A little knowledge from our friend Sam. Whenever you hear our government tell us how we are the "beacon of Democracy" remember this.
Spreading Democracy—The CIA Way
One of the more persistent arguments that arises when discussing and debating US foreign policy with people is the idea that US foreign policy is geared at spreading democracy to the less fortunate savages in foreign lands. I believe this argument begs the question as “democracy” as a less than desirable political system from my point of view. But without even getting into the details of democracy, versus republics versus what-have-you I want to examine the premise that the US is benignly attempting to spread democracy to the world. To narrow the scope even further, we will look at the history and effect of a single American organization, the CIA, to prove that this argument is patently false despite its widespread persistence.
On April 2, 1917 Wilson famously declared “the world must be made safe for democracy” as he asked Congress for a Declaration of War against Germany. Since then we’ve heard this idea espoused countless ways with it showing up in monologues by radio talk show hosts, during presidential campaign debates, in the editorials of national and local newspapers and during a debate with a friend, or a stranger online. It seems that the first logical step to take to verify or falsify this statement is to take a look at the regimes the United States currently supports around the world and see if the US does indeed support populist and democratic governments.
One can immediately point to Europe and countries like Australia, the famed Western civilization, as examples of American allies who practice some form of democratic government. But then there are the counter examples who stick out like a sore thumb. Saudi Arabia, the stalwart ally of the United States in the middle east, is a brutal repressive monarchy with well known human rights abuses. Pakistan, while its executive branch is elected, indirectly, suffers massive political pressure from the military, which is regarded as the most powerful political force in the nation. Kuwait is another monarchy and was obviously a crucial ally for the staging of both the Iraq wars as well as being a strategic base for current US operations in the middle east. Of course pundits will be quick to point out that though we generally want to support democracies sometimes we must bow to exigencies in order to support a greater good which is why we sometimes support dictators. Accepting that premise (which I don’t) we have to at least modify our supposition to “America sometimes supports democracies.”
The next step is to examine the history of the United States and its relationship to dictators around the world. Entire books have been written on this subject, and I will refer to some of them at the end of this article, but I will constrain myself to looking at a few examples. The curious and motivated reader can refer to the sources I will cite for more information.
The CIA was created in the aftermath of World War II in 1947 and was from the very beginning outside of congressional oversight, accountable to the President through the National Security Council. In 1948 the CIA established a covert action portion of the agency with instructions in its charter including "propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, including sabotage, antisabotage, demolition and evacuation procedures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."
One of its first tests was in Iran in 1953. Many Americans remember the embarrassing and infuriating Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 when students seized the American embassy in Iran and held 52 hostages for a total of 444 days. In the current GOP nomination debates, Rick Santorum likes to point out this instance as an example of Iran’s hostility towards the United States declaring “we’ve been at war with Iran since 1979!” What Santorum and many other Americans are missing is the precursor to this event, the prime mover which caused the blowback in 1979. In 1951 the Iranian parliament nationalized the country’s oil industry angering the British who had previously controlled it. In 1953 the British intelligence agencies collaborated with the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government and restore the Shah as a dictator. In addition the CIA trained the SAVAK, a secret police force which brutally repressed the Iranian populace to keep the Shah in power. Twenty-six years later, the people revolted against this tyrannical rule and took revenge on the foreign entity whom they viewed as responsible—the United States. In light of Iranian history the hostage crisis of 1979 takes on a new light.
Fresh off the success in Iran, the CIA then flexed its burgeoning capabilities by deposing another democratically elected leader, this time in Guatemala. Jacob Arbenz had threatened the United Fruit Company, a company owned by the Rockefellers, in which the current CIA director, Allen Dulles had owned stock. After Arbenz was overthrown by the CIA the dictators that replaced him are estimated to have killed 100,000 Guatemalans over the course of the next four decades.
A similar case happens in Haiti in 1959 when the CIA helps “Papa Doc” Duvalier into power where his police force kill 100,000 Haitians during his reign of terror. Then, from 1957-1973 the CIA attempts multiple coups to try to negate democratic elections happening in Laos. When things don’t go the way the CIA wants the US resorts to bombing Laos. More bombs were dropped on Laos than the cumulative total of all bombs dropped by the US in World War II.
In 1961 there is the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. In 1963 there are two democratic regimes overthrown, one in the Dominican Republic and one in Ecuador. In 1971 – Bolivia, 1973 – Chile, 1975 – Australia.
I could go on and on and on. But the point is we have to now modify our original statement even further. “The US supports democracies, sometimes, when it’s convenient, and doesn’t interfere with US 'strategic' interests—that is, the profits of corporations with political connections.”
There is nothing noble about this side of US foreign policy, the secret side. The side that has generated massive blowback by angering people the world over. In order to understand the current world situation and how to win the “war” on terror, it is crucial for Americans to examine the dark, hidden side of US foreign policy. “We support democracies” is a blatant lie and is intended only as propaganda to hoodwink the average American citizen who has not bothered to examine what the pages of history have to tell us.
References and Reading Material
For a great overview of the history of the CIA visit http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/CIAtimeline.html. For more in depth looks at the CIA in particular and US foreign policy in general:
Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, by William Blunn
Imperial Hubris, by Michael Scheuer
Blowback, by Chalmers Johnson