A Neo-Conservative Abecedary
George Bush and his administration have proclaimed for the world to hear that the United States is fully committed to a free and democratic Iraq. Forgive me if I harbor just an iota of doubt. The track record of the United States in fostering democracy is, sadly, a lousy one. When the enemy of the day was some bogeyman, usually a Communist one but sometimes an Islamic one, democracy was often low of the list of American desiderata.
In compiling this abecedary for the edification of those still under the illusion that the United States is always on the side of sunshine and apple pie, the biggest problem is picking from among the panoply of candidates for some letters. Should S stand for Anastazio Somoza of Nicaragua? Or Suharto of Indonesia? Or Savimbi of Angola? At least some letters provide a less exhaustive set of exemplars.
A is for Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, the first of a succession of military leaders in Guatemala. In 1954, with the support of the American CIA, Castillo overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, rewrote the constitution, and worked feverishly to root out anyone whom he deemed a communist. The Guatemalan military has essentially run politics there ever since the coup.
B is for Fulgencio Batista, the dictator of Cuba between 1952 and 1959. After serving as president of Cuba under its constitution from 1940 to 1944, Batista eventually went into exile in Florida. In 1952 he returned, overthrew the government, and suspended the constitution. His undemocratic government was nonetheless very good to American corporations, so he had the support of the United States.
C is for Pedro Carmona, the businessman at the head of the April 2002 coup in Venezuela. For two days, plotters held Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in custody. Carmona dissolved the Venezuelan Congress and Supreme Court and abolished its constitution. The United States not only immediately recognized the Carmona regime, but it coordinated the actions by coup leaders in the months beforehand.
D is for Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, son of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. The elder Duvalier presided over of terror and deprivation in Haiti, especially after naming himself President for Life in 1964. Upon his death in 1971, his 19-year-old son succeeded him, and, more importantly, continued the Duvalier dictatorial tradition. In 1974 the United States started sending political and military aid to the new Duvalier regime. And during Duvalier's reign, Haiti continued to be as American as baseball—literally. Haitian factories continued to produce the baseballs used by American professional baseball leagues.
E is for East Timor, the former Portuguese colony that only in 2002 gained its full independence. By 1975, Portugal had given up claims on East Timor and its other colonies, but Suharto, the corrupt leader of Indonesia, saw an opportunity to control all of the island of Timor. In 1976, Indonesia invaded East Timor and annexed it. Over the next twenty years, well over 100,000 East Timorese died at the hands of Suharto's troops. The American response to the annexation was supportive at worst and noncommittal at best. That Indonesia was a fervent importer of American arms and an exporter of oil surely had nothing to do with it.
F is for Francisco Franco, the military ruler of Spain from 1936 to 1975. The United States decided to claim Franco as a friend during the 1950s, establishing diplomatic relations in 1950 and military bases in 1953. All this was payback for Franco's good behavior to that point, including fighting alongside German and Italian troops during the Spanish Civil War and sending troops to fight against the Soviet Union in World War II. Spain was so backward politically that only when it became a functioning monarchy in 1975 was political participation by the public finally legal.
G is for George Papadopoulos, the military dictator of Greece from 1967 to 1973. Papadopoulos and his colleagues seized power soon before the 1967 elections and ran Greece with an iron fist. They brooked no political dissent, let alone political parties. Still, Greece continued to host American nuclear weapons and remained a member of NATO, that bulwark of democracy.
H is for Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, who was from 1979 until very recently the unelected president of Iraq. For quite a while, Hussein was valuable to the United States because he was demonstrably anti-Shiite and anti-leftist. Dozens of declassified documents show that from 1980 to 1984, the Carter and Reagan administrations tilted heavily toward Saddam Hussein and viewed his regime as a useful check against the theocratic government in Iran. The highest levels of the Reagan administration approved loans to Iraq and secret military and intelligence support. The official policy of the Reagan administration was not to let Iran win the Iran-Iraq War. The tilt was so pronounced that Donald Rumsfeld, now the Secretary of Defense, twice traveled to Baghdad for meetings with high-ranking Iraqi officials, including a December 1983 meeting with Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, a recent UPI report claimed that Saddam Hussein worked for the CIA in 1959 and possibly in later years.
I is for Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan. In 2003, George Bush proudly trumpted Uzbekistan as one of the countries in the "coalition of the willing." Uzbek citizens, however, cannot form a coalition to vote Karimov out of office. In 2000, he won a five-year term, since extended to seven, in an election widely regarded as a sham. Karimov has publicly belittled human rights and the freedom of the press, all in the name of defeating "Islamic extremists."
J is for Joseph Mobutu, from 1965 to 1977 the putative president of Congo (Léopoldville), later Zaire. Originally a member of the cabinet in the government of Patrice Lumumba, Mobutu aided the 1960 coup d'etat by Joseph Kasavubu, then seized power himself five years later. Both coups had the backing of the American CIA. Mobutu oversaw a bizarre and autoritarian regime: he banned not only multiparty elections, but also European surnames. Mobutu's regime was corrupt as well: he amassed a huge fortune while his countrymen remained poor, even by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, Mobutu remained a friend of the United States, because he was one of the few supporters of Jonas Savimbi's rebels in Angola (see "S is for Savimbi"), and funneling money through Mobutu was palatable to several Republican presidents.
K is for Chiang Kai-Shek, from 1928 to 1949 the president of China and until his death in 1975 the ruler of Taiwan. In 1947, Chiang's Nationalist party was responsible for the massacre of thousands of native Taiwanese who sought independence. Once he and his followers fled to Taiwan in 1949, Chiang and his Kuomintang party continued their policies of oppression and intolerance. Nonetheless, until 1979, the United States recognized Chiang's government as the lawful government of China. Our ally against tyranny ruled Taiwan for a quarter-century under continuous martial law, and allowed only one political party (naturally, his own party) to exist.
L is for Lon Nol, the Cambodian general who ruled that country from 1970 to 1975. Lon Nol instituted a republic after he overthrew Prince Norodom Sihanouk, but within two years he had suspended the constitution. He came to power and ruled with American support and aid; the Nixon administration saw a compliant Cambodia as useful to its machinations in Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia. But Lon Nol was not only dictatorial, but also corrupt and incompetent. His failures made the rise of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 all the more possible.
M is for Ferdinand Marcos, the longtime president of the Philippines. Marcos first won the Philippine presidency in elections in 1966. In 1972, however, facing a variety of uprisings, he declared martial law: within four months he introduced a new constitution that vastly expanded his powers. Eight years under the new polity meant economic and social upheaval, as well as a massive amount of corruption: Marcos and his family stole up to $5 billion from their beloved country. Through thick and thin, however, Marcos remained a key ally of the United States, which relied on Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base as part of the arsenal of democracy in Southeast Asia. Even after martial law ended, Marcos was still a reluctant democrat. He had opposition leader Begigno Aquino assassinated upon his return from exile in 1983. And in 1986, he tried to steal the presidential election from Corazon Aquino, the widow of his adversary. Faced with widespread opposition, Marcos fled the country to live out his remaining years in Hawaii.
N is for Ngo Diem Dinh, the president of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963. Diem became president when he overthrew Emperor Bao Dai in 1955. The Geneva accords of 1954 had mandated elections in 1956 to unify North and South Vietnam and choose its government. With American approval, however, Diem cancelled the elections in South Vietnam; simply put, Ho Chi Minh would have won the elections, and it was necessary to destroy democracy in order to save it. Diem proved to be corrupt as well as antidemocratic. His repression of Buddhism in favor of Catholicism added to his unpopularity. Eventually, in 1963, his American superiors supported a military coup that killed Diem and much of his government.
O is for Osvaldo López Arellano, the president of Honduras from 1963 to 1971 and from 1972 to 1975. Twice López Arellano overthrew a sitting government. During his reign, Honduras was economically tied to the United States, chiefly through exports of bananas and coffee. While John Kennedy's administration broke off relations with Honduras shortly after the 1963 coup, Tegucigalpa and Washington soon resumed ties. López Arellano helped to keep Honduras a banana republic in more ways than one. His policies benefitted the Honduran oligarchy at the expense of small farmers and laborers on large plantations. His rule continued a tradition of Honduran governments controlled more by American corporations than the Honduran citizenry. López Arellano's reign finally came to an end in 1975, when his receipt of a $1.25 million bribe from United Brands (the successor to United Fruit) came to light. But his legacy of military governments continued in Honduras until 1982.
P is for Pol Pot, the tyrant who ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The United States never supported Pol Pot when he was in power, but once he was overthrown, attitudes changed. In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and at the beginning of 1979 overthrew Pol Pot and installed Heng Samrin as premier of the country. The Carter and Reagan administrations were so worried about Soviet influence in Southeast Asia that they publicly and repeatedly regarded Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as the lawful leaders of Cambodia. Until Vietnam withdrew a decade later, the United States and many of its allies refused to recognize the Samrin government, preferring instead the killer of millions of Cambodians. When faced with the lesser of two evils, America got this choice dead wrong.
Q is for Qaboos bin Saud, the Sultan of Oman. The United States is very dependent on Oman's support for its military adventures in the Middle East. For years, Oman has allowed the American military to use its soil for military and intelligence operations. At present, Oman is an important staging area for our war in Iraq. As dictators go, the current Sultan of Oman is a fairly benevolent one. But Oman lacks and political parties and the bicameral legislature serves in an advisory capacity only. Until very recently, only a very few Omanis were eligible to vote even for this impotent body.
R is for Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the former Shah of Iran. The Shah first took power in 1941, when Britain forced his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi from power. In 1953, with covert support from Britain and the United States, he rebuffed an attempt by his premier, Mohammed Mossadegh, to overthrow him. Instead, his reign lasted until the Iranian Revolution of 1980. With large amounts of American military and economic aid, he modernized the Iranian oil industry and pursued a political stance of anticommunism. His repressive policies, authoritarian rule, and corrupt handling of oil revenues alienated not only leftists and the poor, but also Islamic fundamentalists, who prevailed in the anarchy that succeeded his reign.
S is for Jonas Savimbi, the longtime leader of the UNITA rebels in Angola. For years, UNITA fought a bloody civil war against left-wing movements. Savimbi was the darling of the Republican Party during the Ford and Reagan administrations, both of which found ways to covertly send arms and money. In 1986, Ronald Reagan welcomed him to the White House and praised his fight for freedom. Of course, Savimbi was also the darling of the National Party government in South Africa. One cannot always pick the friends of one's friends, but anyone who is receiving military support from a government run by men who wished that Germany won World War II is probably not worthy having as a friend. Indeed, by 1992, the parties in the Angolan civil war agreed to democratic elections to settle their dispute. When Savimbi lost the election, he refused to abide by the outcome, and went back to fighting. Savimbi spent the last decade of his life refusing to participate in a democratic Angola, instead seeking any way possible to extend the civil war just a while longer.
T is for Rafael Trujillo Molina, the leader, directly and indirectly, of the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961. During his reign, his country saw economic progress, but political backsliding and repression. Despite his authoritarian rule, Trujillo consistently attracted American aid until the very end of his tenure. Trujillo even managed to export some of his repressive measure abroad. He provided cash and military aid to the plotters who brought down the Guatemalan government in 1954. But his luck ran out when his agents tried to assassinate the president of Venezuela in 1960. The United States soon ceased its support; in 1961, the CIA assisted a group of plotters who assassinated Trujillo.
U is for Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, the president of Chile from 1973 to 1990. Pinochet came to power by overthrowing Salvador Allende in a military coup supported by the United States. In the aftermath of the coup, the Pinochet junta arrested and tortured tens of thousands of Chileans, many of whom were subsequently killed. The United States had ample evidence of the crimes fo the Pinochet regime, but did nothing because he was reliably anti-Communist. Instead, the Nixon and Ford administrations sent Chile large amounts of economic and military aid.
V is for Balthazar Johannes Vorster, the prime minister of South Africa from 1966 to 1978. Vorster was a lifelong supporter of domination of the black majority of his nation by the white minority. He established Transkei as the first of four ersatz "homelands," attempts to physically separate black and white South Africans into their own countries (of course, the whites would get all of the desirable land). No other country recognized Transkei or any of the other "homelands" as legitimate countries. As prime minister, he established a special intellgence unit to spy on all sorts of opponents to his National Party. He harshly put down black riots in 1976 in Soweto and elsewhere. And during his tenure in office, South Africa made steady progress in developing nuclear weapons. But the United States often saw South Africa as a strategic ally. Despite a longstanding arms embargo, American weaponry often wound up in South African hands. Throughout the 1970s, American administrations resisted any sort of economic sanctions against the Vorster regime. And in fighting Communists in Angola, the United States and South Africa found themselves on the same side until Congress cut off covert aid to Angolan rebels in late 1975.
W is for Washington, District of Columbia, and Wyoming. According to the Bureau of the Census, the state of Wyoming has a population of 498,703, but the city of Washington, in the District of Columbia, has a larger population of 570,898. Citizens of Wyoming have one representative and two senators in Congress, and vote for president every four years. Citizens of the District of Columbia have no senators and a delegate in the House of Representatives who can participate in debates but cannot vote. Furthermore, until 1964, citizens in the District of Columbia could not even cast ballots in presidential elections.
X is for the X marked on ballots. The right to vote is one of the basic tenets of democracy. Even in the United States, whose constitutional tradition extends for more than two centuries, has a very short history of universal suffrage. Not until 1920 were women guaranteed to have the same voting rights as men. The rights of black Americans to vote were fundamentally and chronically minimal until the late 1960s. Until 1964, poll taxes, used to keep poor black voters from voting in many states, were still legal; in 1962, fully 16 senators voted against the amendment that banned them. Even in America, elites have found democracy to be anathema in practice.
Y is for Lee Kwan Yew, from 1965 to 1990 the prime minister of Signapore, and since that point a senior minister in the government of that nation. Singapore has been an economic success since its independence in 1965, but it is hardly a model for personal freedom. Yew and his proteges have frequently rebuffed calls for greater personal freedom. On the large scale, its citizens have very limited political freedom. But the government of Singapore restricts even the pettiest of freedom: it is illegal, for instance, to import chewing gum. But Singapore is an important trading and military partner of the United States; Army troops train there and Navy aircraft carriers dock there. What better place to keep the military than a place that regards the Bill of Rights as dangerously permissive?
Z is for Zia al-Haq, the military ruler of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Zia and his regime were favorites of American administrations because he funneled American cash and arms to anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan. But Zia was hardly a democrat: he came to power only by deposing Zulfakir Ali Bhutto, the duly elected prime minister. And he was hardly a man of peace: during the 1980s, his regime put the crowning touches on Pakistan's first nuclear weapons. The ties between Pakistan and the Afghan rebels matured into strong bonds between the Pakistani military and the erstwhile Taliban regime. Today, another Pakistani general, Pervez Musharraf, rules, with ample American support, thanks to yet another coup of an elected prime minister.