The ugly American?

By Jonathan Power

October 6, 2015

American foreign policy makers often wonder aloud why it is that much of the world has such an anti-American reflex. Why the “Ugly American”? Graham Greene would never have written a novel entitled the “Ugly Russian” or even the “Ugly German”. It is not just Iran that considers the US as the “Great Satan”. Remember that day at the UN General Assembly when the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, accused President George W. Bush of belching sulphureous fumes, and most of the chamber chuckled.

When the Russian government denies that they switched their publicly announced mission of deploying planes to Syria to fight ISIS and have instead concentrated on bombing the redoubts of groups engaged in the civil war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad a majority of the world’s governments seemingly accepts the denial, despite the contrary evidence.

When the US bombs a hospital in Afghanistan killing many staff members of “Doctors Without Borders” this confirms the opinion of those who are always convinced that America does things like this on purpose after careful planning and will do it again as soon as the opportunity offers itself.

There are two reasons, I think, for the image of the Ugly American. The first is America’s standing as the world’s number one economic and military power. The second is the CIA, the notorious Central Intelligence Agency. The British have their MI6 and its special agent, the glamorous James Bond. But the CIA only has its reputation as the master of the black arts of corruption, torture and assassination.

Tragically for America its bad reputation is largely deserved.

There are some notorious examples of its malfeasance that every politically educated non-American knows about. The most recent were the waterboarding and other torture methods carried out by the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The Congo and its goings on immediately after its independence from Belgium is rightly the stuff of legend, novels, history and film. On June 30th 1960 its the young leftist firebrand, Patrice Lumumba, was sworn in as prime minister. Within days the army mutinied against their all-white officer corps. Belgium responded by sending troops to reoccupy the country. Its richest province, the mineral rich Katatanga, was encouraged to secede. Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union which immediately flew in transport planes.

That’s when the Eisenhower administration sent in the CIA. It ranked as the US’s largest covert operation in the CIA’s history. Its station chief, Lawrence Devlin, became so powerful that he controlled many of the key political players in the country. The CIA plotted to have Lumumba deposed, even murdered if necessary.

The CIA encouraged President Joseph Kasavubu to turn against Lumumba. He fired the prime minister. Devlin was quick to find a substitute- Mobutu Sese Sese, the 29 year-old army chief of staff. Devlin told his CIA bosses, according to an official US government study, that “this was the beginning of the plan for Mobutu to take over the government”.

Ten weeks after independence Mobutu announced he was suspending parliament and the constitution. Mobutu became the CIA-funded de-facto dictator, with Devlin as his chief counselor. The two of them agreed that Lumumba must be arrested and they sent him to Katanga, the Belgium-supported secessionist province, whose government had repeated called for his scalp. Within days of his arrival he was shot dead, as the CIA wanted.

The CIA then masterminded Cyril Adoula to be a nominal prime minister under Mobutu’s thumb. The CIA bribed parliamentarians, labour unions and the organization of tribal chiefs to back Adoula.

The seesawing in Congolese politics continued for another five years before Mobutu, with CIA help, became the paramount leader with no need for a façade of parliamentary rule. For 32 years Mobutu, always considered a close friend by the US, milked the economy for his own financial benefit. The country ended up as the basket case of Africa, more riddled by continuous warfare, corruption and poverty than any other African country.

Finally in 1997 rebels headed by a former Lumumbist and backed by military forces from Uganda, Rwanda and Angola deposed Mobutu, leading to a regional war that would kill more than three and half million people over the next decade. Only in the last handful of years has the Congo, with massive UN help, begun to right itself.

Another case of the perfidy of the CIA I have told at length in my book, “Like Water On Stone”, (Penguin, 2001). It’s the story of the overthrow of the legitimately elected leftist government of Chile in 1973.

Other countries do similar bad things as the Americans – the British in Kenya, the Russians in Ethiopia but the world forgets and even forgives. But not with America. To take a liberty with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The evil that America does lives after it. The good is oft interred with its bones”.

Copyright: Jonathan Power

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