Most helpful critical review
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
a primer at best
on April 24, 2013
Kinzer has compiled an easy to read summary of some of the worst interventions initiated by US administrations in the politics of nations to be considered at odds with or in opposition to US domestic-foreign policy. And it is certainly only a selective summary, considering that since 1945 US administrations have overthrown at least 50 democratically elected governments. But what Kinzer has offered amounts to a worthy introduction to his subject, a primer for those who want a succinct account of a brief selection of US-led invasions of foreign nations; but to remain satisfied with Kinzer's book would be to ignore, and thus remain ignorant of a more fuller and detailed history, one that needs to be attained from various other sources.
I say US-led invasions because the US has not always been alone in its endeavours to overthrow many of the `governments' that it did dispose of, and whilst the US was the dominant player it has often sought to justify and add credibility to its aggressive foreign policy by enlisting the aid of other countries. What has yet to emerge is what influences it imposed on these countries to ignore the public/democratic opinion and embark alongside the US on its' crusades.
The even limited involvement of other, smaller nations has consistently been applied to add credibility and a veneer of international support to aggressive US-led expeditions into foreign territories. Think Vietnam, Iraq I/ Iraq sanctions/Iraq II for starters.
Successive Australian [ie my] governments have willingly, unquestioningly, and like docile lap-dogs offered the services of Australian youth to support US foreign policy. Australian youth were conscripted into the armed forces for duty in Vietnam by obedient and successive conservative Prime Ministers (Robert Menzies, Harold Holt & John Gorton, 1949-1972), and it wasn't until a Labor Prime Minister (PM), Gough Whitlam, 1972-75, that Australia ended its involvement in Vietnam. When Australia withdrew from Vietnam, Frank Shepp, at the time a CIA employee based in Saigon summed up US policy towards Australia when he remarked that `Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators'. Regretfully it was another Labor PM, Bob Hawke, who promptly sidled up to and provided George Bush with Australian personnel when Bush instigated the first US-led invasion of Iraq. And even though Australian involvement in Iraq II was instigated under a conservative PM, the opposition ALP leader, Simon Crean, was certainly reticent to totally support a peaceful solution.
In 1973 The Chilean government, aware that US intelligence and corporate operatives were deliberately and actively undermining Allende, expelled known US `spies' from Chile. The void was willingly assumed by Australian intelligence operating out of its embassy. An act which occurred during Whitlam government, but without his knowledge and certainly lacking his imprimatur for his was a supporter of the democratic process in Chile. Yet the same PM, on the advice of his ambassador in Jakarta and White House staff turned a blind eye when Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975, an invasion sanctioned by US President Ford & Kissinger.
The tenth `anniversary' of the second US-led invasion of Iraq - April 2013 - has been accompanied by reflection and revision in the Australian media of our role in this obscenity. Then PM, John Howard, remains convinced that Australia's participation in this US-led crusade was, and remains the right thing to have done. Even though public opinion polls at the time estimated that 70-80% of Australians opposed participation. Then secretary to the federal parliamentary intelligence committee, Margaret Swieringa, has written at length how Howard chose to ignore what her committee advised, choosing instead total obedience to G.W. Bush; even a decade later Howard refused to acknowledge the lie about WMDs that justified an escalation of the war on Iraq. Alexander Downer, Australia's then Foreign Minister, trotted out the ingenious, and oft-repeated justification; "Let me be blunt; I think we were right to play our own small part in the destruction of the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a far from perfect operation, mistakes were made and the sectarian violence which followed was appalling. But there are three reasons why the world is better off for the demise of the Hussein regime. The first is simple humanity. Hussein's regime was one of extreme brutality. He murdered thousands of his people - Shiites and Kurds - to consolidate his dictatorial hold on power. He used chemical weapons against his own people".
So what's my point?
Firstly, the US is ever eager to garner the support, no matter how meager, of its obedient allies in order to provide legitimacy to its crusades, not that any absence of this component inhibits US intentions, but it is clearly preferred. Kinzer chooses, in his examples, to either or avoid or underplay this element.
Secondly, what has never emerged in Australia is what influence and pressure that Bush junior exacted on PM Howard in order to secure compliance in the face of such strident opposition by Australian voters; some have suggested a free-trade agreement, but at some stage Howard must have feared for his reelection, so why did he seemingly jeopardise this. (Like Bush, Howard was re-elected for another term in government; it is worth noting that there are no constitutional limits on how many consecutive terms an Australian PM can serve). Kinzer, because he fails to examine the roles played by US allies, has nothing to offer as to how US administrations attain obedience from its allies.
Thirdly. The war on Iraq commenced in 1991, and even though the majority of non-Iraqi troops withdrew, US and UK military personal maintained a forceful air presence over Iraq; sanctions were maintained via the support of successive US administrations: Bush/Dukakis, Clinton/Gore & Bush/Cheney, successive UK PMs, and the complicity of successive Australian PMs. The sanctions were a continuation of the war fought by the military; sanctions were an horrific and immoral war aimed specifically and intentionally at Iraqi citizens. The `Coalition of The Willing" was merely another phase of a war that has now extended over three decades. `Overthrow' fails to make this continuity explicitly clear.
Kinzer avoids the imposition of US desires upon reluctant allies.
If withdrawing from the war in Vietnam did not gain Gough Whitlam any friends in Washington DC, his talk of both limiting the number of US bases on Australian soil ensured that he made enough enemies to censure his own dismissal from government. With the renewal of the base at Pine gap only 12 months away, and no certainty that Whitlam would resign the lease the White House grew nervous and duplicitous. On November 11, 1975, the governor-general of Australia - officially Queen Elizabeth II's local representative, the Queen being the `head of state' in most Commonwealth countries - sacked the elected government. There is evidence to suggest that there was active initiation and participation in `The Dismissal' by the US government.
New Zealand (NZ) has also participated in some of the US-led expeditions into foreign lands, notably Vietnam. In 1984, then PM Lange's government legislated that NZ waters were a nuclear-free zone, which mightily annoyed President Reagan, for it meant that the US Navy and its nuclear armed vessels could no longer harbour in NZ waters. With stealth the US then imposed trade sanctions and embargoes which crippled the NZ economy for well over a decade, actions from which the NZ economy has not fully recuperated.
It is not just recalcitrant nations, as Kinzer's omissions imply, that US administrations are prepared to overthrow or undermine. There is much more to US invasions of independent nations than Kinzer lets on, his focus is on the more obvious and blatant incursions, neglecting the more prevalent subtle approach.
From the perspective of an outsider, an Australian, there is an inherent hypocrisy evident in US administrations in the period covered by Overthrow. US Presidents expect compliance and obedience to principles that primarily benefit their constituents alone, and in order to do so they advocate policies, deals and ideals that they expect from everybody else, but these are principles which they themselves fail to meet. The current issue of nuclearisation of North Korea and Iran being the most evident; now whilst neither have these countries have administrations that can be truly trusted, the US expects one set of standards from North Korea and Iran whilst concurrently supporting and permitting another nation that has a record of encroaching upon neighboring territories, a nation in possession of a nuclear arsenal which it denies having. Furthermore, until the US actively dissembles its own nuclear capacity, to proclaim that other nations, all bar one other elephant in the room, cannot achieve nuclear capability just does not wash.
Kinzer displays a bias towards US democracy, that these nations would have willing adopted US style politics were they freely given the opportunity. This may come as a surprise, but US-style democracy is not held in high regard by the rest of the democratised world, it is not the only model. And what Kinzer most certainly misses is that US incursions into foreign democratic states has little do with democracy, not even US democracy, let's not be so naïve; these invasions have primarily - like most wars - intended to serve corporate and financial interests, which brings us back to one of the most common criticisms directed at the US model of democracy: US presidents are bought and controlled essentially due to the obscene levels of capital required to launch a presidential campaign.
The most obvious point of discussion and analysis missing from `Overthrow' is whether or not US administrations are to be trusted; trusted anymore than the nations that they seek to overthrow either blatantly or surreptitiously, allied or supposed foe.
Margaret Swieringa. `Howard ignored official advice on Iraq's weapons and chose war', The Age, 12 April 2013.
Mark Forbes, `Former PM does himself no credit with Iraq war figleaf', The Age, April 13, 2013.
Alexander Downer, `Even with hindsight the Iraq war was the best option for all concerned', The Age, March 25, 2013
John Pilger, A Secret Country, (Vintage 1992)
John Pilger, War On Democracy - documentary (2007)
John Cleary, Shakedown: Australia's grab for Timor oil, (Allen & Unwin, 2007)
Margo Kingston, Not Happy, John! Defending our democracy (Penguin, 2004)
Wikipedia, New Zealand's nuclear-free zone