The Myth of Operation Ajax

The Cold War began in 1945 when Russian leader Josef Stalin refused to take his troops out of Iran; the fall of the shah in 1979 marked the beginning of the war’s end. Yet even today real and imagined ghosts of that war, in the shape of an eclectic history of U.S.-Iran relations, and of the role the United States played in the fall of Mossadegh, continue to haunt some of the diplomatic discourse on Iran. It is even reported that President Barack Obama’s hesitancy in offering stronger support for the Iranian democratic opposition has been at least partially rooted in his desire to avoid the mistakes of the past. Clearly, only after a reckoning with the past and exorcising its haunting ghosts can prudent policy be formed.

The Soviet-British occupation of Iran in 1941 brought with it the creation of the Tudeh Communist party and the rapid rise of a Stalin-era Manichean view that divided the world into two camps: the gulag-laced Soviet Union was the land of light and America was the embodiment of evil. In one of its biggest demonstrations, with more than a hundred thousand fellow travelers in attendance, Tudeh leaders demanded “the liquidation of America spy nests.”


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