Mousavi And Mossadeq: What The 1953 U.S.-Backed Overthrow Has To Do With Today

In the middle of the last century, the U.S. overthrew Iran's democratically elected leader, Muhammad Mossadeq. Some think it happened too long ago to be a major factor in today's protests; some disagree. But it's shaping how both the Iranian and U.S. governments react to what's happening in the streets of Tehran.

Accusations of U.S. interference have been rampant in the past weeks as the Iranian government plays on history and old fears. Even before the June 12 election took place, Iran's main state-run newspaper warned that Western interference in the election was likely; since then, warnings and accusations of intervention have been steady; today, Iran's foreign ministry accused the U.N. of interfering in its affairs.

That's the backdrop against which the White House has charted its course in commenting on Iran, amid domestic calls for a more forceful condemnation of the election that, to be clear, everyone (except President Obama in public) agrees was fake. The administration withheld comment at first, though Joe Biden did say two days later that the administration had "doubts" about the election; on Saturday, President Obama issued this statement, hinting at Iran's suppression of ideas as he praised freedoms of speech and assembly and called on the regime to cease its violence against protesters.

And today, Obama offered his most forceful criticism of the Iranian regime so far.

"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions," Obama said at his press conference today in the West Wing.

He repeated his call for Iran to "govern through consent, not coercion."

He remained agnostic on the election's actual results, restricting his commentary to the Iranian government's response. "There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election," he said, but noted that "we didn't have international observers on the ground" at polling places, so we can't really know for sure.

He stated clearly that the U.S. is not interfering and that claims otherwise are false.

"They've got some of the comments that I've made being mistranslated in Iran, suggesting that I'm telling rioters to go out and riot some more," Obama said, referencing similar claims about the CIA. "All of which is patently false."

The U.S. backed Mossadeq's overthrow in 1953. It's been said that this was too long ago to be relevant to today's protests--that Obama needn't tread lightly in context of America's poor historical record on Iranian democracy. After all, the protesters are young, and Eisenhower isn't immediately relevant to U.S. politics today.

But Guardian columnist Stephen Kinzer reports that Mossadeq has come up in Iran today as a symbol, that his face has adorned signs alongside that of Mir Hossein Mousavi, and that Iranians have drawn a parallel between the two men.

Mossadeq, as Kinzer points out, is a symbol both for democracy and for freedom of intervention.

Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In