American diplomacy: bags of cash

February 9, 2012

The role of hard cash in America’s diplomacy and international relations is difficult to overstate. In his excellent book Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Stephen Kinzer provides a detailed account of how US politicians, spies, business men, and CIA operatives conspired on numerous occasions to depose of foreign monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers that weren’t working in the interests of American corporations.  One of the most striking stories is that of Kermit Roosevelt, a CIA agent and grandson of Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1953 was sent to Iran with a bag of cash to fund a rag-tag band of thugs to carry out riots and demonstrations that ultimately brought down the democratically elected government of Mossadegh. An excellent interview from 2008 with Kinzer on Democracy Now can be found here.

But bags of cash have been the instrument of choice not only to overthrow regimes not working in the interests of American companies but also to ensure that the regimes they are replaced with do work in those interests (and not in the interests of the citizens of those foreign countries). This point is nicely revealed in a story that Paul Craig Roberts tells in this recent article obtained through Information Clearinghouse. The context of the story, ironically, is the pending American war with Iran, a conflict that really began back in 1953 with Kermit Roosevelt. The relevant passage of this story is quoted below. Keep in mind, while reading this, that the author is the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal.

The power of money was brought home to me many years ago. My Ph.D. dissertation chairman found himself in the Nixon administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security affairs. He asked if I would go to Vietnam to administer the aid programs. I was flattered that he thought I had the strength of character to stand up to the corruption that usually defeats the purpose of aid programs, but I declined the assignment.

The conversation was one I will never forget. Warren Nutter was an intelligent person of integrity. He thought regardless of whether the war was necessary that we had been led into it by deception. He thought democracy could not live with deception, and he objected to government officials who were not honest with the American people. Nutter’s position was that a democratic government had to rely on persuasion, not on trickery. Otherwise, the outcomes were not democratic.

As Nutter saw it, we were in a war, and we had involved the South Vietnamese. Therefore, we had obligations to them. If we proved to be feckless, the consequence would be to undermine commitments we had made to other countries in our effort
to contain the Soviet Empire. The Soviet Union, unlike the “terrorist threat” had the potential of being a real threat. People who have come of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union don’t understand the cold war era.

In the course of the conversation I asked how Washington got so many other governments to do its bidding. He answered, “Money.” 

I asked, “You mean foreign aid?”

He said, “No, bags of money. We buy the leaders.”

He didn’t approve of it, but there was nothing he could do about it. 

Purchasing the leadership of their enemies or of potential threats was the Roman way. Timothy H. Parsons in his book, The Rule of Empires, describes the Romans as “deft practitioners of soft power.” Rome preferred to rule the conquered and the potentially hostile through “semiautonomous client kings which the Senate euphemistically termed ‘friends of the Roman people.’ Romans helped cooperative monarchs remain in power with direct payments of coins and material goods. Acceptance of these subsidies signified that an ally deferred to imperial authority, and the Romans interpreted any defiance of their will as an overt revolt. They also intervened freely in local succession disputes to replace unsuitable clients.”

This is the way Washington rules. Washington’s way of ruling other countries is why there is no “Egyptian Spring,” but a military dictatorship as a replacement for Washington’s discarded puppet Hosni Mubarak, and why European puppet states are fighting Washington’s wars of hegemony in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Washington’s National Endowment for Democracy funds non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. It is through the operations of NGOs that Washington added the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to Washington’s empire, along with the Baltic States, and Eastern European countries. 

Because of the hostility of many Russians to their Soviet past, Russia is vulnerable to Washington’s machinations. 

As long as the dollar rules, Washington’s power will rule. 

As Rome debased its silver denarius into lead, Rome’s power to purchase compliance faded away. If “Helicopter Ben” Bernanke inflates away the purchasing power of the dollar, Washington’s power will melt away also.


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