During the oil crisis, Mossadegh became very unpopular. Things were so bad that when it was clear that his now fractured party would not gain a majority, he cancelled parliamentary elections. In February 1953 there were mass demonstrations against Mossadegh (possibly arranged for or instigated by foreign agents including the CIA); demonstrations of enough severity for Mossadegh to increase security measures in Iran.
The tendency is to blame the CIA and Americans because we know from the record that there was an attempt to overthrow Mossadegh, but this does not absolve the other participants. There are instances in both the Wilber Report and FRUS where an Iranian general and the former Prime Minister of Iran (allegedly on behalf of a group of military officers) separately contacted US officials inquiring on their interest in conducting a coup d’etat.
There are two additional issues which I have not addressed as a ‘misconceptions’, because neither of them are considered a key part of the narrative. The role of Ambassador Loy Henderson, who many believe worked with the CIA beyond the scope of his office, has been generally neglected by scholars and journalists. Henderson when interviewed for the Truman Library in 1973, said things which Roosevelt contradicted 6 years later in Countercoup. During this interview Henderson also said that the record would reflect his version of events, if the telegrams were ever declassified.
The other and perhaps most curious issue is the role of the Dulles brothers. The two of them were partners with the American firm (Sullivan & Cromwell) representing the AIOC interests in the United States before their positions as head of the CIA and State Department. The Dulles brothers’s firm had done work with United Fruit Company, one of the corporations which benefited the most from the CIA’s coup in Guatemala in 1954. Both brothers were also major shareholders in United Fruit. It may be difficult to determine if the Dulles brothers used their position to benefit them and their associates financially, and the lack of a comprehensive record from either the CIA or State Department, not to mention Eisenhower’s obsession with secrecy a difficult matter to ascertain. If this is a coincidence it is a truly remarkable one.
What this means for the new FRUS release
While there may be new details revealed with the updated release of the FRUS documents, it is likely that the biggest gaps in the record (determining when and why Eisenhower changed his mind and decided to support a coup, as well as what happened between August 16th and 19th) will remain unfilled. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the contradictions between different versions still remain, and are likely to be even more convoluted by the pending release.
"The early accounts of various participants differed widely enough to make it impossible to follow the slender thread of truth through the dark night.”
—Donald Wilber in ‘The Wilber Report’
Morgan Carlston received an MA in Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from Macalester College, and blogs on Iran and the Middle East at Persophilia.blogspot.com.
This piece originally appeared here and has been republished with the author’s permission.