U.S. has mixed record of trying to install new leaders in international hotspots Influencing regime changes

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

WASHINGTON -- If it's any consolation to Yasser Arafat, he has a lot of company. The United States has a long history of trying to get rid of foreign leaders who don't measure up.

Some methods are more decorous than others. President Bush made known his desire that Arafat be removed in a nationally televised address.

Elsewhere over the years, U.S. efforts at regime change have been less gentlemanly. In this category are outright assassination, invasions, covert plots.

''Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership,'' Bush said Monday, his measured tones masking one of the most significant developments in America's long and sometimes tortured involvement in the Middle East.

Sometimes the United States, in its search for new leadership abroad, has the luxury of broad international support, as in the air and land campaign that led to the ouster of the ruling Taliban militia in Afghanistan last November.

Much of the world showed understanding for Bush's decision to use force against a government the United States said was complicit in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bush also wants somebody other than Saddam Hussein running Iraq, and force is a strong possibility. If he chooses that option, however, international backing is likely to be scant.

The Europeans, so often with the United States during times of crisis, generally believe military action against Iraq would not have a legal basis. Most also firmly rejected Bush's demand that Arafat be removed as a condition for peace.

Latin America and the Caribbean have been favored hunting grounds for American presidents eager for regime change.

One example is Cuba, where a Senate committee found in 1975 there had been eight CIA-sponsored attempts on the life of President Fidel Castro. (Castro says there were many more.) A generation later, Castro is still around. The official policy nowadays is to apply pressure to nudge Castro into promoting democracy and free market changes.

The Bush administration is not fussy about who dismantles the totalitarian structure Castro has erected. If Castro himself does it, so be it. But no one is expecting that will happen.

Castro was also the protagonist of America's most embarrassing regime change initiative. He easily disposed of a U.S.-trained Cuban exile force at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

President Clinton sent troops to Haiti in 1994 to oust a military clique that had seized power from an elected president three years earlier. Internationally, the invasion drew few protests, having received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council beforehand.

The first Bush administration sent troops to Panama in 1989 to evict and arrest Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, an anti-democrat who was wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.

Although much of Latin America felt the unilateral U.S. action was unwarranted, U.S. officials can respond that with Noriega gone, Panama has enjoyed 12 years of democratic stability.

President Reagan's administration sponsored a Nicaraguan rebel force to fight pro-Cuban Sandinista Daniel Ortega. Eventually, it was Nicaragua's voters who took care of that regime change, electing a moderate in 1990.

U.S. troops deposed a leftist government in Grenada in 1983. American jet fighters attacked Libya three years later, appearing to target the compound of longtime leader and American bugaboo Moammar Gadhafi at one point. He survived but now seems somewhat tamer than he once did.

Old timers can remember two early U.S. regime-change successes: Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, both orchestrated by the CIA.

Both resulted in the emergence of regimes friendly to the United States but with limited backing at home, partly because of poor human rights records.

In Iran, the long-term outcome was a major setback for Washington. An anti-American Islamic radical regime was installed in 1979 and remains.

Bush has branded Iran an ''axis of evil'' country but has not demanded new leadership there. The administration is counting on the Iranian people to bring that about.

George Gedda has covered foreign affairs for The Associated Press since 1968.

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