Friday, August 18, 2006
American Business and American Foreign Policy
Responding to a recent opinion article in the paper, a writer to the editor of The Los Angeles Times today echoes the opinion that many of this nation's foreign policy mistakes have occurred because our government tried to assist some American business people. We (that is, the US Government) overthrew the democratic government of Iran in 1953 and replaced it with the Shah. The motive was to protect and enhance the ability of American oil firms to exploit the vast oil reserves of that country, and keep Russian oil exploration and development out of Iran. We overthrew the democratic government of Guatemala and replaced it with a military dictatorship to protect the interests of the stockholders of the American firm that controlled the export of bananas and other fruit from Guatemala (and coincidentally the financial holdings of our Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles). We tried to overthrow the government of Cuba after Fidel Castro ousted Fulgencio Batista and made himself the dictator. Our beef with Castro was that he expropriated the sugar plantations of several American sugar firms and proposed to pay them only the value the firms themselves had previously submitted to the Cuban government for tax purposes. We couldn't overthrow or assassinate him, but at least we have imposed an economic embargo on Cuba ever since the days of Dwight Eisenhower.
Our roles in other overthrow of democratic governments and democratically elected political leaders are not as clear, but in most cases there was an obvious business motive for the change. A popular leader of the newly-independent Belgian Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated. The stated motive was that he was a "communist sympathizer" who threatened to bring his nation into the Russian-Communist sphere of influence. The business motive was his proposal to nationalize the rich copper mines in one of the provinces of the Congo that would have deprived some American firms of some of the profit of the copper trade.
Most of these business-favorable overthrows occurred during the
reign administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike was a popular President and respected as being honest, incorruptible, and a skilled administrator. One of his weaknesses was that he had a visceral and unthinking hatred of Communism. All that the Dulles brothers, Allan at the CIA and John at the State Department, had to do to persuade him to let the CIA overthrow Mossadegh in Iran and Guzman in Guatemala was to tell him that they were Communists. At the end of his reign administration he was persuaded to allow the CIA to mount an invasion of Cuba with exiled Cubans who had been training in camps in Guatemala. That attempt failed spectacularly.
I haven't figured out the business motive for the overthrow of the democratic government of Chile during Richard Nixon's time in office. It may have been done to forestall the plan of Salvador Allende, the newly-elected Socialist President, to nationalize Chilean copper mines.
These attempts, some successful for a time, some failures, to change the regimes in countries that were becoming unfavorable to exploitation by large American corporations, have had unfavorable consequences that are today painfully apparent. We now want a democratic Iran. We had one before 1953. Now we have an Iran that has a grudge against us for the despotic and cruel rule of the Shah. The truth of what happened in Guatemala after the imposition of military rule is now coming to light as an embarassment to us. Some unsavory actions by our CIA in our meddling in Nicaragua are becoming known, particularly the CIA's part in setting up the cocaine traffic in the US in exchange for funds to use to support the Contras.
President Coolidge once said "the business of America is business." I think it's time that we took foreign policy seriously and stopped using it merely to help certain American business people make a profit.