Traditional history books describe U.S. foreign policy in benevolent and laudatory terms: U.S. governments have always been dedicated to freedom, democracy, and human rights, promoting these ideas and values to the ‘foreigner. In Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups and Assassinations, Vijay Prashad disputes these claims in his short history of US imperialism.
Since the founding of the United States and long before the emergence of modern Republican and Democratic parties, governments have pursued policies of expansionism, conquest and empire-building, according to Prashad. In 1823, President James Monroe announced that Latin America and the Caribbean was now under American control. In its supposed “backyard”, the United States entered war with Mexico in the 1840s and seized a third of the country. Previously, in 1812, he had made a similar attempt, but unsuccessfully, with Canada, then under British control.
When countries pursued independent policies that Washington did not agree with, they were treated brutally. In 1912, the President of Nicaragua attempted to create a Federal Republic of Central America and, with the help of Germany, to build a canal that would compete with the Panama Canal controlled by the United States. The US Marines invaded the country, deposed the president, and remained there for 20 years.
After World War II, the United States extended and maintained its hegemony less by military invasions than by encouraging or staging coups that installed subordinate governments. In Guatemala, the government of Jacobo Arbenz nationalized in 1953 fallow land owned by the American multinational United Fruit Company for distribution to landless farmers. When US-backed mercenaries failed to overthrow the government, CIA officials warned Guatemalan army commanders that the US military would invade if they did not overthrow the duly elected reformist government . Military officers drove Arbenz to the airport and forced him to undress in an act of humiliation before he was allowed to fly to Mexico, where he was granted political asylum. For the next 40 years, the country will be ruled by repressive military juntas. The bananas kept coming.
Also in 1953, the United States staged a successful coup against the reformist Iranian government which nationalized the British oil industry. In the 1960s and 1970s, the CIA overthrew left-wing governments in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Chile, among others. Prashad recites an old joke: “Why was there no coup d’etat in the United States? Because there is no American embassy there.
We all know of the recent US-backed coups against Evo Morales in Bolivia and Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, but not everyone knows the same happened in Japan. Prashad reveals how the Obama administration forced the Japanese prime minister to resign in 2010 after demanding that the United States withdraw its military bases from the Japanese island of Okinawa.
The United States has also ensured that global trade, finance, and development are controlled by institutions dominated by the United States. The US dollar has become the central currency of the global economic system. “If a country displeased the US government, and if a sanctions regime were put in place, this institutional architecture could stifle any government, wiping out lines of credit, making it impossible to sell its goods and settle payments.” , writes Prashad. “No system beyond the control of the US government has been allowed to remain in place.”
One of the obstacles that Americans faced was the emergence of strong left-wing communist and nationalist movements and parties after 1945. The Soviet bloc, with the help of a USSR recovering from the war, created another economic and political model outside of American control. In some places in the so-called “Third World” where new nations were born from their colonial past, this model offered viable alternatives, resulting in a series of “proxy wars”, each side supported by one of the great superpowers. .
These left movements have grown stronger and have even come to power in some countries. To eliminate such opposition, the US government worked with military juntas from Brazil to Bolivia to Argentina and Colombia to kidnap, torture and kill communists, socialists and human rights defenders during of Operation Condor in South America which ran from 1975 to 1989. 100,000 deaths, imprisonment of 500,000 and delivery of babies born to pregnant activists for adoption.
The United States encouraged the 1965 military coup against Indonesia’s left-wing nationalist government which had been backed by the country’s powerful Communist Party. The US and Australian embassies provided the Indonesian military with lists of vaguely identified “Communists” who were to be executed. In a short time, the soldiers killed around 1 million CP members and supporters. Rivers were red with blood as bodies floated out to sea. “Whether in Guatemala or Indonesia, or through the 1967 Phoenix program in South Vietnam, the United States pushed local oligarchs and their friends in the armed forces to completely decimate the left, ”writes Prashad.
In the Middle East, the CIA encouraged Saudi Arabia to form the Muslim World League in 1962 to organize people on the basis of fundamentalist religion. This organization, largely financed by Saudi oil money, would preach the gospel of Islam and seek to turn young people inward, against anti-colonialism, communism and unionism in countries with large numbers of people. Muslim communists or where powerful anti-colonial movements had taken hold. Power.
Prashad sheds light on how the United States used terror and murder to achieve its goal of weakening governments and leftist movements in the post-war years, citing a chilling 19 CIA document. pages on Guatemala titled “A Study on Assassination” distributed in 1953. “No Assassination. instructions should never be written or recorded, ”says the study. “Decisions have to be made on the ground and kept there. There is a list of tools that can be used in an assassination, from hammers to kitchen knives, anything hard, heavy, and practical will do. Absolute reliability is achieved by severing the spinal cord in the cervical region, which can be done with a knife. Disgusted people shouldn’t try it. The CIA would continue to produce such studies for military regimes friendly to the United States and paramilitary forces abroad, with many results.
After the dissolution of the USSR and the Eastern European socialist bloc in 1991, the United States, according to Prashad, became even more aggressive. The socialist bloc had provided military protection as well as economic aid to countries which broke with the capitalist model. The socialist countries which remained in the “third world” have been left to fend for themselves. The United States would invade Iraq and Afghanistan, bomb the former Yugoslav states and Libya, and finance a brutal counter war against Syria. “Pressure has built up on China and Russia,” writes Prashad, “through NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe and with the strengthening of US forces in the Pacific region.”
Countries that will not submit to the United States like Cuba, Syria, Venezuela, Belarus, Iran and North Korea are subject to crushing economic sanctions. Prashad cites a study reporting that US sanctions against Venezuela killed at least 40,000 people because the country could not import certain key drugs. Prashad suggests that the United States has taken on Venezuela (which has vast oil reserves and generously helps struggling neighboring countries) to weaken and destroy Cuba, which has close trade ties with the South American nation.
Washington Balls, written in beautiful prose, provides a myriad of interesting stories and details about US foreign policy and interventions. This small volume is particularly recommended for beginners looking for an introductory course on US imperialism.
Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups and Assassinations
New York: Monthly review, 2020, 162 pages
Softcover $ 17.00, cloth bound $ 89.00
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-58367-906-7
Fabric ISBN: 978-1-58367-907-4