Prayer rugs, Persian cats and the L.A. Times

IranRussiaLondon (England)Coup d'EtatDefenseArmed ForcesBritain

The L.A. Times is expressing relief today that Iran's nuclear weapons program appears to be on the back burner, the mood wasn't always so sanguine. From the British invasion during World War II to the overthrow of the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh, the editorial board opined on Iran with confidence in budding American global leadership, suspicion of the Soviets (though interestingly not when the Soviets actually invaded the country), funny spelling and blissful ignorance of the CIA's involvement in the Iranian coup. Here's a selection of Persian editorials past.

In all its editorials from this era, even as it expresses annoyance that Iran wouldn't play ball with the West, The Times recognizes Iran's historically powerful leaders and its constant geostrategic importance. The board wrote on Aug. 23, 1941:

Recent history in Iraq, once Mesopotamia, appears to be in a way to repeat itself in the next-door kingdom, which was Persia for 3,000 years, and has been Iran for six. The same German effort to organize a revolt against the government is circumstantially reported under way by the same fifth-column methods which led up to the abortive coup in Iraq a few months ago.And, as in the latter case, Britain is standing by with border forces ready to march in and take over if the danger of Nazi control in Iran becomes acute. London has already made sharp representations to Riza Khan Pahlavi, the temperamental and irritable Shah.... Riza Khan, who greatly dislikes being told by anybody what he must and must not do, has tried to compromise by ousting some of the more active Nazi propagandists and letting the rest stay....One Nazi-inspired attempt to overthrow the Teheran government, said by Cairo to have been scheduled for Aug. 15, was squelched by a series of timely arrests by Iranian secret police. Picturesquely suitable to its Persian background, a feature of this affair was that the plot was said to have been hatched and partly carried through by a regiment of pretty houris, otherwise some 2,000 foreign cabaret girls shipped into Iran for the purpose…many of these are now cooling their pink heels in Teheran dungeons....The Iranian army alone would make only a small mouthful for Hitler's legions and Riza Khan himself is no Cyrus the Great nor a Darius — hardly even a Xerxes.... If Britain takes and can hold the country, she and the United States will have the best route yet through which to get aid to Russia.

British and Russian troops invaded Iran right after the above editorial., and they would battle for influence for years. On Aug. 26, 1941, The Times argued that the initial incursion was a necessary one:

The invasion of Iran by British and Russian forces is an example of the occasionally regrettable necessity of fighting the devil with fire.... England's own skirts are clear. Her solemn pledge, backed by that of the United States, that she seeks no territorial or economic acquisitions at the expense of other nations, is set forth in the eight-point Churchill-Roosevelt declaration.... If Britain wins the war, Iran will continue free and independent. If Hitler wins, there will be no more Iran.

After the war, Russia stuck around in Iran, testing the effectiveness of the fledgling United Nations. On March 15, 1946, The Times debunked Russian claims that its troops had to stay in Iran to crush that country's imperialistic ambitions:

Those who know their history recall the imperialistic ambitions of Darius the Great and, somewhat later, those of the Sassanids. To be sure, Iran, or Persia, has been solely on the receiving end of aggressive movements for 1500 years. But history always repeats itself so that it is possible that the "forces of Iranian reaction"…do desire to annex the Caspian Sea region including Baku. Men can always dream.

On April 4 of that year, the Russians finally left, which The Times saw as a victory for the "U.N.O." and the U.S.:

… the issue of Russian military occupation of Iran is settled in the only way it could be settled if the U.N.O. was to remain solvent and if the United States was to have leadership in world affairs: it is settled by the Russian announcement that Red troops will get out of Iran.... It is agreed that Russia should share Iranian oil concessions with the British and the Americans.But the pattern in the Iranian case should be remembered, for it will help an observer to classify other cases of aggression.

The board left Iran largely off the pages until Jan. 4, 1952, when it hinted that Mossadegh wasn't long for his post, particularly if he alienated the West (an assessment that turned out to be accurate):

Premier Mossadegh is reportedly reluctant to accept further American military aid which would commit Iran to the west.... The religious fanatics and their Communist allies are waiting for him if he heeds the army's warning against alienating the west. His country broke, instead of prospering as promised, Mossadegh is the victim of circumstances which he alone created.It seems only a matter of time before somebody pulls his prayer rug out from under him, yet Persian politicians have a way of landing on their feet like cats....

On Jan. 22, 1952, The Times was displeased that the U.S. wasn't treating Iran with a more firm hand when it tried to nationalize its oil industry:

…Washington has gone all the way and shown the world that a regime like that in power in Iran, which unilaterally breaks its contractual obligations to private investors abroad (the stockholders of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co.) and rejects all adjudication, can get money from the U.S. government to save itself from the consequences.How does this square with our public pronouncements that we stand for the sanctity of contracts and international law? The victim in this case was a British oil company, of course, but what will we say when some foreign government decides to take over an American oil company?

The Times also wasn't pleased at Iran's shift Soviet-ward. It wrote on Feb. 10, 1952:

Iran's policy, long before Mossadegh, has been to appear to walk an impartial line between her giant neighbor to the north, Russia, and the British interests in the south. After the Communist revolt in Azerbaijan was put down and Russian troops withdrawn under U.N. pressure, Iran shifted discernibly to the side of the west, but now she is shifting back.Whether this shift will stop at neutrality or swing over into the Soviet orbit is the vital question.

On Dec. 23, 1952, The Times again expressed its dismay that the U.S. tried to throw money at Iran (a policy that newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower would change):

Few Americans recall that Iran was included with Greece and Turkey in the original Truman Doctrine of 1947. Most Iranians, however, remember this promise very acutely, and grumble that they haven't gotten much out of it....If Britain will remove her legal obstruction to the sale of Iranian oil, which has driven Dr. Mossadegh's regime close to bankruptcy and Iran to the brink of internal chaos, the United States will pay off with something like $100,000,000 to Iran and virtually guarantee the British oil company fair and prompt compensation for its nationalized properties.... [T]his sounds like a pretty solution from which everybody gains except the U.S. taxpayer.

As it did on the eve of British invasion in 1941, The Times printed a prescient editorial on Aug. 18, 1953:

Observers of the troubled Iranian scene have long anticipated a showdown between the Mossadegh faction and the Shah over command of the army.... Mossadegh probably is not a Communist, and in the peculiar eastern sense he may be considered a genuine popular leader. But he has accepted Communist help in his dizzy rise to dictatorial power and the Reds carefully keep their IOUs....The young Shah's father, founder of the line, was a tough army sergeant who ascended the Peacock Throne by the age-old method of rising to command the armed forces and then ousting the last Shah of the previous dynasty. But the western powers and Russia found him too friendly with Hitler in World War II and replaced him with his son, who favored the notion of a limited monarchy and has hesitated to exercise royal prerogatives in Iran's recent convulsions. When he finally did so, apparently, Mossadegh was already too strong for him....U.S. policy toward that oil-rich nation blocking Soviet expansion to the Persian Gulf has been, in the main, a sorry repetition of the "let-the-dust-settle" attitude which lost China. The Shah has been regarded as a slender reed and little has been done to shore him up. On the other hand, Mossadegh proved a stubborn trader and has not responded to the lure of American dollars as anticipated. He, too, may not be long in power.

Within days, Mossadegh was out. But the Times withheld judgment on Aug. 22, 1953, though it couldn't have predicted the religious revival that would follow Mossadegh's ouster and bring into being the Islamic Republic:

The week's dramatic developments in Iran…touched off a wave of excited speculation in London, Washington and, we assume, Moscow.... This, indeed, is almost a chronic condition in Iran, blessed or cursed with untold oil riches and strategically sited between the historic spheres of Russia and Great Britain....Iran is a nation which has managed to keep its independence in modern times by remaining poised precariously in the equilibrium of three powerful forces, Russian yearning to reach the warm waters of the Persian Gulf which long antedates Communism, the British concern for security of the Indian Ocean and adjacent lands, and the desire of the proud and ancient Persian people to be free of foreign domination....The hiatus in open British influence since the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. was seized and diplomatic relations with London were severed by Mossadegh by no means implies that Britain has left the field she has contested for two centuries by means as devious as they have been various. The United States, having failed to beguile Mossadegh with dollars, seems to have placed its bets on the army's top commanders, who have received some American arms.... The blunt notice given Iran by President Eisenhower that it can expect no help from us until it cleans its house of Communists, while hardly in the Acheson tradition of paying first and asking later, may produce results. But it is still too early for either tears or cheers at Dr. Mossadegh's downfall.

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