Fallout from the American Imperial Project

The politics of overthrowing foreign governments has a cost

For much of its history, the US has been involved in the violent overthrow of sovereign governments. In almost in every case, these overthrows can be traced to corporate interests. This was blatantly obvious in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

After the defeat of Germany and Japan in the Second World War, however, the US could no longer claim the high ground if it continued the way it did. As a result, from the mid-20th century onwards the overthrow of a foreign government was no longer justified under the American concept of a manifest destiny. Instead, successive American presidents shouldered the "white man's burden" of making the world free for democracy. Hence, since the end of the Second World War if the US hadn't overthrown certain governments, the Soviets would have taken over and might have won the Cold War. This same framework applies today, only the enemy is not godless communism but radical Islam.

Although the US repeatedly says that it's saving the world for democracy, history has clearly shown otherwise. In fact, when such a challenge arose, the US actually backed away from its rhetoric, letting democracy and freedom be trampled by underfoot by a ruthless dictatorship. In the mid-1950s, this hypocrisy was vividly apparent when events in both Guatemala and Hungary are compared.

In 1954 Guatemala's democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, was ousted in a coup supported by the US. The agrarian reforms that Arbenz championed went against the corporate wishes of United Fruit. Consequently, he was replaced by a military junta headed by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, which plunged the country into chaos and long-lasting turbulence. Between 1954 and 1990, human rights groups estimate that the repressive operatives of successive military regimes murdered more than 100,000 civilians.

Despite US claims that the coup was in response to the growing influence of the Soviets in the region and that Arbenz was simply a pawn of the Kremlin, the USSR at the time hadn't the slightest interest in Guatemala in the early 1950s. In fact, they didn't even have diplomatic or economic relations. Meanwhile, in 1956 the US didn't want to intervene in the Soviet reoccupation of Hungary, even though it had initially promised assistance to all countries which had thrown off the shackles of communism. As a result, Soviet troops were able to ruthlessly crush the Hungarian Revolution, which ultimately led some 200,000 people to flee westward. To this day, the dwindling number of survivors from that period look back with bitterness and resentment toward the US and its empty promises.

Cultures can't be changed as easily as regimes

As war clouds now gather slowly but surely over the horizon of Iran, we can see this ignominious history about to repeat itself once again. For Iran, this won't be the first time it has undergone "regime change" at the hands of the Americans. In 1953 Operation Ajax was a covert operation organised by the CIA to overthrow the elected government of Iran headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in order to consolidate the power of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was later overthrown by the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

As with other US-engineered coups, the reason for the coup in Iran was Mossadegh's socialist rhetoric and his policy of nationalization of the oil industry, which was previously operated by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (which later changed its name to The British Petroleum Company). Mossadegh was regarded as a communist by western powers and there were suspicions that Iran was in danger of falling under the influence of the Soviet Union. For the US in particular, a pro-American Iran under the Shah would give the US a double strategic advantage in the Cold War, as a NATO alliance was already in effect with the government of Turkey, which also bordered the USSR. Ironically, the success of Operation Ajax, and its relatively low cost, encouraged the CIA to successfully carry out a similar operation in Guatemala a year later.

The idea that Mossadegh was a communist was unfounded. Coming from an aristocratic family, he was fiercely anti-communist and despised Marxist ideology. Nevertheless, the fact that a national leader had stood up against corporate interests was too much to bear, especially with a vital resource such as oil at stake.

The case of Iran is interesting because the so-called spread of radical Islam can be attributed to the fallout from Operation Ajax. As with global warming, western governments too often look at the short term and fail to realise that it's their actions which sow the seeds of trouble that future generations reap, sometimes decades or even centuries later. This is especially so in the case of the US policy of overthrowing foreign governments.

Western governments think that their interventions, either directly or tacitly, in countries where resources like oil happen to be a geographical accident don't have any effects. Yet when they break down the doors of foreign countries and impose their own leaders, as in Iran and recently in Iraq, they outrage a lot of people. The west likes to think that everybody will eventually realise that such an intervention was a good thing. This, of course, never happens as cultures can't be changed as easily as regimes.

As the US approaches a showdown with Iran, it's hard to say what the outcome will be. Despite western propaganda that the war had been won in Afghanistan, the fighting there continues. In Iraq, meanwhile, coalition forces are stuck in the middle of a civil war that they precipitated. In both cases, intervention was against a weak and isolated enemy.

Iran, on the other hand, is a different case. Not only this, but as the past has clearly shown, no one can tell what seeds will be sown as a result. Only one thing is for certain: it will be the children of tomorrow -- on both sides of the divide -- that will pay the price for such recklessness. (John Horvath)