Unselfish American Imperialism
Often the imperialist views his own expansionist actions as more altruistic than previous imperialists, and even when assisting others in their exploitative operations. It is said that the United States went to war against Japan to protect British, French and Dutch colonial empires, while maintaining that the war was fought against Japanese colonialism – though the Japanese were simply emulating the Europeans.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Unselfish American Imperialism
“At the beginning of 1944 as British and American oilmen, with the backing of their governments, scrambled to win concessions from the Iranian government for its largely uncommitted oil lands . . . but [the Iranian government] came under growing internal pressure from forces opposed to the preponderance of the United States in Iranian affairs.
[In February 1944] Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Saed complained that Americans] refused to hire qualified Iranians, [and] employed too many incompetent Americans . . .
During the first half of 1944 . . . the State Department energetically backed the claims of the American oil company representatives then in Teheran, insisting that the two American firms – Sinclair Oil and Standard Vacuum – do everything possible to obtain the concessions.
Throughout the first third of 1944 Washington’s interest in Iran continued, and the reports of Patrick Hurley, Roosevelt’s special representative in the Middle East, reiterated the future importance of the area. Hurley’s saucy observations appealed to Roosevelt, over whom he exercised a powerful influence, for his categories of explanation and logic, and his frankness, were remarkably like the President’s own impulsive mannerisms.
Hurley associated Britain’s presence in Iran and the Middle East in general with the “principles of imperialism, monopoly, and exploitation. Evoking this belief, he appealed to Roosevelt to work for the “principles of liberty and democracy” by obtaining important oil concessions, maintaining a mission to straighten out Iran’s internal affairs, and breaking the economic hold of the British.
Hurley convinced Roosevelt of Iran’s importance, and in January  the President told [Secretary of State Cordell] Hull: “I was rather thrilled with the idea of using Iran as an example of what we could do by an unselfish American policy.” As usual, Roosevelt left the critical details of implementing such a policy to others, and when the results came back he invariably endorsed them.
In this atmosphere of growing crisis and controversy over American [versus British] power in Iran, the State Department now had to formulate a basic policy on the country consistent with its larger Middle Eastern strategy. In mid-July, Richard ford, the American charge’, stressed the need for “a strong stand here both now and in the future,” one oil and the potential “market for American goods” justified, and the State Department sent its reply at the end of the month for his guidance.
[New Secretary of State Edward] Stettinius wrote . . . “a strong and independent Iran” was now a goal of United States policy [which included oil concessions and air bases].”
[State Department advisor Arthur C.] Millspaugh provided additional fuel [to the Great Power conflict in the Middle East] with an off-the-record interview in an Iranian newspaper suggesting that only the United States could save Iran from Soviet or British infractions of its independence.
Rumors of the oil-concession negotiations were also officially confirmed during August as more and more Iranians asked how Americans could be sitting on both sides of the negotiating table. Then everything stopped as the Russians entered the scene. What originally had been an Anglo-American conflict now became a three-way crisis among the major Allies.
American intervention in Iran was an excellent example of how the pursuit of national objectives provoked the redefinition of a regional situation and created the basis for international crises. It was primarily the struggle over oil and the extension of American control over Iranian affairs that caused the Russians to intervene not only for oil, but to establish the principle that affairs along their borders could no longer be determined without regard to Soviet interests and security.
Soviet references to the Iranian crisis in the fall of 1944 were for the most part critical of the growth of American power and influence there and the ability of the United States to define Soviet-Iranian relations. [US Moscow diplomat George] Kennan perceived this immediately, and warned Washington that “The basic motive of recent Soviet action in . . . Iran is probably not the need for the oil itself, but apprehension of potential foreign penetration in that area . . .”
By the end of 1944 the United States had won its struggle to monopolize Saudi Arabian oil concessions, but Britain and Russia had foiled its plan in Iran. Again Washington construed Soviet noncooperation with American objectives as an example of Soviet expansionist tendencies.”
(The Politics of War, The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945, Pantheon Books, 1968, pp. 308-310)