Overthrow, over and Over

By Washington, Laura S. | In These Times, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Overthrow, over and Over


Washington, Laura S., In These Times


Overthrow, Over and Over

THE OLD SAW goes, "the trend is your friend."

Let's try that one again.

Stephen Kinzer's new book, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (Times Books) puts the kibosh on that notion. Kinzer, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, deconstructs America's disturbingly counterproductive foreign policy through competing critiques of the country's imperialism and its incompetence. His chronicle of America's role in interventions into 14 sovereign nations posits failure and avarice as our lasting progeny.

It is a history lesson we can't afford to forget.

Surfers, slackers, grass skirts and sunsets-that's what Hawaii is all about, right? Think again. Think regime change. The 1893 overthrow of Hawaii's monarch, Queen Liluokalani, launched 110 years of American-led regime changes around the globe. Hawaii's monarch was overthrown by a group of haole (the Hawaiian term for white Americans). These wealthy sugar planters teamed up with John L. Stevens, the American ambassador to Hawaii.

The "convenient" presence of the American gunboat Boston and 200 marines in Honolulu Harbor allowed the haole to lay Queen Liluokalani low. Minister Stevens, in classic American diplomatese, offered a "request" to Boston Captain Gilbert Wiltse: "In view of the existing critical circumstances in Honolulu, indicating an inadequate legal force, I request you to land marines and sailors from the ship under your command for the protection of the United States legation and the United States Consulate and to secure the safety of American life and property."

Hawaii was the first domino to fall. There have been 13 more, and we're still counting: Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guatemala, Honduras, Vietnam, Chile, Iran, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq. The circumstances are familiar, the parallels eerie.

Kinzer writes that both George W. Bush, who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and President William McKinley, who intervened in the Philippines, "were motivated by a deep belief that the Unites States has a sacred mission to spread its form of government to faraway countries. Neither doubted that the people who lived in these countries would welcome America as liberators."

Talk to Rummy about it.

In a recent interview, Kinzer noted that Bush's predilection for a "faith-based" approach has nothing to do with The Lord. Instead, Bush relies on a myopic "faith-based foreign policy based on what 'we' believe to be true, not what the facts argue. …

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