The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East by Andrew Scott Cooper
MY RATING: 5/5 Stars
FTC NOTICE: Purchased Copy
REVIEW: This is the second piece I have read by Andrew Scott Cooper, with the first one being “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.” I purchased “The Oil Kings” as part of an extensive book haul in late 2015, and this piece sat in rotating loads of books from my local library system and other occasional ARCs that always, immediately, went to the top of my “To Read” stack. Had I known then what great work this book contained, I would have read it much sooner! How could I ever have delayed reading about the importance Middle East oil prices with their crude mix of politics!
“The Oil Kings” revealed some jaw-dropping, pertinent micro-histories:
*“Asking the National Security Adviser to rig a defense contract” (71).
*Gilda (“the most dangerous of the Shah’s paramours” (100)).
*Corporate empire fixing.
*Money laundering from Iran, via Mexico, to support Nixon’s campaign/Watergate.
*Iran’s supply of fighter jets to South Vietnam during the war.
*Instability of worldwide economic systems.
*Scathing, SAVAK-caused “Charles Jourdan Incident.”
*Kissinger’s ambitions gone too far.
*Follow the oil; it shifts the power.
*Algiers Accords: a deadly domino effect.
My jaw dropped when I read about how “1975 Algiers Agreement” (246) shifted the balance of power in the Middle East: it betrayed the Kurds, empowered and emboldened Iraq, and weakened both Iran and the United States…immediately. Secondary consequences occurred in countries outside of the region as well. This book significantly underscored the entanglement, or interdependence, of every country with another, regardless of its location on this planet. There was no where to hide from the economic fall-out.
The Shah attempted to hide his cancer diagnosis to prevent political fall-out; I had read details surrounding its secrecy several times throughout the years. Cooper included new information and wrote about it with an unforgettable analogy: “In the spring of 1974, Iran’s supreme leader and his closest aide had both contracted incurable cancers. Shakespeare could not have imagined a more exquisite tragedy of state: unbeknownst to each other, the empire’s two most experienced helmsman were mortally ill. It brought to mind another empire whose fated Romanov dynasty and the deadly hemophilia suffered by Czarevitch Alexei, son and heir of Czar Nicholas II” (167).
While the Shah’s illness progressed, his country became more politically isolated…though one did not directly create the other; the possibility existed that the ruler’s behavior drastically changed as a result of his terminal diagnosis. By “December of 1974…it should have been abundantly clear that the Shah was pulling away from Washington to pursue a foreign policy based on independent nationalism, as Ardeshir Zahedi had been advocating since the late 1960s. Years earlier the CIA had warned that as the Shah became more assertive the chances would increase that Iranian foreign policy goals would diverge from those of the United States. Whereas Saudi Arabia was making inroads in Washington, Iran was increasingly identified as a source of tension and instability” (228). The American intelligence failure pertaining to knowledge surrounding the Shah’s lymphoma diagnosis allowed for the following situations: “…no policy adjustments made, no contingency plans drawn up, no legwork asked of the intelligence community. The transfer of high-tech weaponry to Iran did not slacken. The negotiations to sell Iran nuclear power technology remained on track. No steps were taken to reduce the number of expatriate personnel. In short, the United States continued its march to folly in Iran” (280).
This folly included targeted assassinations and generalized attacks on Americans in Iran. The warning signs and predictions were in place and well-known…but they were ignored. Everything led up to the Islamic Revolution, where this book tastefully ends but includes a follow-up to what happened to some of its key players. “The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East” contained compelling writing, great analogies, and interesting stories with just the right amount of “smut” factor. This piece easily earned its place on my “Favorites” shelf.