Wind the clocks back to the end of World War II. After winning the fight against Germany and Japan, the U.S. decided to focus its energy on tackling another issue: the rise of Communism in the modern world. A report, otherwise known as the “Long Telegram,” from American diplomat George Kennan gave word of a growing red menace in the form of the USSR and its plans for expansion. As a result, it argued, America had a job to protect itself by stamping out every vestige of Communist expansion.
This idea was later encapsulated in the Truman Doctrine, which ensured American protection of democracy throughout the world for all countries and people “resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”
Unfortunately this desire to ensure American-style democracy throughout the world has led to some costly mistakes, as well as soiled our reputation in certain regions. There are many places where the U.S. has stuck its fingers and tried to manage foreign governments in the interest of fighting the Red Scare.
This began with the toppling of left-wing governments. When certain governments have taken actions deemed to be Marxist, such as nationalizing resources or moving against privatization we have sent the CIA in, through covert operations, to overthrow the standing powers and later replace them with puppet governments more sympathetic to U.S. interests.
The earliest Cold War example was Iran. In 1953 the CIA ousted democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh after he nationalized the Iranian oil industry, previously under the control of the British empire, and replaced him with the more America-friendly, but also autocratic and repressive Shah of Iran. We have that incident to thank for the outbreak of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
In 1954 we overthrew another democratically-elected President, Jacobo Arbenz, of Guatemala in a CIA-instituted military coup. This was as a result of several land reforms that were found to be in contrast with the private interests of the America-based United Fruit Company. Once again, the same consequence: right-wing dictator installed, followed by brutal repression.
In 1960 we supported a Belgian military intervention of the recently decolonized Congo, which saw Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba removed from office and replaced by the U.S.-approved regime of Joseph Mobutu. Later the CIA assassinated him.
We all know about Vietnam. After hindering the advance of Communist North Vietnamese troops into the South, the Viet Cong attacked several South Vietnamese cities in the infamous “Tet Offensive” prompting one presidential resignation in 1968 and later an escalation of the bombing campaign by Nixon. While not a coup this is a further example of the Truman Doctrine in full, vicious force, as the U.S attempted yet again to stymie the flow of Communist expansion and spread democracy by means of violent aggression. Another, earlier example in the 1960s was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, under Kennedy, to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
In the late 70s and early 80s, this interventionist-style began to take on a new, more militant form that we now know today as neo-conservatism. This held that the U.S. had the moral duty to impose its democracy through military intervention. This permeated into the Reagan administration’s tactic of funding guerilla units (The Contras) against the left-wing Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, leading to mass murders and human atrocities. This was repeated many times throughout Central America: in Honduras, in El Salvador, and in Panama.
This militant neo-conservatism was infused with a new economic agenda as well: neo-liberalism. This involved using global institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to impose sanctions on foreign countries requesting aid. It required them to abandon public welfare projects and to move towards an agenda of strict laissez-faire privatization. In other words the government abstains from the market, which may work efficiently under more sustainable circumstances, but not in the cases of third-world, crumbling economies. These tactics, combined with military intervention, only served to further destabilize them.
Today we have Iraq as the most recent result. This wasn’t a coup against a Communist government, but rather a takedown of one of our old allies, Saddam Hussein, whose brutal reign had gone too far. We wanted to move in and establish democracy there, creating a bright new Americanized future for the Middle East. The result: more destabilized infrastructure, more political violence, and the rise of radical Islamic sects. We’re still seeing the results on TV.
Our foreign relations have been defined by a boot in the ass mentality towards anyone remotely opposed to the American idea of democracy. Other countries should be able to find democracy in their own way, creating their own governments, as we did, without anyone dictating what policies to initiate or which resources to allocate.
Fear exacerbated the agenda, through the emergence of the Soviet Union as a global power, and our wish to never again repeat the errors of fascism. But this also created a paranoia, wherein every country moving leftwards, away from unfettered capitalism, became a candidate for Soviet domination and, therefore, a target of U.S. interventionism. And instead of helping things internationally we ended up harming them in the long run.