EMPIRE. What is that? Try 14 invasions by USA in last l00 yrs
America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
Author Stephen Kinzer discusses his new book, "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq." In it, he writes that the invasion of Iraq "was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political, and economic reasons." NOTE: When you are out and about at parties, you want to be able to name all fourteen nations. The invasions were bloody, costly in terms of life and all except the two countries annexed by USA, led to HELL happening there forever after. Iran was the worst as it led to the current war against all the MUSLIMS on the planet.
"The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political, and economic reasons."
So writes author Stephen Kinzer in his new book "Overthrow: America's
Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq."
Kinzer writes that "The "regime change" in Iraq seemed for a time -- a
very short time -- to have worked. It is now clear, however, that this
operation has had terrible unintended consequences. So have most of the
other coups, revolutions, and invasions that the United States has
mounted to depose governments it feared or mistrusted."
* Stephen Kinzer, author of "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime
Change from Hawaii to Iraq." He is a former New York Times foreign
correspondent and author of several books, including "All the Shah's
Men" (Iran, 1951 invasion of,) and "Bitter Fruit." (Guatemala, invasion of.)
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Kinzer joins us today in Chicago. He is a veteran
New York Times foreign correspondent, author of several books, including
All the Shah's Men and Bitter Fruit. He has just recently left the New
York Times. Welcome. Your book looks at 14 coups that the U.S. was
involved with. What was the primary reason for the U.S. government's
involvement in overthrowing other countries' governments?
STEPHEN KINZER: A lot of these coups have been studied individually, but
what I'm trying to do in my book is see them not as a series of isolated
incidents, but rather as one long continuum. And by looking at them that
way, I am able to tease out certain patterns that recur over and over
again. They don't all fit the same pattern, but it's amazing how many of
them do.(One didn't make the cut. INDONESIA. CIA did it without soldiers
and killed MILLIONS of PEOPLE in a few days.)
You ask about the motivations, and that is one of the patterns that
comes through when you look at these things all together. There’s really
a three-stage motivation that I can see when I watch so many of the
developments of these coups. The first thing that happens is that the
regime in question starts bothering some American company. They start
demanding that the company pay taxes or that it observe labor laws or
environmental laws. Sometimes that company is nationalized or is somehow
required to sell some of its land or its assets. So the first thing that
happens is that an American or a foreign corporation is active in
another country, and the government of that country starts to restrict
it in some way or give it some trouble, restrict its ability to operate
Then, the leaders of that company come to the political leadership of
the United States to complain about the regime in that country. In the
political process, in the White House, the motivation morphs a little
bit. The U.S. government does not intervene directly to defend the
rights of a company, but they transform the motivation from an economic
one into a political or geo-strategic one. They make the assumption that
any regime that would bother an American company or harass an American
company must be anti-American, repressive, dictatorial, and probably the
tool of some foreign power or interest that wants to undermine the
United States. So the motivation transforms from an economic to a
political one, although the actual basis for it never changes.
Then, it morphs one more time when the U.S. leaders have to explain the
motivation for this operation to the American people. Then they do not
use either the economic or the political motivation usually, but they
portray these interventions as liberation operations, just a chance to
free a poor oppressed nation from the brutality of a regime that we
assume is a dictatorship, because what other kind of a regime would be
bothering an American company?
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Kinzer, I want to begin where you do in the book,
and that is, with Hawaii.
STEPHEN KINZER: Many Americans I don't think realize that Hawaii was an
independent country before it was brought into the United States. In
brief, this is the story. In the early part of the 19th century, several
hundred American missionaries, most of them from New England, sailed off
to what were then called the Sandwich Islands to devote their lives to,
as they would have put it, raising up the heathen savages and teaching
them the blessings of Christian civilization.
It wasn't long before many of these missionaries and their sons began to
realize that there was a lot of money to be made in Hawaii. The natives
had been growing sugar for a long time, but they had never refined it
and had never exported it. By dispossessing the natives of most of their
land, a group that came from what was then called this missionary
planter elite sort of left the path of God, went onto the path of Mammon
and established a series of giant sugar plantations in Hawaii, and they
became very rich from exporting sugar into the United States.
In the early 1890s, the U.S. passed a tariff that made it impossible for
the Hawaiian sugar growers to sell their sugar in the U.S. So they were
in a panic. They were about to lose their fortunes. And they asked
themselves what they could do to somehow continue to sell their sugar in
They came up with a perfect answer: We’ll get into the U.S. How will we
do this? Well, the leader of the Hawaiian revolutionaries, if you want
to call them that, who were mostly of American origin, actually went to
Washington. He met with the Secretary of the Navy. He presented his case
directly to the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison. And
he received assurances that the U.S. would support a rebellion against
the Hawaiian monarchy.
So he went back to Hawaii and became part of a triumvirate, which
essentially carried out the Hawaiian revolution. He was one part of the
triumvirate. The second part was the American ambassador, who was
himself an annexationist and had been instructed by the State Department
to do whatever he could to aid this revolution. And the third figure was
the commander of the U.S. naval vessel, which was conveniently anchored
right off the shores of Honolulu.
This revolution was carried out with amazing ease. The leader of the
Hawaiian revolutionaries, this missionary planter elite, simply
announced at a meeting one day, “We have overthrown the government of
Hawaii, and we are now the new government.” And before the queen was
able to respond, the U.S. ambassador had 250 Marines called to shore
from the ship that was conveniently off the coast of Honolulu and
announced that since there had been some instability and there seemed to
be a change of government, the Marines were going to land to protect the
new regime and the lives and property of all Hawaiians. So that meant
that there was nothing the queen could do. The regime was immediately
recognized by the United States, and with that simple process, the
monarchy of Hawaii came to an end, and then ultimately Hawaii joined the
AMY GOODMAN: The queen called in ambassadors from other countries for
STEPHEN KINZER: The queen was a little bit shocked by all this, as were
her cabinet ministers. In fact, they appealed to the United States and
asked, “What instability is there? Who's in danger? Tell us, and we'll
protect them.” The queen had about 600 troops at her disposal. That was
the whole Hawaiian military force. And her cabinet ministers actually
called the ambassadors from foreign countries in Honolulu -- there were
about a dozen of them then -- and said, “What should we do? Do you think
we should fight the Marines?” And the ambassadors quite prudently told
her that that would be foolish. “You should just accept it and then try
to regain your throne by some other means.” That never proved possible.
But even then, it was clear to the ruler of this small, weak country
that there was no hope in resisting U.S. military intervention.
AMY GOODMAN: It still took a few years before Hawaii was ultimately
STEPHEN KINZER: It's a very interesting story. Immediately after the
revolution, the revolutionaries went back to Washington and, sure
enough, President Harrison, as he promised, submitted to the U.S.
Congress a law to bring Hawaii into the U.S., but there was a great
resistance to this when it was understood how the coup was organized and
on whose behalf it was organized, so the Congress did not immediately
approve the annexation of Hawaii.
And right at that time, the presidency changed. The Republican, Benjamin
Harrison, was out of office, and the new president, a Democrat, Grover
Cleveland, came in. He was against annexation. He was an
anti-imperialist. He withdrew the treaty. And that meant that Hawaii had
to become an independent country for a few years, until the next
Republican president came into office, McKinley. And then, at the height
of the Spanish-American War, when the U.S. was taking the Philippines,
Hawaii was presented to the U.S. as a vital midway station between
California and the Philippines. And it was at that time, five years
after the revolution, that Hawaii was actually brought into the United
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Stephen Kinzer. So, first came the
missionaries, then came the Marines.
STEPHEN KINZER: Yeah, exactly. Sometimes we hear the phrase “Business
follows the flag.” But in my research, I found that it's actually the
opposite. First comes the business operations, then comes the flag. It's
the flag that follows business.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about 14 countries that the U.S. intervened in:
Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Chile, Honduras, Iran, Guatemala,
South Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Panama. Let's talk about Cuba. What
STEPHEN KINZER: The Cuban story is really a fascinating one, partly
because it illustrates one of the main themes of my book, and that is
how these interventions in the long run always produce reactions and
ultimately lead to the emergence of regimes that are much more
anti-American than the regimes we originally set out to overthrow. Here
was the story in Cuba. Americans have had their eye on Cuba for a long
time, ever since Thomas Jefferson was president. But it was in 1898 that
this attachment to the cause of Cuba Libré really seized the hearts of
Bear in mind that in 1898, the Cuban economy was totally dominated by
Americans. It was a big sugar producer, and all the sugar plantations in
Cuba were owned by Americans. Also, it was a very big market for
American manufactured goods. About 85% of anything you could buy in Cuba
had been made in the United States, so American business had very big
Now, Cuban patriots spent much of the late 19th century rebelling
against Spanish colonial rule. In 1898 they seemed very close to
succeeding. This was a little bit troubling to some of the American
interests in Cuba, because the revolutionaries were also social
reformers. They advocated land reform, which would have meant breaking
up the big sugar plantations owned by Americans. They also supported a
tariff wall around Cuba to allow the growth of domestic manufacturing,
which would have made it more difficult for American companies to export
their goods to Cuba.
AMY GOODMAN: And what year was this?
STEPHEN KINZER: These are in the late 1890s. So in 1898, the American
press, in some ways excited by whisperings from American businessmen
active in Cuba, began a campaign to portray Spanish colonial rule in
Cuba as the most unspeakably brutal tyranny that could be imagined, and
the American public was whipped up into a fervor about this. The fervor
intensified when the U.S. battleship, Maine, was blown up in Havana
harbor. “Our Warship Was Blown Up by an Enemy's Infernal Machine.” That
was the headline in the New York Journal that I reproduce in my book.
Actually, it wasn't until 75 years later that the Navy convened a board
of inquiry, which turned up the fact that the Maine was actually blown
up by an internal explosion. The Spanish had nothing to do with it, but
we didn't know that then, and the press seized on this to intensify the
anger in the U.S.
Now, the Americans then decided we would send troops to Cuba to help the
patriots overthrow Spanish colonialism, but the Cuban revolutionaries
were not so sure they liked this idea. They didn't know if they wanted
thousands of American troops on their soil, because what would happen
after the victory was won? In response to this concern, the U.S.
government, the Congress, passed a law, the Teller Amendment, which said
very explicitly, “We promise Cuba that the moment independence is won,
all American troops will be withdrawn, and Cuba will be allowed to
become fully independent.”
After that law was passed, the Cuban rebels agreed to accept American
aid. American soldiers went to Cuba, including, famously, Teddy
Roosevelt, who had his own uniform personally designed for him by Brooks
Brothers in New York. In the space of essentially one day of fighting,
the Spanish colonial rule was dealt its final death blow, Spain
surrendered Cuba, and Cuba prepared for a huge celebration of its
Just before that celebration was about to be held, the Americans
announced that they changed their mind, that the Teller Amendment had
been passed in a moment of irrational enthusiasm and that actually Cuban
independence was not a very good idea, so the American troops were not
withdrawn. We remained in Cuba for some decades, ruling it directly
under U.S. military officers, and then, for a period after that, through
Now, flash forward to 1959. That was when Fidel Castro's revolution
succeeded. Castro came down from the hills and made his very first
speech as leader of the revolution in Santiago, and in that speech,
which I quote in my book, he does not talk about what kind of a regime
he's going to impose, but he makes one promise. He says, “This time I
promise you it will not be like 1898 again, when the Americans came in
and made themselves masters of our country.”
Now, any Americans who might have read a report of that speech, I'm
sure, would have been very puzzled. In the first place, they would have
had no memory of what happened in 1898, but secondly, they would wonder,
“What could an event 60 years ago possibly have to do with this
revolution in Cuba today?” What they had failed to realize is that
resentment over these interventions burns in the hearts and souls of
people in foreign countries and later explodes violently.
It's quite reasonable to say today that had we not intervened in Cuba
and prevented Cuba from becoming independent, had we carried out our
explicit promise to the Cubans in 1898, we would never have had to face
the entire phenomenon of Castro communism all these last 40 years. Now,
of course, we would love to have back a moderate democratic regime like
the one that was going to come to power in Cuba in 1898, but it's too
late for that, and it's an example of how when we frustrate people's
legitimate nationalist aspirations, we wind up not only casting those
countries into instability, but severely undermining our own national
AMY GOODMAN: Now, something we see today, for example, in Iraq, is the
critical role, not only of the U.S. government perhaps protecting U.S.
corporations, but the role of the media in all of this. Going back to
Cuba, what was the role of the media?
STEPHEN KINZER: The press played a really shameful role in the run-up to
the Spanish-American War. The Americans had never been particularly fond
of the Spanish rule in Cuba, but it wasn't until the press, actually in
a circulation war, decided to seize on the brutality, as they called it,
of Spanish colonial rule in the summer of 1898 that Americans really
Now, there's one very interesting aspect of the Cuban press campaign
that I think we see repeated periodically throughout American history,
and that is, we never like to attack simply a regime. We like to have
one individual. Americans love to have a demon, a certain person who is
the symbol of all the evil and tyranny in the regime that we want to
attack. We've had this with Khomeini, with Castro, with Qaddafi, various
other figures over history.
Now, in the case of the Spanish-American War, we first thought we'd like
to demonize the king of Spain, but there was no king of Spain. There was
a queen, who was actually an Austrian princess, so she wouldn't work.
The regent, her son, was actually just a 12-year-old kid, so he wouldn't
work, either. So then, we decided to focus on the Spanish general, who
was the commander of Spanish troops in Cuba, General Weyler, and for a
time, Weyler was thought of as the epitome of all the carnal brutality
that we attributed to Spanish colonialism.
We see this pattern again coming right up to the modern age, when we're
always looking for some individual to point at. The idea behind this is
that the natural state of all people in the world is to have U.S.-style
democracy and to be friendly to the United States. If they're not, it
must mean that there's only one person or one tiny clique that is
preventing the people in this country from being the way they naturally
would be, and if we could only just remove this one individual or this
tiny clique, the people in that country would return to the normal state
of all people, which is to wish to have the U.S. system of government
and politics and economics and to embrace the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: William Randolph Hearst, was he a key figure then?
STEPHEN KINZER: Hearst was a crucial figure, who very cleverly realized
that he could push the circulation of his newspaper dramatically higher
if he hammered away on jingoistic issues by pointing at foreign nations
as constantly seeking to undermine the United States. There's an
undercurrent, which we're still seeing today, of seeing the world in
this very Hobbesian way, that there are terrible dangers everywhere, and
it's very important for the U.S. to go out and attack here and attack
there before those dangers come to shore. Clausewitz, who I read a lot
while I was researching my book, had a great phrase for this. He called
it, “suicide for fear of death.” You are so afraid of what's happening
to you in the world or what might happen to you that you go out and
launch operations, which actually produce the result that you were
afraid might happen if you didn't do these things.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about John Foster Dulles, who he was, his role
in these interventions, Guatemala, and just before that, Iran?
STEPHEN KINZER: One of the things I do in my book that I haven't done in
my previous books is focus a lot on Dulles. I really believe that Dulles
was one of the key figures in shaping the second half of the 20th
century, and I devote some time to try to analyze him and figure out why
he played this role. First of all, Dulles spent almost all of his adult
life as America's most successful and most highly paid corporate lawyer.
He represented all of the giant multinational corporations in America,
not just United Fruit, but International Nickel and all sorts of
resource conglomerates all over the world. So the whole way he saw the
world was economics. He thought that American policy in the world should
be oriented towards protecting American corporations.
Dulles also came from a family of clergymen. He was a deep religious
believer. His father was a preacher. His grandfather had been a
missionary in India, and this gave him another strain, which is very
important in the American regime-change era, and that is this sense of
religious mission, this belief that since the United States has been
blessed with prosperity and democracy, we have, not just the right, but
perhaps even the God-given obligation to go to other countries and share
the benefits of all we have with them, particularly to countries that
may not even be advanced enough to realize how much they want our
political system. So Dulles saw the world in a strictly black-and-white
He saw, at that time, a communist conspiracy all over the world as
working relentlessly to undermine the United States. For example, he
opposed all cultural exchanges with any communist country. He tried for
years to keep U.S. reporters from visiting China. He was against summit
meetings of all kinds. He didn't want agreement with communist countries
on any subject, because he thought any agreement would be just a trick
to get America to lower its guard.
Now, when Iran nationalized its oil industry, when Guatemala tried to
restrict the operations of United Fruit Company, Dulles did not see this
as a reflection of a desire by people in a foreign country to control
their own resources. He rather saw it as an anti-American move,
undoubtedly manipulated from the Kremlin, which had a much more profound
goal than simply bothering an American company. This was just the
beginnings of an anti-American attack.
Now, one of the things I ask in my book is: Why did we so tragically
misjudge nationalist movements in developing countries, like Iran and
Guatemala and later Chile? Why did we interpret them as part of an
international conspiracy, which, as documents later proved, they were not?
I think it was for this reason. American statesmen and diplomats who
study the history of diplomacy are actually studying the history of
European diplomacy. We're very Eurocentric. Our diplomats and our
statesmen are very well versed in European political traditions. They're
familiar with alliance politics and wars of conquest and big powers that
use small powers secretly for their own means, but the desire of poor
people in poor countries to control their own natural resources has
never been a part of European history. It's not a syndrome that
Americans who study Europe are familiar with, and that, along with an
instinctive desire to protect American companies, I think led them to
misjudge nationalist movements and misinterpret them as part of a global
conspiracy to undermine the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Or perhaps not care, but care about U.S. companies, as in
Guatemala, United Fruit being able to have free reign.
STEPHEN KINZER: I think it was very much a sense that the companies must
know what's best for the United States in those countries, but in
addition, we managed to persuade ourselves that a government that was
bothering American companies must also be harassing and oppressing its
own people, and this is an argument that I think is very well tailored
to the American soul. You know, we really are a very compassionate
people, and Americans hate the idea that there are people suffering in
some faraway country. American leaders who want to intervene in those
countries for very ignoble reasons understand this, and they use that
motive, they play on the American compassion to achieve support for
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what fuels Iran today, the feeling Iranians
have for America, based on the coup the U.S. was involved with in 1953.
STEPHEN KINZER: It's hard to believe today that we could even use the
word “Iran” and “democracy” in the same sentence, but the fact is Iran
was a functioning, thriving democracy in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Because Iran nationalized its oil industry, rather than allow it to
continue being exploited by foreigners, Iran became a target for foreign
intervention, and the U.S. did overthrow the democracy of Iran in the
summer of 1953.
We placed on the throne the Shah. He ruled for 25 years with increasing
repression. His repression produced the explosion of the late 1970s, the
Islamic revolution. That revolution brought to power a fanatically
anti-American clique of mullahs who began their regime by taking
American diplomats as hostage, has then spent 25 years oppressing its
own people and doing whatever it could, sometimes very violently, to
undermine American interests in the world, and that is the regime with
which we are now approaching a very serious world crisis regarding the
Now, had we not intervened in 1953 and crushed Iranian democracy, we
might have had a thriving democracy in the heart of the Muslim Middle
East all these 50 years. I can hardly wrap my mind around how different
the Middle East might be now. This regime that's now in power in Iran
would never have come to power, and the current nuclear crisis would
never have emerged. This is a great example of how our intervention
ultimately leads us to regimes much worse than the ones we originally
set out to overthrow.
Now, how do you think that people in Iran react when Americans point a
finger at them and say, “You’re a tyranny over there. You’re a brutal
dictatorship. You should have a democracy. You should have a free
regime”? Well, they say, “We had a democracy here, until you came in and
overthrew it.” Now, the United States today has some very legitimate
complaints against the Iranian government, but we have to understand
that Iranians also have some very legitimate complaints against us, and
that should be a recognition that would lead us into negotiations with
them at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Kinzer, we’re going to have to leave it there for
today, but next week, part two of this discussion on Overthrow:
America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, looking at 14
coups of the last more than a century that the U.S. was involved with.
Go to DEMOCRACY NOW. ORG, get PART II on CHILE, NICARAGUA, HONDURAS, GRENADA, PUERTO RICO, PANAMA, IRAN in the 50's, where we installed a repressive ruler so that HELL started there, and now IRAQ, the fruit of that monkey we toppled, (Mosadeq a great pres.) to install Reza Shah. http://www.democracynow.org
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