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Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

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by Stephen Kinzer

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A fast-paced narrative history of the coups, revolutions, and invasions by which the United States has toppled fourteen foreign governments -- not always to its own benefit

"Regime change" did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush, but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the


A fast-paced narrative history of the coups, revolutions, and invasions by which the United States has toppled fourteen foreign governments -- not always to its own benefit

"Regime change" did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush, but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and continuing through the Spanish-American War and the Cold War and into our own time, the United States has not hesitated to overthrow governments that stood in the way of its political and economic goals. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the latest, though perhaps not the last, example of the dangers inherent in these operations.

In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells the stories of the audacious politicians, spies, military commanders, and business executives who took it upon themselves to depose monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers. He also shows that the U.S. government has often pursued these operations without understanding the countries involved; as a result, many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences.

In a compelling and provocative history that takes readers to fourteen countries, including Cuba, Iran, South Vietnam, Chile, and Iraq, Kinzer surveys modern American history from a new and often surprising perspective.

"Detailed, passionate and convincing . . . [with] the pace and grip of a good thriller." -- Anatol Lieven, The New York Times Book Review

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The recent ouster of Saddam Hussein may have turned "regime change" into a contemporary buzzword, but it's been a tactic of American foreign policy for more than 110 years. Beginning with the ouster of Hawaii's monarchy in 1893, Kinzer runs through the foreign governments the U.S. has had a hand in toppling, some of which he has written about at length before (in All the Shah's Men, etc.). Recent invasions of countries such as Grenada and Panama may be more familiar to readers than earlier interventions in Iran and Nicaragua, but Kinzer, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, brings a rich narrative immediacy to all of his stories. Although some of his assertions overreach themselves-as when he proposes that better conduct by the American government in the Spanish-American War might have prevented the rise of Castro a half-century later-he makes a persuasive case that U.S. intervention destabilizes world politics and often leaves countries worse off than they were before. Kinzer's argument isn't new, but it's delivered in unusually moderate tones, which may earn him an audience larger than the usual crew of die-hard leftists. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Over the last century, the United States has intervened in over a dozen countries to overthrow their governments -- more often than any other great power in modern history. In this fascinating history, Kinzer explores the reasons for such operations and what they accomplished. The pattern of regime-change operations has followed the arc of U.S. global engagement in the twentieth century. In the early cases -- Hawaii, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras -- U.S. presidents acted openly and in imperial fashion to protect corporate interests and spheres of influence; in the Cold War cases -- Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, Chile -- more subtle techniques and clandestine actions prevailed. The most recent interventions -- in Afghanistan and Iraq -- reveal new and staggeringly more complicated circumstances and calculations. Across the cases, which are recounted in lively and colorful detail, Kinzer argues that the motives for regime change have ranged from the prosaic and the pecuniary to the principled and the strategic. But in each case, action was undertaken when foreign governments refused to protect U.S. interests as defined at the moment. What Kinzer does not clarify is why interventions occurred in some countries and not others. Still, he offers a useful portrait of the presidents who have influenced the exercise of U.S. power and the interesting judgment that interventions have often succeeded in their immediate goals but failed to advance U.S. interests in the long term.
Library Journal
New York Times foreign correspondent Kinzer has collected 14 cases in which the United States overthrew another government, starting with the 1893 annexation of Hawaii. By doing so, he creates an image of U.S. policymakers as arrogant, ignorant, and driven entirely by self-interest. His analysis of overthrow operations in Cuba, the Philippines, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Grenada, Iran, Vietnam, Chile, and Afghanistan suggests that the invasion of Iraq was not an isolated case but an extension of settled American policy. Kinzer considerably vitiates his thesis, however, by ignoring the two world wars entirely, even though the wartime aim of the Allies in Europe, for instance, was explicitly regime change. He overreaches in arguing that 9/11 stemmed directly from the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953, an assertion he originally made in All the Shah's Men. The chapter on Iraq attacks the Bush administration, comparing its mistakes to those of presidents from William McKinley on. Although not a balanced portrayal, this book is recommended as an addition to collections on foreign affairs. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mossadegh, Diem, Arbenz, Allende, Liliuokalani, Kissinger: In this cheerless catalogue of villains and victims, New York Times correspondent Kinzer (All the Shah's Men, 2003, etc.) convincingly portrays U.S. foreign policy as a branch of organized crime. In 1901, a veteran of the Wounded Knee massacre ordered his men to turn the Philippines into "a howling wilderness," kill everyone over ten years of age and take no prisoners. Anticipating My Lai and Abu Ghraib by many decades, his troops responded by committing all manner of atrocities, including inventing a devious form of torture that led the Indianapolis News to opine that the U.S. had adopted "the methods of barbarism." Just a few years before, America had first stretched its imperial wings by seizing Hawaii from its rightful owners at the behest of a handful of sugar barons. Their spiritual heirs would call for the ouster of democratically elected Chilean president Salvador Allende, and Kissinger and Nixon would happily oblige, funding and arming a coup that, eerily enough, began on Sept. 11, 1973. Kinzer recounts these and several other exercises in regime change conducted more or less openly (save for those of the Nixon administration, sneaky in everything). The project is a timely one, given the ongoing exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan, which seem tailor-made for the moral of the story-that, with the exception of Reagan's Grenada invasion of 1983, those operations have, "in the end, weakened rather than strengthened American security," having had the cumulative effect of serving as a rallying point for anti-Americanism worldwide, increasing political divisions at home, amplifying the foreign entanglements that the FoundingFathers so feared and proving that "the United States was a hypocritical nation, as cynical as any other."A sobering and saddening book.
From the Publisher

“Citizens concerned about foreign affairs must read this book. Stephen Kinzer's crisp and thoughtful Overthrow undermines the myth of national innocence. Quite the contrary: history shows the United States as an interventionist busybody directed at regime change. We deposed fourteen foreign governments in hardly more than a century, some for good reasons, more for bad reasons, with most dubious long-term consequences.” —Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

“Stephen Kinzer has a grim message for those critics of the Iraqi war who believe George W. Bush to be America’s most misguided, uninformed, and reckless president. Bush has had plenty of company in the past century—presidents who believe that America, as Kinzer tells us, has the right to wage war wherever it deems war necessary.” —Seymour M. Hersh

“Stephen Kinzer’s book is a jewel. After reading Overthrow, no American -- not even President Bush -- should any longer wonder ‘why they hate us.’ Overthrow is a narrative of all the times we’ve overthrown a foreign government in order to put in power puppets that are obedient to us. It is a tale of imperialism American-style, usually in the service of corporate interests, and as Kinzer points out, ‘No nation in modern history has done this so often, in so many places so far from its own shores.’ ” —Chalmers Johnson

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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6.38(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.53(d)

Read an Excerpt

American leaders might be forgiven for intervening in countries about which they were so ignorant. What is harder to justify is their refusal to listen to their own intelligence agents. Chiefs of the CIA stations in Tehran, Guatemala City, Saigon, and Santiago explicitly warned against staging these coups. Officials in Washington paid no heed. They rejected or ignored all intelligence reports that contradicted what they instinctively believed.

Americans who think about and make foreign policy grasp the nature of alliances, big-power rivalries, and wars of conquest. The passionate desire of people in poor countries to assert control over their natural resources, which pushed them into conflict with the United States during the Cold War, lay completely outside the experience of most American leaders. Henry Kissinger spoke for them, eloquently as always, after Chilean foreign minister Gabriel Valdes accused him of knowing nothing about the Southern Hemisphere.

"No, and I don't care," Kissinger replied. "Nothing important can come from the south. History has never been produced in the south. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the south is of no importance."

This attitude made it easy for American statesmen to misunderstand why nationalist movements arose in the developing world.

Meet the Author

Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has reported from more than fifty countries on four continents. He served as the New York Times bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua, and as the Boston Globe Latin America correspondent. His previous books include All the Shah's Men, Crescent and Star, and Blood of Brothers. He is also the co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. He lives in Chicago.

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Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
TerryUSA More than 1 year ago
The Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer is an amazing book that enlightened me to the dark side of America. I found it amazing that the American Public has been so blind, and so tricked by our own government. "In the name of Freedom, freedom is destroyed" Bickel. One of my favorite quotes that match this book. This book closely examines the actions the American government and business executive have taken to undermine governments for beneficial reason. I thought the book was written to show that actions speak louder than words because the American government have been lying to the public ever since the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The decisions that the American government have taken are very clever. An example is Operation Iraq Freedom because the operation in Iraq and Iran was mainly for oil. We disguised our involvement into a foreign country by declaring to free the people in Iraq from the Taliban. We have involved ourselves in undermining and "invading" countries since 1893. We have sercetly overthrown or changed over twenty countries. I believe that the actions that America, a power hunger nation, is taking will slowly lead to its decline because most of the world hates America, and if America keeps involving itself in foreign matters, it might lead to war.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This excellent book, by Stephen Kinzer, an experienced American foreign correspondent, surveys the US state¿s record of forcible interventions abroad to change governments. It started when in 1893 it overthrew Hawaii¿s queen. In 1898 it took Cuba from Spain, denying Cuba its independence. From 1899 to 1902, it fought a vicious colonial war in the Philippines in which 4,374 US troops, 16,000 guerrillas and 20,000 civilians were killed. In 1909 it overthrew Nicaragua¿s government and in 1911 Honduras¿. After the Second World War, the US state carried out military coups across the world, aided by British governments, Labour and Conservative. The Attlee government (`old Labour¿, remember) opposed Vietnam¿s national liberation movement and helped the French to reimpose their colonial rule. The US state, supported by the Churchill government, backed their man Diem¿s refusal to hold the promised elections. In Iran, where Anglo-Iranian made more profit in 1950 alone than it had allowed Iran in royalties since 1900, an elected government sought to control and develop Iran¿s resources for the benefit of its people. Incensed at this presumption, the US and British states organised a coup in 1953. The US state overthrew Guatemala¿s elected government in 1954, installing a junta which killed more than 200,000 Guatemalans in the next thirty years. Similarly, in response to the Chilean people¿s election of Salvador Allende in 1970, the US state acted as its Ambassador there threatened, ¿We shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chilean people to utmost deprivation and poverty.¿ Thatcher¿s friend General Pinochet seized power in a bloody coup, butchering 25,000 people and torturing 27,255. US presidents ordered all these coups they were not `rogue operations¿ carried out by the CIA on its own initiative. All replaced incipient democracy with brutal dictatorships. All increased repression and reduced freedom. In the 1980s, the US state sent billions of dollars to aid the Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan, letting Pakistan¿s intelligence service decide who got the money ¿ the most anti-Western, anti-secular, anti-nationalist fundamentalists. Then the US state, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and bin Laden together put the Taliban in power. After 9/11, Bush attacked Iraq (which had never attacked or even threatened Americans) rather than focus on stopping Al Qaeda. Bush senior¿s National Security adviser, General Brent Scowcroft, warned that attacking Iraq would be a priceless gift to Islamic terrorists - Blair says this is enemy propaganda. These wars against Iraq and Afghanistan are traditional colonial wars for power and resources, not a rerun of the Second World War, as Blair and Bush would have us believe. The US state opposes all nationalisms and so opposes all other nations. Destroying other nations¿ sovereignty is bad for everyone. As Kinzer concludes, ¿In almost every case, overthrowing the government of a foreign country has, in the end, led both that country and the United States to grief ¿ far more pain than liberation.¿
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a perfect conversation starter because it is very relevant to today's world and what the U.S. has had a hand in creating. I had to read this for a class but I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was well-researched, well-written and overall an enthralling read.
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The author's knowledge of inernational relations and the needs of national security is microscopic. He fails to realize that the United States is obligated to look after its own national interests and that of its citizens. A foolish work of ignorance.