What do these 14 governments have in common?
You got it. The United States overthrew them. And in almost in every case, the overthrow can be traced to corporate interests.
In Hawaii, the sugar companies didn’t want to pay export duties — so they overthrew the queen of Hawaii and made it part of the United States. In Guatemala, United Fruit wanted Arbenz out. Out he went. In Chile, Allende offended the copper interests. Allende — dead. In Iran, Mossadegh offended major oil interests. Mossadegh out. In Nicaragua, Jose Santos Zelaya was bothering American lumber and mining companies. Zelaya — out. In Honduras, an American banana magnate organized the coup of the Honduran government. And on down the list.
Democratic Party critics charge that the Bush administration is ripping the United States from a long history of diplomacy by violently overthrowing governments.
Not true, says former New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer. Kinzer says that in fact the opposite is true.
“Actually, the United States has been overthrowing governments for more than a century,” Kinzer said in an interview. He documents this in a new book: Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (Times Books, 2006).
Overthrow is the third in a series of regime change books by Kinzer. His previous two: All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (2003), and Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1982). Together, they would make a remarkable “regime change” boxed set for the holidays.
Kinzer left the Times last year. He says that the parting was “perfectly amicable” — although he doesn’t sound convincing when he says this. What is clear is that Kinzer is not comfortable with establishment rationales for the American imperial project. This became clear during an interview Kinzer gave on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross earlier this month. Gross tried to get Kinzer to concede that if we hadn’t overthrown these governments, the Soviets would have taken over, or today, radical Islam will take over. Kinzer didn’t give an inch.
For example, Gross said that had we not overthrown these 14 governments, “the Soviets might have won the Cold War.” “I don’t think that’s true at all,” Kinzer responded. “In the first place, the countries whose governments we overthrew, all countries that we claimed were pawns of the Kremlin, actually were nothing of the sort. We now know, for example, that the Kremlin had not the slightest interest in Guatemala at all in the early 1950s. They didn’t even know Guatemala existed. They didn’t even have diplomatic or economic relations.”
“The leader of Iran who we overthrew was fiercely anti-communist. He came from an aristocratic family. He despised Marxist ideology.” “In Chile, we always portrayed President Allende as a cat’s paw of the Kremlin. We now know from documents that have come out that the Soviets and the Chinese were constantly fighting with him and urging him to calm down and not be so provocative towards the Americans. So, in the first place, the Soviets were not behind those regimes. We completely overestimated the influence of the Soviet Union on those regimes.”
When Gross asked Kinzer what he thought of the “spread of radical Islam,” Kinzer didn’t hesitate. “We sometimes like to think that our interventions in these countries don’t have effects, but when we break down the doors of foreign countries and impose our own leaders, as we did in Iran and as we’ve recently done in Iraq, we outrage a lot of people,” Kinzer said. “We like to think that everybody will soon calmly come to realize that by rational standards, this was a good thing to do. But that doesn’t happen. We are not able to change cultures as easily as we are able to change regimes.”
The United States had a hand in many other overthrows, but Kinzer limited his cases to those where the United States was the primary mover and shaker. So, for example, while the United States played a role in the overthrow of Lumumba in the Congo, Kinzer says that it was primarily an operation by Belgium on behalf of large Belgian mining interests.
This might be the most important book to read as the United States approaches a showdown with Iran. President Bush says he’s trying to bring democracy to Iran. In fact, Iranians had democracy once. And we crushed it.
Kinzer is on tour promoting his book. And he’s got a gig at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he lives. He’s teaching a course in regime change.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, <http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com>. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, <http://www.multinationalmonitor.org>. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).