Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
by Stephen Kinzer
Awhile back, we offered the book "All the Shah's Men: An American Coup
and the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror," by Stephen Kinzer. (We
interviewed Kinzer about the book.)
It was a compelling, detailed account of how the U.S. overthrew the democratically-elected
government of Iran in 1953. Kinzer's book on the Iran coup was meticulously researched.
In the end, whatever cover story the State Department was using to claim it was
necessary to squash democracy in order to fight Communism, the real impetus behind
the U.S. suppression of democratic rule was that the charismatic elected leader
of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, wanted to restore the British oil concession to
Eisenhower, then president, had to be convinced that the coup was necessary to
keep the Soviets at bay. The former WW II Allied Commander in Chief wondered
aloud at a National Security Council Meeting "why it wasn't possible to get
some of these people in the downtrodden countries to like us instead of hating
These were prophetic words. The Shah was installed as a puppet government leader
by the U.S. after Mossadegh was disposed of -- and the rest is the sad history
of U.S. failure after failure in foreign policy.
Kinzer, who is one of the truly professional New York Times reporters,
has returned to the topic of the United States overthrowing governments in his
new bestseller appropriately titled, "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime
Change from Hawaii to Iraq."
Although Iraq may stand out for its singular incompetence, deception, bungling
and corruption, it does -- Kinzer's book sadly reminds us -- join a long list
of U.S. attacks on democratically elected (and U.S. supported rogue leaders who
rebelled) governments that didn't toe the American foreign policy/economic interest
line. Regime change isn't some sort of Bushevik innovation, although pre-emptive
regime change is. The fact is America has always asserted its "right" to remove
governments not to its liking when it was able to do so.
Perhaps that is why the leaders of both parties in Congress are so much less
critical of Bush's Iraq folly than the American public in general.
But there were many coups that the U.S. pulled off with relative speed and little
loss of life. Or the U.S. backed proxy armies and death squads to do their dirty
work, as Kinzer saw during the Reagan era in Central America. (He also wrote "Bitter
Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala," so he knows of what
In South America now, there are three populist/anti-Bush democratically-elected
governments: Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile -- and Peru appears likely to join
them soon. These are the fruits of years of hemispheric plantation politics by
the United States.
And when you go back and read Kinzer's book on the 1953 coup in Iran, you wonder
how different it would have been if Eisenhower had followed his instincts and
backed democracy there, instead of destroying it and putting the Shah in power.
The hardline, fundamentalist Iranian government in existence in 2006 is the inevitable
result of the 1953 destruction of a democratic Persian government.
"Overthrow" provides a vital perspective that puts the Iraq War in context, not
to excuse it, but to understand -- and in understanding it, realizing how destructive
it is to our national interests and the world as a whole.
In interviewing Kinzer, we sensed he was proud of his profession as an "old school" journalist:
get the facts, do the research, and report the truth.
Kinzer isn't a political polemicist. He's interested in the historical record
of how America topples governments that get in its way.