We're stuck in a 3-year quagmire in Iraq, and we might be on the verge of another one in Iran. You’re probably wondering if we have a maniac in the White House. Or for that matter, maybe George W. Bush is just a puppet getting his strings pulled by maniacs.
Or, this might just be typical of America’s foreign policy for the past few generations. Maybe we're just becoming more aware of our longtime pattern of global aggression.
That's the view of Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change
by Stephen Kinzer. The author has been a New York Times reporter in more than fifty countries, and he’s served as bureau chief in Turkey, Germany and Nicaragua.
He says “The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political, and economic reasons.”
Furthermore: “The ‘regime change’ in Iraq seemed for a time — a very short time — to have worked. It is now clear, however, that this operation has had terrible unintended consequences. So have most of the other coups, revolutions, and invasions that the United States has mounted to depose governments it feared or mistrusted.”
This book brings together all of these overthrows and shows them as a continuum, rather than a series of unrelated events. The book only covers the cases where our foreign policy played the decisive role in overthrowing a government. Chile is included, even though no American troops were involved, because of the CIA’s huge role in stirring up a revolt against Allende.
On the other hand, Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are not included, even though all three of them have been invaded by the United States. We never sought regime change in any of those countries.
Our century of regime change began in 1893 with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The President of the United States approved of this invasion. Soon afterward, the next president took office, and he denounced the invasion. Then as now, Americans were having furious debates about whether America should be overthrowing other governments.
In 1909 President William Howard Taft ordered the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government. Taft was supposedly protecting American security and promoting democracy. (Where have we heard that before?) His actual purpose was to pave the way for American companies in Nicaragua to have free reign and be totally unaccountable.
Some things haven’t changed much in the last hundred years.
This regime change in Nicaragua set the pattern. The American government was getting more comfortable with the habit of overthrowing governments in order to protect American interests. The top priority was for American corporations to conduct business anywhere in the world without any interference from anybody. And each of these overthrows was couched in buzzwords like “national security,” “liberation” and “democracy.”
Multinational corporations were emerging as a global force around the same time that America was extending its global reach. Political parties, labor unions and social movements all tried to counteract the power of multinational corporations, but it was no match. Big Business had almost unlimited wealth, and they were getting more skillful at maneuvering their supporters into high-ranking government positions.
Global corporations and the American government have seemingly merged to the point where, as the author puts it, “defying them has become tantamount to defying the United States. When Americans depose a foreign leader who dares such defiance, they not only assert their rights in one country but also send a clear message to others.”
This pattern was set even more firmly in 1953, when we engineered a coup in Iran. A year later we did the same thing in Guatemala. Both of these coups were ordered by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Before becoming Secretary of State, Dulles had worked with some of the world’s largest corporations.
From this point on, it was easier for American corporations to use the American military or the CIA as their private army, whenever an “unfriendly” government got in their way.
The author says “When the stories of American ‘regime change’ operations are taken together, they reveal much about why the United States overthrows foreign governments and what consequences it brings on itself by doing so. They also teach lessons for the future.”
cross-posted at Bring It On!