Calls for a US backed military coup in Venezuela have emanated from the Trump White House. Meanwhile, NPR has given coup advocates a platform to advocate for a coup, positioning it as “humanitarian intervention”.
It’s worth discussing the history of coups the US has been associated with. Last week, new documents revealed that the UK government had repeatedly asked the US to foment a coup in Iran in 1952. This is from the NSArchive project at GWU:
1953 Iran Coup: New U.S. Documents Confirm British Approached U.S. in Late 1952 About Ousting Mosaddeq
State Department Temporarily Declined, in Part Because U.S. Was Still Hoping to Reach Oil Deal with Iranian Prime Minister
Paul Nitze Proposed Targeting Ayatollah Kashani and Tudeh Party as Test before Attempting Full-blown Coup
Just-Declassified Documents Were Withheld from Foreign Relations of the United States Volume on Iran Coup Published in 2017
Note that the State Department only “temporarily declined” to sponsor a coup. Eventually, the US did participate in the coup against the democratically elected Mossadegh. We delayed because there was a possibility the democratically elected government might sign an oil deal. When they didn’t we initiated a coup.
Now, think how people in the region, who are intimately familiar with this history, might feel about the invasion of Iraq, or any other country. They might be a bit skeptical about our intentions. Worse yet, that invasion was a president (Bush) and vice-president (Cheney) deeply involved in the oil industry (and the war industry). For an American, this should raise alarm. Was our country and our armed forces “captured” and used by a particular industry to further its interests? Is that happening today?
When Trump comes out and says “We should take their oil”, no one in the Middle-East is particularly shocked, because they’ve just assumed (rightly) that this is what we were after all along. Our claims that we are spreading democracy and liberalism are met with justified skepticism. After all, if we are so interested in human rights, why are we Saudi Arabia’s staunchest allies? The KSA is a toxic monarchy that executes and tortures anyone who challenges the ruling kleptocracy. It is waging a war on the poorest nation in the Middle East, Yemen, which has cost the lives of tens of thousands of innocents. And KSA is only the worst example, there are many other repressive, regressive regimes supported by successive US governments.
A lengthy investigation has revealed that foreign officers trained in Dept. of Defense programs go on to engage in coups twice as frequently than those who have not. Foreign military personnel trained by the US have been involved in 60% of the military coups attempted since 1970.
Caverley and Savage identified 275 military-backed coups that occurred worldwide between 1970 and 2009. In 165 of them, members of that country’s armed forces had received some IMET or CTFP training the year before the coup. If you add up all the years of such instruction for all those countries, it tops out at 3,274 “country years.” In 165 instances, a takeover attempt was carried out the next year. “That’s 5 percent, which is very high, since coups happen rarely,” Caverley told TomDispatch. “The ratio for country-years with no US training is 110 out of 4101, or 2.7 percent.”
While US training didn’t carry the day in The Gambia in 2014 (as it had in 1994 when US military-police-training alumnus Yahya Jammeh seized power), it is nonetheless linked with victorious juntas. “Successful coups are strongly associated with IMET training and spending,” Caverley and Savage noted. According to their findings, American trainees succeeded in overthrowing their governments in 72 of the 165 coup attempts. […]
Indeed, it’s a truism of US military assistance programs that they instill democratic values and respect for international norms. Yet the list of US-trained coup-makers—from Isaac Zida of Burkina Faso, Haiti’s Philippe Biamby, and Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia to Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, and the IMET-educated leaders of the 2009 coup in Honduras, not to mention Mali’s Amadou Sanogo—suggests an embrace of something other than democratic values and good governance. “We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics, and military ethos,” then chief of US Africa Command, Carter Ham, said of Sanogo following his coup. “I believe that we focused exclusively on tactical and technical [training].”
Our country is in an uproar over the possibility that Russia may have spread propaganda and leaked damaging information to influence an election. Imagine how Gambians or Hondurans or Iranians feel when militia or rogue units trained by the US attempt honest to goodness military coups. The damage and distrust lasts for generations.
As alarming as the frequency of coups is, it gets worse. Personnel trained by the Department of Defense have also been implicated in human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and murder.
The Defense Department trained at least 17 high-ranking foreigners at some of its top schools who were later convicted or accused of criminal and human rights abuses in their own countries, according to a series of little-noticed, annual State Department reports to Congress.
Those singled out in the disclosures included five foreign generals, an admiral, a senior intelligence official, a foreign police inspector, and other military service members from a total of 13 countries, several of which endured war or coups.
Several officers committed crimes within a few years of their training. Others committed crimes more than a decade later. Many of the officers were described in the reports as leaders or participants in high-profile scandals and conflicts in their countries — including extrajudicial killings in Colombia, torture during Nepal’s conflict against Maoists, and murder during a Bolivian internal conflict, according to the State Department reports. — www.publicintegrity.org/…
The number of trainees implicated in human rights abuses is almost definitely much higher. The Dept. of Defense and State are supposed to report statistics to Congress, but these were not found to be comprehensive.
By law, the programs are meant to teach “basic issues involving internationally recognized human rights”. However, the Center for Public Integrity’s investigation found very few trainees received such training as separate courses.