Foreign Policy

The Iranian Coup that Led to 67 Years of Reckless Intervention

The documentary Coup 53 explores how a seemingly easy regime change wrecked U.S. foreign policy for decades.


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If you want to understand the past 70 years of U.S. foreign policy, look to the 1953 CIA- and MI6-backed coup in Iran that removed Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and brought back to power the Shah, an authoritarian dictator friendly to American and British interests.

In the new documentary Coup 53, director Taghi Amirani argues that this covert operation became the template for subsequent American interventionism all over the world, from Guatemala to Vietnam to Iraq. American diplomats and intelligence officers saw the coup as a fast, effective, and low-cost way to effect regime change. They didn't anticipate that their interference would ultimately set the stage for an Islamic revolution and a repressive theocracy that rules Iran to this day.

In a wide-ranging conversation about filmmaking, foreign policy, and immigration, Amirani tells Nick Gillespie that he doesn't think relations between the United States and Iran will get better any time soon, regardless of who wins the presidential election in November. Policy, he says, is "the product of the military-industrial complex and that, ultimately, matters more" than whatever a particular president thinks as he enters office.

Edited by John Osterhoudt. Intro graphics by Lex Villena.

Photos: akg-images/Newscom; AlfvanBeem/CC0; Maryam Zandi / CC BY-SA (; Gage Skidmore/Flickr; Pictures From History/Newscom; Pictures From History/Newscom; Arash Khamooshi/Polaris/Newscom; MARTIN FRIED/UPI/Newscom; GARY I ROTHSTEIN/UPI/Newscom; CHRIS KLEPONIS/UPI/Newscom; Yuri Gripas—Pool via CNP/Newscom

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  1. Sheesh, could 1953 in Iran have set all that subsequent precedent? How about the creation of Panama at the previous turn of the century? Hell, the founding of the USA was a violent carve-out from British North America, which of course the Americans learned how to do from the British. What makes 1953 or America so “special”?

    1. Everyone else’s behavior is excusable when you Blame America First.

      1. Every other country and person in it are just motes of dust being buffeted around by US Foreign policy.

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        2. Other countries and peoples don’t have their own agency. They’re just like helpless BB’s sent rolling with a flick from American foreign policy’s finger.

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    2. I think the argument is that it looked enough like “success” to encourage them to keep trying that sort of thing in other places.

      1. Like failure ever stopped them before

        1. 1961 didn’t convince them to stop?

      2. That’s exactly it. 1953 wasn’t the first – but it’s the first one that’s been kind of admitted to by the CIA and its the one that carved out a role for the CIA separate from overt military action from the Pentagon and legal diplomacy from State. All of which has also served to undermine accountability, transparency and all the other checks on government – which spread from there to every other department.

        I find it funny that so many dumbass R’s who pretend to yap about the deep state really don’t give a shit about how it was born and got its power.

        1. “I find it funny”

          No one cares, and that was before you made a total fool of yourself on the virus.

          1. I said 800k to 1 million dead – in Feb when there were zero dead and less than 100 ‘cases’. We’re at 200+k dead now – measured by either ‘attributed to covid’ or ‘who gives a fuck what its attributed its just an excess death’ – and we haven’t even seen the second wave (still a couple months away). IOW – so far the third largest cause of death in 2020. Course there’s a lot of catching up to do with cancer and heart disease. Passed ‘flu’ and ‘just a cold’ a long fucking time ago.

            We failed utterly with the easy part. And have learned little outside hospitals themselves. By all means mark this post for update in early Feb or so. THAT is when my projection becomes true or false.

            Until then you’re just a stupid old fatass DeRp. Actually even if my projection is false, you’re still just a stupid old fatass DeRp.

        2. As an aside – I can find at least five earlier examples of covert regime change attempt that don’t fit into either the overt military action (banana war stuff that has been basically a 130 year constant everywhere in Latin America) or normal if secret diplomatic pressures
          Panama 1941
          Costa Rica 1948
          Albania 1948
          Syria 1949
          Egypt 1952

          Since then – probably a handful every year that have resulted in a ton of blowback from Cuban revolution to Vietnam war to a shitton of Middle East problems. All of which the dumbass R’s who yap about the deep state become nothing but bobbleheads for the deep state.

          1. All of which the dumbass R’s who yap about the deep state become nothing but bobbleheads for the deep state.

            Ideologically, this kind of meddling came out of the progressive movement. And, yeah, there were plenty of dumbass R’s who subscribed to this nonsense, even more so after the D’s dumped their neocons on the Republican party.

            Fortunately, there seems to be a realignment, with “isolationist populists” going to the Republicans, and “democracy spreading internationalists” going to the Democrats.

            1. Who cares where it may or may not come from ideologically. You R’s are bobbleheads for it and you support everything that undermines accountability or transparency.

              So far ‘isolationist populist’ just seems to mean ‘stick your head up your butt about whatever news is ‘foreign”. Doesn’t make for less intervention. Just less accountability and transparency.

    3. American troops had occupied Iran since the British invasion in 1941 to seize their oil. The Iranians wanted control of their oil, hence the coup. The 1903 coup in Panama is overlooked, with official history pretending it was a revolution. Watch is short video for details.

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  3. Has it occurred to anyone why the US was so easily able to effectuate a coup in Iran but has seemingly failed at every other attempt since?

    1. Shhh. No inconvenient questions like that. Or where they even found this new guy they called Shah, or what happened to nationalizing Iranian oil, or…

      1. Don’t harsh the narrative, man.

    2. We haven’t failed. There have been many dozens of coups that have succeeded by the measure of ‘the regime changed’.

  4. Indeed, many of this country’s most disastrous foreign policy blunders are directly related to Iran. Remember when Orange Hitler had that Iranian guy assassinated, which immediately started World War 3?


    1. And the deal! The deal that a guy made! What about the deal! THE DEAL!

    2. Now we can never expect any peace agreements in the Middle East to be signed or something.

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  6. Duh! Everyone know American foreign policy began in 1619 with slavery.

    1. That’s the year it was invented by the British.

  7. “Ruined U.S. foreign policy”–didn’t we win the Cold War?!

  8. What’s with this Iranian agitprop Reason’s on lately?

    1. Trying to steal the thunder from the Abraham Accords.

      1. It’s pretty tough for Reason to admit they’ve been 100% dead wrong on pretty much everything that has been going on in the Middle East going back to the so-called “Arab Spring”.

        Remember when these dipshits thought that us taking out that Iranian general would lead to World War III? ROFLMAO.

        1. I remember a lot of chin-stroking but no outright predictions.

  9. Everyone should be glad to know the CIA has ceased efforts toppling foreign governments and concentrating on overthrowing the domestic one.

  10. They didn’t anticipate that their interference would ultimately set the stage for an Islamic revolution and a repressive theocracy that rules Iran to this day.
    I would put that more as opposition to the White Revolution. Khomeini was not happy with allowing women to vote and allowing non-Muslims to hold office.

  11. Okay, I was pretty harsh on Reason last time they posted this, so this time I need to praise them for the improvement this time; that they did not in the text call the election-stealing Mohammad Mossadegh “democratically elected”.

    1. Yeah, I noticed that too.

  12. If a POTUS was beginning to make an important change in the political policy, a “lone gunman” would assassinate the threat. That’s why I didn’t want Ron Paul to win. I admire his humanity.
    Lasting, fundamental change always comes from the grass-roots with the politicians following and taking credit. For example, Prohibition came and went, from political pressure by local groups. The masses were discovering the power juries had to ignore the law, free the legally guilty, nullify Probation. Before it spread to other laws and nullification of authority in general, Prohibition was revoked, and a conspiracy to misinform, disempower juries began.

  13. The film conveniently leaves out that the Shah asked President Carter for military assistance to prevent his ouster by the mullahs. Carter refused and that fecklessness gave rise to the middle-east problems we have had since.

  14. Journalists are an uncommonly stupid breed. They have an unfailing belief in exceptionalism and the notion that only big events change the world, despite boundless evidence to contrary. In fact, almost every big event was driven by the changes afoot and not the other way around. If the CIA hadn’t overthrown Mossadegh there still would likely have been an Islamic revolution there and a theocracy installed. It might well have happened sooner. Things would not have looked much different. That the real lesson the CIA should learn from these idiotic coups. The only thing that changes the general direction of change in a country is installing a top-to-bottom totalitarian system

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