At the height of his power in 1971, Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi drew world leaders to a wind-swept luxury tent city, offering a lavish banquet of food flown in from Paris to celebrate 2,500 years of Persian monarchy in the ruins of Persepolis.Only eight years later, his own empire would be in ruins. The fall of the Peacock Throne and the rise of the Islamic Revolution in Iran grew out of the shah’s ever-tightening control over the country as other Middle East monarchies toppled. While successfully riding rising oil prices in the 1970s, the shah failed to see that Iranians had begun to expect more as the country’s people moved from the countryside to cities like Tehran.And as the crisis reached a fever pitch, the shah’s inability to act and poor decisions while secretly fighting what would be a fatal cancer doomed him. “He was, as one diplomat said, almost Hamlet-like in his indecision,” said Abbas Milani, a professor at Stanford University who wrote a book on the shah. “Shakespeare said sometimes greatness comes to the great, sometimes greatness is thrust upon them. And he had a kingdom thrust upon him.”Born in 1919, Mohammad Reza Shah was the son of Reza Shah, then an army officer. By 1925, Reza Shah became shah after forcing out the previous Qajar dynasty with the backing of the British. He named his nation Iran, which was still known as Persia until he ordered foreign diplomats to cease using the name. But Iran’s strong trade ties with Germany, Reza Shah’s push for neutrality in World War II and Western fears over its oil supplies falling to the Nazis ultimately led to a Russian-British invasion of the country in 1941. Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at the insistence of the occupying British forces.His full embrace of autocratic power came after the political chaos of 1953. Liberal Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh sought to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The British sought to keep their control of Iran’s oilfields and its refinery at Abadan, then the world’s biggest. Meanwhile, the US feared Soviet influence expanding in Iran. Out of these fears came TPAJAX, a CIA-backed coup plot to overthrow Mossadegh. Declassified US documents show the CIA boasting that it had both leading security officials in its pocket, as well as hopes it could use the “powerfully influential clergy” within Shiite Iran to back the coup.The Western plotters soon found one of their biggest problems to be the shah himself. “His inability to take decisions coupled with his tendency to interfere in political life has on occasions been (a) disruptive influence,” the US Embassy in Tehran warned in February 1953. Ultimately, his twin sister, Princess Ashraf, and a US general helped convince him to back the coup.When the coup initially appeared to have failed, the shah fled to Baghdad and on to Italy. But protests supporting the shah, fanned in part by the CIA, led to Mosaddegh’s fall and the monarch’s return.Published in Daily Times, January 18th 2019.