The Macksey Journal


In 1953, the U.S. engineered a coup that overthrew the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. While over twenty years of mostly good relations followed between the U.S. and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's Iran until the Revolution of 1979, the coup has left a bad legacy not only in American-Iranian diplomacy but in the U.S.'s relations with the entire Middle East. In this paper, I argue that control of Iran's oil resources and anti-communism were inextricably intertwined in U.S. policy-makers' calculations in Iran's case, using examples and analysis of official U.S. government documents from the State Department, the CIA, and the coup's architects, as well as Iranian sources. Scholars have debated since the 1980s what exactly motivated the U.S. to take command of the existing British plot, begun after Mosaddeq nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Corporation. Most arguments can be divided into two camps: those who emphasize ensuring American or British control of the oil was the prime motivator, and those who see fears of a takeover by the Tudeh, the outlawed Iranian Communist Party, as the main reason the U.S. undertook such a risky endeavor that ran counter to its expressed Cold War values of democracy promotion and anti-imperialism in the developing world. However, an analysis of U.S. sources in the context of the broader Cold War reveals that concern for oil resources and anti-communism were inseparable in Iran, and in the early 1950s, the prospect of losing Iran to communism loomed large in U.S. policy-makers’ minds.