News & Views » Don't Panic

Why Does Iran Dislike the United States?

Don't Panic ... Your War Questions Answered



Back in the day, Iran and the United States were great pals.

In 1955, Iran joined the Cold War on the US's side by hitching itself to the Middle East Treaty Organization (later known as the Central Treaty Organization). METO was a sort of southwest Asian equivalent of NATO.

In 1971, Iran's ruler, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, threw a $100 million party to celebrate 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy. The menu included one ton of caviar, 5,000 bottles of vintage wine and champagne, and a roasted peacock stuffed with foie gras. US Vice President Spiro Agnew was an honored guest.

In 1973, when Arab nations stopped selling oil to the United States to retaliate against American support for Israel during that year's Arab-Israeli War, Iran kindly (and quite profitably) increased its oil exports to America.

Because the Arab oil embargo quadrupled the price of crude oil, Iran suddenly found itself rolling in some serious dough while the US economy was struggling. Good pal to America that it was, Iran kindly began sending some of the money back here by becoming the largest foreign customer of the US's high-tech weapons industry.

By the late 1970s, the US and Iran were so BFF that President Carter praised Iran as "an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world."

So where did it all go wrong? How did Iran and the US go from peacock-leftover-sandwich-eating bosom buddies to archenemies?

The answer is hidden in what I've written above. I'll give you a hint. It's a three-letter word that starts with "O" and ends with "L."


Guess again.



Just like me and that kid across the street who was the first person in the neighborhood to get an Atari, the United States wasn't really good friends with Iran. The US was friends with Iran's stuff, mostly its oil.

Iran still sits atop some of the largest oil and natural gas deposits in the world. Western powers have been jockeying for power and influence in Iran ever since it became clear that oil was replacing coal as the most favored fuel of Western nations.

During the first half of the century, it was Russia and the United Kingdom that did most of the jockeying. During WWII, the Soviet Union and Great Britain even invaded Iran to ensure the country remained in the Allied camp. Iran was important both for its oil and because it provided a safe supply route for American war materials to reach the Soviets.

When they invaded, Russia and the UK exiled Iran's king, Reza Shah Pahlavi, and replaced him with his peacock-snackin' son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was just 20. Young, inexperienced and ineffectual, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi wasn't very good at standing up for his country's interests. Even though the UK's power and influence went into steep decline after WWII, Pahlavi was unable and/or unwilling to stand up to the British-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that was, for all practical purposes, stealing Iran's oil.

Someone did stand up to British exploitation, though. His name was Mohammed Mossadegh. A popular nationalist and government minister, Mossadegh was elected prime minister by Iran's parliament in 1951 for the express purpose of asserting control over Iran's oil resources. Iran's government had taken control of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's domestic assets.

The Brits rather enjoyed not paying market value for Iranian oil, so they tried hard to bully Iran into reversing its action. They blockaded Iranian shipping. They also lobbied the United States for help in toppling Mossadegh. President Harry Truman declined. His successor, Dwight Eisenhower, accepted, and in 1953 Eisenhower dispatched the then-young CIA to carry out some regime change.

In the US-engineered coup that ensued, Mossadegh -- Iran's only genuinely popular and relatively fairly elected democratic leader -- was toppled and arrested. After a brief period of exile, Pahlavi returned to power, and his ensuing autocracy was marked by greed, incompetence and cruelty. In 1979, decades of pent-up nationalism, hunger for democracy and rural resentment of Pahlavi's Western ways exploded into a revolution that brought the current religious extremists to power.

Given all of the above, if you were Iranian, how would you feel about the United States?

Andisheh Nouraee can be reached at

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment