Regime Change: Is This a New Policy?

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Is the Bush administration policy of “regime change” in Iraq a new policy in US history? Regime change has been the preferred US foreign policy strategy for the last 100 years. Regime change is not new at all.

On April 22, 1999, US/NATO aircraft destroyed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s official residence in Belgrade.

Was this an attempted regime change by the US government against a democratically elected leader of an independent and sovereign UN charter member, Yugoslavia? NATO insisted that it was not specifically targeting the Yugoslav leader. NATO defined the home as a command and control facility thus it was a legitimate “military target”. Kevin Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman, stated: “We’re not targeting President Milosevic.” Yugoslav government minister Goran Matic disagreed: “NATO committed a criminal act without precedence—an assassination attempt against the president of a sovereign state.”

What was the significance of the attempted regime change of Slobodan Milosevic? According to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, this attempted regime change set a precedent for the George W. Bush administration to follow in Iraq in deposing Saddam Hussein. In a March 10, 2003 briefing, Fleischer explained:

I suppose he might still be there had it not been for NATO and the United States. That was regime change in Serbia, wasn’t it?

Fleischer argued that the illegal NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 weakened Milosevic and led to his fall from power. The conclusion: Bombing Saddam Hussein would likewise lead to a regime change in Iraq.

In 2001, the UCK/KLA infiltrated and invaded Macedonia from Kosovo in a US plan and strategy to change the constitution of Macedonia by force. The Macedonian operation was a unique variation of the US policy of regime change. The US put pressure on the Macedonian PM Ljupco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski to accept the US-sponsored peace agreement. The US allowed the UCK to move troops and weapons into Macedonia and helped negotiate their redeployment so that they would be able to continue the terrorist war against Macedonia. Moreover, the US prevented the Macedonian regime/government from obtaining weapons. When Boskovski argued for a more forceful response to the UCK invasion, the US and UK press labeled him an “ultra-nationalist” and a “hardliner” and sought to have him tried as a war criminal. The Macedonian operation by the US was “regime change-lite”, a watered-down and limited regime change operation. But ultimately, if the Macedonian regime did not capitulate to US demands, regime change was the end-game option.

The George W. Bush administration has argued that “a regime change” is necessary in Iraq because Saddam Hussein possesses “weapons of mass destruction” that are a threat to US “national security”. The Bush administration has coined a new term for a very old and very common-place notion: The overthrow of a foreign government/regime by means of force, a coup d’etat.

The concept of regime change is endemic in American history. US engineered regime changes in foreign states have been common and systematic throughout US history, demonstrating a pattern and paradigm. This is the fact that the Bush administration seeks to obscure and negate by the new coinage, “regime change.” The Iraq regime change of 2002-2003 is not novel or unique in US history. It is not the exception due to the threat of terrorism brought on by 9/11. Regime change has been the norm in US history. The Saddam Hussein regime change of 2002-2003 is only the most recent instance. But why is a democracy overthrowing the governments/regimes of foreign nations/states? How can we respect democracy at home when we so blithely and arrogantly reject it abroad, in foreign states? For ultimately, a regime change concerns a negation of the popular will of the population whose regime is changed. Regime change, in short, is a negation and denial of democracy. Regime change seeks to impose a regime/government/ruler from outside of the country so attacked, substituting the will of the US government for that of the people of the attacked state. Regime change is the opposite of democracy. Democracy means rule by the people, that is, a state/nation decides its government by a vote of its own citizens. A regime change by an outside power entails a denial or rejection of the popular will. A regime change is the imposition of a dictatorship or tyranny by a foreign power. In short, regime change is a negation of democracy.

Under the Monroe Doctrine, European powers were excluded from colonization in the Americas and were prevented from intervening in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt enunciated the Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine which allowed the US to intervene anywhere in the Western Hemisphere to prevent intervention by European powers.

In 1903, the US needed to build the Panama Canal for strategic military and commercial reasons. This necessitated a regime change. Panama had been a northern province of Columbia. Columbia, however, did not back the US plan to create a canal on Columbian territory that the US would occupy and have sovereignty over. The way the US government got around this problem was to send US Marines to Columbia to engineer the “independence” of the province of Panama from Columbia. There was then a US-sponsored regime change in Panama, with the installation of a US-backed regime in the newly independent nation of Panama.

The US established military bases in Nicaragua from 1912 to 1925. In 1909, the US had engineered a regime change by helping to depose the Liberal General Jose Zelaya. In 1925 the US created the National Guard in Nicaragua. Augusto Cesare Sandino waged a guerrilla war from 1926 to 1932 to expel the US military forces. In 1934, Sandino was assassinated by the National Guard forces under Anastasio Somoza. Somoza would rule the country as a dictator with US backing until his own assassination in 1956. During the 1980s, the Reagan administration trained Contras that sought to engineer a regime change in Nicaragua by overthrowing the Daniel Ortega regime and restore a US-installed dictator. In 1984, the US mined harbors which was condemned by the World Court.

In 1951, Jacobo Arbenz was democratically elected president of Guatemala in a landslide victory. The election was free and fair. Arbenz sought to transform the feudal economy to a modern capitalist economy. He began with a fair redistribution of land. He passed the Agrarian Reform Act. The United Fruit Company, however, opposed these land seizures and wanted to maintain the feudal nature of the economy to maximize profits. United Fruit lobbied the US government for a regime change. US Public Relations/propaganda pioneer Edward Bernays was hired to concoct a propaganda war that would make regime change palatable. Arbenz was described as a tool of the “international Communist conspiracy” who was a threat to US national security. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles then told his brother Allen Dulles, the CIA director, to organize a regime change. The US then bombed Guatemala using unmarked CIA planes and invaded the country with a proxy army organized by the CIA. In June, 1954, Arbenz was overthrown. The US installed a military junta under the command of General Castillo Armas. A CIA official described the operation as follows: “We thought we could knock off these little brown people on the cheap.”

In 1951, Mohammed Mossadegh was democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. He nationalized Iranian oil production. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), however, had a monopoly on Iranian oil production. The UK oil company made 170 million pounds in profit per year. But Iranian workers were economically exploited and saw littler of these profits. The British government then decided to orchestrate a regime change in Iran. British intelligence, M16, coordinated its efforts with the CIA, Operation TPAJAX. The CIA and M16 organized a staged mass demonstration in Teheran. In August, 1953, Mossadegh was overthrown and the Shah was installed in power for 26 years.

In 1960, the Congo obtained its independence. Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the MNC, became the first Prime Minister of the Congo. Lumumba, however, obtained aid from the USSR. The Belgian government and corporations, and the CIA saw this as a Soviet takeover bid. The CIA then engineered a regime change in the Congo. ANC leader Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko was put in power, imprisoning Lumumba. On January 17, 1961, Lumumba was assassinated.

On April 15, 1961, 1,500 Cuban exiles armed, trained, and supplied by the US in Florida, began the CIA-orchestrated attempt to engineer a regime change in Cuba, the military overthrow of Fidel Castro. The regime change in Cuba had been organized initially during the President Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, known as Operation Pluto. There have reportedly been over 600 regime change attempts against Castro by the US.

In Ecuador, democratically elected President Jose Velasco was forced to resign in a regime change orchestrated by the US in 1961.

Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated in South Vietnam in 1963 in a coup that the US was aware of and allowed to happen, in effect, dumping Diem because he was not a pliant enough proxy.

In 1965, the Dominican Republic was invaded to support the regime of Donald Reid Cabral in opposition to the Constitutionalist candidate Juan Bosch, who threatened to unseat Cabral. Bosch complained: “This country is not pro-American, it is United States property.”

In 1970, Salvador Allende, described as a “Marxist”, became the democratically elected leader of Chile. Immediately following the 1970 elections in Chile, the US planned a regime change. US Ambassador Edward Korry recommended a “pre-emptive military coup.” The CIA began organizing Operation Fubelt, the overthrow of the Marxist/Communist regime of Allende. Why a regime change? A Marxist regime in the Western Hemisphere was perceived as a threat to the national security of the US. In the Cold War ideological/political/military conflict, the Marxist Allende regime in Chile was perceived as a victory for the USSR. Following the election of Allende, the US sought to destabilize his regime. Gen. Rene Schneider, Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army, was assassinated with CIA connivance because he rejected a plea to overthrow Allende. Under Operation Djakarta, the CIA planned the assassinations of Allende’s Party members, the Popular Unity Party. The ultimate goal was a regime change. Henry Kissinger stated:

I don’t think we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.

Is this how democracy is defined? Kissinger gets to decide who rules the Chilean people? The CIA destabilization policy was not working. From the moment of Allende’s election, the CIA decided on a coup d’etat, a regime change or overthrow of the Allende regime. The US government, however, wanted to cover-up the US role in the regime change. A CIA cable from October 16, 1970 disclosed that the CIA had decided on a coup or regime change in Chile but sought to cover-up/conceal CIA involvement:

It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden.

On September 11, 1973, the CIA engineered a regime change in Chile with the overthrow of Salvador Allende. Allende was assassinated. The US installed the dictator Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet would murder 3,000-50,000 Chilean citizens. In the 1990s, Spain sought to extradite him to stand trial for these murders. The US media blithely reported on the Pinochet murder charges, but censored the fact that the US had installed him in power illegally in 1973. Isn’t the US complicit in his mass murders?

On October 13, 1983, Bernard Coard, overthrew the Prime Minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop. Coard was described as a “Marxist” and pro-Soviet. On October 25, in Operation Urgent Fury, 1,200 US troops from the 75th Rangers invaded Grenada and deposed the Coard regime.

In April, 1986, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was targeted for regime change in Operation El Dorado Canyon, when the US bombed his residence, killing his daughter and wounding his two sons.

In December, 1989, US President George Bush ordered a regime change in Panama. In Operation Just Cause, the US invaded Panama, captured the Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, and brought him back for trial in the US as a POW. Manuel Noriega had been in the pay of the US Army and CIA for over 30 years. George Bush had even worked with Noriega. The United Nations declared the invasion “a flagrant violation of international law.”

On September 30, 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by a military coup led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras. In September, 1994, 20,000 US troops invaded Haiti to re-install Aristide. Before the US invasion, then US Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell met with Cedras and presented him with a US ultimatum: Cedras could leave Haiti and there would be no US military assault or he could remain in power and be overthrown by military force.

Regime change has been the norm in US foreign policy, not the exception, as the Bush administration wants to make us believe. The regime change in Iraq in 2003 is part of this long-standing policy of overthrowing regimes that are hostile to US interests. What is perhaps new and novel about the Iraqi regime change is that it is no longer covert or shrouded in propaganda and justified or rationalized by invoking the UN or humanitarianism, i.e., “humanitarian intervention” to prevent a genocide. Regime change is being advocated openly and overtly. This is what is new. But everything else is exactly the same.

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