Iran Essay Research Paper 1Politics Power and

Iran Essay, Research Paper


Politics, Power, and U.S. Policy in Iran, 1950-1953 1

by Francis J. Gavin

On 19 August 1953, elements of the Iranian army, acting on orders from the Shah and

with covert support from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), deposed Mohammed

Mossadegh as the Prime Minister of Iran. Mossadegh’s overthrow climaxed more than two

years of crisis stemming from Iran’s clash with Great Britain over the nationalization of the

British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil company. Early in the crisis, the United States was

sympathetic to Mossadegh’s nationalization program, and went to great lengths to convince the

British to negotiate a fair settlement with Iran. Throughout 1951 and 1952, the U.S.

government steadfastly refused to sanction any unilateral attempt by Great Britain to end the

crisis through non-diplomatic means. As a result, U.S. participation in the 1953 coup has been

taken as evidence of a dramatic shift in American policy towards Iran.

The historical literature on this crisis explains the apparent radical change in policy

toward Iran as the result of a change in administrations from Truman to Eisenhower. This view

emerges from a widely held belief among diplomatic historians that each president, or at least

each administration, has a distinctive policy of its own. The story is typically one of discontinuity

from administration to administration, based on ideological and personality differences. In the

case of Iran, it is argued that the Eisenhower administration’s mistrust of Third World

nationalism, its sympathy for oil interests and its paranoia toward communism produced a


This paper emerged from the University of Pennsylvania’s History 700 Seminar. I would like to thank all

the participants, especially Lynn Hunt, for their thoughtful criticisms. I would also like to thank the members

of the Olin Institute at Harvard University, particularly Andrew Erdmann, Colin Kahl, and Darryl Press, for

their suggestions. I am grateful to Kristen Gavin, Robert Kane, Bruce Kuklick, Walter McDougall, John