News about the US official who claimed that Taiwan's government could be overthrown in a matter of minutes may have been fabrication or simply an instance of bad journalism, but the truth of the matter is more of this is to be expected in the lead-up to next year's presidential election -- more bad journalism, sadly, and more veiled, deniable threats out of Washington.
Forget about CIA-orchestrated coups d'etat in Iran in 1953 or Guatemala in 1954. As veteran New York Times journalist Tim Wiener writes in his history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, with roughly half its workforce still trainees in their 20s, the CIA has begun to "abandon the techniques of the past -- political warfare, propaganda, and covert action -- because it lack[s] the skills to conduct them." In other words, in its present state, the agency probably could not even overthrow the principal at a high school in Virginia.
But the US doesn't need the CIA to act upon its discontent with a regime, friendly or otherwise. In fact, beyond covert operations, it has a long history of meddling in the domestic affairs of states -- even allied democracies -- when it perceived that doing so was in its interest. A little known example of this is the 1962-1963 plot by the John F. Kennedy administration to overthrow Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker by launching an elaborate propaganda campaign involving journalists, the business sector and politicians and even dispatching a secret campaign adviser to the opposition in Ottawa.
What had prompted the US was Diefenbaker's opposition, just as the Cold War was picking up steam, to the deployment of a US missile system in Canada. In the end, the pressure paid off, Diefenbaker was knocked off, and Lester Pearson, whom Washington had identified as amenable to their missile scheme, walked into office. The missiles were deployed, and Washington celebrated.
Forty-five years later, as President Chen Shui-bian (
And the theme will be an undeniable one, for it has become obvious that Washington wants the trouble-some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) out of power. Unless its presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh (
The US is an unequaled master at the game and, when it didn't achieve it via the CIA or militarily, it has used its political and economic clout, as well as its conservative media, to interfere in foreign elections and, occasionally, change governments. Ideological opponents, suspected communists, alleged state sponsors of terrorism or would-be nuclear proliferators are not alone in facing the threat of Washington's pressure. As the Diefenbaker example shows us, even its closest, democratic allies can fall from grace with Washington.
But while it undeniably has the means to bring about change in the domestic politics of other countries, what Washington lacks is the foresight that would allow it to fully comprehend the long-term consequences of its actions. More often than not, the coups it engineered ended up creating more misery than good and ultimately proved not to have been in the best interests of the US.
Coup or no coup, everyone could benefit from a little more foresight stateside.
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