In 1953, a failed coup in Persia, aimed at ousting Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, was launched with the support of U.S. and British intelligence. Shortly thereafter, the Iranian military deposed Mossadeq successfully. According to the version of events later cited by Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Barack Obama, as well as by propagandists of the Islamic Republic, the coup was an Anglo-American plot that overthrew the duly elected government of Persia. But, writes Ray Takeyh, this version mainly from a self-aggrandizing memoir by the CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt. Newly released documents—whose declassification was delayed by John Kerry—tell a very different story:
Even before Western intelligence services devised plots against Mossadeq, his party [had] started to crumble. . . . [T]he armed forces, which had stayed quiet despite Mossadeq’s purges, grew vocal and began to participate in political intrigues.
Among Iran’s factions, the clergy would play the most curious role. As it has with most historical events, the [post-1979] Islamic Republic has whitewashed the role that the mullahs played in Mossadeq’s downfall. . . . [The Mossadeq government’s] liberal disposition . . . had unsettled the clerical order. . . . As large landowners, the mullahs distrusted governments prone to carving out their property. As reactionaries, they disdained female equality in all its forms. And as guardians of tradition, they were averse to modernization of Iran’s educational sector. . . . Far from being a passive observer, the priestly class seemed to have made its preferences clear. . . .
[Furthermore], it was hard to see how then-President Eisenhower could take advantage of Mossadeq’s mishaps . . . when he was informed by his intelligence services that the “CIA presently has no group which would be effective in spreading anti-Mossadeq mass propaganda.” . . .
In August 1953, the Iranians reclaimed their nation and ousted a premier who had generated too many crises that he could not resolve. . . . Mossadeq’s unpopularity and penchant toward arbitrary rule had left him isolated and vulnerable to a popular revolt. America might have been involved in the first coup attempt that failed, but it was largely a bystander in the more consequential second one.