A Nasty Habit of Overturning Elections


March 26, 2009 by D Stack

I’m proud to be an American. When we live up to our ideals we are at our greatest. During the American Revolution, at a time when prisoners of war were considered fully at the mercy of their captors, George Washington insisted all prisoners captured by Americans be treated humanely. I feel we are at our worse when we fail to live up to our ideals; when, in the words of Dick Cheney on Meet the Press (Sept 16, 2001), we “… have to work sort of the dark side, if you will…. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly….”

One of our greatest weapons is our ideals. The precepts found in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. People in search of democratic reform and republican government have looked to us for inspiration: French revolutionaries, Iranians in the 40s and 50s, Chinese democracy activists in 1989.

Unfortunately we also have the Cold War legacy of being an enemy to democratically elected governments if the government elected is not one we like. Consider the following examples from the 20th century:

  • In 1953, Kermit Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, successfully coordinated a coup d’état against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. This coup was largely done to protect the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s oil investment. This company has since evolved into BP. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company had a long history of treating its Iranian workers poorly and of poor profit sharing with Iran. (In other words, the desire to nationalize was in response to some serious grievances and not a communist plot.)
  • In 1954, the CIA recruited Guatemalan exiles to invade Guatemala and successfully overthrow communist-friendly President Jacobo Arbenz. Beyond the potential for alliance with the eastern bloc, Arbenz’s government was hostile to the American United Fruit Company (now part of Chiquita Brands).
  • In 1963 the United States supported a military coup against South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Am I saying we as a nation have to be hopelessly naive when it comes to our foreign relations? No. But we must be very careful. But, as a nation we have an unfortunate history of neglecting to consider the long-term consequences of our foreign interventions.These (and many more) unsavory actions from our past provide the perfect propaganda tools for our enemies.

And it doesn’t event take much work for our enemies to harness anger against us; often the anger against America is there without any prompting of its leaders. In Iran many the firs thing many think of with regard to the United States is our support for the Shah and the 1953 coup. Its been thirty years since the fall of the Shah’s government and over fifty the US overturned Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq’s government. And we are still paying a high price in terms of our image. Does this mean I approve of the current government of Iran? No, I do not. But if we had not overthrown the 1953 Iranian government there might not have been fertile soil for the 1979 Revolution.



3 thoughts on “A Nasty Habit of Overturning Elections

  1. Lee A. Rials says:

    May I point out that in its entire history, not one example of anyone using what he learned at the School of the Americas to commit any crime, human rights or otherwise, has been demonstrated. You have fallen victim to the SOAWatch fraud that any association with the school is proof that it caused someone’s crime. Counterinsurgency doctrine was a small part of SOA’s instruction, but it is a doctrine that is still valid today. Would you have governments just lie down and hand themselves over to armed opponents, simply because those opponents are citizens of that nation? The school has been closed for more than eight years, and the institute that was created by Congress and Pres. Clinton to replace it is open to your scrutiny any workday.

    Lee A. Rials
    Public Affairs Officer
    Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

  2. publiusthegeek says:

    Thank you for your comments. I do agree that the counterinsurgency doctrine is indeed a necessary doctrine. I feel the sunshine currently on the current institute is indeed a excellent thing and whether or not we agree on the past of the SOA, I should have at the very least been more clear about the changes made to it – I will probably make some updates to my initial posting later on this evening to reflect that.

    (Also thank you for not making your comments in a reasonable manner!)

  3. publiusthegeek says:

    After some further reflection on Lee Rials comments I realized that the comments I made regarding the School of the Americas really didn’t flow with the theme of the post in any case: specifically the unintended consequences of what happens when we overthrow the regimes of various governments (especially democratic ones). I tinkered with it and I actually feel that the post works better without those comments – not that that might not be an appropriate discussion unto itself at a later date, but the statements themselves actually seemed out of place with the flow of the document.

    Below are the statements originally called out. They originally followed the listing of regimes we have otherthrown/helped to overthrow:

    In addition to overthrowing “legitimate” governments, we’ve had our share of less-than-praiseworthy actions. For example:

    * The School of the Americas, which ran from 1946 through 2001, trained Latin American soldiers counterinsurgency methods that violated human rights.

    * Throughout the 1980s the United States provided support to the Contra counterinsurgency in Nicaragua.

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