Since winning our own freedom in 1781, an era in which democracy was widely equated with mob rule, we have consistently backed autocratic regimes the world over in suppressing the democratic aspirations of their own people. We have supplied them with guns, training and dollars and have been especially accommodating to despots who grant free rein to American extractive industries. We have played footsy with such scoundrels as Pinochet in Chile, the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, Batista in Cuba, Porfirio Diaz in Mexico, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua (we even educated his son at West Point), Armas in Guatemala, the Saudi Arabian royal family, the Nguyen monarchy in Viet Nam — I could go on.
Consistent with our policy of backing autocrats against popular movements, we helped turn Ho Chi Minh in French Indo-China (modern Viet Nam) and Fidel Castro in Cuba toward communism. At the Paris Peace Conference following World War I Ho chi Minh tried to enlist the West’s support to gain freedom for his people, but found the door closed. We even aided Saddam Hussein against Iran and backed the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Soviets, exercises in pure Machiavellian pragmatism. But unbridled self-interest sometimes makes strange bedfellows.
Ever wonder why the Iranians hate us today? After gaining their independence following World War II the Iranians elected Mohammed Mosaddegh their prime minister. When he nationalized Iran’s oil industry in 1953, British M16 Intelligence, with the help of Allen Dulles and the American CIA, orchestrated his overthrow and re-installed Reza Shah Pahlavi as monarch. Pahlavi instituted severe, unpopular changes but was sympathetic to British and American oil interests, and that’s what counted. He ruled with an iron fist and was especially harsh toward the Shia Muslims, Iran’s dominant sect. After the Shah was overthrown in 1978 by a popular revolution he became a fugitive. But President Jimmy Carter, against sound advice to the contrary, allowed him to enter the U.S. for cancer treatment. That set off the Iran hostage crisis that assured Carter’s defeat in 1980.
Volumes could be written about our jingoistic treatment of Mexico, starting with the Mexican War of 1846. Rebuffed by the Mexican government when he offered to buy California and New Mexico, President Polk obtained a declaration of war from Congress on dubious grounds. American business interests have continued to fish in the troubled waters south of the border ever since. U. S. financial interests were especially powerful during the “Porfiriato,” the reign of Porfirio Diaz, Mexico’s longest — ruling dictator.
In the past all a Latin American dictator had to do to gain U. S. support was to declare he was anti-communist. We forced the overthrow of President Arbenz’s government in Guatemala, which was about as communist as the Vatican, and installed a friendly despot, the ruthless Carlos Castillo Armas.
This “Hall of Shame” of U. S. — friendly autocrats is extensive. In essence we have been telling the world’s people seeking freedom: “We had our revolution, but you can’t have yours.”
Isn’t this a strange policy for a nation that bills itself as a beacon of liberty and justice?
George B. Reed, Jr. is retired from AT&T and a former history teacher in the Hamilton County school system. He lives in Fort Oglethorpe and can be reached at email@example.com or 706-858-3501.