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

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Overview

""Regime change" did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush but has been an integral part of American foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and continuing through the entire twentieth century and into our own time, the United States has not hesitated to topple 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 these high-stakes operations." "In Overthrow, ...
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Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

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Overview

""Regime change" did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush but has been an integral part of American foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and continuing through the entire twentieth century and into our own time, the United States has not hesitated to topple 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 these high-stakes 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 recounts how America's long regime-change century began in Hawaii and gained momentum during the Spanish-American War, when Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines fell to American military and political power. Soon afterward, the United States started flexing its muscles in Central America, orchestrating coups that brought down the presidents of Nicaragua and Honduras." "Kinzer then shows how the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union led American leaders to view all political disputes through the lens of superpower competition. During this period, they arranged covert actions that led to the murder of a South Vietnamese president and the fall of democratic governments in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile. In recent years, invasions have once again become the preferred instrument of regime change, as operations in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq attest." The United States usually succeeds when it sets out to depose a foreign leader, but Kinzer assesses these operations in the cold light of history and concludes that many of them have actually undermined American security. Overthrow is a cautionary tale that serves as an urgent warning as the United States seeks to define its role in the modern world.
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Editorial Reviews

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

Anatol Lieven
Kinzer has written a detailed, passionate and convincing book, several chapters of which have the pace and grip of a good thriller. It should be essential reading for any Americans who wish to understand both their country's historical record in international affairs, and why that record has provoked anger and distrust in much of the world. Most important, it helps explain why, outside of Eastern Europe, American pronouncements about spreading democracy and freedom, as repeatedly employed by the Bush administration, are met with widespread incredulity.
— The New York Times
Julia E. Sweig
I have a sad suspicion that, with Iraq's seemingly endless toll, Overthrow will likewise become required reading.
— The Washington Post
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805082401
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/6/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 111,494
  • Product dimensions: 5.95 (w) x 8.15 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author


Stephen Kinzer, an award-winning New York Times correspondent who has reported from more than fifty countries on five continents, is the author of Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.

Michael Prichard is a professional narrator and stage and film actor who has played several thousand characters during his career. An Audie Award winner, he has recorded well over five hundred books and has earned several AudioFile Earphones Awards. Michael was also named a Top Ten Golden Voice by SmartMoney magazine.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Why does a strong nation strike against a weaker one? Usually because it seeks to impose its ideology, increase its power, or gain control of valuable resources. Shifting combinations of these three factors motivated the United States as it extended its global reach over the past century and more. This book examines the most direct form of American intervention, the overthrow of foreign governments.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political, and economic reasons. Like each of these operations, the "regimechange" in Iraq seemed for a time—a very short time—to have worked. It is now clear, however, that this operation has had terrible unintended consequences. So have most of the other coups, revolutions, and invasions that the United States has mounted to depose governments it feared or mistrusted.

The United States uses a variety of means to persuade other countries to do its bidding. In many cases it relies on time-honored tactics of diplomacy, offering rewards to governments that support American interests and threatening retaliation against those that refuse. Sometimes it defends friendly regimes against popular anger or uprisings. In more than a few places, it has quietly supported coups or revolutions organized by others. Twice, in the context of world wars, it helped to wipe away old ruling orders and impose new ones.

This book is not about any of those ways Americans have shaped the modern world. It focuses only on the most extreme set of cases: those in which the United States arranged to depose foreign leaders. No nation in modern history has done this so often, in so many places so far from its own shores.

The stories of these "regime change" operations are dazzlingly exciting. They tell of patriots and scoundrels, high motives and low cynicism, extreme courage and cruel betrayal. This book brings them together for the first time, but it seeks to do more than simply tell what happened. By considering these operations as a continuum rather than as a series of unrelated incidents, it seeks to find what they have in common. It poses and tries to answer two fundamental questions. First, why did the United States carry out these operations? Second, what have been their long-term consequences?

Drawing up a list of countries whose governments the United States has overthrown is not as simple as it sounds. This book treats only cases in which Americans played the decisive role in deposing a regime. Chile, for example, makes the list because, although many factors led to the 1973 coup there, the American role was decisive. Indonesia, Brazil, and the Congo do not, because American agents played only subsidiary roles in the overthrow of their governments during the 1960s. Nor do Mexico, Haiti, or the Dominican Republic, countries the United States invaded but whose leaders it did not depose.

America's long "regime change" century dawned in 1893 with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. This was a tentative, awkward piece of work, a cultural tragedy staged as comic opera. It was not a military operation, but without the landing of American troops, it probably would not have succeeded. The president of the United States approved of it, but soon after it happened, a new president took office and denounced it. Americans were already divided over whether it is a good idea to depose foreign regimes.

The overthrow of Hawaii's queen reignited a political debate that had first flared during the Mexican War half a century before. That debate, which in essence is about what role the United States should play in the world, rages to this day. It burst back onto the front pages after the invasion of Iraq.

No grand vision of American power lay behind the Hawaiian revolution of 1893. Just the opposite was true of the Spanish-American War, which broke out five years later. This was actually two wars, one in which the United States came to the aid of patriots fighting against Spanish colonialism, and then a second in which it repressed those patriots to assure that their newly liberated nations would be American protectorates rather than truly independent. A radically new idea of America, much more globally ambitious than any earlier one, emerged from these conflicts. They marked the beginning of an era in which the United States has assumed the right to intervene anywhere in the world, not simply by influencing or coercing foreign governments but also by overthrowing them.

In Hawaii and the countries that rose against Spain in 1898, American presidents tested and developed their new interventionist policy. There, however, they were reacting to circumstances created by others. The first time a president acted on his own to depose a foreign leader was in 1909, when William Howard Taft ordered the overthrow of Nicaraguan president José Santos Zelaya. Taft claimed he was acting to protect American security and promote democratic principles. His true aim was to defend the right of American companies to operate as they wished in Nicaragua. In a larger sense, he was asserting the right of the United States to impose its preferred form of stability on foreign countries.

This set a pattern. Throughout the twentieth century and into the beginning of the twenty-first, the United States repeatedly used its military power, and that of its clandestine services, to overthrow governments that refused to protect American interests. Each time, it cloaked its intervention in the rhetoric of national security and liberation. In most cases, however, it acted mainly for economic reasons—specifically, to establish, promote, and defend the right of Americans to do business around the world without interference.

Huge forces reshaped the world during the twentieth century. One of the most profound was the emergence of multinational corporations, businesses based in one country that made much of their profit overseas. These corporations and the people who ran them accumulated great wealth and political influence. Civic movements, trade unions, and political parties arose to counterbalance them, but in the United States, these were never able even to approach the power that corporations wielded. Corporations identified themselves in the public mind with the ideals of free enterprise, hard work, and individual achievement. They also maneuvered their friends and supporters into important positions in Washington.

By a quirk of history, the United States rose to great power at the same time multinational corporations were emerging as a decisive force in world affairs. These corporations came to expect government to act on their behalf abroad, even to the extreme of overthrowing uncooperative foreign leaders. Successive presidents have agreed that this is a good way to promote American interests.

Defending corporate power is hardly the only reason the United States overthrows foreign governments. Strong tribes and nations have been attacking weak ones since the beginning of history. They do so for the most elemental reason, which is to get more of whatever is good to have. In the modern world, corporations are the institutions that countries use to capture wealth. They have become the vanguard of American power, and defying them has become tantamount to defying the United States. When Americans depose a foreign leader who dares such defiance, they not only assert their rights in one country but also send a clear message to others.

The influence that economic power exercises over American foreign policy has grown tremendously since the days when ambitious planters in Hawaii realized that by bringing their islands into the United States, they would be able to send their sugar to markets on the mainland without paying import duties. As the twentieth century progressed, titans of industry and their advocates went a step beyond influencing policy makers; they becamethe policy makers. The figure who most perfectly embodied this merging of political and economic interests was John Foster Dulles, who spent decades working for some of the world's most powerful corporations and then became secretary of state. It was Dulles who ordered the 1953 coup in Iran, which was intended in part to make the Middle East safe for American oil companies. A year later he ordered another coup, in Guatemala, where a nationalist government had challenged the power of United Fruit, a company his old law firm represented.

Having marshaled so much public and political support, American corporations found it relatively easy to call upon the military or the Central Intelligence Agency to defend their privileges in countries where they ran into trouble. They might not have been able to do so if they and the presidents who cooperated with them had candidly presented their cases to the American people. Americans have always been idealists. They want their country to act for pure motives, and might have refused to support foreign interventions that were forthrightly described as defenses of corporate power. Presidents have used two strategies to assure that these interventions would be carried out with a minimum of protest. Sometimes they obscured the real reasons they overthrew foreign governments, insisting that they were acting only to protect American security and liberate suffering natives. At other times they simply denied that the United States was involved in these operations at all.

The history of American overthrows of foreign governments can be divided into three parts. First came the imperial phase, when Americans deposed regimes more or less openly. None of the men who overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy tried to hide their involvement. The Spanish- American War was fought in full view of the world, and President Taft announced exactly what he was doing when he moved to overthrow the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras. The men who directed these "regime change" operations may not have forthrightly explained why they were acting, but they took responsibility for their acts.

After World War II, with the world political situation infinitely more complex than it had been at the dawn of the century, American presidents found a new way to overthrow foreign governments. They could no longer simply demand that unfriendly foreign leaders accept the reality of American power and step down, nor could they send troops to land on foreign shores without worrying about the consequences. This was because for the first time, there was a force in the world that limited their freedom of action: the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, any direct American intervention risked provoking a reaction from the Soviets, possibly a cataclysmic one. To adjust to this new reality, the United States began using a more subtle technique, the clandestine coup d'état, to depose foreign governments. In Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, and Chile, diplomats and intelligence agents replaced generals as the instruments of American intervention.

By the end of the twentieth century, it had become more difficult for Americans to stage coups because foreign leaders had learned how to resist them. Coups had also become unnecessary. The decline and collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the Red Army meant that there was no longer any military constraint on the United States. That left it free to return to its habit of landing troops on foreign shores.

Both of the small countries Americans invaded in the 1980s, Grenada and Panama, are in what the United States has traditionally considered its sphere of influence, and both were already in turmoil when American troops landed. The two invasions that came later, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were far larger in scale and historical importance. Many Americans supported the operation in Afghanistan because they saw it as an appropriate reaction to the presence of terrorists there. A smaller but still substantial number supported the operation in Iraq after being told that Iraq also posed an imminent threat to world peace. American invasions left both of these countries in violent turmoil.

Most "regime change" operations have achieved their short-term goals. Before the CIA deposed the government of Guatemala in 1954, for example, United Fruit was not free to operate as it wished in that country; afterward it was. From the vantage point of history, however, it is clear that most of these operations actually weakened American security. They cast whole regions of the world into upheaval, creating whirlpools of instability from which undreamed-of threats arose years later.

History does not repeat itself, but it delights in patterns and symmetries. When the stories of American "regime change" operations are taken together, they reveal much about why the United States overthrows foreign governments and what consequences it brings on itself by doing so. They also teach lessons for the future.

Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Kinzer. All rights reserved.

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  • Posted January 11, 2012

    Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2006

    Useful study of the effects of foreign interventions

    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.¿

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2010

    Thought Provoking!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2013

    Dangerously ignorant

    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.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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