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116. Memorandum of Conversation Between Max Thornburg and the Director of the Psychological Strategy Board (Allen)1

By appointment I met Ray Allen and two of his staff, later joined by Ned Bayne. We met at 3:30 P.M. I left at 5:45.

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Ray opened with several questions concerning the Persian oil situation: did I think that it could be settled soon? mustn’t it be, in order to avoid a collapse of the country? etc.

I answered these questions briefly, according to my opinions, but parried details on the ground that the oil question could not be settled until there were a government in Persia that wanted to settle it, and that until there were such a government to make effective use of the revenues it wouldn’t matter in any case. As for collapsing, the Persian economy had been flat on the ground for 500 years and there was nothing to collapse. I doubted that the Persians had a word in their language for “collapse”, any more than they have for “development” (which they don’t have, in our sense).

Other questions were asked about the Communists in various Middle East countries, and my ideas as to what might be expected when Ibn Saud dies, when Mossedegh gets out, when Noury Pasha retires, etc.

After about a half hour of such discussion I asked Ray if I might outline my own approach to the Middle East situation and indicate what I considered to be the key problems so we could focus our attention upon them. This, I felt, would bring all these other questions into a proper relationship. Ray said go ahead.

We can understand all these problems better if we approach them from the general toward the particular. This guards against seeking a remedy for some particular case within its own apparent circumstances, when in fact its causes lie elsewhere.

The unrest in the ME is part of the unrest among backward peoples all over the world, but modified in the ME by its own history, religion etc. Similarly in any ME country we find the general causes at work, but modified by local circumstances. Thus if we describe the ME situation we find that we have gone a long way toward describing the conditions in any one country, and have only to adjust it for a few local factors to understand the particular case. On the other hand, if we begin with the analysis of a particular case we can’t always distinguish between aspects which are peculiar to it and those which are deeper and more general.

I then outlined the pattern of my own reasoning about the ME and the special cases presented by the several countries. (This is described in detail in other memos and will not be repeated here except in bare outline.)

The problem can be entered at any one of several points, but since it has finally to be intergrated in any case, let’s start with the “people” and carry it along from there.

General movement among backward peoples to awaken and rebel against (1) foreign domination, (2) corruption of own governments, (3) misery of their own way of living.

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This rebellion is essentially a reaction, hence psychological, emotional and unreasoning.

This mass condition places a powerful instrument i.e. mass power of hundreds of millions of people, say 100 million in the ME, 18 million in Persia, etc. in the hands of rabble rousing leaders, either Communist or other extremists, which they can subvert or overthrow governments, block betterment programs, assassinate leaders, drive out foreigners, etc.

As long as this psychological climate remains hostile to us and to our (or other) constructive efforts, our aid programs which are based upon the assumption that behaviour is determined by reason, will continue to fail.

Our first objective, therefore, must be to change this psychological climate, as far as possible—and as quickly as possible—replacing distrust with confidence, hostility with friendliness, despair with hope, and unreason with reason.

Such an objective requires criteria quite different from those governing a program based upon logically reasoned economic considerations.

Our new criteria, belonging to the psychological objective, will show that many of the things we have been doing are quite useless in this first stage and belong to some later objective when its time comes.

The program of action indicated by the psychological objective consists of two parts: (1) a widespread program of small works which are tangible and visible to a very large part of the population (village, tribal and urban) and which show them that a turn for the better has come into their lives; and (2), a well designed program of propaganda that will (a) publicize and explain the works program, (b) relate it to their own government’s new attitude toward their welfare and to U.S. and British intentions to help them, and (c) counter adverse propaganda originating in various sources that are opposed to what we are trying to do.

As to time schedule, this first objective should be reached not later than the end of 1953, i.e. the predominating sentiment throughout the Middle East should by that time be favorable for proceeding toward other and longer range objectives. Emphasis must of course be placed upon the most critical areas, such as Persia and Egypt, ahead of the rest.

The types of material works must be small and intimately associated with daily conditions of living (eg DDT, typhoid control, insecticides, dirt roads, simple schools, rural clinics, visiting nurses, famine or other distress relief, etc) combined with visible changes in local government activities to indicate new interest in popular welfare, such as local councils, tax relief, formation of local cooperatives etc.

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Generally speaking each village (or other social group) need get only one of the foregoing evidences to begin with, but through the propaganda program and by the normal spread of news (rapid in these countries) must know that other villages (groups) are getting other kinds of benefits which, in due course, will come to it also.

The requirement that this program be widespread throughout the country (and region), touching a majority of the villages or other groups during 1953 (there are about 40,000 villages in Persia alone), discloses at once that the program must be executed through institutions which are capable of reaching vast numbers of people. (i.e. this is not to be confused with a Near East Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation type of endeavour, nor is it “demonstration” projects, which belong to a later stage, that are required for this first objective.)

Examples of such institutions are Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Public Works, etc; Government Development Plan organizations, Agricultural (or other) Development Banks, cooperatives, and regional development banks and other agencies such as might be provided under United Nations auspices.

However, for such institutions to be effective in carrying these first tangible evidences of changed conditions to a vast number of people within a short time, it is imperative that the governments of the countries want such a program to succeed. It is obvious that unless they do, we have little chance of bringing about such changes.

Nevertheless, there is little evidence that any Middle East government, with the sole exception of Turkey (since its 1950 elections), has any real desire or intention of this kind.

Thus we are faced with a choice between continuing to use inadequate and non-determining measures which are nothing more than a sop (though an expensive one) to world public opinion, while actually watching the Middle East deteriorate until it slides into the Communist orbit or until we can turn the job over to our soldiers, or, on the other hand, taking such steps as are necessary to encourage and support such changes in these governments as are required by our own sense of national and world security.

The question of establishing a “democratic” form of government has no place here. What is necessary is that each of these countries have a stable government dedicated to the welfare of its people and capable of responsible behaviour in relation to other governments of the world. Conditions among these countries vary widely, and so must the types of government.

If our choice is to exercise a positive influence upon the evolution of responsible governments within these countries, we must revise our (alleged) historical policy of “non-intervention” in the political affairs of others. (This actually requires only that we stop trying to fool our[Page 325]selves about that legendary “principle”, which we always drag out when we want something to hide behind.)

Generally speaking, and certainly in all important cases, there is a responsible segment of the governing class in each of these countries that wants the same things that we do. From time to time these responsible and progressive groups actually take the leadership, though perhaps only for a short time. Our statesmanship should be capable of placing and supporting them in permanent tenure.

Coming from the general to the particular, everything said up to this point applies to Persia, equally with the others.

In Persia, which is the most critical case facing us now, the unreasoning reaction of the “masses” against past oppressions and misery has been whipped up by (a) Mossedegh’s Nationalists, (b) Kashani’s religious fanatics, and (c) Tudeh Party Communists—each leader with a different ultimate objective in mind—to a state of virtual anarchy.

Both the Right (Kashani) and the Left (Tudeh) “support” Mossedegh only in his chest beating and rabble rousing antics.

Mossedegh himself is powerless to convert the prevailing condition from one ruled by unreason to one ruled by reason. Hence the futility of Averell’s New York business man approach to the oil controversy, even assuming Mossedegh’s personal approval.

The most promising figure around whom a responsible government can be built in Persia today is the Shah himself. He has at least the potential advantages of traditional position (powerful in that country), loyalty of the army (if he calls for it), broad constitutional powers, and the desire on his own part for the kinds of reforms which we believe are needed in his country. He lacks personal strength and resolution, which, fortunately, is the one deficiency which we can help make up.

Twice we have refused to support the Shah, once with Razmara (despite the Shah’s urgent appeal to Washington) and once with Qavam. We will have one more chance, presumably, when Mossedegh goes, if we can make up our minds in time and reach the necessary understandings with the British (essential) and with the Shah.

If we do this, we can then begin the program outlined earlier in this discussion, toward our psychological objective.

Then, also, we may be able to save the rest of the Middle East from going the same route as Persia. We are doing nothing to stop it now.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Intelligence, Job 80R01731R, Box 12, Folder 526, Middle East. Drafted by Thornburg. No classification marking.