Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

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Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Reza Shah Pahlavi lived from October 16, 1919 to July 27, 1980. He was the Shah of Iran, after the Soviet Union (who had invaded Iran in World War II) pressured his father to abdicate in 1941.[1] In 1949 the Communist party of Iran known as the Tudeh party was banned after an assassination attempt on his life.

American administrations had long viewed the Shah of Iran as one of the most dependable pro-West leaders in the whole Mideast and Southwest Asia area. In 1955 the Shah was one of the signatories of the Baghdad Pact which united the "northern tier" countries of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, in a military alliance with Great Britain called the Baghdad Pact, and later the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Along with the Saud monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the Pahlavi dynasty in Teheran was the linchpin in the United States "two-pillar" policy in the Middle East—a policy that had brought Saudi Arabia and Iran into prominence as being critical to Western interests.

Following the Eisenhower and Kennedy commitments to the Shah and to the Saudis, the Johnson administration had pressed the Iranian monarch to carry out reforms—land redistribution, greater freedoms and rights for women, rapid improvements in education. These programs, it was felt, had to accompany Iran’s rapid drive for industrialization and military strength. The Shah’s power was known to be autocratic and at times arbitrary, nevertheless the monarch was seen as personally stable and generally enlightened if, at times, solitary and somewhat insecure. The fact that he made all the major decisions himself—was emperor, de facto prime minister, and commander in chief of the armed forces, as well as knowledgeable and supportive of (if not directly involved in) SAVAK’s internal security activities—was taken into account. But the overall strategic value of Iran and the Shah to the United States was appreciated by every American administration from Eisenhower through Ford. President Nixon had gone farthest, encouraging the Shah to cast himself in the role of regional policeman.[2]

The Shah did not participate in the Arab oil embargoes of 1967 and 1973, recognized Israel, provided oil for US and British Mediterranean Fleets, deterred Iraq under Saddam Hussein from playing a role in the Yom Kippur War when he moved troops to the Iraqi border and gave covert support to the Kurds in Iraq which tied up the Iraqi Army.

In 1968 Great Britain announced withdrawal from "East of Suez" in 1968 and completed in 1971. Iran under the Shah had taken Great Britain's place as the military power that guaranteed stability in the Persian Gulf. Rather than replace the British presence “East of Suez” to secure shipping lanes with a direct American presence, the United States chose to rely on local powers, primarily Iran and Saudi Arabia, to provide Persian Gulf security. This "two-pillar policy" worked reasonably well until one of the pillar, Iran, collapsed in 1979. The downfall of the Shah was a harbinger of stunningly ominous events.

President Reagan criticized the Shah's successor, Ayatollah Khomeini, as "a maniacal fanatic who has slaughtered thousands and thousands of people calling it executions."[3]


  1. Tripartite Treaty of Alliance, 29 January 1942, Philip W. Ireland, ed., The Near East (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942; 2d impression, 1945); also in The Middle East, 1948 (London: Europa Publications, Ltd., 1948), pp. 29-30.
  2. Grinter, Dr. Lawrence E. Avoiding the Burden: The Carter Doctrine in Perspective Vol. XXXIV, No. 2 (January–February 1983): 73-82.
  3. The Second 1984 Presidential Debate