After we Americans won our independence we almost immediately began supporting autocratic regimes the world over in denying freedom to their own people.
The list of despots to whom we have given financial and military aid within the past century includes Batista in Cuba, Argentina’s Juan Peron, Armas in Guatemala, the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, Pinochet in Chile, the Saudi Arabian royal family, Somoza in Nicaragua (we even educated his son at West Point!) and a grocery list of Mexican dictators.
We are essentially telling the world’s oppressed people “we had our revolution, but you can’t have yours.”
About all foreign autocrats have had to do to gain U.S. support was to give American corporations a free rein in paying low taxes and low wages.
Pre-Revolution Cuban dictator Batista even allowed U.S. corporations to value their own property for tax assessment. But when Castro offered to pay American owners the very amount they themselves had declared their property to be worth, they balked and pressured President Eisenhower for boycotts and sanctions against Cuban commerce. This, of course, only encouraged Castro’s blossoming romance with the Soviets and communism.
In 1953 CIA Director Allen Dulles and his chief operative Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy’s grandson, conspired with the British to orchestrate the overthrow of Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister, Mohamed Mossadegh and install the cruel, autocratic Reza Pahlavi as shah. We claimed Mossadegh was communist-influenced, our standard excuse for interference in foreign governments in those days. And in the early 1980s, as a counter force to Ayatollah Khomeini’s anti-American rhetoric and policies, we supported Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked attack on Iran that caused over 100,000 casualties, many by chemical weapons. And we wonder why the Iranians might not particularly love or trust us today?
While most former Latin American dictatorships now enjoy some form of democracy, few Middle Eastern and North African nations even pretend to be self-governing. But many Americans still think all we have to do to change an autocratic regime to a democracy is to depose the dictator, hold free elections and let the good times roll. Nothing could be more naïve. Colonial people usually have no experience in self-government and some, as in the case of many Muslim Arabs, are not particularly interested in it. After all, democracy requires a certain accountability and responsibility and contradicts many Muslim theological concepts.
When we view foreign autocratic regimes today we tend to see everything through the prism of our own unique history. We forget that prior to 1776 the British Colonies had been essentially governing themselves for almost one hundred and fifty years before they rebelled. Self-government was already in place and working; we simply changed allegiances by a political rather than a social revolution. This is one reason why our revolution succeeded while others failed.
Another classic example of American blundering in foreign affairs was George W.’s removal of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein which upset the fragile Middle Eastern balance of power. Bush had no strategy whatsoever to pacify and govern the area once the fighting stopped. The result was the Iraq-Syria-ISIS bloodbath and the ensuing refugee crisis. This is only a continuation of the ancient Shia-Sunni conflict that has been going on for almost a millennium before there even was a United States. During their colonial regime the British had the foresight not to get involved in these ancient hostilities that predate western civilization by centuries. We, apparently, did not.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.