Jim Porter: America’s historic foreign policy of supporting brutal dictators
Special to the Sun
TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. – The political unrest and revolution in the Middle East has painfully brought to the surface the United States’ historic foreign policy of supporting brutal dictators. Generally, any ruler who protects our interests throughout the world does so at the expense of the general populace; contrary to our long-held belief in open and democratic societies.
Since World War II, U.S. foreign policy in less developed countries has been to support the strongman in charge who does our bidding, accommodates our military bases, buys our arms and keeps the bad guys in check – at the expense of his countrymen and open government. It may be tied to our quest to fight communism throughout the world. We make deals with the devil.
As you well know (and will let me know), this is not my area of expertise, far from it, but the facts are hard to contradict. I invite your comments.
Dictator after dictator
The classic example has to be the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who we propped up and who took care of business for us from 1953 until he was forced into exile in 1979. That he temporarily relocated to the U.S. further fueled dislike of America.
We supported Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines until his fall in 1986 and Suharto of Indonesia until he went down in 1998. Both were tyrants.
Saddam Hussein is a good example. We sold him weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, before taking him out for having weapons of mass destruction, which we later confirmed, he didn’t have. For dozens of years Saddam Hussein tortured and killed his people. He was largely financed by our government.
We supported hated dictator Park Chung Hee in South Korea before he was assassinated in 1979 and replaced by the current government.
Latin American dictators
Our support for Latin American dictators is unparalleled. There was no one crueler than Somoza in Nicaragua. Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt was said to say, “Somoza may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.”
For years we have supported every right wing, brutal dictator in El Salvador. We’ve done the same in Guatemala. Don’t forget Roberto Suazo Cordova in Honduras, where we have consistently backed dictators that protect U.S. based United Fruit Company.
Remember our guy General Manuel Noriega in Panama, former CIA agent turned criminal? He slaughtered Panamanians for years until we helped assist his exit.
Our CIA helped overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973, replaced by Augusto Pinochet who conducted a 17-year reign of oppression and terror. We kept Batista in power terrorizing Cubans until a revolution led by Fidel Castro, a dictator from the other side of the street.
As to the Middle East, we supported Muammar Gaddafi over the years. We kept Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in office for over 30 years. All of the tanks and military hardware you see in Egypt in recent news reports came from the U.S. We provide $1.3 billion dollars per year in military aid to Egypt. By sheer force he kept things in control in the Middle East. At a price.
We assisted Tunisia’s strongman of 23 years, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. He’s gone now.
We have long supported Yemen’s authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and King Abdullah II in Jordan, and of course King Abdullah of (no elections) Saudi Arabia, one of America’s best friends. Can you spell “oil”?
Indeed these dictators, monarchs and kings have kept control of their countries, for their personal wealth and to our benefit, but not necessarily for the benefit of the common citizens in the Middle East who now are standing up for their rights. This puts our country in an awkward position. Do we side with democratic values or with our national interests?
Values vs. national interests
It is ironic that we beat the drums of democracy and freedom, for example taking on Saddam Hussein to “keep the world safe for democracy.” Yet our own foreign policy is and always has been dramatically anti-democratic. We have historically supported the “big dog” who looks after our interests at the expense of his countrymen. It has its benefits, nationally and internationally, including stability in the country or region, but at a tremendous price. We should revisit our foreign policy. From what I can tell, it has largely failed us. We can’t expect citizens of the world, governed by ruthless regimes, to have respect for us when our government’s actions suggest we have no respect for them.
My friends in Europe are fond of saying they love Americans but don’t trust the American government because we put our interests above everyone else’s: good intentions but arrogant. And worse yet, most of the repressive regimes we have supported were ultimately thrown out of office, leaving a distrust of America. We bet on the wrong horse.
I recall writing a paper in a political science class at U.C. Davis which started off as a pro-American foreign policy piece and somehow morphed into a paper questioning why we always backed the brutal enemy of the people. Indeed it is complex, but we can do better than uniformly supporting politicians who serve our agendas at the expense of human rights.
Of course, there is a contrary opinion about supporting world leaders who protect our national interests, so let’s begin the discussion.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s website http://www.portersimon.com.
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