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C H A P T E R E L E V E N
No belief concerning U.S. foreign policy is more deeply entrenched than the one expressed by New York Times diplomatic correspondent Neil Lewis, quoted earlier: "The yearning to see American-style democracy duplicated throughout the world has been a persistent theme in American foreign policy."1 The thesis is commonly not even expressed, merely presupposed as the basis for reasonable discourse on the U.S. role in the world.
The faith in this doctrine may seem surprising. Even a cursory inspection of the historical record reveals that a persistent theme in American foreign policy has been the subversion and overthrow of parliamentary regimes, and the resort to violence to destroy popular organizations that might offer the majority of the population an opportunity to enter the political arena. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which the conventional doctrine is tenable. If by "American-style democracy," we mean a political system with regular elections but no serious challenge to business rule, then U.S. policymakers doubtless yearn to see it established throughout the world. The doctrine is therefore not undermined by the fact that it is consistently violated under a different interpretation of the concept of democracy: as a system in which citizens may play some meaningful part in the management of public affairs.
This framework of analysis of policy and its ideological image is well confirmed as a good first approximation. Adopting the basic outline, we do not expect that the United States will consistently oppose parliamentary forms. On the contrary, these will be accepted, even preferred, if the fundamental conditions are met.
In the client states of the Third World, the preference for democratic forms is often largely a matter of public relations. But where the society is stable and privilege is secure, other factors enter. Business interests have an ambiguous attitude towards the state. They want it to subsidize research and development, production and export (the Pentagon system, much of the foreign aid program, etc.), regulate markets, ensure a favorable climate for business operations abroad, and in many other ways to serve as a welfare state for the wealthy. But they do not want the state to have the power to interfere with the prerogatives of owners and managers. The latter concern leads to support for democratic forms, as long as business dominance of the political system is secure.
If a country satisfies certain basic conditions, then, the U.S. is tolerant of democratic forms, though in the Third World, where a proper outcome is hard to guarantee, often just barely. But relations with the industrial world show clearly that the U.S. government is not opposed to democratic forms as such. In the stable business-dominated Western democracies, we would not expect the U.S. to carry out programs of subversion, terror, or military assault as has been common in the Third World.
There may be some exceptions. Thus, there is evidence of CIA involvement in a virtual coup that overturned the Whitlam Labor government in Australia in 1975, when it was feared that Whitlam might interfere with Washington's military and intelligence bases in Australia. Large-scale CIA interference in Italian politics has been public knowledge since the congressional Pike Report was leaked in 1976, citing a figure of over $65 million to approved political parties and affiliates from 1948 through the early 1970s. In 1976, the Aldo Moro government fell in Italy after revelations that the CIA had spent $6 million to support anti-Communist candidates. At the time, the European Communist parties were moving towards independence of action with pluralistic and democratic tendencies (Eurocommunism), a development that pleased neither Washington nor Moscow, Raymond Garthoff observes, neither of which may "have wanted to see an independent pan-Europe based on local nationalism arise between them." For such reasons, both superpowers opposed the legalization of the Communist Party of Spain and the rising influence of the Communist Party in Italy, and both preferred center-right governments in France. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described the "major problem" in the Western alliance as "the domestic evolution in many European countries," which might make Western communist parties more attractive to the public, nurturing moves towards independence and threatening the NATO alliance. "The United States gave a higher priority to the defensive purpose of protecting the Western alliance and American influence in it than to offensive interests in weakening Soviet influence in the East" in those years, Garthoff concludes in his comprehensive study of the period; the phrase "defensive purpose of protecting the Western alliance" refers to the defense of existing privilege from an internal challenge. This was the context for renewed CIA interference with Italian elections, and possibly a good deal more.2
In July 1990, President Cossiga of Italy called for an investigation of charges aired over state television that the CIA had paid Licio Gelli to foment terrorist activities in Italy in the late 1960s and 1970s. Gelli was grandmaster of the secret Propaganda Due (P2) Masonic lodge and had long been suspected of a leading role in terrorism and other criminal activities. In those years, according to a 1984 report of the Italian Parliament, P2 and other neofascist groups, working closely with elements of the Italian military and secret services, were preparing a virtual coup to impose an ultra-right regime and to block the rising forces of the left. One aspect of these plans was a "strategy of tension" involving major terrorist actions in Europe. The new charges were made by Richard Brenneke, who claims to have served as a CIA contract officer, and who alleged that the CIA-P2 connections extended over more than 20 years and involved a $10 million payoff. Close links between Washington and the Italian ultra-right can be traced to the strong support for Mussolini's fascist takeover in 1922.3
Nevertheless, the pattern has been one of general support for the industrial democracies.
The historical evidence, to be sure, must be evaluated with some care. It is one thing to overthrow the democratic government of Guatemala and to maintain the rule of an array of murderous gangsters for over three decades, or to help lay the groundwork for a coup and successful mass slaughter in Indonesia. It would be quite a different matter to duplicate these successes in relatively well-established societies; U.S. power does not reach that far. Still, it would be a mistake to suppose that only lack of means prevents the United States from overturning democratic governments in the industrial societies in favor of military dictatorships or death squad democracies on the Latin American model.
The aftermath of World War II is revealing in these respects. With unprecedented economic and military advantages, the U.S. was preparing to become the first truly global power. There are extensive records of the careful thinking of corporate and state managers as they designed a world order that would conform to the interests they represent. While subject to varying interpretations, the evidence nonetheless provides interesting insight into the complex attitudes of U.S. elites towards democracy at a time when the U.S. was in a position to influence the internal order of the industrial societies.
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1 Chapter 8, section 7.
2 John Pilger, A Secret Country (Jonathan Cape, 1989); see also his documentary series "The Last Dream," 1988, produced for the Australian Bicentenary with the cooperation of the Australian Broadcasting Company. Jonathan Kwitny, The Crimes of Patriots (Norton, 1987). CIA: the Pike Report (Spokesman Books, Nottingham, 1977); the report was leaked to the Village Voice (Feb. 16, 23, 1976). Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 487f.
3 Brenneke, TG 1 (Italian TV), July 2; il Manifesto, July 3, 1990. AP, Boston Globe, July 23, 1990. On U.S.-Italian covert relations in the 1970s and the P2-security services plans, see Edward S. Herman and Frank Brodhead, The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection (Sheridan Square, 1986), chapter 4. As they observe, extensive right-wing terrorism in Europe has been largely ignored in the general literature of terrorology, much of it a transparent propaganda exercise. Also William Blum, The CIA (Zed, 1986). On the early postwar years, see also John Ranelagh, The Agency: the Rise and Decline of the CIA (Simon and Schuster, 1986). On the U.S. and Mussolini, and the quick return by the Allies to a pro-Fascist stance during the War, see chapter 1, section 4, above. Brenneke had achieved some notoriety out of the mainstream when he claimed that while working for the CIA, he had taken part in an October 1980 meeting in Paris in which representatives of the Reagan-Bush campaign, including later CIA chief William Casey, Bush aide Donald Gregg, and possibly Bush himself, had bribed Iran to hold the U.S. hostages until after the election, to ensure Reagan's victory. The government brought him to court (directly from a cardiac intensive care ward) to try him on charges of having falsely made these claims. He was acquitted in Federal Court of these and other charges by a jury "that made no secret of its disbelief in the truthfulness of government witnesses, particularly Gregg," ex-CIA agent David MacMichael observes -- noting also that the whole matter was virtually suppressed in the national media; Lies of Our Times, August 1990. In the independent press, the story was covered (Houston Post, Nation, In These Times, and others).