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The Sorrows of Regime Change

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The Sorrows of Regime Change
by Ken Sanders
It is virtually beyond dispute that the Bush administration's misadventures in Iraq, and increasingly in Afghanistan, are worsening by the day. I say virtually because it appears that the Bush administration, and some of its more fanatical apologists, have yet to recognize the severity of the chaos, death, and destruction unleashed by U.S. "regime change" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Regardless of whether Bush, Cheney, or Fox News wish to acknowledge the miserable state of affairs on both fronts of the infinite war on terror, the facts are hard to ignore. Iraq is on the brink of complete immolation as the violence between Sunni and Shia feeds on itself without any sign of being satiated. Meanwhile, long ignored by the "news" media as well as the White House, Afghanistan finds itself torn asunder by opium-funded warlords on the one hand and a reborn Taliban on the other. In both countries, casualties among civilians continue mount while attacks against the U.S. and its occupying partners grows in frequency and effectiveness. In Iraq alone, regime change is responsible for as many as 650,000 civilian deaths.
With each passing poll or survey, Americans' confidence in their dear leader wanes a bit more. Conversely, Americans' disillusionment with the crusade to make the world safe for Christianity and multinational corporations continues to grow. Intriguingly, the fact that so many Americans profess to being disillusioned with the unfolding events in Iraq and Afghanistan implies that they once thought all would go well. That they ever entertained such a thought speaks to how little most Americans know about history, particularly when it comes to regime change.
Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq are the United States' first forays into regime change. In fact, U.S. history (the actual as opposed to the official history, that is) is replete with examples of regime change either instigated or backed by the U.S. As with the current cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, past efforts at regime change did not result in flourishing democracies or better lives for those living under the replaced regimes. Instead, as with Iraq and Afghanistan, regime change has always led to the death and suffering of civilians at the hands of U.S.-backed tyrants.
Take, for example, the CIA-led coup of democratically elected Iranian Premier, Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. Outraged at Mossadeq's plans to nationalize Iran's oil industry (much to the chagrin of U.S. and U.K. corporate interests), the CIA orchestrated Mossadeq's ouster and replaced him with the Shah – himself ousted by the British following World War II. Of course, in the U.S., oil was not the publicly stated justification for ousting Mossadeq. The U.S. was "saving" the people of Iran from the scourge of communism. Instead of communism, the Iranians got the Shah, an autocratic despot who, through the SAVAK secret police, squelched dissent through intimidation, torture, and murder. In 1976, Amnesty International declared, "No county in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran." Popular resistance to the Shah, largely organized in Iran's mosques, culminated in the 1979 revolution, which included the taking of dozens of American hostages. The rest, as they say, is history.
Then there's the case of U.S.-instituted regime change in Guatemala. In 1950, democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz sought to nationalize Guatemalan lands owned by United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation. (Sense a pattern?) Beginning in 1952 with operation "PBFORTUNE," the CIA tried, and failed, to orchestrate a coup to remove Arbenz from power and "save" Guatemala from communism. Undeterred by its initial failure, in 1954 the CIA launched operation "PBSUCCESS" and successfully deposed Arbenz. After the CIA installed Castillo Armas in power, hundreds of Guatemalans were promptly rounded up and killed. Thousands more were promptly detained. For the next 40 years, Guatemalans, under successive U.S.-backed dictatorships, suffered death squads, disappearances, and torture. By 1990, more than 100,000 Guatemalan civilians had been murdered. Tens of thousands more had been "disappeared."
Brazil was another victim of U.S.-sponsored regime change. Irritated that President Joao Goulart had been reelected in 1963, despite having spent $20 million on anti-Goulart propaganda, the U.S. decided to take a more direct approach. Again under the pretense of "saving" Brazil from communism and making it a haven for democracy, in 1964, the U.S. took significant steps, including the secret mobilization of a naval task force, to help the Brazilian military forcibly remove Goulart. On April 1, 1964, Goulart was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup. Brazil suffered under U.S.-backed military rule until 1985. Death squads, torture, and disappearances were the norm.
Chile. Nicaragua. Haiti. The Dominican Republic. Indonesia. British Guyana. Italy. Venezuela. All were targeted by the U.S. for regime change to one extent or another. Whether rigging elections, producing propaganda, or simply through violence, the U.S. has a decades-long history of replacing regimes it dislikes with more favorable ones. In every "successful" case of regime change, however, nothing resembling democracy resulted. Instead, the U.S. installed or condoned brutal and tyrannical regimes which tortured, terrorized, and murdered civilians. In places like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, the U.S. trained and funded "counterinsurgency" operations designed to eliminate, in every sense of the word, anyone who took exception to the U.S. arrogantly selecting a sovereign nation's government.
It is often said that the past is the best predictor of the future. Based upon past results of the U.S. practice of regime change, no one should be at all surprised that things are so violent, horrible, and grim in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only real difference between Iraq, Afghanistan and past efforts at regime change is that in Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S. is not some hidden player, lurking safely in the shadows while its proxies kill and die. This time, Americans are finally seeing and, to some small degree, paying the price for regime change.
– October 13, 2006


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Ken Sanders is a lawyer and writer in Tucson, Arizona. His publishing credits include Op Ed News, Z Magazine, Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, and Common Dreams. More of his writing can be found on his weblog at (more...)
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