A Crass and Consequential Error

Muhammad Mossadegh, the Iranian prime minister overthrown by US and British agents in 1953, was a man who declined a salary, returned gifts, and collected tax arrears from his beloved mother. Frugality was allied to punctiliousness in this droopy-nosed aristocrat who enraged the West by insisting that Iran, not Britain, should own, sell, and profit from Iranian oil. A member of the princely Qajar family, he retained a noblesse-oblige gentility even as he became the symbol of postwar Iranian assertiveness. He fainted, he swooned—and was often pajama-clad. When he saw a hole, he had an irrepressible inclination to dig deeper. High principle trumped judicious compromise too often for Mossadegh to be a successful politician.

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