- Iran in the Claws of the Bear: The Failed Soviet Landgrab of 1946
The Soviet occupation of northern Iran and the Azerbaijan crisis of 1946 represent a critical episode in the early history of the Cold War that resulted in Iran's subsequent pro-American alignment. According to Hooshang Talé and Farhad Talé, their book is an attempt to reflect the "view from the Iranian side" and to recognize "Iran's struggle to defend her own strategic interests," her "courage," "political realism," and the "clever political maneuvering" of the members of the Iranian parliament and other political players (p. viii). The authors devote considerable attention to Ahmad Qavam (then Iranian prime minister) and also claim to cast light on the neglected role played by Britain during the Iranian crisis (p. viii).
Concentrating mainly on the diplomatic disputes between the Soviets and Iranians and Iran's struggle in the United Nations (UN), the book contains numerous extensive documents, including those of the UN General Assembly and Security Council and the Iranian Parliament. A more selective approach to and detailed analysis of those documents might have made the book more reader-friendly. The role of Qavam in defeating the Soviet ambitions in Iran appears to be exaggerated. Qavam's pragmatism and skillful use of political maneuvers ("when dealing with [a] lion you must cajole it and feed it, not attempt to match your claws against his" (p. 133) and ability "not to give in to Stalin" (p. 88) only worked because of the support from the United States for Iran in the UN and U.S. pressure on the Soviet Union. The outcome was the Soviet withdrawal in 1946 and Soviet failure to support radicalism and separatism in Azerbaijan or to obtain a share in the exploitation of Iranian oil. As a matter of fact, the Soviet "landgrab" seems to have been secondary to the Soviet aspiration to promote "friendly governments" in the Middle East (similar to those in Eastern Europe).
An overview of the previously conducted research on its subject is absent from the book, even though several earlier works provide a balanced picture of this important episode, including the role played by Britain (for example, Iran and the Cold War: The Azerbaijan Crisis of 1946 by Louise L'Estrange Fawcett [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992], or The Origins of the Cold War in the Middle East by Bruce Kuniholm [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980], or the classic Russia and the West in Iran, 1918–1948: A Study in Big-Power Rivalry by George Lenczowski [Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1949]. It is not entirely clear what Iran in the Claws of the Bear contributes to the field. [End Page 1299]
Unfortunately, the book has many other shortcomings. The Great Game as a context and background to longstanding Russian/Soviet designs on Iran is not mentioned. At least a brief discussion of the earlier Russian "landgrabs" in Iran, including those during and after the First World War, would have provided useful parallels. The book lacks a meaningful introduction and has no conclusion. The bibliography is limited and does not include a single source in Russian; some endnotes are incomplete or confusing (for example, "Iranian Foreign Ministry Archive," note 129, p. 171); in some cases, sources are not mentioned at all (pp. 36, 47); the index needs subheadings on many occasions (the entry "Soviet," for example, lists 154 page numbers), the index often omits relevant entries (Molotov, for example, is mentioned on pages 38–40 of the book but these are not listed in the index). The book needs a usable map—the only map, on the first page, is of poor quality and does not show the area of Soviet occupation. The book contains a number of unsupported statements which, with the source lacking, would appear to be inaccurate or irresponsible. For example: "In addition to Molotov's strong hatred toward Iran, which Stalin mentioned and no doubt shared himself" (p. 40). Even...