Dr. Frank Kingdon on Iran

New York Post Columns, 1951-1952

The Mossadegh Project | December 18, 2023                     

Dr. Frank Kingdon (1894-1972) London born Frank Kingdon (1894-1972) worked variously as a Methodist minister, journalist, educator, broadcaster and author. During World War II he was chairman of the Emergency Rescue Committee, which aided European dissidents persecuted by the Nazis. After the war, he co-chaired the Progressive Citizens of America.

Presented here are some relevant excerpts on U.S. foreign policy from his daily column To Be Frank for The New York Post.

March 30, 1951

The flare-up in Iran this week calls attention to the issue of the defense of the Middle East. This defense is weak. This area is probably less well defended than any other trouble spot. Yet it is right on the border of Russia itself...

May 4, 1951

The historic military route to India coincides at this moment with the softest spot in the defense lines of the democratic world. It is the road through Persia, currently known under the pseudonym Iran. Its historic role is now enhanced by our present preoccupation with oil, we can safely surmise that Moscow is eyeing it with both interest and avarice...

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Any Arab uprising on a general scale, or any Israeli-Arab war, or any invasion of the area by Russia would find the democratic front incapable of adequate action.

This clearly points to the necessity for immediate reconsideration of policy in this area and inauguration of firmer defensive measures. Whatever may be said theoretically for or against nationalization of oil in Iran, steps should be taken at once to assure that this will not provide the pretext for depriving our allies of this resource, or for arousing resentment against the West which will throw Iran into the Russian orbit.

Whoever is responsible for the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Syria, and whatever great power may be fomenting it, firm intervention to prevent it from spreading into a general Israeli-Arab conflagration should be started immediately. If this means that the United States has to take a more direct hand in Middle Eastern defense, we should not hesitate, for protection of our oil resources specifically and our policy of containment of Russia both demand it.

June 7, 1951

Second, I should like to ask whether we know what we are going to do about Iran. . . . . . . This is no time to talk about the letter of old contracts. It is a time to recognize the awakened aspirations of the peoples, the necessity for tranquillizing the area, and the demands of an adequate defense. Substitution of adjustability for rigidity and of ingenuity for legalism on our part may save us many headaches, not to mention lives.

All signs point to a short breathing space from any immediate threat of world war. This is more than a grain of comfort. It is an opportunity. With proper skill, we can use the time to inject a powerful doubt into the Chinese thought of Russia, thus beginning the process of separating them, and we can find a working agreement with Iranian nationalism that will overcome its suspicions and establish a new approach to pacifying the whole Near East. Three months of such diligent cultivation of our interests in the field of policy will bring us to the Fall, with our enemy as much deterred and ourselves as much strengthened as by the urgent building of our military might. My opinion is that if we do both we shall be in a position by September to take the initiative in policy away from Russia. It is not a case for us of choosing whether to use either our minds or our guns. We can use both. We shall do better if we wrack our brains at the same time as we rattle our sabers.

June 22, 1951

Muddied Oil. Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the Premier of Iran, comes from one of the oldest and richest families of his country and is himself an honest man. He is a fanatical nationalist, and always has been. He believes with utmost sincerity that Iranian oil belongs to the Iranian people.

He is the front, but not the political genius, of the Nationalist Party. The practical politician is Hussein Makki, 44 years old, secretary of the National Front, and also secretary of the three-man commission charged with nationalizing Iranian oil. [Hossein Makki] Whether he is actively in league with the Communist Party of his country I do not know. That he is capable of being, I am sure. He is nothing if not pragmatic about his politics.

The West is no longer dealing with merely venal men who can be bought for a price. Mossadegh is beyond purchase. Makki is more ambitious than avaricious. Behind these men is the rising tide of nationalistic feeling. The combination threatens to open a hole in the wall of defense of the democratic world through which the Soviets can make a sensational gain.

This is decidedly Washington’s business. Reduction of oil supplies to the Western world would create huge problems for us. Our government can serve a high purpose by using its influence not to support the British or the Iranians at the expense of each other, but to help find a formula that will mediate the dispute.

August 31, 1951

[After telling a boyhood story involving publishing clerks tending gardens in London after the war]

I know this garden is not news. There are no headlines in it. The big news is of oil wells in Iran, of a Japanese peace treaty, of Kaesong, and of the journeyings of generals and men of power. I can only express the foolish wish that somebody some day could take Truman and Stalin and Attlee and Adenauer and Mossadegh and all the others together down Warwick Lane to have them lean on the little fence to watch a few clerks lending their flowers. “Let us,” they say, in a phrase as old as the human tongue, “cultivate our garden.”

These are people who help publish books on the nature and destiny of man. They are their own most eloquent comment on what they print.

October 12, 1951

Winston Churchill says that he favors the rearmament plans of the West not because he sees them as preparation for inevitable war but because he looks upon them as creating a situation in which we can effectively “parley” with the Russians.

This sounds reasonable. It leaves unanswered two questions. Who is to parley? What is the policy of the West?

When Secretary Acheson parleys with the Russians he speaks for a continental nation that need not do business with Russia if it chooses that course. When British Foreign Minister Morrison parleys with the Russians he speaks for an island people dependent on foreign trade, including trade with Russia. Acheson speaks for a people with a high standard of living. Morrison speaks for people with a falling standard of living who will look with no kindly eye on cutting off Russian sources of supply of goods they need. Neither man can parley for “the West” until both come to some agreement about reconciling their own differing interests.

The same truth applies to in any approach to strengthening lines of defense of the Western world.

No section of that defense is more obviously strategic than the Near Fast. None is more obviously weak.

Britain has been given primary responsibility for the defense of the Eastern Mediterranean. Two facts about this are clear. Britain cannot spare from its other areas of responsibility enough troops adequately to administer the former Italian colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and at the same time effectively. Iran, Egypt and the other Arab nations of the region are taking advantage of Britain’s weakness to throw off its yoke.

We in the U.S. find ourselves drawn morally to sympathy with the nations that are seeking self-determination. At the same time we know realistically that the Near East is essential to the defense of the democratic world and that the present political chaos there is an invitation to Russia to inject itself harmfully.

Our interests largely coincide with those of Britain. Our methods do not agree with those of Britain, certainly not with those among the British who even now are advocating military measures against both Iran and Egypt.

The situation will deteriorate until we and Britain find a common policy to which the two nations pledge their full support.

October 19, 1951

THE CRESCENT. A salutary consideration to bear in mind about the Near East is that none of its current outbursts represents popular uprising against its feudal masters. In both Iran and Egypt the privileged rulers are inflaming prejudice against the “foreigner” to turn the people’s minds away from the injustices they suffer under their own governors. These men are cynically exploiting the troubled world situation to confirm themselves in power. Since this is the basis of their operations they must be dealt with in these terms. Mossadegh’s flouting of United Nations authority must not retard that body from taking jurisdiction over the dispute to the end of achieving justice for both sides. Secretary Acheson was completely justified in putting the full power of this government behind British resistance to the renunciation of his obligations by Farouk of Egypt.

August 31, 1952

JONES IN TEHERAN. W. Alton Jones, president of the Cities Service Co., is in Iran, secreting himself from the press. He is said to be a man of driving ambition. In this instance he is playing with a situation as delicate and explosive as a bomb fuse.

The one aspect of the Jones visit that is insupportable is its secrecy. Did the President and the State Dept. ask Jones to go? Is he there on invitation of Mossadegh to advise on nationalization of Iranian oil? Is he there on his own initiative to invest American capital in Iran, and thus inevitably involve our government more deeply in its affairs? Does he represent a move to take Iran out of the British sphere of influence and put it into the American sphere? Is he there to aid or hinder the negotiations now proceeding among the governments of Iran, Britain, the U.S.A. to find a solution for the problems affecting oil production there?

We have a right to ask him and our government for straightforward answers to these questions. They affect all of us. The United States can get along very well without a Cecil Rhodes of the Near Fast who might precipitate a conflict infinitely worse than the Boer War.

September 21, 1952

NEW YEAR AND NEW EAST. As the Jews of the world celebrate the Hebrew New Year the Near East is in ferment. Gen. Naguib in Egypt has been forced into the role of “strong man.” He accepted the resignation of Aly Maher, the man he himself chose for Premier, because Aly Maher would not go along with his land reforms. Naguib is destroying feudalism in Egypt. What he will substitute for it is not clear, perhaps no more clear to, aim at this moment than to us. Out of it is bound to come a system more modern than that of Farouk, and one probably modelled on that which Kemal Ataturk Introduced into Turkey.

The big question for the West is how to conduct itself in the midst of these changes so that their outcome will favor freedom and the strengthening-of the democratic world. The first lesson is to welcome the change. Corrupt and weak governments in the Middle East may have been convenient during the days when the West’s only thought of that region was to exploit and control it. Today we see in Iran how dangerous to our own interests a weak and corrupt regime may be. Nothing would be more short-sighted than by bribes and intrigue to attempt to make Gen. Naguib a tool of the West. It would probably turn him against us. It would inevitably turn Egypt against us.

One principle at the base of our policy would save us from this. We should tell the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean that if they will withdraw all threats against Israel we will cooperate with them to establish a basis of peace for the region and leave them to work out their own destinies in accordance with their own genius.

September 28, 1952

JONES AND IRAN. I am interested in what W. Alton Jones, head of Cities Service Oil Co., is doing in Iran. I have talked to several oil men about it. Their consensus is that he would not be there if he had not received a nod from the State Dept.

Is our policy to replace the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. with an American one? Are we prepared to oust Britain from the Middle East and make that an American sphere of influence? For all I know, there may be people like our Ambassador Loy Henderson in Iran who favor this. If so, they should give us their reasons. I doubt whether we should upset East and walk in on our own without a full debate of all that it may mean to us.

I am not enviling when I raise this question. I realize that we may see the critical center of Russian pressure shifted any day from Western Europe to Iran. All I am saying is that if we propose to interfere by U.S. intervention at the highest economic and political levels the people of this country have a right to full knowledge of all that it will involve.

What Went Wrong in Iran? | Amb. Henry Grady Tells All (1952)
What Went Wrong in Iran? | Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 5, 1952

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Related links:

The Oil And The Marsh | Max Lerner, New York Post, May 21, 1951

Journalist Marquis Childs on Iran, 1951-1979

Toil and Trouble | The New York Post, May 29, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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