Robert A. Levine 4-21-15
America and its allies had just defeated the Nazis in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific when they were faced with a new enemy, the Soviet Union. Godless communists were viewed by many Americans as equally evil as the Nazis, and as some countries in Europe and Asia turned communist, the ideology was seen as monolithic and in thrall to the Soviets. (Unfortunately, this naive perception prevented the U.S. from taking advantage of schisms in the communist world.) And the inability of American leaders to differentiate between nationalism and communism in a number of undeveloped nations, or the fear that these countries would wind up in the communist camp, led to actions by the CIA and other agencies, that democratic, freedom-loving America had no business initiating.
Neutralism was also a dirty word to those running the State Department and the CIA. John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration starting in 1952, and his brother Allen was Director of the CIA. Foreign policy and intelligence operations were in the hands of these two brothers who were avid Christians with a Manichean view of the universe and a rabid hatred of communism. Protection of businesses and capitalism in other nations were also major objectives for the Dulles brothers. Countries pushing land reform, nationalization or control of their resources generally earned the enmity of the U.S. Many of the operations approved by President Eisenhower to halt nationalization or land reform in other nations were because of misinformation gathered by the C.I.A. or State Department, misperceptions because of rigid ideology, or just plain stupidity.
Actions undertaken covertly by the C.I.A. included the assassination of political figures and the support of right-wing and military coups in left-leaning countries. Later when the governments of these nations changed, they were suspicious of American motives, and sometimes unwilling to deal with the U.S.
Mohammad Mosaddegh was a secular Moslem politician who was democratically elected as Prime Minister of Iran in 1951. He pushed through a number of reform measures until he was overthrown in a coup supported by the CIA and the British Intelligence Agency, MI6. Even though Mosaddegh believed in democracy and was friendly towards the U. S, his offense was nationalization of the Iranian oil industry which had been controlled by the British for decades. Though the State Department under John Foster Dulles was strongly in favor of Mosaddegh’s removal along with his brother Allen, the CIA station chief in Teheran was against the operation, saying it would “only serve the interests of Anglo-French colonialism.” The Islamic Revolution in 1979 led by Ayatollah Khomeini put a new government in place that was vehemently anti-American and anti-British, the antipathy remaining decades later.
In June of 1954, the Dulles brothers arranged to have the legitimately elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz deposed for the benefit of the United Fruit Company, which had had some of their uncultivated land expropriated by Arbenz for the use of poor peasants. In a blatant conflict of interest, the brothers’ law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, were the attorneys for United Fruit and the brothers held considerable shares of stock in the company. With the removal of Arbenz, a military dictator was installed and the land reform repealed, United Fruit regaining control of the acreage.
Patrice Lumumba, another democratically elected leader, became prime minister of the Congo in 1960 and was deposed in a coup soon afterwards, then executed by firing squad. Supposedly, this was because of his opposition to allowing Katanga, a province rich in minerals, to secede from the Congo, a course desired by Belgium. The CIA and MI6 were again believed to have been involved in Lumumba’s elimination along with the Belgians who had previously exploited the Congo’s wealth and its people for a century. Lumumba’s removal left the Congo as a cauldron of chaos, with Joseph Mobutu reigning as dictator and doing the West’s bidding. Even today, the legacy of Lumumba’s death and the end of the brief period of democracy resounds in the Congo (Zaire), with intermittent conflict, tribal battles, and instability.
Salvador Allende was the first Socialist freely elected to lead a Latin American country, Chile, in 1970. His policies of nationalization of important industries caused conflict with other branches of the government and foreign states. The military under Augusto Pinochet orchestrated a coup against Allende’s government apparently with CIA sponsorship in 1973 and Allende died that same day in suspicious circumstances. In addition to Pinochet in Chile, a number of fascist regimes in South America and Central America were supported by the United States in the second half of the 20th century with the belief these governments would forestall communist advances. Major human rights violations, including murder and torture, were ignored by the U.S. in its backing of dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Both Republican and Democratic administrations in the U.S. were equally complicit.
The president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, was assassinated in a coup by the military in November of 1963, during the early days of the Vietnam War. Though his rule had been autocratic and his popular support was minimal, the United States played a role in deposing him, believing his presence was an impediment to successful pursuit of the war.
A number of other coups and assassination attempts against leftist and nationalist figures secretly promoted by the CIA and the U.S. government occurred during the Cold War, some successful and others which were not. Several unfruitful operations were directed against Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba including the Bay of Pigs invasion pushed by the CIA and approved by President Kennedy, a major mistake in American foreign policy.
Britain and France also engaged in actions in Northern Ireland, Kenya, Algeria, Vietnam, and other colonial holdings that were incompatible with democratic principles, as did other democratic states in support of imperialism. Democracy does not appear to equate with the pursuit of democratic ideals by those in positions of power, and criminal operations may be utilized (as Americans have seen recently) to sustain questionable goals. Even in democratic states, the ends often do not justify the means (particularly since the results may be unexpected or may not be worthwhile).
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