We've Had Other Quick Regime Changes. They Turned Out Terrible.





Mr. Wiener, professor of history at UC Irvine, is a contributing editor to the Nation magazine.

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What conclusions will the White House draw from its quick and relatively easy victory in Iraq?

An undersecretary of state told Israeli officials in February that the U.S. will "deal with" Iran, North Korea and Syria next. The U.S. certainly has the power to do that, and it would not be the first time Washington forced a series of regime changes around the world.

In the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration decided to "deal with" objectionable governments in Iran, Guatemala and Vietnam. The histories of these adventures should haunt the Bush administration as it contemplates its next moves.

In 1953, the U.S. had its first success at regime change in the Middle East. In August, the prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, was driven from power in a coup and replaced by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Mossadegh was the victim of covert action by the CIA, but Americans didn't find out about that for another two decades. Elected two years earlier, he had nationalized Iran's oil fields, which the British had monopolized since the end of World War I.

After the coup, the shah agreed that U.S. companies, led by Gulf Oil, would receive 40 percent of Iranian oil. The CIA's budget for the coup was $1 million; 300 people were killed. Regime change in Iran was quick and easy.

Ten months later, President Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, decided to try it again. In June 1954, the Los Angeles Times reported that "liberation forces" invaded Guatemala "in a fiery bid to overthrow the Red-infiltrated government of President Jacobo Arbenz." Arbenz had been elected three years earlier and had nationalized land owned by the United Fruit Co. Again, the U.S. succeeded at changing the government with few casualties, and the new head of state -- put in office by the CIA -- gave back to United Fruit its banana lands.

Regime change in Central America came so quickly and easily that Eisenhower and Dulles decided to try it one more time -- in Vietnam. The Geneva accords that ended the French war in Indochina in 1954 called for simultaneous elections in the north and south to establish a single national government for all Vietnam. Under the accords, the elections were to be held by 1956. But in August 1955, just 14 months after the successful U.S.-sponsored regime change in Guatemala, Eisenhower decided to block Vietnamese elections, recognize South Vietnam as an independent nation and install Ngo Dinh Diem as head of state. That, too, turned out to be quick and easy.

It is the consequences of these stories that are haunting.

In Iran, the shah quickly became the biggest U.S. ally in the Middle East, but the corruption that came with Iran's oil income generated growing opposition, then growing repression. In January 1979, the shah was overthrown by Islamic fundamentalist followers of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who subsequently became the most important Muslim in modern times. As a result, Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were held hostage for 444 days, their situation exacerbated by a botched rescue attempt that ended in the deaths of eight Marines. The president who failed to rescue the hostages, Jimmy Carter, got the blame and lost his reelection bid in 1980.

The Islamic fundamentalism that has dominated Iran since is militantly anti-American. Osama bin Laden is the ideological descendant of Khomeini, who was the first to call the U.S. "the great Satan." Fifty years after the quick and easy regime change in Iran, Bin Laden accomplished what Khomeini only aspired to: bringing a radical emphasis on holy war into the mainstream of Islamic thinking and challenging the legitimacy of every Middle Eastern government with ties to the United States.

The costs of regime change in Guatemala have not been as sweeping -- but certainly devastating to that country. A civil war between a series of U.S.-backed military governments and peasant guerrillas lasted 36 years. More than 1 million people were driven from their homes. Some 200,000 people were killed, 90 percent of whom were civilians. The New York Times reported last month that "the end of Guatemala's 36-year civil war has brought neither law nor order to remote regions most ravaged by the conflict."

The consequences of regime change in Vietnam are more than 58,000 names carved in black granite on the Mall in Washington. As for casualties on the other side, current estimates are that between 2 million and 3 million Vietnamese died during the war. The U.S. war spread to neighboring Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge killed another 2 million.

Maybe all this would have happened without U.S.-sponsored interventions, but that seems unlikely. If the shah had not been put in power by Washington, it's hard to imagine that a militant Islamic fundamentalism would have taken over a powerful state like Iran because of corruption, repression and dependence on the U.S. Guatemala would not have had 36 years of civil war without U.S. support for repressive governments. And if Vietnam had held elections as scheduled, the communists most likely would have won in 1955 instead of 1973, millions of people would not have died violently in a U.S.-led war and we would probably have had normal trade relations with Vietnam sooner.

U.S. intervention is a bad idea, these cases from the mid-'50s suggest, because people want to make their own history, even if the face of oppression is like Saddam Hussein's. A quick and easy victory over Iraq must not be the model for a series of future campaigns of regime change around the world.
_______________

This article was first published by the Los Angeles Times and is reprinted with permission of the author.
©Los Angeles Times


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j horse - 4/28/2003

I find it interesting that John Mosher does not challenge Weiner's assertion that in Guatemala, "A civil war between a series of U.S.-backed military governments and peasant guerrillas lasted 36 years. More than 1 million people were driven from their homes. Some 200,000 people were killed, 90 percent of whom were civilians." So, what does Mosher think about 1 million people being driven from their homes and 200,000 people killed. According to Mosher "By the standards of Central America--which has been a perennial hotbed ever since the departure of the Spanish in the early 19th century--Guatemala has done reasonably well." This must come as news to most Guatemalans, as well as to organizations which have tracked Guatemala's human rights record, such as Amnesty International.

As I understand Mosher's critique, it doesn't matter in terms of the outcome in Iran and Guatemala whether Mossedegh or Arbenz remained in power. If that is true, then why support replacing democratically elected governments with authoritarian ones. Why not give democracy a chance?


Ralph E. Luker - 4/28/2003

Homer, Do you have something so say other than ad hominem attacks?


Homer Simpson - 4/28/2003

This Kriz guy leaves me in stitches.

Does he actually exist or is he the creation of some science fiction writer living in the outer regions of Puget Sound?

He could be, per secret documents long concealed by the CIA, a character on The Simpsons.


David Salmanson - 4/28/2003

Not a bad idea Suetonius. Kind of a best of both worlds. *shakes hand*


David - 4/28/2003


Stephen Kriz - 4/26/2003


In the interest of bipartisanship, I submit that there is a "government within a government" in the United States, that has supported or destroyed various regimes throughout the world since the Second World War, quite independent of which political party controls either the White House or Congress. This shadow government (elements of which reside in the CIA, the DIA, the FBI and other civilian positions within the government), have been the root cause of war and insurrection in Afghanistan, Argentina, Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Angola, Iraq and several other countries. Unless and until we flush these unAmerican traitors out and restore rule of the people, this democratic Republic is doomed. Our Founding Fathers must be whirling in their graves over the pathetic mess they have made of our country and it's stature in the world. Mr Weiner is correct - he just doesn't go far enough......


Gregory T. Cushman - 4/25/2003

Uh, Manuel Noriega was a U.S.-installed military strong man and ruled a country with liberal banking and ship registration laws that made it a haven for financial capital, hardly a "socialist state."

Query to readers: Is this a common mistake, to believe that the recent Panamanian intervention was done to overthrow an anti-U.S. government?


Derek Catsam - 4/25/2003

Ahh yes, as opposed to the brilliant logic of paralleling hnn posts with refereed journal articles. Sorry -- when you click on a post and then respond it is there as plain as day "Respond to this comment." At least when I write my journal articles I expect rudimentary reading comprehension skills.


Derek Catsam - 4/25/2003

Suetonius --
Good will gesture accepted and appreciated.
dc


Suetonius - 4/25/2003

*offering to shake both Derek and David's hands in goodwill*

Yeah, I've pondered over the anonymity vs. accountability problem as well. What's surprised me is that HNN has still not gone to a registered log-in system like so many place have. Even the most vapid sites on the far-left and far-right (Democratic Underground and Free Republic) require an identity, however fake the name, and an account that can be terminated if you go off the deep end (usually for abusive or racist posting.

I'd be very happy to see such a system in place. That would allow for a greater discussion in more formal ways. Ultimately, I suppose, we're trying to create on the web the equivalent of the H-net discussions.


Josh Greenland - 4/24/2003

"Look, HNN is not that hard. If you look at the sequence of comments, Salmonson's came after mine, but not as a separate strand. Instead, he had to do as I am doing right now, which is to "reply to this comment" and not "reply to this article" -- had he been merely responding to the article, it would have gotten its own strand. So to say that he was responsing to me is simply to look at where his comment falls in the line of the debate. This is not rocket science."

Derek, I hope you don't submit articles to peer reviewed journals based on logic like that. Are you seriously saying that because David's post came after yours in the same general thread, that he must have been replying to YOU rather than to WLtW?

David's post reads as a defense of Wiener. If his post related to yours in ANY way, than it was in AGREEING with you that one should judge Wiener's article on its content rather than dismissing it with an ad hominem attack.

What a waste. How long in this thread since we mentioned any history?


Derek Catsam - 4/24/2003

I am torn on this questioon as well. I was miffed at Suetonius for slamming some of the credentials of other scholars when he won't give us the opportunity to see what sort og glass house he lives in. At the same time, while I think it is groundless and overstated, if he and others truly believe that their status is tenuous and that their anonymity protects them, it may not be a bad idea. Plus, as I've discovered, giving your name means some of the more rabid of the hnn posters (we're practically bloggers at this point) can track down your email and do some damage, or at least annoy to all hell. This has happened not only to me but to others as well.


David Salmanson - 4/24/2003

They are selective, but they share a common thread. Each was an elected legitimate government (or in the case of Vietnam about to be elected legitimate government) that was replaced with an unelected illegitmate government. Weiner could have added Chile and made his argument stronger. But at the same time, this is not the scenario in Iraq. The Baathist party was neither elected nor legitimate. This is an important distinction for comparison. During the Cold War the US was more than willing to subvert legitimate governments, that is much less likely now. The only member of the Axis of Evil that remotely resembles a democracy is Iran, and there the Ayatollahs (spelling?) continually undermine whatever veneer of legitimacy the civil government tries to establish.


While I dig Suetonius's use of a screen name (it reminds me of all those revolutionary war pamphelts signed Brutus) I am not sure that allowing screen names on HNN is a good idea. The use of fictive identities often lends itself to forms of discussion that are beyond heated to openly hostile. At some point can HNN editors open a space for discussion on this.


Derek Catsam - 4/24/2003

Yup -- and of course now you'll be criticized for not entering that brier patch.


David Salmanson - 4/24/2003

I couldn't agree more. My own work is on New Mexico from the 1950s-1980s and I ended up avoiding most political issues because the political infighting there made any work impossible without being identified with one faction or another and thus not having access to all the sources.


Derek Catsam - 4/24/2003

David --
Let's assume that we both came across wrong. I am not the ogre I appear to be, and I believe that your intentions were good and noble. On Iran-US relations, the book I know best is actually about Iran Contra and US foreign relations, by Houghton, I believe. The problem with contemporary history is that, well, it is so contemporary. If you write on current stuff, you are almost inevitably going to get hammered, and yet we are reaching a point where the historiography of the 70s and beyond needs to go further than a polarization between hagiography and demonization. In fact, the politics of personalization (worship or loathing of Reagan, utter hatred or knee jerk defense of Clinton, Bush is an idiot Bush is the second coming) infects both historical work and contemporary politics.
dc


Derek Catsam - 4/24/2003

Look, HNN is not that hard. If you look at the sequence of comments, Salmonson's came after mine, but not as a separate strand. Instead, he had to do as I am doing right now, which is to "reply to this comment" and not "reply to this article" -- had he been merely responding to the article, it would have gotten its own strand. So to say that he was responsing to me is simply to look at where his comment falls in the line of the debate. This is not rocket science.


David Salmanson - 4/24/2003

Sorry Josh, I'm Philly based. Look me up if you are ever in town. I was in SF last year for the AHA meetings so I won't be back for a while.


Josh Greenland - 4/24/2003

"I stand by the rest of my assertions, including the ones about you assuming you knew his sources, which you could not, and your pedantic attempt to give me a primer on US foreign relations literature."

How do you figure Salmanson's message on Wiener's probable sources was intended to give YOU anything? His reply was to Why Listen to Wiener's message, and not to yours. What's the point of attacking people who didn't do anything wrong and who don't disagree with you in any substantive way?


Josh Greenland - 4/24/2003

"Thanks to Josh Greenland to jumping to my defense. If we ever meet, I'll buy you a drink."

I'm in the SF Bay Area, in different parts of it on different days. Are you ever in the area?


Josh Greenland - 4/23/2003

"The initial post I was referring to was by the anonymous "why listen to Wiener" to whose defense Mr. Salmonson immediately came. So my apologies for lumping the two together.

I think you're also wrong in asserting that Mr. Salmanson defended Why Listen to Wiener's post. I read Mr. Salmanson's original post as a defense of Jon Wiener's article against WLtW's attack.

Everyone isn't your enemy, Derek.


David Salmanson - 4/23/2003

Maybe I don't understand how this system works. I thought I was supporting you and replying to the anononymous author by continuing the thread. I now notice that my comments are not as indented as others are. Why is that? I am sorry I am coming off as sanctimonious, that is not my intent. I am still interested in what you see as the purpose of HNN. As for the memory thing, it was followed by a caveat statement about public sources. I am not aware of a good readable book specifically on US-Iran relations that covers the period from 1950s - 1981 which is why I did not mention any. Are there any? The closest I could come up with off the top of my head is a very brief section in America, Russia, and the Cold War but I do not have the latest edition and I don't recall it being all that different from the "community memory."


Derek Catsam - 4/23/2003

David --
Enough of the lectures on professionalism. Seriously. I'm doing just fine on my own without your sanctimoniousness. But were I at a conference, and someone directed to me a "look at the sources" comment directly related to something I said or wrote, (and your "check his sources" comment was a DIRECT response to my post), yes, I would tell them not to lecture me about the rudiments of a foreign policy reading list. Especially when part of your "check his sources" point came from your own memories of the hostage crisis when you were in elementary school.


David Salmanson - 4/23/2003

Mr. Catsam,

You once wrote for a department newsletter: "The sometimes inspiring, often difficult, and ever-rewarding job of interpreting and uncovering the past is one that is not for everyone, but the opportunity to do so should be based upon ability, interest, and immersion in the proper literature." My post was based on all three. As I indicated, I see a specific purpose in HNN and I try to fill it. (There are other purposes as well, I rely on the history in the news to keep me up to date with events not always covered in the NYT or on H-Net, I have used HNN articles in the classroom both for content and for teaching critical reading skills). I am not sure what your purpose is and I am interested in knowing. In general, if HNN is not going to just be a series of flame wars ask yourself, would you this language at a conference (at a session and not at the bar!) or in classroom? For non-academics, the comparable question might be would you use this language in an office with a co-worker? As for my ability to intuit Weiner's sources, you and I both know what a prelim list (or qual list or whatever they call it where you got your degree)looks like and which diplo books are on it, but many HNN readers don't. That's who I am usually writing to when I post. If you are not in that group, it is not meant for you.


Derek Catsam - 4/23/2003

"Violating the norms of basic humane discussion"? You've got to be kidding, right? I did apologize for my mistake in believing you had called the writer of the article a moron. I stand by the rest of my assertions, including the ones about you assuming you knew his sources, which you could not, and your pedantic attempt to give me a primer on US foreign relations literature.


John Moser - 4/23/2003

What's truly objectionable about this piece isn't that the author once wrote something nice about Belleisles. What's really bothersome about it is that it's just plain bad history. It attributes everything bad that's happened since the 1950s in Iran, Guatemala, and Vietnam to the U.S. intervention. My purpose isn't to defend any of the three interventions, but I don't see how any serious historian can accept the underlying implication is that everything would have been wonderful in all three places, had only the United States stayed out. Furthermore, it is just plain wrong to conclude that these examples demonstrate that the war against Saddam Hussein was a mistake.

For example, in discussing Iran Wiener has to jump ahead over a quarter of a century to show the alleged bad effects of the overthrow of Mossadegh. Are we really to believe that anti-American fundamentalist Islam would not have emerged had the United States allowed Mossadegh to remain in power? The Shah's regime might have been brutal, but by standards of the modern Middle East it was fairly liberal--and indeed, there are many elements of Reza Pahlavi's "White Revolution" of the 1970s that were similar to the reforms that Mossadeq had tried to enact. This was precisely what religious extremists like Khomeini despised about the Shah. In any case, to attribute an event like the Iranian revolution to something that happened over twenty-five years earlier seems like sloppy reasoning to me.

Then there is the case of Guatemala. Certainly, that country has seen plenty of instability since the overthrow of Arbenz. But, then again, it had seen plenty of instability BEFORE his overthrow as well. By the standards of Central America--which has been a perennial hotbed ever since the departure of the Spanish in the early 19th century--Guatemala has done reasonably well.

Finally Wiener offers us the example of Vietnam, but why he chooses to focus on Eisenhower's decision "to block Vietnamese elections, recognize South Vietnam as an independent nation and install Ngo Dinh Diem as head of state" is puzzling. Why this is worse than any of the other mistakes made by the United States in Vietnam--particularly the Kennedy administration's decision to encourage a coup against Diem in 1963--is beyond me. In any case, U.S. involvement in Vietnam was not about "regime change." That was North Vietnam's goal, and it seems to have worked. There are indeed lessons to be learned from Vietnam, but these are not lessons that Wiener would like us to learn.

If Wiener's point were simply to say that intervention comes with the potential for unintended consequences, then he is undoubtedly correct. But what struck me about this piece is how similar it sounds to the writings of conservative and libertarian economists who oppose any intervention into the free market because of the risk of unintended consequences. I highly doubt that Wiener would identify himself with this group (and I suspect he would have a difficult time serving as contributing editor of the _Nation_ if he did). Assuming he is unwilling to accept this is a rationale for government interference in the economy, why should we accept it as an argument against overthrowing a tyrant like Saddam Hussein?


David Sallmanson - 4/23/2003

I thought I was agreeing with Derek Catsam, so to find myself personally attacked was quite shocking. While I await Mr. Catsam's apology for violating the norms of basic humane discussion, I will point out that my post was meant to provide those who might not be familiar with recent diplomatic history literature a starting place for voyaging in. HNN is a place where lay readers and academics meet, because of this I think one of its most underused uses is to bridge the divide between the two communities. As someone who is both a trained PhD who reads (and tries to write) academic history and who teaches high school (albeit at an excellent girls school) I am daily made aware that the two audiences rarely use the same language, have the same expectations, or the same needs. I did not need Weiner's footnotes because I recognized the argument, the stuff I pointed out was so that lay readers who might be distrustful of Wiener from only knowing him through the B controversey could see for themselves.

Thanks to Josh Greenland to jumping to my defense. If we ever meet, I'll buy you a drink.

-dls


Derek Catsam - 4/23/2003

The initial post I was referring to was by the anonymous "why listen to Wiener" to whose defense Mr. Salmonson immediately came. So my apologies for lumping the two together.


Suetonius - 4/23/2003

We might also think it arrogant to lump the Vietnamese with the Guatemalans and the Iraqis as all the same people when their cultural and political traditions are all different.


Josh Greenland - 4/23/2003

"You say "If we learned anything from the B. controversy it is that attacking the person isn't particularly productive." And yet in your initial post you called Wiener a "moron." Funny little bit of double standard you have there. Or a better word might be "hypocrisy.""

Speaking of source-checking, I looked over David Salmanson's post and couldn't find where he called Wiener a moron, or even used the word moron. I don't see any previous "initial" post from Salmanson, only the one you tagged your reply onto.

So what ARE you talking about, Mr. Catsam?

BTW, I agree with Wiener's sentiments about our post-war interventions. Given the flakeyness of his Bellesiles defenses, however, I do wonder how much of this intervention history he's gotten wrong.


Derek Catsam - 4/23/2003

That point is well taken. Plus, does the fact that regime change has failed in the past mean that it cannot work in the future? Are we consigned to bad policies simply because we followed them in the past? That would seem to be a formula for inaction.


Suetonius - 4/22/2003

Mr. Weiner's examples are selective, and as such weaken his argument. Why has he chosen them? Are they all deliberately from the Eisenhower Administration (at their core)? Is it because they involve countries once termed "third world"? Is it because they were the failures?

If they were the only examples, we might be on to something here. But history--that portion of the past that we selectively remember, having dropped away all the parts that no one bothered to recall or write down--is rarely an effective guide to the future. It is at best a source of metaphors, ways of explaining by analogy what we see going on here now. What about the instances where the United States pushed regime change but did not use military force later: perhaps the Philippines at the end of the Marcos regime. Perhaps Italy and France after World War II, regime-prevention, where the CIA intervened to protect the existing "capitalist" parties in the elections, or at best to ensure that the communist parties did not come to power. What about Grenada, or Panama: are these countries better off now than had they remained socialist states?

If Mr. Weiner wants to open up the question of whether regime change has worked in the past, it would be better of him, or rather for his argument, to consider the other instances that might counter his suggestion.


Derek Catsam - 4/22/2003

Yes, but no one expects original scholarly research on History News Network. What we expect is articles on current events from an historical perspective, which Wiener attempts to do here. Furthermore you say "check his sources" yet this is not an article with citations. Curious how you were able to check the sources. This is a (albeit short) work of synthesis, very common in the scholarly community. Perhaps you've heard of it?
I don't need a primer from you on the historiography on American foreign policy, I'm well aware of the literature. The larger point is that in an HNN article format, Professor Wiener attempts to tie the current situation in Iraq with other American endeavors at regime change that are a blot on the escutcheon.
You say "If we learned anything from the B. controversy it is that attacking the person isn't particularly productive." And yet in your initial post you called Wiener a "moron." Funny little bit of double standard you have there. Or a better word might be "hypocrisy."


David Salmanson - 4/22/2003

Wiener didn't invent these arguments. The Eisenhower policies are well documented in Divine "Eisenhower and the Cold War", check out America's Longest War by Herring for the consequences of that policy in Vietnam. Almost any textbook on Latin America tells that Guatamalan story and as for Iran in 1979 well I remember it, and I was in elementary school then, nothing Weiner says contradicts anything that has come out publicly since those days. An excellent primer on US foreign policy in general is Michael Hunt's Ideology and American Foreign Policy. More detailed analysis can be found in the Cambridge History of American Foriegn Policy series vol. 1 Bradford Perkins, vol. 2. Walter La Faeber vol. 3 Iriye vol. 4 Warren I. Cohen

If we learned anything from the B. controversey it is that attacking the person isn't particularly productive. However, good evidence, well assembled into a cogent argument will carry the day eventually.


Derek Catsam - 4/22/2003

Why? Because he made an argument, and an interesting one. he wrote a misguided article a while back and so from here on out, you won't read or pay attention to anything he writes? How about opening up your mind just a teensy, tinsy bit? How about making a case against the article on its merits rather than by smearing the writer as a whole? Seriously, who's the moron here?


Why Listen to Wiener? - 4/22/2003

This is the moron who published the ridiculous defense of Bellesiles in the Nation not too long ago. He was willing to place on his credibility on the line in that case. Bellesiles lost his job at Emory; the Committee report is remarkably damning, and we are now supposed to believe anything this guy claims? C'mon HNN, get real.