BRITAIN AND THE AFTERMATH OF THE ANGLO–IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS

BRITAIN AND THE AFTERMATH OF THE ANGLO–IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS

In the end she pursued, and succeeded in achieving, the third option, but only when the United States of America decided, for her own reasons, to intervene in internal Iranian politics. Moreover, as Eden acknowledged (rather resentfully), America demanded her price for undertaking her new responsibilities in the Middle East. It seems safe to conjecture that this resentment was at least partly responsible for Eden’s decision to by-pass the Americans in 1956. But the Suez crisis only revealed what had been implicit in the Iranian crisis that preceded it: that Britain could not act effectively without American assistance and support; and that she would only get that assistance and support if America identified her own self-interest as involved, and only on America’s own terms-thus not necessarily to the liking of the British Government.

 

Britain and America could be seen as pursuing policies in the Middle East that were parallel, but parallel lines never converge, and Britain hoped that American interests and her interests would converge. They seemed to converge in the last stages of the Iranian crisis, but in fact America had her eye on the overall communist threat and was less sympathetic to Britain’s first rank concern about oil. America saw no virtue in propping up the British Empire anywhere in the world and therefore, if Britain were to act in what seemed to be a purely imperialistic mood (e.g. over Suez), that support would not be forthcoming and the Iranian situation would not be duplicated, i.e. Britain would find herself unable to act in concert with America as in the end she did bver Iran. America was not trying to do Britain down, but rather was trying to ease Britain into a realistic appreciation of her changed role in the world, and was therefore furious because Britain in Suez would not acknowledge the sense of that policy, but seemed to be under the illusion that she was still an imperial power.

At the time of the Suez crisis, America was eyeball to eyeball with Russia over Hungary and America felt that Britain’s action had distracted the world from the Hungarian crisis and had undermined the West’s and America’s moral position over Hungary. India, for example, said that between Hungary and Suez there was nothing much different.

Eden was right in his view that the Iranian crisis was the most difficult he had faced so far, but his appreciation of its implications just did not go far enough. The “lesson”, such as it may have been, of Suez might – in large part it seems safe to say – have been learned from the episode of the Ang1o-Iranian Oil Company that preceded it.

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