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The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East [Hardcover]

Andrew Scott Cooper
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Book Description

Aug. 9 2011
Increasing oil prices . . . America struggling with a recession . . . European nations at risk of defaulting on their loans . . . A possible global financial crisis. It happened before, in the 1970s.

Oil Kings is the story of how oil came to dominate U.S. domestic and international affairs. As Richard Nixon fought off Watergate inquiries in 1973, the U.S. economy reacted to an oil shortage initiated by Arab nations in retaliation for American support of Israel in the Arab- Israeli war. The price of oil skyrocketed, causing serious inflation. One man the U.S. could rely on in the Middle East was the Shah of Iran, a loyal ally whose grand ambitions had made him a leading customer for American weapons. Iran sold the U.S. oil; the U.S. sold Iran missiles and fighter jets. But the Shah’s economy depended almost entirely on oil, and the U.S. economy could not tolerate annual double-digit increases in the price of this essential commodity. European economies were hit even harder by the soaring oil prices, and several NATO allies were at risk of default on their debt.

In 1976, with the U.S. economy in peril, President Gerald Ford, locked in a tight election race, decided he had to find a country that would sell oil to the U.S. more cheaply and break the OPEC monopoly, which the Shah refused to do. On the advice of Treasury Secretary William Simon and against the advice of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Ford made a deal to sell advanced weaponry to the Saudis in exchange for a modest price hike on oil.

Ford lost the election, but the deal had lasting consequences. The Shah’s economy was destabilized, and disaffected elements in Iran mobilized to overthrow him. The U.S. had embarked on a long relationship with the autocratic Saudi kingdom that continues to this day.

Andrew Scott Cooper draws on newly declassified documents and interviews with some key figures of the time to show how Nixon, Ford, Kissinger, the CIA, and the State and Treasury departments—as well as the Shah and the Saudi royal family— maneuvered to control events in the Middle East. He details the secret U.S.-Saudi plan to circumvent OPEC that destabilized the Shah. He reveals how close the U.S. came to sending troops into the Persian Gulf to break the Arab oil embargo. The Oil Kings provides solid evidence that U.S. officials ignored warning signs of a potential hostage crisis in Iran. It discloses that U.S. officials offered to sell nuclear power and nuclear fuel to the Shah. And it shows how the Ford Administration barely averted a European debt crisis that could have triggered a financial catastrophe in the U.S. Brilliantly reported and filled with astonishing details about some of the key figures of the time, The Oil Kings is the history of an era that we thought we knew, an era whose momentous reverberations still influence events at home and abroad today.

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The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East + Patriot Of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup
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“The role of oil in the foreign policy of the United States is the subject of endless conspiracy theories. The reality is both more mundane and more startling than the conventional wisdom would have it. Andrew Cooper has lifted the lid from a crucial period of U.S. policy. Mining a rich lode of previously unreleased documents, Cooper uses the very words of the protagonists to tell a story so sensitive that it has remained virtually covert. In doing so, he sheds surprising new light on U.S.-Iranian relations and the origins of the Iranian revolution.”

—Gary Sick, author of All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran and former member of the National Security Council

"Adds significant insight to one of the most important periods in the American relationship with petroleum. . . . [The Oil Kings] excels by virtue of focus, discipline, and original research. Supporting his account, Cooper draws from significant sources – most of which were classified until recently – that re-create the personal relationships that proved crucial to world history."
—Brian Black, The Christian Science Monitor

"Relying on a rich cache of previously classified notes, transcripts, cables, policy briefs and memoranda, Cooper explains how oil drove, even corrupted, American foreign policy during a time when Cold War imperatives still applied. . . . The most compelling dimension to Cooper’s narrative is the story of U.S-Iran relations, particularly during the Nixon and Ford administrations. . . . A revelatory, impressive debut."
Kirkus Reviews

“As uprisings today rock the Muslim world, with America at war across the region, Andrew Cooper transports us back to where it all began: with the startling diplomatic and military machinations of the seventies, when oil first became a global weapon and the White House was roiled by Vietnam and Watergate. Meticulously researched, vividly told, with an inside-the-room intimacy, The Oil Kings reminds us of the ultimate folly of America’s efforts to dominate world events—especially through its co-dependency with rival petro-states. This is an important and powerful book.”

—Barry Werth, author of 31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today

"Scintillating diplomatic history. . . . Cooper gives a lucid analysis of shifting oil markets and unearths revelations . . . from meticulous research. . . . Its centerpiece is Cooper's superb, lacerating portrait of Henry Kissinger. As the super-diplomat's obsession with great-power rivalries founders in a new world of global economics that he can't fathom, Cooper gives us both a vivid study in sycophancy and backstabbing and a shrewd critique of Kissingerian geo-strategy."
--Publishers Weekly

“[Cooper] skillfully mines previously classified documents to make clear that high-profile inmates were running the foreign-policy asylum.”

—Paul Jablow, Philadelphia Inquirer

About the Author

Andrew Scott Cooper holds advanced degrees from Columbia University, University of Aberdeen, and Victoria University. Dr. Cooper has worked at the United Nations and Human Rights Watch and is a columnist for PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kissinger, Nixon and the Shah April 20 2013
By James Gallen TOP 100 REVIEWER
"The Oil Kings" is an in depth study of the labyrinthine relationships that existed between the Shah of Iran, the Saudi Royal Family and the United States during the Nixon and Ford administrations. The story line is so involved that I can only begin to summarize the contents. A few examples will have to suffice to give you a taste of what is in store for the reader. Some of us remember the day when Iran was America's ally in the Persian Gulf. Here we get a glimpse of what went on behind the scenes. On these pages we read that the close relationship between the Shah and President Nixon, lubricated perhaps by inebriation on Nixon's part, led to a promise to sell the Shah any military equipment "short of the atomic bomb." We are introduced to the Shah's insatiable appetite for military equipment that retarded development of his nation and ultimately led to his downfall. We are reminded of the oil shocks of the 1970s that so disrupted the economies of America and Europe that fears of revolution and Communist takeovers were realistically entertained. We read here of actions within OPEC that gave the House of Saud the opportunity to use the price of oil to undercut its rival for Middle Eastern supremacy by restricting the flow of petrodollars without which the Shah could not fulfill his financial commitments or the satisfy the demands of his people. We see an era during which the United States devolved from a superpower protecting its regional interests from Soviet expansion to an atrophied giant negotiating with its former clients from a position of weakness. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Joe Blow July 6 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Stunning revelation of cunning, duplicity, deception and controlling behaviour from an American who led presidents, the EU, ASIA and country to the brink of financial, political and social ruin.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.9 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whatever happened to cheap gas? Sept. 19 2011
By billyspargo - Published on
This concise, comprehensive, objective, documented (100 pages of notes) petropolitical economic and diplomatic military history answers that question; and it probaly isn't what you think. The story of the "largest transfer of wealth in history" has been 'slicked' over by the participants, most recently by Dick Cheney and most blantantly by Henry Kissinger. And let's not forget Mr. Nixon and the Rockerfellers (Nelson and Dave). Where did all those billions go? Military hardware and logistics got its fair share. And whose banks did the money flow through? Go back to the last name for one. These gentlemen made secret backdoor diplomacy an art form: The Shah being the protagonist (was he the first to urge us to 'go green'?). And then there's the Mexican banks, the CIA, SAVAK, CREEP, OPEC, CENCOM, IBEX and Watergate(!). This book, due in part to recently declassified documents, fills an important gap in American historical non-fiction. I'll emphasise that last word, because you couldn't make this stuff up; unfortunately for us watching those digits fly on the gas pumps.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all Kissinger's fault Sept. 20 2011
By S. J. Snyder - Published on
No, seriously.

In this well-written, well-researched book about the Shah of Iran's attempts to make himself the new Cyrus, mixed with Richard Nixon's post-Vietnam search for agents of empire by extension and mixed with the Shah and King Faisal squaring off for oil hegemony, the "captain of the USS Titanic," steering the American economy for the iceberg of doing anything to help Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ... was Henry Kissinger.

This included him and Nixon writing a blank check to the Shah for unlimited arms deals, a blank check that Kissinger refused to tell either Ford or Carter about. (Kissinger refused interview requests for this book.)

Others were at fault, too. Nixon himself for writing that blank check, even if on Kissinger's advice. William Simon, for leaning too far the Saudis' way. Don Rumsfeld, whose arrogance 25 years ago under Ford was no less than under Bush.

But at the heart of it all was Henry Kissinger, enabling the Shah's every wrong-sized dream, while being ignorant of the inflation the Shah was inflicting on himself, and the wreckage he was inflicting on the United States, Western Europe and Japan, even while Henry claimed he knew more economics than most of Nixon's economics team.

The Shah might still be in power, or his son, rather, if we had reined him in. (Kissinger also missed the mullahs as the possible source of a revolution, seeing only Commies.) Energy shortages were happening before the first embargo of 1973, but might have been better managed to the benefit of the Shah, Faisal and other Arab oil states and the West, all alike. And, the Israel situation might have been better handled, too.

The book ends soon after Carter's accession, with Faisal dead and the Shah on his way. A sequel would be wonderful.

I learned a fair amount about pre-embargo 1972 energy shortages, which only increased realizing Kissinger was not only a megalomaniac and immoral (see Chile/Allende), but also grossly incompetent.

Faisal comes off well, overall. The Shah? A figure of tragedy, but a self-isolated one, as dictators tend to be.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nixon, Kissinger, Ford, the Shah, and the Saudis. It was Kissinger in the Palace with the Oil Can Sept. 24 2012
By J. Montz - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Author Andrew Scott Cooper's first book "Oil Kings" is surprising well written and entertaining. The book is primary about the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his dealings with President Richard Nixon and the duplicitous Henry Kissinger. The book centers around a secret deal between the Shah, Nixon, and Kissinger which allowed Iran to purchase best of class U.S. weapons systems, advance jet fighters, smart bombs, etc. in any quantity desired. Basically anything weapons short of nukes were available for purchase by the Shah. In return, the President would allow the Shah to raise oil prices through OPEC to cover the costs of the weapons. The U.S. was reeling from its involvement in Vietnam. The mood of the country was against any military action abroad. The country was being torn apart by protest and incidents such as the Kent State shootings still fresh in the minds of Americans. The Shah was ambitious and saw himself as the heir to the great Persian Kings of the ancient world. The Shah would use his newly acquired weaponry to protect the Persian Gulf and Israel from Soviet influence.

The first series of oil price increases implemented by OPEC shocked the economies of the west. The Shah waved aside any suggestion that the price increases were endangering the oil consuming nations especially the Europeans. The Shah was blinded by his grand vision of a modern westernized Iran. No one realized the Shah was racing against time after being diagnosed with cancer.

Watergate was a disaster for the U.S. - Iran relations. With the resignation of Nixon, the Shah lost his most powerful supporter in Washington. Kissinger was still Secretary of State but more and more Kissinger was finding himself on the losing side of the debate on U.S. - Iranian policy discussions in Washington. Slowly members of the Ford Administration were realizing that additional price increases would crush Europe and possibly lead to communist takeovers of the European countries. Secretary of the Treasury Simon and others were pushing for a closer relationship with the Saudis. The Saudis were opposed to rapid increases in the price of oil. As the Shah would soon learn concerning oil revenues, too much too fast was not desirable. Inflationary surges and lack of resources would lead to domestic unrest.

Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, was one of the first cabinet members to raise concerns about the ambitions of the Shah. As the Shah became more independent of Washington and more friendly with Sadat of Egypt, Israeli interests were being threatened. Israel was being pushed to give back territory captured from Egypt in the war so it was necessary to secure their supply of oil from Iran. Egypt was also a soviet satellite, so the friendship between Iran and Egypt was causing policy makers in Washington to realize that no one had throughly thought thru the consequences of Nixon's policy towards Iran.

Some Arab OPEC members were trying to link the Israel - Palestine question to the oil embargo. The Shah had pledged to protect the flow of oil and to kept Israel supplied with oil. There was even a joint U.S. and Iranian plan to invade Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to protect the flow of oil. As this plan was leaked to the press Saudi Arabia was outraged and had to move to protect their interest.

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney would enter the Ford Administration and work to neutralize Kissinger's influence and together with Secretary of Treasury Simon and Alan Greenspan finally convince President Ford to initiate closer relations with the Saudis in an successful attempt to call the Shah's bluff on oil prices. Saudi is the swing producer in OPEC, meaning that the Saudi oil production can be used to meet demand. The Saudis refused to back the Shah's push for another price increase at the OPEC meeting, which meant that the Shah was financially ruined as he committed Iran to a massive spending program that was no longer affordable for Iran.

The Shah had heated up the Iranian economy to a point beyond its capacity to absorb the cash coming in. There were cargo ships that were waiting to be unloaded for over 200 days, resulting in capital equipment rusting on the docks. Saudi Arabia was eager to avoid this in their country; in fact, petro-dollar recycling became a major issue for the international banking system. For example, if a bank did accept large petro-dollars deposits they could be susceptible to collapse if the funds were suddenly withdrawn.

The book continues into the Carter Administration and moves quickly up to the revolution; although, the book doesn't cover the revolution itself other than the lead up and it is quickly glazed over to the end.

I've summarized the story above but I didn't do the story justice as Mr. Cooper does. I've had many insights while reading this book that explained other books I'ver read on related topics. In "A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order" by F. William Engdahl, the 1973 Bilderberg meeting minutes were published that discussed increasing the price of oil. Kissinger attended this meeting so it makes sense that Kissinger was working against the best interest of the U.S. in secrectly supporting the increase in the price of oil. The oil price was increased to make the investments by the major oil companies in the north sea profitable and to cause economic problems for the Europeans to help cover the financial problems the U.S. was having after closing the gold window.

Another insight that left me wondering was how the U.S. seemed to have toppled the Shah after they lost control over him. Although Mr. Cooper never suggested that the U.S. was involved in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, he does layout a sense of dissatisfaction with the Shah. I also got a feeling that certain insiders seem to be looking after Israel's interest once the Shah started asking for Nuclear reactors. The book will definitely provide an interesting view into the machinery of foreign policy in action. It feels like you are getting an insiders look.

Get the book you won't be disappointed

For example I suggest reading the following books along with this book.

A Century of War: : Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order
Oil, God, and Gold: The Story of Aramco and the Saudi Kings
The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets (Cornell Studies in Political Economy)
Myths, Lies and Oil Wars
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Riveting!!! May 22 2012
By Abdulla M. Al Qasim - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What can I say? An absolutely riveting book that is hard to put down!!! The author does an amazing job of meticulously walking the reader step by step through history and highlighting how the power in the Middle East oil producing countries shifted from Iran to Saudi Arabia. The book is extremely well researched and the author's efforts and time are very obvious!

The book uses two primary focal points throughout the entire book to explain the events and they are the Shah of Iran and the American Government and uses Saudi Arabia as somewhat of a secondary focal point. As someone from the region I found the book greatly informative, despite the slightly westernized perspective on some issues such as King Faisal's stance on the oil embargo and his fears of other Arab leaders, these points are somewhat contestable. The Author states that it was Gadafi, Sadam, and others who forced King Faisal into the embargo, however i find this contradictory to the reseach of local writiers in the region where is more commonly accepted that King Faisal was at the forefront of the embargo. This aside, still a great book!

One point I have to raise that the author misstated, is the point that the Shah did in fact claim that Bahrain (an Arab state) was once part of Iran, and this did happen. However, there was a UN resolution that Bahrain is an Arab state and rejected Iran's claims. Iran's claims on Bahrain have been and are based on a document signed by a representative of the British crown centuries ago who was relieved from his post for signing that document without having the authority to do so on behalf of the corwn. This matter is clearly documented in another book entitled `The Pirate Coast' by Sir Charles Belgrave.

Other than that, the book is a truly fascinating and capturing read and is a must for anyone wishing to get a firm grip on the events of that period and some understanding of the effect of oil on economies and politics.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read Feb. 26 2012
By Bruce - Published on
This was a great book, recent history as it should be done. Mr. Cooper covers the complex interaction between the US, Iran, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Nixon and early Carter years. There was a very significant geopolitical transion occuring, with the developement of OPEC as a power as the US ceased producing oil and began importing it as progressively greater rates. Iran was using the money to buy weapons and maintain the Shah in power. The Saudis were using the money to buy weapons, and using the oil as a weapon as well. Nixon and Kissenger were trying to fight the cold war, and trying to keep domestic oil prices low at the same time. Needless to say, it was a complex dance, with many unintended consequences. The book is tightly written, with extensive well documented notes. The author has done extensive archival research and conducted numerous interviews with many, but not all of the key player still alive. This is an important story, both with respect to the Middle East today, and with respect to US energy policy. It will be fascinating to anyone interested in the history of US foreign policy, recent Middle Eastern history, or the history of the oil industry. As an aside for those interested, a semi-contiguous and well written book is The End of Energy, by Michael Greatz, which covers US energy policy, especially during this time period.
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