Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future

Kinzer’s written two of the most influential histories that I’ve ever read: All the Shah’s Men, an account of the CIA-led coup of Reza Shah over Mohammed Mossadeh, and Overthrow, a history of the last 100 years or so of America’s regime-change-happy foreign policy, and its disastrous consequences.

Reading All the Shah’s Men was incredibly illuminating for me — there’s a very direct line from our adventurous and damaging foreign policy under the Dulles brothers to the unstable and antagonistic situation we find ourselves in with the Middle East. I couldn’t recommend more reading that history.

In this book, he recaps a bit of that — goes through the last hundred years or so of Iranian history — but in a parallel way, also chronicles the last hundred years of Turkish history. His basic argument is that, even though Saudi Arabia and Israel are our main partners in the region, and should remain partners, the overemphasis on those two countries is strange (for reasons I’ll state in a moment) and unproductive & dangerous, and that it’s in our best interests to develop significant partnerships with both Turkey and Iran.

He spends the time on history to show that the people of both countries have a longer history of wanting democracy and trying to bring democracy to their countries than any other countries in the region — the difference being that Turkey’s march towards democracy has been mostly unbroken, while Iran’s was massively disrupted by foreign involvement in the 1950s, which created the conditions to allow the 1979 Islamic Revolution to occur.

It’s really important to note 2 things. First, he’s not arguing that the governments are more democratic than elsewhere in the region, he’s arguing that the rank and file populace have a longer history with and very strong desire for democracy. Secondly, he’s not naive about the challenges of partnering, or that many compromises would have to be made — but in his view the set of choices which could result in an enduring, positive situation are very limited, and these are the ones most in our self-interest.

I liked this book a lot, both for the histories and the policies — much to think on.


  1. Thanks for the tip, I’ll put that one on my list for summer.

    But can you tell what he finds undemocratic about the current *gouvernement* of Turkey? Seems a bit odd to me.

    • Hi Kadir! I didn’t say he was arguing that the governments are undemocratic (although clearly the Iranian government has some issues), just that he was talking about the populations of each country wanting democracy. He doesn’t say Turkey’s government is undemocratic now; obviously it is.