“...it is not far-fetched to draw a line from Operation Ajax, through the Shah’s repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York.”
So goes the tagline from Stephen Kinzer’s 2003 book, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Behind this shaky, publicity-seeking teaser was a basic theory: that the 1953 coup which toppled Iran’s democratic government under Mossadegh helped produce a series of developments within the region that led to an atmosphere in which 9/11 became possible. The subsequent 1979 revolution, he surmises, “inspired” other radicals in the region.
One scholar seemed particularly taken with this hypothesis. So much so, that he titled his 2005 Q&A with him Interview with Stephen Kinzer: 1953+1979=2001 (Well, There’s a Link). In the interview, Richard Shenkman (aka Rick Shenkman), an author and history professor at George Mason University, fixates on the supposed connection between the August 19th, 1953 coup in Iran and the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on America. Out of 13 questions, 6 are about 9/11, while at least 2 others could be read as oblique references to it.
Drawing a line between these two historical events, however, is problematic for several reasons. It may misleadingly suggest that a grievous Al Qaeda was fueled in part by America’s history in Iran, and it confuses Iran and and its largely pro-American population with the actions and ideologies of other parties. This was precisely the problem when the U.S. government, through innuendo and by implication, conflated Iraq with the September 11th attacks, leading to its illegal invasion and occupation.
Despite America’s obsession with all things 9/11, 10 years later, one subject continues to be ignored — the motivations of the murderers on that horrendous day. Few dare, particularly those in government positions, to even broach the question.
According to the CIA’s former Bin Laden Unit Chief, Michael Scheuer, the terrorists were “motivated by the impact of our foreign policy, particularly our support for tyranny”, citing U.S.-backed police state regimes such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Algeria, and America’s “unqualified support” for Israel. He also lists the U.S. exploitation and dependence upon Middle Eastern oil, and the unwelcome presence and activities of American military in the region.
The 9/11 Commission Report itself, requested by President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress, concurs:
“One of the lessons of the long Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most repressive and brutal governments were too often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.”
“America’s policy choices”, it adds, “have consequences.”
Interview with Stephen Kinzer: 1953+1979=2001 (Well, There’s a Link)
September 26, 2005 [Interview link].
SHENKMAN: In your book you assert that a red line can be drawn from the CIA’s overthrow of Mossadegh to the revolution to overthrow the Shah in 1979 to the events of September 11. How are these events connected?
KINZER: The CIA deposed Mossadegh and allowed Mohammed Reza Shah to reclaim his throne. The Shah’s repressive rule lasted 25 years, finally provoking the revolution of 1978-9. That revolution brought to power a group of fundamentalist clerics who capitalized on Iran’s anger at the United States for having destroyed Iranian democracy. Their regime inspired Muslim radicals around the world, including in next-door Afghanistan, where the Taliban came to power and gave sanctuary to terrorists who carried out attacks including the ones on September 11.
SHENKMAN: If the United States had not overthrown Mossadegh, do you think the history of terrorism would have turned out differently? Would we have had a 9-11 without the coup?
KINZER: The coup in Iran was hardly the only factor that led many Muslims to begin considering the United States an enemy. It did, however, represent a broader American policy of intervening in the Middle East in ways that crushed prospects for democratic development there. If Iranian democracy had been allowed to flourish, it might well have become an example to other countries in the region and led to a flowering of democracy there. Instead it produced just the opposite.
SHENKMAN: Americans generally don’t know anything about the CIA coup against Mossadegh. Do you think if they did that they would understand events in the Middle East differently?
KINZER: When Iranians rose up against the Shah with cries of "Death to the American Shah!," when their new regime emerged as bitterly anti-American, and when a group of them took American diplomats hostage in 1979, many Americans wondered how this could have happened in a country they had always considered friendly. Once they understand what the United States did to Iran in 1953, they will understand why so many Iranians became angry at the United States.
SHENKMAN: What drew you to the subject of the 1953 coup? And when did you decide to do the book?
KINZER: It took half a century, and particularly the events of September 11, to make clear what an important and disastrous episode the 1953 coup was. This is a perfect example of how foreign interventions, even those that seem successful at the time, can have long-term effects that bring disaster to the intervening country.
SHENKMAN: 9-11 had a profound effect on all Americans, but it must have had a different impact on you considering the subject of your book. Do you remember thinking that you were responding differently because of your research?
KINZER: Nothing in history happens in a vacuum. There are reasons for everything, even if they are not always good reasons. Only by understanding the causes of tragedy can we hope to avoid future tragedies. I would like readers to come away from my book with a stronger understanding of one fact: that the United States cannot violently intervene in a foreign country’s political process without that intervention having long-term effects that may be very harmful to American security.
SHENKMAN: President Bush said repeatedly after 9-11 that "they hate us" because they hate freedom, specifically our freedom. What did you think when you heard him making this analysis-that he was seriously misinformed (and was misinforming the American people)?
KINZER: No one in the world cares how much or how little freedom there is in the United States. What angers them is the way the United States uses its power to crush freedom in other parts of the world. In many countries, including Iran, the United States government has deposed leaders who embrace American values and replaced them with others who despise everything Americans hold dear. We subject people in those countries to regimes that we ourselves would never tolerate. We may wish to avoid this truth, but it is the root cause of anti-American feeling in the world. The United States is disliked not because of what it is, but because of what it does.
SHENKMAN: Lincoln in his second inaugural says that the Civil War was God’s vengeance for slavery. We had sinned and now God was washing away the blood of our sins with the blood of civil war. Presidents don’t talk that way today. Would we be better off if they did?
KINZER: Wise leaders realize that they themselves, along with their predecessors, bear some responsibility for the troubles their countries face. They do not instinctively seek to blame others. For American presidents to act as though the United States has not brought some of its present troubles upon itself by its actions in the world—actions like the 1953 coup in Iran—simply intensifies the anger that many people around the world now feel about the way Americans use their power.
Lincoln was saying that to find the root cause of discord and violent anger, we need to look in the mirror. That is as true for nations as it is for individuals.
SHENKMAN: When 9-11 took place, how far along in your book were you? Did it force you to rethink the way you were shaping the narrative?
KINZER: I had not yet begun the book when the 9/11 attacks took place. Reflecting on them and trying to understand where they had come from, however, helped lead me to this topic.
Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter
by Rick Shenkman
Excerpt from Chapter 8:
Even now, how many Americans know that in 1953 the CIA toppled the leader of the elected government of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, and replaced him with the Shah, which eventually led, some twenty-six years later, to the coup against the Shah in 1979, which in turn led to the establishment of a radical Islamist fundamentalist regime, which in turn inspired—and this is not too much of a stretch, I would aver—to the worldwide surge in fundamentalistic politics that resulted in the attacks of September 11, 2001, as Stephen Kinzer contends in his fine book, All the Shah’s Men, An American Coup and the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror? We may forget our own history, the Iranians most surely never do. 
[5 (Shenkman’s footnote)] One wouldn’t want to push this line of thinking too far. After all, it was Shiites who revolted against the Shah and Sunnis who backed Bin Laden’s attacks on the United States.