by Ellen Isaacs
September 15, 2020
Many bloodbaths and much pain. Many overseas tragic events have been forgotten, some hardly noticed as they occurred, especially if Americans were not killed. And many have been committed by those we label liberals, progressives, humanitarians – – Democrats. We must not forget that Democrats support military and political hegemony as devotedly as any other leaders of US capitalism, much moreso than Trump’s domestically based supporters like the Koch and Mercer families. Trump’s isolationism is even more worrisome to the liberal ruling class than his blatant white supremacy and incompetence with respect to Covid-19. For Democrats, more urgent than quelling the protests over racism and mitigating the mass evictions, unemployment, and lack of health insurance is retaining resources, pipelines, cheap labor and bases overseas.
To many nonwhite, immigrant, unemployed, and humane workers, Trump is so repulsive that his replacement with a Democrat is desperately desired, and that is why it is imperative that we recall the criminal legacy of that party. In this essay, we will review only the Democrats’ imperialist endeavors since the end of World War II, not to imply that mainstream Republicans are any less guilty.
Truman: Mass Murder in Asia
We begin with one of the most heinous crimes, the dropping of two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, killing 300,000 civilians on impact and many others later. Moreover, this genocidal act was unnecessary to end the war with Japan, but served mainly to alert the Soviet Union to the military might of the US as the Cold War got underway. (https://multiracialunity.org/2020/07/23/atomic-terror-rained-on-japan-a-u-s-rulers-executed-holocaust/)
Truman next initiated US involvement in the Korean War, without Congressional authorization. Near the end of WWII, the US military arbitrarily set up a border between North and South, sent infiltrators and saboteurs into North Korea and opposed reunification in order to set up a pro-Western state in the South. When the North Koreans invaded the South, the Truman administration mistakenly believed that the Soviet Union was behind it in order to expand its influence even to Japan. The US commander, General Douglas Macarthur was so racist that he believed that Koreans and their Chinese Communist allies, who had just made a revolution, could be easily defeated. This brutal war killed over 36,000 US servicemen as well as 3-4 million Koreans, including one out of nine North Koreans. 6-7 million Koreans were rendered refugees and over 8,500 factories, 5,000 schools, 1,000 hospitals, and 600,000 homes were destroyed. Nonetheless, no victory was won and an unstable armistice has continued ever since.(http://peacehistory-usfp.org/korean-war/; The Coldest Winter, David Halberstam)
JFK: Anti-Communist Zealot
The next Democratic president was John F Kennedy, who took office after Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, during the heat of the Cold War. His anti-communist zeal was overlooked by many in the overwhelming urge to defeat Richard Nixon. JFK’s first disastrous foray was the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro, whose successful pro-Soviet revolution threatened US hegemony over the Americas. Although planning for the invasion had begun under Eisenhower, Kennedy allowed the CIA to continue training the small band of invaders in Guatemala, believing that the Cubans would rise in an anti-communist revolt. This did not happen and the quick defeat was a profound embarrassment to the new administration. Nonetheless, JFK continued to fight via an economic blockade, refusing diplomatic relations, backing anti-Castro rebels in Miami and continuing assassination attempts. (https://www.vqronline.org/essay/bearing-burden-critical-look-jfk%E2%80%99s-foreign-policy)
In 1962, according to the confession of a CIA spy in 2016, the US was complicit in the arrest of Nelson Mandela by the apartheid government of South Africa. The US was convinced that Mandela was “completely under the control of the Soviet Union” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/15/cia-operative-nelson-mandela-1962-arrest). A year later, the US backed an anti-communist coup in Iraq, which brought Saddam Hussein to power. The new government was then supplied with lists of communists and sympathizers by the CIA and untold numbers were killed (The Jakarta Method, Vincent Bevins, p 89).
In 1961 the reformist Brazilian Labor Party was elected, and Joao Goulart became President, a reformer who promoted land redistribution, literacy, and extension of voting rights. The US ambassador warned that Brazil could become “the China of the 1960s.” (Jakarta,p96). Kennedy spent millions on anti-Goulart election plans and to prepare for a coup if needed. He sent CIA agents to organize farmers and labor and do counterinsurgency assessments. All aid to the state was stopped except that dedicated to planning a coup.
Kennedy launched the Alliance for Progress for economic cooperation with Latin America, and the Peace Corps, but both were designed to promote “modernization theory,” the idea that building a pro-US middle class would prevent communist takeovers. At the same time his administration supported secret anti-communist counterinsurgencies, intervening in Cuba, Brazil, British Guiana, Peru, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic (An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek,p522)
Kennedy was eager to engage with Indonesia, the largest country with the most resources in Asia, aside from China. Indonesia’s President Sukarno was a nationalist reformer, and among other policies wished to nationalize his country’s oil. He was backed by the local communist party, the PKI, with whom one quarter of the population was at least loosely affiliated. Although JFK wished to maintained cordial relations with Sukarno, the US was sending aid mainly to the military. Only under LBJ would this policy come to its bloody culmination.
Although much smaller Viet Nam was less important, it was seen as a “domino” that might lead many South Asian nations to fall to communism after the French were driven out in 1954. The Geneva Accords divided the country into North and South until elections could be held. Fearing a communist victory, the US backed its ally Ngo Dinh Diem in preventing any election. As Diem became too militaristic and ignored Kennedy’s pleas to mitigate his practices, the US backed a coup in which Diem was killed. At that time there were 16,000 US military advisors in South Vietnam. Soon after, Kennedy was assassinated, and LBJ would be left with that legacy as well.
LBJ Soldiers On
It was left to President Lyndon Johnson to continue down the paths in Indonesia and Vietnam on which JFK had set out. Kennedy had hoped not to alienate Indonesia with its wealth of resources, despite his counterinsurgency program, but Johnson took a harsher position and cut off all aid, except to the military. The US sided with Britain in territorial disputes with Sukarno in order to gain British support for US Vietnam policy, to which Indonesia responded by establishing relations with North Vietnam. Shortly thereafter Sukarno pulled out of the United Nations and accused the US of trying to kill him. The CIA and MI6 both tried to foment a supposed communist coup as an excuse to topple Sukarno. On September 30, 1965 many moderate generals were murdered in a plot that has yet to be fully elucidated, although probably carried out by right wing officers, that was blamed on the PKI. When the dust settled, General Suharto, long friendly to the CIA, was in control.
The US quickly recognized Suharto, supplied him with communications equipment and propagated his anti-communist coup narrative around the world. With US support, Suharto murdered 500,000 to one million leftists and put at least one million more in concentration camps. Five percent of the population of Bali, the largest island, was killed. The new government protected US oil interests and many new American mining ventures, including the world’s largest goldmine. (Jakarta, 152-4) Liberal columnist James Reston called it “A gleam of light in Asia…a defiantly anti-communist policy under General Suharto is, of course, the most important of a number of a hopeful political developments in Asia. (NYT 6/18/66) Given the lack of American deaths, few in the US were even aware of these events.
In 1954 the fake Gulf of Tonkin incident became the excuse for full-scale US involvement in Vietnam, which resulted in the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese, including 2 million civilians, and over 58,000 US servicemen. In the end, the US was forced to withdraw, and widespread rebellions in the military and at home made it impossible for the US to institute a military draft ever since.
Other actions undertaken by Johnson were Operation Cleanup in Guatemala that killed 30 left wing leaders ten years after the US had staged a right wing coup. In 1966, President Nkrumah of Ghana was deposed in a coup backed by the US and Great Britain, ringing the death knell of the Third World Movement begun in Bangdung in 1955. In April, 1965 LBJ sent 22.000 troops to the Dominican Republic to prevent the overthrow of a right wing dictator by Juan Bosch’s progressive movement.
LBJ’s Administration also helped plan the coup in Brazil on 3/31/64 that followed Kennedy’s policy of destroying the reformist Goulart government. In operation Brother Sam, the US gave military supplies to support the new government of General Castelo Branco. This led to the killing of at least 475 opposition activists and the imprisonment and torture of thousands more. (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/brazil/2019-01-01/ghosts-brazils-military-dictatorship) In fact, the plan was known as Operation Jakarta, a name also applied later in Chile to the mass murder of leftists.
Carter Carries On
The next Democratic President was Jimmy Carter, from 1977-81, who loudly proclaimed his allegiance to human rights. In reality, he privately praised the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza for “human rights initiatives” and encouraged his bombing campaign against cities to quell the Sandanista rebellion, hoping that Somoza would be replaced by a pro-US civilian government. (https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/155/25979.html)
Afghanistan was ruled by a secular regime allied with the USSR in the late 1970s, which promoted land reform, free universal education and gender equality. As early as 1979, the US, together with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, recruited, armed and trained Islamic fundamentalists to make jihad against the government. As Carter said in his famous State of the Union Address in 1980, “Afghanistan…contains more than two thirds of the world’s exportable oil….[A]n attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” The “Carter Doctrine” laid the basis for the conflicts in the region that continue today. (https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-07-12/michael-klare-its-always-the-oil/)
While often criticizing dictatorships for human rights abuses, the Carter administration quietly funded the dictator Mobutu in Zaire, trained security forces for Guatemala, gave $5 million in aid to the military junta in El Salvador during the civil war, supported the murder of tens of thousands by Suharto in East Timor, and supported South African intervention against rebels in Angola. (https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/18/jimmy-carters-blood-drenched-legacy/)
Bill Clinton Takes the Stage
First, Haiti. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted by a military coup backed by President George HW Bush just before Clinton took office. Clinton sent Marines to return Aristide to office, but only after he gave assurances that he would not challenge the dominance of the US or Haitian ruling class and that he would not seek re-election after 1996. The next President, Preval, obeyed IMF dictates that destroyed the Haitian economy, leading to Aristede’s party’s re-election in 2000. The Clinton Administration refused to accept the result, cut off all US aid, and refused to allow entry to Haitians fleeing their country, despite campaign promises to the contrary.( https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/01/pers-j18.html)
In Iraq, the US under Clinton put in place economic sanctions, no fly zones and weapons inspections, all under the auspices of the United Nations. The sanctions led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, of which Secretary of State Madeline Albright famously said “the price–we think the price is worth it.” (60 Minutes, 5/12/96)
Yugoslavia broke into five warring nations in 1991, and Clinton orchestrated a supposedly NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo 1995, allegedly to save lives The massive aerial assault led to the US being able to build the largest US army base in the Balkan area, Camp Bondsteel, and a new NATO policy allowing military action anywhere on the broad periphery of NATO’s realm, such as North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. The Balkans are important as a major trade route between Europe and the Middle East and Asia and for sending oil from the Caucasus to Europe. (https://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/mrta/kosov.htm)
Clinton’s policies of “globalization” were actually a method to extend US economic hegemony. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 drove millions of Mexican farmers and businesses out of work by favoring US exports and corporations and caused a general reduction of wages in Mexico, as well as job losses in the US. At the same time that economic pressures increased migration north, the southern border was highly militarized.
Clinton has been highly touted for bringing about the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but these unenforceable agreements did nothing to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine or solve such problems as refugee status or Israeli settlements. By leaving unaddressed the huge power differential between Israel and the Palestinians, they were doomed to fail and the situation has only worsened.
And Then There Came Obama
Ah, finally, the first black president, the end of racism. Besides Obama’s mass deportation of immigrants, lack of action to save the poor dispossessed by the financial crisis, and failure to act as racist police murders continued, Obama was an active imperialist. He dropped 54% more bombs over Asia and the Middle East than George W Bush and authorized ten times as many drone strikes. He expanded the CIA’s torture and secret rendition programs; doubled the funding for AFRICOM, the US military command in Africa; supported dictators in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo; and led the NATO invasion of Libya.
In Latin America, he supported a right-wing coups in Honduras, Brazil, and Paraguay; the war against FARC guerillas in Colombia, sanctioned Venezuela, and built four new bases on the continent. (For more detail, see https://multiracialunity.org/2019/11/10/the-audacity-of-hyprocisy-lessons-to-be-learned-from-the-obama-presidency/)
The reason to review this litany of imperialist agressions carried out by Democrats, even those labeled the most progressive, is to remind ourselves that the first duty of all US Presidents is to preserve the domestic power and global reach of American capitalism. Biden will be no different, and he does not claim to be. (A detailed review of his record can be found at https://multiracialunity.org/2020/06/16/biden-lesser-evil-or-just-evil/) In fact, the worst sin of Trump, from the point of view of the dominant finance capital wing of the US ruling class, is his wish to destroy globalization. He tried to bring almost all US troops home from Syria, a move the defense community managed to reverse, and is hastily withdrawing from Afghanistan. He has conceded to Russia, wavered irrationally on China and Korea, reneged on free trade agreements, and decreased ties with NATO. The lives of US soldiers and of many civilians abroad may have been saved, but US capitalist interests in trade, resources, and political influence have suffered.
In my view, it is thus very unlikely that the internationally oriented corporate masters of the US will allow Trump to serve another term. His election is unlikely, given the disaster of the pandemic, but he will try and manipulate the election to his favor. This cannot be allowed. His overt racism and sexism is indeed unhelpful to maintaining domestic tranquility and his ineptitude in handling disasters like Covid-19 and climate change is regrettable, but his isolationism is not tolerable. Biden may do a bit more about the climate, just a bit, and speak more against racism, just a bit, and release a few immigrant detainees, but he will fight more wars, no doubt. In fact, he needs to win back the loyalty of black and Latin workers in order to be able to rebuild the military, which has learned it cannot win wars with bombs alone. As the US declines as an economic and political power relative to China, a strong military and international presence is ever more important.
For us, workers – from the unemployed to professionals- to students to soldiers, our goal must be to strengthen and insure ongoing movements with the ultimate aim of ending this system. Election choices between capitalists, even those with differing tactics and goals, will not save us from war and economic decline, or from racism, which is necessary to capitalism. We must envision a society that we run in our own interests, without profits or racism – a communist society. We must learn from the errors of past revolutions and build a more lasting transformation next time. We can do it.