The Root Doctrine and Some Notorious
of U.S. Support for Dictators
excerpted from the book
State Terrorism and the United
From Counterinsurgency to the
War on Terrorism
by Frederick H. Gareau
Clarity Press, 2004, paper
The primary force driving American policy has been and remains
... the protection of U.S. economic interests, irrespective of
the undemocratic nature or human rights record of the groups and
governments with whom it has allied.
THE ROOT DOCTRINE
Schmitz makes it clear in his book Thank
God They're on Our Side: the United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships
192119651 that Washington's support for rightwing dictators during
the Cold War was a continuation, an elongation and an intensification
of a policy developed during the early part of the century. That
policy placed the fear of communism, socialism, and the spread
of disorder as the centerpiece of its formulation. The Cold War
demanded new and expanded tactics, approaches, and procedures,
"but the ideological basis and fundamental assumptions remained
remarkably consistent. 112 By casting the hegemon in the role
of the supporter of rightwing dictators, Schmitz contradicts the
traditional "triumphalist" interpretation of the way
Washington waged and won the Cold War: that victory came to the
United States because its governments followed a policy of containment
as well as a steadfast adherence to the promotion of democracy
(Concentrating on the period since 1921,
Schmitz argues that since that date \ authoritarian regimes that
have promised stability, anti-communism, and . investment and
trade opportunities for American business have received \ American
support. While critics argue that this behavior violates the stated
ideals of the country, the leadership often embraces it because,
so it reasons, business is business. Or, stated differently, politics
is power politics; morals are secondary, if they apply at all.
The overarching rationale for accepting
and sustaining rightwing dictatorships was written in 1922 by
Elihu Root. A Nobel prize winner and senior policy spokesman for
the Republican Party, he described the "right of selfprotection"
in a presidential address to an audience at the American Society
of International Law. The former U.S. secretary of state proclaimed
the sovereign right of a state to take early action to "prevent
a condition of affairs in which it will be too late to protect
Root justified support for right-wing
dictatorships with the argument that the populace in the victim
country was incapable of democratic rule. They hadn't learned
the knack of it. But no matter: the Italians had undertaken to
govern themselves without having learned the knack of it, Root
averred, singling Mussolini out for praise as the man of the hour,
under whose dictatorship Italy had experienced a revival of prosperity,
contentment, and happiness.
While this might be projected as the Republican
reaction to Wilsonian idealism, Wilsonian idealism remains open
to question, at least in Wilson's dealings with Latin America,
where he invaded no less than four countries in the region-Mexico,
Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic-at the behest of American
interests. In fact, it seems reasonable to presume that the Root
Doctrine has been operational throughout United States history,
both long before its articulation and to this very day. Prior
to the Spanish American War, the United States carried out 103
interventions; between the end of that war and the Great Depression,
it sent troops to Latin America 32 times. In any case, the Root
Doctrine would soon become bipartisan, and it was touted as being
more cost-effective than invasions.
The Good Neighbor policy of Franklin D.
Roosevelt was entirely compatible with the Root doctrine. It simply
required that Washington substitute support of local dictators
for its previous policy of invasions and occupations, the , latter
being the ultimate forms of interference forbidden by the new
policy. Keylor ascribes the adoption of this new policy to Washington's
embarrassment at the obvious similarity between its previous invasions
and occupations of Latin America and the then current aggression
of Japan in China. The parallel was too obvious, and compelled
the implementation of a new way to maintain hegemony in the hemisphere.
The new policy was initiated by the Hoover
administration, and taken up and "completed" during
the succeeding Roosevelt administration. By 1934 all American
troops had been withdrawn from Latin America, except for those
at the military and naval bases maintained in Panama and in Guantanamo
Bay in Cuba. The financial supervision of Haiti, the Dominican
Republic, and Nicaragua was phased out between 1936 and 1940.
Washington relinquished, at least on paper, its right to intervene.
For direct forms of dominance, it substituted indirect ones, reminiscent
of but less formal than those employed in British indirect rule
in Africa. Central to this new scheme was support-economic, military
and diplomatic-for local autocrats-for their currencies, their
national constabularies, and their personal greed. In return,
these autocrats suppressed local communists and radicals, protected
American business, and performed other favors when called upon
to do so. The good neighbor policy and the Root doctrine not only
accomplished the same essential goals, but the latter was generally
more cost effective and presented a smoother surface. No need
to invade to change unwanted regimes. Better to support the local
military that would make the changes for you.
[Gabriel] Kolko argues that General Eisenhower inaugurated "the
era of the generals" in the realm of policy. Eisenhower preferred
generals and helped them to take over because they preserved traditional
values (a phrase which largely, as we have seen, serves as a euphemism
for elite dominance) and brought order to situations plagued with
disorder and the threat of social change.
NICARAGUA, THE SOMOZAS. AND THE SANDANISTAS: FROM COOLIDGE TO
A revolt in 1912 induced the president
of Nicaragua, Adolfo Diaz, to request military aid from Washington
to maintain order. The marines were sent, and they remained until
1925. When they withdrew, however, another revolt occurred, and
the marines returned the next year. It was during this occupation
that the Coolidge administration insisted on the establishment
of a Nicaraguan national guard to be trained by the marines. It
handpicked Anastacio Somoza as the commander of the guard, which
in turn facilitated his accession to political power. A former
latrine inspector, Somoza spoke fluent English, and he impressed
Colonel Stimson, a former secretary of war, who had been sent
to Managua to find a solution to the Nicaraguan problem. President
Hoover withdrew the marines from Nicaragua in 1933. Because the
dictatorship of Somoza provided stability in the Central American
country and protected Washington's interests, they were no longer
needed. Eleven administrations followed the example of Coolidge
by honoring the Root Doctrine in Nicaragua.
The elder Somoza and his two sons, Luis
and Anastacio, Jr. used the national guard as the vehicle to maintain
their reign until the last Somoza (Anastacio) was forced to resign
in 1979. Washington was aware of the corruption of, and the repression
practiced by, the Somozas. In 1939 Somoza was invited to visit
Washington, where he had an audience with President Roosevelt
and was given the honor of speaking to a joint session of Congress.
U.S. military and economic assistance to Nicaragua increased steadily
between 1945 and 1975, even as Somoza's sons refined and expanded
the repression and corruption that had characterized their father's
rule. The Somozas reciprocated, with Nicaragua assuming the role
of client state by providing a training ground and a launching
pad for the intervention in Guatemala in 1954 and the invasion
of Cuba in 1961.
When a devastating earthquake hit the
country in 1972, Somoza reacted by siphoning off much of the relief
money for himself and his cronies. On June 28, 1979 the United
States Ambassador Lawrence Pezzullo cabled Washington that he
had met with Somoza and suggested that "we" design a
scenario for his resignation. 13 Having put the elder Somoza on
the throne, Washington took his son off it 46 years later. On
July 17 of the next month Anastacio, Jr. left for exile in Miami.
He was compelled to step down as part of a scheme of the Carter
administration to form a provisional government of moderate leaders
to prevent the Sandanistas from coming to power. The Sandanistas
were to be excluded from the coalition, and the national guard
was to be preserved. Finally the Organization of American States
was asked to form a peacekeeping force with the United States
at its head to provide the muscle for the transitional period.
A large majority of Latin American states, however, rejected this
proposal. The scheme fell through, the national guard disintegrated,
and Sandanistan troops marched into Managua unopposed.
The Reagan administration waged a low
intensity war against the Sandanistas with the avowed purpose
of driving them from power. This type of warfare is many sided,
and it has been called total war at the grassroots level. The
CIA was ordered to organize the Contras, a guerrilla force that
consisted of former national guard officers and disaffected civilians.
A liaison officer from the National Security Council serving with
them characterized their leaders as liars motivated by greed and
the desire for power, and charged that the war had become a business
for them. They attacked bridges, electric generators, but also
state-owned agricultural cooperatives, rural health clinics, villages,
and non-combatants. CIA commandos launched a series of sabotage
raids on Nicaraguan port facilities. They mined the country's
major ports and set fire to its largest oil storage depot.
Washington imposed a complete trade embargo
on the Central American country, pressed allies to do the same,
and used its influence in intergovernmental agencies to cut off
all aid. It built up its military forces in neighboring Honduras
and conducted joint war games near its border with Nicaragua to
create the fear of invasion. It instituted an economic de-stabilization
program, as well as a propaganda war directed at Nicaragua, but
also at the Western allies and (illegally) at the United States
itself. According to the General Accounting Office, the propaganda
campaign extended to the point of engaging in prohibited, covert
propaganda activities designed to influence the American media
and the American public to support the Administration's Latin
In 1984, Congress cut off aid to the Contras, at least it thought
so. But the Reagan administration resorted to illegal means to
aid them. Thus the notorious Department in me paramilitary war.
On April 9, 1984 Nicaragua filed an application before the International
Court of Justice, charging that in dealing with the Central American
state, Washington had violated general and customary international
law as well as the terms of several bilateral treaties.
The administration of the elder Bush employed a softer, more delicate,
but time tested, approach to the Nicaraguan problem. It organized
the electoral opposition to the Sandanistas and fashioned a campaign
strategy for its presidential candidate, Violeta Chamorro. The
CIA funneled money to former contra leaders, and the Congress
openly authorized nine million dollars to aid her campaign as
the opposition candidate. She started her campaign in Miami, and
went on to win the election. The Sandanistas stepped down. A peaceful
transition like this, without benefit of a coup d'etat, is a rare
phenomenon in Nicaraguan history. Whatever leftist or communist
leanings the Sandanistas may have had, they in no way impaired
their demonstrably greater commitment to democracy.
THE CONGO: FROM KENNEDY TO BUSH, SR.
Immediately upon independence in 1960,
the Congo was beset by a struggle for power between President
Lumumba, supported by the Soviet Union, and Prime Minister Kasavubu,
supported by Washington. The CIA characterized Lumumba as another
Castro. However, Mobutu, the head of the Force Publique (a combination
army and national police) ultimately won the power struggle and
ruled the country with help from Washington for 32 years. The
Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the evidence permitted
a reasonable inference "that a plot to assassinate Lumumba
was authorized by President Eisenhower." The CIA had one
of its science advisers, Sidney Gottlieb, assemble an assassination
kit that the agency sent to Leopoldville by diplomatic pouch.
The kit included a poison that produced symptoms similar to an
indigenous African disease. Gottlieb was sent to explain to the
local CIA station chief that the poison had to be put in Lumumba's
food or on his toothbrush. Neither was done, and it is not known
for sure who killed him. There are many versions of how it happened
and who did it. Each version exonerates the narrator .
Early in his career while in the Force
Publique, Mobutu was an informant for the Belgians. Later, he
became one for the CIA. After independence, he consolidated his
power position through his control of units of the army loyal
to him. Washington trained, armed, and paid these units.
Mobutu took over in a coup d'etat that "neutralized"
the two chief contestants for power, Lumumba and Kasavubu. He
closed down the parliament, and established in its place "a
College of Commissioners." This was a group of students chosen
from those who had studied abroad. Mobutu also closed the Soviet
and Czechoslovak embassies. The CIA regarded Mobutu as an asset,
and the agency certainly was an asset for him. Several times it
provided him with crucial information that helped to extend his
tenure as dictator. Israel was again involved. It trained Mobutu's
own presidential guard." After taking over the government,
Mobutu no longer depended upon the fees paid him as an informant.
He amassed a personal fortune from local sources estimated at
between three and five billion dollars.
THE KHMER ROUGE: FROM CARTER TO BUSH, SR.
The Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia
in 1975 following the disarray resulting from the secret illegal
U.S. bombing of the country, and were removed from power by an
invasion from Vietnam in 1979. During their reign, they slaughtered
anywhere from one half million to a million and a half of their
fellow citizens and were accused of committing genocide. They
cut the country off from the outside world, emptied the capital
city, banned foreign and minority languages, closed the schools
and hospitals, abolished the currency, militarized the economy
and the labor force, and attacked neighboring countries. The Khmer
Rouge were a strange brand of leftist radicals, usually denominated
communist, but in reality were rather more nativistic, chauvinistic
and anti-modernist. Since they were anti-Soviet, they received
Washington's support as long as the Cold War continued. Paradoxically,
when it ended, Washington called for the trial by an international
tribunal of Pol Pot and other top leaders of the Khmer Rouge.
The support resulted from the Cold War configuration at the time,
in which the Soviets backed Vietnam and the government it imposed
on Cambodia, while China and Washington backed the Khmer Rouge,
the enemy of Vietnam. Washington's support for the Khmer Rouge
was more egregious, given that its beneficiary was consistently
charged with committing genocide. Moreover, the support came even
from the Carter regime despite the fact that President Carter
ran on a platform that featured the promotion of human rights.
The Carter administration helped arrange continued Chinese aid
to the Khmer Rouge when it was fighting the government installed
by the invading forces from Vietnam.
Kiernan referred to Washington's support
in this way:
Along with China, which supplied arms,
and Thailand, which supplied sanctuary, the United States was
instrumental in rescuing the Khmer Rouge army from its 1979 defeat
by Hanoi. From 1979 to 1981, the United States led Western nations
in voting for the Khmer Rouge to represent their Cambodian victims
in the United Nations.
In 1982, Washington helped prod two small
proAmerican groups into a Khmer Rouge-dominated alliance, and
for more than a decade the United States has rejected all opportunities
to take individual or collective action against the Khmer Rouge.
Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says
that in 1979: "I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot
.... Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him but
China could." They both did. The United States, Brzezinski
says, "winked semi-publicly at Chinese and Thai aid for the
Khmer Rouge .
Washington also pressured United Nations
agencies to provide food assistance to the Khmer Rouge. This pressure
yielded over $12 million in aid from the World Food Program alone
when it was most needed, after the defeat by Vietnam. The Western
media and Western intelligence supported the Khmer Rouge as well.
Washington and its Western allies voted to give the United Nations
seat to the Khmer Rouge when it ruled alone, and after 1983 when
it ruled in coalition with other parties. The coalition was called
the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK). Washington
rejected any attempt to brand the Khmer Rouge as "genocidal"
until the beginning of the Paris peace process in 1989.
Haas traced the origin of Washington's aid to the diplomacy of
Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who talked
Thailand into being a conduit for Chinese aid to sustain Pol Pot's
forces against Vietnam and their internal enemies. Thus began
"the Faustian pact," whereby Washington became "the
ally twice-removed" of the Khmer Rouge.
Although a CIA report in 1980 concluded that the Khmer Rouge was
responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million people during Pol Pot's
rule, the Reagan administration steadfastly refused to acknowledge
In November 2002, the General Assembly passed a resolution calling
for the resumption of negotiations for the establishment of negotiations
to establish a special tribunal to try the surviving leaders of
the Khmer Rouge. Following years of failed negotiations, this
effort was led by Australia, France, Japan, and the United States.
The resolution was criticized by human rights advocates because
it did not contain explicit language guaranteeing that the trials
would meet international standards. It gave the Cambodian government
ultimate control over the jurisdiction of cases with the privilege
of overriding decisions of the United Nations . Meanwhile the
top leaders of the Khmer Rouge continue to live openly and freely
in the country; some of them are included in the present government.
The trial courts would be set up by the Cambodian government,
and their jurisdiction would be limited to the senior Khmer Rouge
leaders and those responsible for the crimes of the Pol Pot regime
committed between 1975 and 1979.
Terrorism and the United States