The Pequod Review:
There is an analytical flaw in Steven Kinzer's All the Shah's Men that plagues an otherwise useful account of the 1953 CIA-backed overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran. Kinzer is so eager to prove the thesis of his subtitle — that American actions in 1953 contributed to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and modern anti-American terrorism — that he exaggerates these tenuous linkages and overstates certain parts of his argument. It leads him to make assertions that are at the very least highly debatable, including for example that Iran had been on a path toward democracy until the coup, or that Mossadegh was a uniquely virtuous political figure. He also winds up overstating the importance of the overthrow in stoking anti-American sentiment, as he deemphasizes arguably more crucial factors such as America's support for Israel and Saudi Arabia, or the various wars in Iraq. It's an unfortunate weakness since Kinzer appears to have done some real research for this book, especially as it relates to reviewing the memoirs, interviews and other internal documents from a wide range of American and British leaders (Truman, Acheson, Dulles, Churchill, etc.) in order to better understand each side's strategy and objectives. And he persuasively demonstrates that the overthrow was an American plot (rather than any kind of spontaneous Iranian uprising) while also showing how the British in many ways committed the original sin — by strongarming Iran/Persia into signing an extremely favorable oil rights agreement, and then using the threat of anti-communism to persuade the US to get involved. This is an important history that many Americans are not fully aware of.