This month, the world has marked significant historical milestones: the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing (and unmarked, except in Russia, the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s Operation Bagration, the largest battle in world history, in which the Soviets broke the back of the Nazi army); and the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the spark that led to the First World War. But this week saw the anniversary of another major turning point in modern history, a campaign that became — and remains — the enduring template of foreign policy for the world’s most powerful nation. We speak, of course, of the 60th anniversary of Washington’s “regime change” operation in Guatemala, overthrowing a democratically elected government. It was not the first such American “intervention,” of course (and was preceded in the previous year by a more indirect role in overthrowing democracy in Iran), but it set in train more than six decades of violent attacks on democracy by the “leader of the free world.” (A fine tradition carried on by Barack Obama in Honduras.) In fact, a hatred of democracy — a genuine, visceral revulsion at the idea of people choosing their own leaders and their own form of society — has been a driving force in American foreign policy for generations. Democracy and freedom are only allowed if they lead to outcomes that advance whatever the agenda of the American elite happens to be at any given time. They hate democracy abroad; they hate it at home; they hate it everywhere, all the time. The historical record is remarkably consistent on this point. The Guatemala regime change was noted at the London Review of Books, however, in a piece by John Perry. Below are some excerpts:
Over ten days in June 1954, a decade after the D-Day landings, the CIA sent twelve planes to drop bombs and propaganda on towns in Guatemala in support of a coup against the elected government of Jácobo Arbenz …. … In the last raid on 27 June, the SS Springfjord, a British merchant ship that had survived capture by the Nazis in 1940, was attacked in the port of San Jose. It was alleged to be unloading arms. After a warning pass – the ship’s captain gave the pilot a friendly wave – a 500lb bomb was dropped down its chimney. It turned out to be loading coffee and cotton. Guatemala was one of the first countries in the region to emerge from military dictatorship. Arbenz was the second democratic president, elected in 1951 with 65 per cent of the vote. A strongly nationalist military officer, he was convinced that the central problem in a mainly agricultural country was land: 70 per cent of it in the hands of only 2 per cent of the population, of which only a quarter was being cultivated. In 1953 he decreed the takeover of more than 200,000 acres of unused land belonging to the United Fruit Company. The company responded with a propaganda campaign to convince Eisenhower not to be ‘soft on communism’. It worked. Arbenz, realising that a coup was being plotted, bought a secret shipment of arms from Czechoslovakia. Uncovered by the CIA, this enabled Eisenhower to warn of a possible ‘communist dictatorship’ and support Arbenz’s rival, Carlos Castillo Armas. His insurgents invaded on 18 June, but failed to take control of the towns they targeted. The coup could easily have been a flop. But the CIA raids that culminated in the bombing of the Springfjord unnerved the Guatemalan army command, who withdrew their support from Arbenz. By the evening of 27 June he’d resigned. Within a month, military dictatorship had resumed under Castillo Armas, with a new government recognised by Eisenhower. After a visit in 1955, Vice-President Nixon said that Guatemala was the ‘first instance in history where a communist government has been replaced by a free one’. US-backed military regimes ruled until 1996. By then some 200,000 people had died in civil war, most at the hands of government forces.
Our 21st century intervention in Iraq has killed far more people much more quickly, of course. But as we gear up for yet another round of slaughter in the country we have recently demolished, it’s good to be reminded that none of this is new or unusual; it is, very simply — and quite horribly — the way the bipartisan American elite do business. Violence is their profession, their religion, their guiding light. They use violence to advance their agenda, then use more violence to deal with the inevitable horrific consequences spawned by their violence, on and on in an endless cycle.
Sorry that service continues to be interrupted, but the problems are being worked on, and I hope we will be able to be less intermittent in transmission soon.
As we have noted before, if you find the site down for a long period of time, you might check out our former stomping grounds, now known as Empire Burlesque 1.0. If I have some burning word to say to the world but this site is down, I will post at the old homeplace.
Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of a man who sure enough has a burning word to say to the world -- and enough fire to keep saying it with power and moxie even in the lengthening shadows.
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams
You want to climb to the top of this seething pit,
You got to walk and talk real nice.
But the secret price of power here is
Yesterday we wrote about the sudden-onset amnesia of our media-political class concerning the officially confirmed operations of American death squads. As we noted, official Washington is in a minor flutter at the moment over reports that Dick Cheney ordered and then concealed the existence of a planned program of targeted assassinations -- a program which was supposedly never implemented and was then supposedly cancelled by Obama CIA chief Leon Panetta. We merely pointed out the well-known fact -- supported by copious reportage in mainstream journals in the past eight years, not to mention proud public admissions by top government officials, including the president -- that the CIA (and other agents of the United States government) had indeed been murdering people in "extrajudicial assassinations" throughout the Bush Administration.
I concentrated on state murder during the Bush years because that is the ostensible focus of the current, manufactured controversy over the alleged existence of one allegedly non-operational program. However, as Jeremy Scahill points out, the Bush-Cheney murder racket was not created ex nihilo, but was a continuation and refinement of murder programs initiated by Bill Clinton. Scahill also makes the pertinent observation that "extrajudicial assassination" -- known quaintly in the old days as murder most foul -- is continuing unabated under Barack Obama.
The deep-dyed complicity of Democratic leaders, executive and congressional, in official murder sprees is the main reason we will never see a genuine investigation of America's death squads, as Scahill points out. Imperial crime is thoroughly bipartisan; neither faction dares push too far in such matters, because both are smeared and caked with blood.
Scahill's piece should be read in its entirety, but here are a few choice bits:
The fact is that many of Bush’s worst policies (now being highlighted by leading Democrats) were based in some form or another in a Clinton-initiated policy or were supported by the Democrats in Congress with their votes. To name a few: the USA PATRIOT Act, the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Afghanistan, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the widespread use of mercenaries and other private contractors in US war zones and warrant-less wire-tapping...
As [the Democrats now pretending to be scandalized by the recent Cheney allegations] well know, President Obama has continued the Bush targeted assassination program using weaponized drones and special forces teams hunting "high value targets." As former CIA Counter-terrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro and others have pointed out, "The CIA runs drones and targets al-Qaeda safe houses all the time." Cannistraro told Talking Points Memo that there is no important difference between those kinds of attacks and "assassinations" with a gun or a knife.
...It is pretty clear that when the Bush administration took over, it picked up the Clinton administration’s policy on assassination and ran with it — albeit with more of a missionary zeal for killing and a removal of some of the layers of lawyering. In short, the Bush team expanded and streamlined the longstanding U.S. government assassination program.
Throughout the 1990s, the question of covert assassinations was a source of major discussion within the Clinton White House and it is clear assassinations were attempted with presidential approval. Newsweek magazine reported on how, in 1995, U.S. Special Forces facilitated the assassination of a Libyan "terrorist" in Bosnia, saying, "American authorities justified the assassination under a little-known 1993 ‘lethal finding’ signed by President Bill Clinton that gave permission to target terrorists." A former senior Clinton official speaking shortly after 9/11 called on the Bush administration not to escalate the U.S. assassination program, saying "We have a war on drugs, too, but we don’t kill drug lords." But then, with no apparent sense of contradiction, the official added, "we have proxies who do."
...The truth is, under Clinton, it wasn’t just proxies authorized to do the assassinations. ... Clinton did authorize what amounted to assassination squads to hunt down and kill bin Laden and other "al-Qaeda leaders." That happened officially in 1998 with Clinton’s signing of a Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to carry out covert assassinations. George W. Bush was not the president and Dick Cheney was not the vice president. Of course, current CIA Director Leon Panetta was Clinton’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1997 and would have been party to years worth of discussion on this issue when Clinton was president. Under Clinton, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued secret rulings stating that the Ford/Reagan ban on assassinations did not apply to "military targets" or "to attacks carried out in preemptive self-defense," according to Steve Coll, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Ghost Wars.
Shortly after 9/11, Clinton stated this position publicly, supporting the Bush administration’s "war on terror" targeted assassination policy, saying on NBC News, "The ban that was put in effect under President Ford only applies to heads of state. It doesn’t apply to terrorists." That is a stunning statement that is a true legal stretch given the explicit language of the ban. Moreover, Clinton did, in fact, try to kill a head of state on April 22, 1999, when he ordered a NATO airstrike on the home of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Clinton and Gen. Wesley Clark also authorized an assassination attempt on Serbian Information Minister, Aleksander Vucic, bombing Radio Television Serbia when Vucic was scheduled to appear via satellite on CNN’s "Larry King Live." Vucic was not killed, but 16 media workers were.
Clinton also publicly acknowledged his own administration’s attempt to assassinate bin Laden. "I worked hard to try to kill him," Clinton said. "I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since." Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said after Clinton issued his 1998 "lethal finding," U.S. operatives worked with Afghan rebels for two years in an attempt to kill bin Laden. "There were a few points when the pulse quickened, when we thought we were close," Berger later recalled. Among the alleged attempts on bin Laden’s life taken by Clinton was the 1998 bombing of Afghanistan (which was coupled with a massive strike on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan).
As Coll observed of the Clinton policy: "Clinton had demonstrated his willingness to kill bin Laden, without any pretense of seeking his arrest."
Scahill has much more on the macabre history -- and the reeking hypocrisy -- behind the current "controversy.
Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer who fled persecution by Saddam’s regime but who was also a powerful voice against the Anglo-American aggression against his country in 2003, exposes one of the many lies about Iraq that have infected both sides of the interventionist argument: that it is a land seething with ancient, irrepressible sectarian hatreds that can only be put right by separation. It’s an important piece, worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:
Tony Blair has been widely derided for his attempted justification of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and his claim last weekend that he's blameless over the current turmoil. Unfortunately, though, many of his critics have also bought into a central plank of his argument: that Iraqi society is no more than a motley collection of religions and ethnicities which have been waiting for decades, if not centuries, to slaughter each other and plunge the place into a bloodbath. Neither side, though, has yet produced historical evidence of significant communal fighting between Iraq's religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities. … Despite popular myths, the majority of Ba'ath party founders were Shia. However, Iraqi Ba'athist ideology always had a racist dimension against the Kurdish people and non-Arabs – as well as a class orientation, when in power, that marginalised millions in the poorest sections of society, mostly in the south. Southern Iraq and some areas of Baghdad, populated by mostly Shia migrants from southern rural areas, have historically been home to the poorest people. Iraq's biggest mass organisation from the 1940s to the 60s was the Iraqi Communist party, founded in 1934 by activists from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. It was the strongest party even in Iraqi Kurdistan, and remained a mass party until its leadership decided to join Saddam's regime in 1973 – against the wishes of most party members. Saddam launched a vicious campaign against the ICP in 1978-9, and the party lost its raison d'être after joining the Iraq Governing Council set up after the occupation in 2003…. One of the greatest testaments to the tolerance that exists between the various communities in Iraq is that Baghdad still has up to a million Kurds, who have never experienced communal violence by Arabs. Similarly, about 20% of Basra's population is Sunni. Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, is home to two of the most sacred Shia shrines. Its Sunni clergy have been the custodians of the shrines for centuries. Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities. My experience of Iraq, and that of all friends and relatives, is that of an amazing mix of coexisting communities, despite successive divide-and-rule regimes. The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq's modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam's army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. …. Whether Iraq can survive this most serious threat to its existence remains to be seen. But those who claim it could only have peace if it is divided into three states do not appreciate the makeup of Iraqi society – the three regions would quickly fall under the rule of violent sectarians and chauvinists. Given how ethnically and religiously mixed Iraq's regions are, particularly in Baghdad and central Iraq, a three-way national breakup would be a recipe for permanent wars in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers, and the warlords will be the winners.
Once again, it is clear: the moral insanity of the American-led aggression in 2003 is the fountainhead of the current crisis, while the moral insanity of fomenting sectarian war in Syria is the immediate spate that has brought it to floodtide. Yet it is also clear that many, if not most, in the Washington-London power elite are looking at the crisis as an opportunity to double down on the moral insanity of their militarism: an excuse to beef up support for the violent extremists in Syria, to “re-engage” militarily in Iraq — courses which will only lead to more insanity and bloodshed. Ramadani points to a better alternative — a “back to the future” scenario that draws on the more inclusive, secular nature of Iraq’s past. (The same past existed to a great degree in Afghanistan as well.) If we were not ruled by bipartisan war profiteers — if we only had ordinary, run-of-the-mill politicians trying gamely to muddle through to something better for their own people and others — we would find there are many, many positive elements that could be supported or encouraged in these “intractable, historic” conflicts. But given the sinister poltroons who direct our affairs, one can only fear that these better alternatives will be squashed or discarded once again.