Since 1945 the United States has backed many dictators in order to protect what it considered its National Interests. It did this without any regard for the citizens of those countries.
Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice said about the Middle East, “For 60 years my country has pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region…by trying to purchase stability at the price of liberty, we achieved neither and we saw the result of that on a fine September morning.”
It was a courageous statement and a step in the right direction. Unfortunately America’s National Interests are more important than America’s words and actions.
In 1953 Allen Dulles was a busy man. Even as he readied the CIA for a coup in Guatemala his agents were toppling the liberal left government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq and paving the way for the Shah of Iran.
With Dulles’ encouragement, the Shah made the Iranian people an offer they couldn’t refuse – join his party or go to jail. Thousands who refused to yield were imprisoned or murdered. During regional elections in 1954, the Shah’s agents raided a religious school and hurled hundreds of students to their deaths from the roof.
His regime received one hundred percent of the vote that year, in an election which registered more votes than there were voters. In 1979 the Shah was overthrown. The fallout from that still effects American foreign policy today.
In Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem oppressed his people so badly that many of them turned to the communists for protection from his ruthless rule. Even President Eisenhower admitted that “had elections been held, possibly eighty percent of the population would have voted for Ho Chi Minh [the communist leader].” Yet Diem, who had once lived in the U.S., had connections in Washington who liked his anti-communism.
Ultimately, he angered his own military officers because he promoted on the basis of loyalty – not merit. In an effort to keep Diem in power, the U.S. tried to persuade him to make political reforms. He refused, so they persuaded him to make “military reforms.”
But when Diem was finally overthrown and assassinated in 1963, none of his generals rose to defend him. Nor did the U.S., which, after 8 years, had finally realized that Diem wasn’t popular.
In the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos began his career with a bang: At age 21, convicted of gunning down Julio Nalundasan, his father’s victorious opponent in the Philippines’ first national elections, he went to prison. He was later released by a Supreme Court Justice who, like Marcos and his father, was a Nazi collaborator. Despite Marco’s record as murderer, fake WW II hero, and Nazi agent, he was elected Philippines President in 1965.
Under Marcos, the Philippines’ national debt grew from $2 billion to $30 billion (and his wife Imelda’s shoe collection grew along with it to over 1,000 pairs), but U.S. corporations in the Philippines prospered, perhaps explaining why the U.S. didn’t protest Marcos’ imposition of martial law in 1972.
The Carter Administration engineered an $88 million World Bank loan to Marcos, increased military aid to him by three hundred percent and called him a “soft dictator”. But a 1976 Amnesty International report identified eighty-eight government torturers and stated that alleged subversives had their heads slammed into walls, their genitals and pubic hair torched, and were beaten with clubs, fists, bottles and rifle butts.
The history of America’s relations with Saddam is one of the sorrier tales in American foreign policy. Time and again, America turned a blind eye to Saddam’s predations, saw him as the lesser evil. Donald Rumsfeld, the once and future Defense secretary, at the time a private citizen, was sent by President Ronald Reagan to Baghdad as a special envoy.
Like most foreign-policy insiders, Rumsfeld was aware that Saddam was a murderous thug who supported terrorists and was trying to build a nuclear weapon. But at the time, America’s big worry was Iran, not Iraq.
The Reagan administration feared that the Iranian revolutionaries who had overthrown the shah (and taken hostage American diplomats for 444 days in 1979-81) would overrun the Middle East and its vital oilfields. Top officials in the Reagan administration saw Saddam as a useful surrogate.
During the Reagan era, Manuel Noriega of Panama. collaborated with Oliver North on covert actions against Nicaragua, training contras and providing a trans-shipment point for CIA supported operations that flew weapons to the contras and cocaine into the U.S. In 1987, a Miami grand jury indicted him for drug-trafficking and the CIA tried to destabilize his regime.
Noriega warned Bush that he had information which could change the course of the 1988 U.S. elections and the CIA backed off, but when Noriega “annulled” Panama’s 1989 elections, citing CIA interference, Bush renewed attempts to unseat his one-time ally.
Critics called Bush’s failure to support an abortive 1989 coup “indecisive,” but his response to that criticism, the December 1989 invasion of Panama, led to world condemnation.
Noriega eventually surrendered to face U.S. drug charges, but under the guise of apprehending one drug dealer, the invasion led to over 1,000 Panamanian deaths and installed a regime with similar close links to drugs, plus a willingness to alter Panama Canal treaties to suit U.S. interests.
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak is now facing tens of thousands of angry citizens. These citizens are angry with the United States. They see Mubarak’s control over them as directly related to Washington’s support of Mubarak’s corrupt regime.
Washington has a difficult choice to make. They have provided Mubarak’s government with billions of dollars in aid over the years. The Egyptian military has American fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and mechanized vehicles. If Mubarak’s government falls the one that replaces it is likely to resemble that of Iran.
Washington does not want a hardline Islamic regime in Egypt. Especially one that is anti-American, anti- Israel and well armed. If old patterns prevail Washington will wait until the last minute to see what way the wind blows before deciding to support or turn its back on Mubarak.
In 1979 in Iran, The Shah was not willing to turn the military loose on his people and chose instead to flee the country. In Egypt today the world is waiting to see if Mubarak will flee or turn his military loose on his people. The Shah was sick and in failing health. Mubarak is grooming his son to continue his rule. He has more to lose. Soon the world will have Mubarak’s response.
If he chooses force over exile how will the United States respond? When it comes to dictators Washington always blows with the prevailing winds. The following dictatorships are still supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. These two countries will be closely watching events in Egypt.
If the unrest that began in Tunisia spreads to Saudi Arabia the price of oil will skyrocket and the American economy will face a crisis that it may be unable to recover from. Washington has yet to learn that in the long run backing corrupt regimes exacts a high price in both lives and how America is viewed in the world.