100 Years of Assassinations, Foreign Coups

By Donald Jeffries

The Soviet-style show hearings by the Jan. 6 Committee brought out the candor recently in John Bolton, perhaps the worst of all Donald Trump’s disastrous cabinet appointments. Bolton made the remarks on CNN in response to anchor Jake Tapper’s insinuation that the Jan. 6 “insurrection” represented a literal coup.

Bolton, however, quickly dismissed Tapper’s contention that, “One doesn’t have to be brilliant to attempt a coup.” It wasn’t out of any sort of loyalty to his former boss, however. Bolton commented that Trump was not competent enough to orchestrate a “carefully planned coup d’etat.” Bolton went on to boast, “As somebody who has helped plan coups d’état—not here but, you know, [in] other places—it takes a lot of work. And that’s not what he [Trump] did.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Tapper asked him to provide some examples. “I’m not going to get into the specifics,” Bolton replied, but then went on to mention Venezuela. “It turned out not to be successful. Not that we had all that much to do with it but I saw what it took for an opposition to try and overturn an illegally elected president and they failed.” Tapper responded, “I feel like there’s other stuff you’re not telling me [beyond Venezuela].” To which Bolton answered cryptically: “I’m sure there is.”

Dickens Olewe, a BBC journalist from Kenya, reacted by tweeting, “John Bolton, who’s served in highest positions in the U.S. government, including UN ambassador, casually boasting about how he’s helped plan coups in other countries.”

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Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Hamad bin Khalifa University, chimed in, “Every news outlet needs to cover this, not because it’s surprising in and of itself (although the candor is), but because it needs to be part of everyone’s political vocabulary in how the U.S. (and other large powers) operate.”

Bolton epitomizes the senseless foreign policy interventionism that began in earnest over a century ago, under President Woodrow Wilson. There were earlier ugly forays into Cuba (in the Spanish-American War) and the Philippines, but it was Wilson’s actions in Haiti and Mexico, along with our pointless entrance into World War I, that set the template our leaders have never abandoned.

Once the CIA was created after WWII, interference in foreign elections became commonplace, as did violent coups and assassinations. This included the 1948 Italian election, the 1953 overthrow of Iranian nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, the 1953 election in the Philippines, the 1958 elections in Greece and Guatemala, the assassination of the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba in 1961 (only three days before JFK was inaugurated), the violent coup that toppled Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1970, the 1983 invasion of Grenada, the 1984 and 1990 Nicaraguan elections, the 1989 ouster of Panama’s General Manuel Noriega, and the 2005 Iraqi elections, to cite just some examples.

While Bolton’s remarks were notable for their disturbing candor, we crossed some notable moral lines in the sand over the past few decades. In 1976, in response to the revelations of the Church Senate Committee, which exposed the numerous unsuccessful attempts by the CIA to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro, among other sordid activities on the part of the Agency, President Gerald Ford was pressured into signing an executive order forbidding assassination as an American foreign policy tool.

By 2011, however, “liberal” President Barack Obama would assassinate American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who hadn’t even been charged with a crime, with a drone strike in Yemen.

Obama didn’t conceal the assassination; he bragged openly about it. Later, he would joke that, “I’m really good at killing.” A month later, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted to the assassination of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi by boasting, “We came. We saw. He died.” She punctuated her glee with inappropriate laughter. Since that time, leaders of both major political parties, and all mainstream journalists, openly acknowledge that America assassinates abroad, and just as transparently advocate for it.

Politicians like Lindsey Graham have publicly called for the assassination of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The recent assassination of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, left many questions in its wake. While Donald Trump named torture aficionado Gina Haspel to head the CIA, assuring there would be no end to the “senseless wars” he sometimes complained about, Joe Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was deputy director of the CIA under Obama, where she was tasked with approving targets for drone assassination.

Perhaps the most tragic example of this was the 2013 drone killings of an entire wedding party in Yemen, a shocking crime that has been severely underreported. Biden’s CIA director, William Burns, was a vocal critic of Trump’s “isolationist” foreign policy, a laughably inaccurate label for an administration that included Bolton, Haspel, and a guy named “Mad Dog.”  The last president to stop foreign intervention was JFK.

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