American participation in the CIA overthrow of the sovereign nation in Iran has long been an official secret, long denied by the CIA. The veil of official denial was lifted by the President's oblique apology in Cairo several years ago. It is a historical event largely unknown to the average American, whose only exposure with Iran is the Hostage Crisis of 1979 - 1980. The motivations of the hostage takers are all but unknown. That veil was lifted with the opening minutes of Argo, Ben Afflick's award-winning movie, which very briefly summarized the events which are described in rich, exacting, painstaking detail in Ervand Abrahamian's book.
Abrahamian's book is the definitive historical account of the military coup engineered by American and UK intelligence agencies, a hostile overthrow of an independent, democratic, sovereign nation to exploit its natural resources and substitute in its place a brutal dictatorship. The files of the American and UK intelligence agencies are still classified, no surprise, so Abrahamian account is culled from the files of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, better known today as British Petroleum (BP), Foreign Office and State Department publications, correspondence, contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, and interviews and memoirs from the individuals involved in the events described. It is also a definitive account of the history of Iran in the Twentieth Century.
As the author admits, there have been other books written about the military coup in 1953 which overthrew Mohammed Mossadeq. One such book was written by Teddy Roosevelt's grandson, Kermit Roosevelt, one of the principle CIA operatives involved in engineering the coup. This book however has long been out of print, and if available, as it is on this website, the price befits the scarcity of the book. Roosevelt's account of how he overthrew Mossadeq is hardly an objective account or a good source of information. What sets Abrahamian's account apart from other books on the subject is the exacting and scholarly detail with which the author gives to the background of the Iran's nationalization of the oil industry, with a history of BP and its dealings with Iran, influence on the UK and American governments, of the origins of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, better known today as British Petroleum (BP), and the step-by-step account of how the overthrow was achieved.
He expertly describes the post-nationalization negotiations conducted by BP, the UK and American governments, and Mossadeq. Abrahamian definitively describes the schizophrenic policy of the UK government, publically placating the Iranian government, supporting on the one hand the nationalization as a legitimate action of a sovereign nation, but privately on the other doing anything and everything it could to bring about its failure. In this regard Abrahamian debunks the long-held, official view that Mossadeq was responsible for the coup happening because of his intransigence and unwillingness to compromise. Following nationalization BP used every non-military means at its disposal to undo Iran's action. This included legal action to the World Court (they did not prevail, the English judges on the panel finding against the UK!), seeking American support for an invasion of the oil fields (Truman wouldn't have anything to do with it), seeking US help to sanctions (they failed and the UK ultimately experienced significant political blowback later from those efforts), seeking US assistance in brokering some accommodation (they failed too), having English envoys negotiate with Iranian officials (they failed), and petitioning the UN to resolve the dispute (failed). After all these diplomatic and political efforts at arriving at a solution agreeable to both sides failed, US negotiators fashioned a plan which Mossadeq accepted and which appeared to be facially even-handled and fair -- Britain refused the proposed settlement!
One is struck with the healthy and vibrant Iranian democracy which existed before the coup. The nationalization of the oil industry was the result of a long democratic process -- not all Iranian politicians supported nationalization -- and was the result of legislative and congressional (in pre-coup Iran, called Mejlis) debates and discussions. One is struck with the futility and similarity -- then as in now -- of commercial and economic sanctions the Western powers imposed on the country short of actual intervention. One is also struck with the naked exercise of Western Imperialism by BP, the UK, and the US when all other non-invasive methods failed. To be clear nationalization was driven by the long history of officially- sanctioned business abuses and corrupt business practices of BP. Abrahamian goes into great, painstaking detail of these corrupt business practices and of how and in what manner BP systematically shortchanged the Iranian government of royalties due while the concessions were in effect while at the same time exploiting its natural resources.
Abrahamian's tendency is to stick to the documentary record and chronological sequence of events, and this can sometimes be tedious. But this is strength of his account. He is not writing a polemical political tract charged with accusations or invective, although it might be very easy to do so. This is a serious historical account and Abrahamian sticks to and preserves the documentary and/or historical record in all its shocking glory. The effect is dramatic and will make for unforgettable reading.