“I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends”: The Shah and Ike
Ground up in the brutal politics of New York civic reform in the mid 1950s (more on this in future posts), Luther Gulick turned his attention abroad, specfically to Iran. He was there at a fateful juncture, truly an eyewitness to history, before the U.S.-Iranian partnership shattered in enmity.
The Shah, Reza Pahlavi, installed by the World War II Allies to succeed his ousted father in 1941, had himself been forced to flee a decade later after a populist prime minister, Mohammad Mossaddegh, nationalized the Anglo-Iranian oil industry, alarming Washington and Whitehall. The C.I.A. fomented a coup against Mossaddegh but it backfired, sending the Shah into exile. But the clandestine efforts against Mossadegh continued until he was arrested and the Shah restored to the Peacock Throne.
Enter Gulick, in somewhat of a shadowy role. He was then president of the Washington-based non-profit Governmental Affairs Institute that called itself “a national organization for research, surveys and foreign leader exchange programs in governmental affairs.” Naturally, it had ties to the U.S. government, and — this being the ’50s– the C.I.A., as we shall see.
A booklet put out by the Institute touted Gulick’s administrative credentials.
Founded in 1950 and boasting the eminent Ralph J. Bunche as a board member, the Institute offered the expertise of political scientists and other academicians and professionals to help train foreign leaders and advise foreign governments, and American public and private agencies, on research, administrative reforms and development. By 1957 it had hosted 474 leaders from 65 countries. Of course, given the cold war rivalries with the Soviets, there were propaganda dimensions and ties with the intelligence sector, as a 1965 story from The New York Times suggested: “The Governmental Affairs Institute, a private, non-profit organization whose ‘Information Center’ has headquarters in New York, is well posted on Soviet travel. The center has been guiding, briefing and generally keeping tabs on Russia-bound United States tourists for a number of years.”
But Gulick was hardly a Red-baiter. After the 1956 Hungarian revolt, he wrote his family, according to Lyle Fitch’s biography, “Making Democracy Work,” that while the Russian crackdown and Hungarian resistance showed that the Kremlin was not to be trusted, “perhaps we will begin to see that communism as such is not our enemy.” In fact, Gulick went on, “about the only way some of the overpopulated and underdeveloped countries can make the transition quickly to higher standards of living and production is with a large measure of public power and public ownership, planning and direction.” He was confident, he said, that the one-party state would show its weaknesses in time, provided the U.S. held up the superiority of democracy and liberty.
In 1957, ’58 and ’59, Gulick made numerous trips to Iran, meeting with government officials and the Shah himself on the country’s latest seven-year development plan (valued at nearly $10 billion in today’s dollars) to build industry and infrastructure and what was called “economic discipline into the Iranian government.” With insouciance, he later wrote his family, according to Fitch,”I had the usual talks with the majority of the Cabinet, the Iran Municipal Association, and the Shah.”
But such direct contacts raised sensitive questions, as the U.S. Operations Mission to Iran noted. “For example, to what extent is the U.S. Government, or U.S. agencies, interfering in the internal affairs of Iran, and is it likely that such a communication will result in additional request [sic] for U.S. assistance?” Henceforth USOM suggested, communications should be routed from the American Ambassador to the Iranian Minister of Court.
Still, the advisory mission was bedeviled by the rivalries of what one American called “the many cliques and factions in the Plan Organization.” A survey of the textile mills revealed abysmal conditions, with a work force of 50 % children. As for Iranian work habits, the Institute noted: “First no one seems to be responsible. When something goes wrong everyone who might be considered in charge points the finger at someone else or just can’t be found.”
The project hit some bumps in Washington. Congressional critics pressed an investigation into the Governmental Affairs Institute, disclosing that under its contract with the U.S. government, the group was getting $8 million in today’s dollars to provide its services to Iran and that Gulick was paid the equivalent of about $45,000 in per diem rates. “There would be no way to justify such unreasonable contract,” the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee complained.
Gulick had one mishap: as he stood to deliver an important formal lecture to a distinguished audience, he reached into his pocket to withdraw notes of his prepared remarks, only to find he had mistakenly snatched up a list of photos. “I almost fainted but went ahead,” he later recalled. “That will never happen to me again.”
In one document from April 1959, Gulick, tapping his administrative know-how, outlined for Khosrow Hedayat, Deputy Prime Minister in the Plan Organization and scion of a famous Persian line of generals, philosophers and poets, six key management principles: divide work assigments by category, with particular jobs for each unit; assign clear tasks to each subordinate; give each subordinate only one boss to report to; limit the number of subordinates reporting to each boss; delegate decision-making authority to places where information is available and as close to the action as possible; and provide executives with well-qualified staff.
Gulick dispensed much wisdom besides: “It is an axiom of organization and management that, for an individual to fulfill a responsibility, he must be given authority which is equal to the responsibility in every respect.”
The Institute went so far as to recommend a well-placed PR firm to represent the Shah and Iran: Kastor Hilton Chesley Clifford and Atherton, which also handled many American politicians from Mayor Wagner to Adlai Stevenson. (The firm would also win the prime contract to promote the interests of South Vietnam for the equivalent today of $781,956 a year. Kastor Hilton, in turn, was to hire the nation’s most prominent publicist to help with the South Vietnam account — Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, at what today would be $187,669 a year.)
Gulick also helped arrange for Hedayat (“a tough solid man”) to lunch with 10 New York Times editors and reporters in the office of publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger (although Gulick garbled the name as “Salzburger”). The meeting didn’t go well.
Perhaps to get a better hearing from the American media, Hedayat made a return visit to New York in February 1960, meeting again with Times editors as well as the Associated Press and other news organizations.
Gulick and his colleagues at the Institute kept in close touch with Iranian leaders.
But by far the most intriguing letters in the files are two that Gulick sent to the coldest of U.S. cold war warriors.
What did the dean of public administrators and the director of the C.I.A. discuss?
The files are silent on that.
Stranger still is that Gulick seemed no fan of Dulles’s hard-line brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In a 1956 letter to his family, cited in the Fitch book, Gulick wrote: “I don”t trust the tactics of Dulles.”
But he shared information from his work in Iran with a high C.I.A. official, Desmond Fitzgerald (father of the author Frances Fitzgerald).
And Gulick even made sure that he and his office staff were cleared by the C.I.A. to handle official secrets.
Further revelations on the mission to Iran will be left to future posts.