For over two decades following the conclusion of World War II, American presidents and the shah of Iran quarreled over Iran’s defense needs.
Expert advisory missions from the US arrived as early as 1942, charged with increasing the efficiency of security forces through organizational reform.
It soon became apparent, however, that the shah’s postwar objective was not reform, but the acquisition of sophisticated military hardware.
When, in 1968, the Nixon Doctrine facilitated this process, workers from multinational defense firms and their subcontractors flowed into Isfahan, a heritage city in the heart of Iran. The city was disproportionately affected, and quickly merged existing urban qualities with newly acquired characteristics to take on the appearance of a Cold War city.
Isfahan became highly militarized, a process which altered its demographics, economy, and built environment.
The new activity, in conjunction with memories of CIA intervention in 1953, projected an illusion of American penetration–even manipulation.
The support of the United States helped the shah consolidate his power during the decade of the 1950s. But monetary assistance equal to that provided Taipei was not forthcoming. Both Iran’s oil wealth and the absence of comparable communist threat meant that the country would be responsible for financing its own development.
Therefore, while the Kennedy administration pressed for reform, America’s leverage was not nearly so strong as most Iranians (or Americans) believed.
Isfahan and Taipei differed, also, in another important respect. While Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT had floundered on the mainland, they–not the United States–had established firm political control, including martial law in urban Taipei. Later, a loosening occurred which facilitated constitutional reform, institution building, and democratization.
In Iran, on the other hand, Isfahan’s pluralistic postwar environment had been recast when US covert action enabled the shah to assert his executive powers, undermining the legislative primacy intended by the country’s constitution.
Consequently, Isfahan was not an urban champion of America’s neoliberal ideals. On the contrary, the city reflected the most opportunistic and conflated qualities of US grand strategy.
Photograph by David Wolfe.