and using the armed-forces of the United States to bomb sovereign Syrian military targets under the justification of preventing future chemical weapon attacks which have now been widely reported to have been conducted by non-governmental forces.
Not to be outdone, President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA nuclear treaty, as Javad Zariff claimed, "without even reading it," instated further sanctions, and has managed with the help of Iran’s eternal antagonist John Bolton, to press America as close to the brink of a war with Iran as we’ve yet seen.
Americans must remember August 20th 1953 as the day when America dipped her toes into the water (or sand) and thought it good. President Eisenhower thought it was a great way to affect positive change in the world that didn’t involve land invasions. Ike is not unique in holding that perspective, since many presidents have felt the same way about coups, and have since enjoyed playing the coup card in countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala, Libya, Egypt, and most recently Venezuela.
The overthrowing of Mosaddegh was a major step on America’s dangerous path to premier imperial world superpower in the sense that it reminded her that she could get away with murder and political terrorism, and demonstrated how greatly she could affect the world without bothering the American people over the details.
The collapse of our towers on September 11th was one large entry in a long running history of western interference in the lands of Islam, and if any more oil tankers get attacked in the Strait of Hormuz, it’s worth remembering that it was not Persia who cast the first stone.
Andrew Corbley is founder and editor of World at Large, an independent news outlet. He is a loyal listener of Antiwar radio and of the Scott Horton Show.