The Shah's Last Ride
Tehran, Cairo, Marrakech, Nassau, Paradise Island, Cuernavaca, New York, Panama, and back to Cairo: this itinerary befitting a jet-setter was actually a series of way stations on the voyage of a twentieth century Flying Dutchman “looking for a port of call.” Such was the less than noble ending for a man of such regal bearing: Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, sometimes piloting his own Boeing 707, seeking a haven from the revolution that deprived him of a kingdom and faced with the refusal by his allies of thirty-eight years to grant asylum.
This is only one portion of the events chronicled by William Shawcross in The Shah’s Last Ride: The Fate of an Ally. Shawcross’ investigative reporting, based on documentary sources and interviews with some two hundred principals involved in the saga, provides a detailed look at the political and personal implications of the Shah’s exile. It is a complex sequence of events, implications and consequences, told in a straightforward manner. Shawcross has broken the Shah’s exile into twenty-four separate segments and built each episode around an individual or event, adding depth to readers’ understanding of the revolution that had such an impact on world events.
Here is all the intrigue of international politics, religion, oil and power politics, a developing nation, and a leader who was something of a Janus—extremely knowledgeable about international politics yet almost ignorant of developments in his own country. Portrayed as a decisive and powerful leader in the Cold War tensions between East and West, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi could be appallingly indecisive when faced with domestic problems. Father and devoted family man—and notorious womanizer with a taste for European blondes—the Shah was a study in contradictions.
To add a further complication, there was the medical drama of the Shah as ailing husband and father who sought to hide his illness from the wife and family. As his condition worsened, the wife was told, took charge, and made decisions about how much her husband was to be told about his own illness. Out of this comes an element of tragedy. Because of the man’s position, he could not be treated as the average individual; his presence in a hospital would have all sorts of repercussions. He had access to some of the best medical care in the world, including that of Dr. Michael DeBakey and Memorial-Sloan-Kettering Hospital, yetthere is an almost surreal quality about the Shah’s cancer. In a sense the disease, his reaction to it, the way in which it was treated, and its eventual impact on his own country, the United States, and his other allies, create a metaphor for his rule. It is a story of obsessive secrecy degenerating into macabre farce. Altogether eight teams of doctors looked after the Shah. They did not all perform brilliantly.
In addition, there are the international political aspects of the Shah’s peregrinations. A strong Western ally for thirty-eight years, suddenly cut adrift by...
(The entire section is 1238 words.)