POLITICS

The U.S. Has Been Meddling In Other Countries' Elections For A Century. It Doesn't Feel Good.

Russia has been quite the student.

07/27/2016 11:51 am ET | Updated Jul 27, 2016
Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images
The irony of Russian President Vladimir Putin's agents meddling in the U.S. presidential election isn't lost on Bernie Sanders supporters.

PHILADELPHIA ― Intelligence officials are shocked that Russia appears to be meddling in the U.S. presidential election, but for some supporters of Bernie Sanders, it’s just turnabout.

Lakewood, Colorado, delegate Kim Netherton said it’s beside the point whether agents of Russian President Vladimir Putin hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails, as reported this month. And it may come with a little poetic justice for Hillary Clinton, according to Netherton.

“Isn’t it interesting that her campaign is now experiencing the same thing that she perpetrated on other countries,” Netherton told The Huffington Post, as she awaited Sanders’ speech Monday night.

“She did this in Haiti, she did this in Honduras, and now it’s coming back on her and she’s all verklempt about it,” Netherton added. “It’s a little bit of her own medicine, but unfortunately I don’t think she’s open minded enough to see that for what it is.”

Indeed, meddling in foreign politics is a great American pastime, and one that Clinton has some familiarity with. For more than 100 years, without any significant break, the U.S. has been doing whatever it can to influence the outcome of elections ― up to and including assassinating politicians it has found unfriendly.

The Clinton camp disagrees that whatever happened in Honduras is on the same level as what Russia is up to. “There’s simply no equivalency here,” said Clinton spokesperson Jesse Lehrich. Which is true: the U.S. has meddled in far more foreign elections than vice versa.

The U.S. penchant for meddling in Latin American politics is something Sanders and Clinton disagreed sharply about in a March debate. “I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change,” Sanders said. “And all of these actions, by the way, in Latin America, brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments.”

The phenomenon is so prevalent, there’s even a running joke in Latin America that goes like this:

Q: Why has there never been a coup in the United States?

A: Because there’s no U.S. embassy in Washington.

To get a sense of why that joke gets so many knowing laughs around the world, let’s do a quick run through of a few of America’s greatest hits.

Honduras

At the beginning of Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State in 2009, the Honduran military ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in a coup d’etat. The United Nations condemned the military coup and the Organization of American States suspended Honduras from its membership, calling for Zelaya’s reinstatement. Instead of joining the international effort to isolate the new regime, Clinton’s State Department pushed for a new election and decided not to declare that a military coup had occurred.

“If the United States government declares a coup, you immediately have to shut off all aid, including humanitarian aid, the Agency for International Development aid, the support that we were providing at that time for a lot of very poor people,” Clinton said when asked about Honduras in April. “So, our assessment was, we will just make the situation worse by punishing the Honduran people if we declare a coup and we immediately have to stop all aid for the people, but we should slow walk and try to stop anything that the government could take advantage of, without calling it a coup.”

Clinton said that she didn’t want Zelaya returning to power. “Zelaya had friends and allies, not just in Honduras, but in some of the neighboring countries, like Nicaragua and that we could have had a terrible civil war that would have been just terrifying in its loss of life.”

Emails that have since surfaced show that Clinton and her team worked behind the scenes to fend off efforts by neighboring democracies through the Organization of American States to restore the elected president to power. “The OAS meeting today turned into a non-event ― just as we hoped,” wrote one top State official, celebrating a strategy of slow-walking a restoration.

Critics of the decision not to shut off aid said it essentially legitimized the coup government as it cracked down on dissent. And the outcome hasn’t been so great: Since 2009, the country has become increasingly dangerous, contributing significantly to the 2014 surge of unaccompanied minor children fleeing to the U.S. 

AFP via Getty Images
Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, left, advised Cuban leader Fidel Castro on how to deal with the United States.

Guatemala

In 1954, the Central Intelligence Agency deposed Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz. It installed a military dictatorship that would be more amenable to fighting communism and protecting the United Fruit Company ― to which brothers Allen and John Foster Dulles, CIA director and secretary of state, respectively, were closely tied. Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary, was in Guatemala at the time. He would later tell Cuban leader Fidel Castro that it was Guatemala’s free and open society that allowed the CIA to penetrate and overthrow Arbenz. Castro should go the opposite direction if he wanted to stay in power, Guevara said. He took Guevara’s advice and was able to fend off endless CIA assassination and overthrow attempts. The collateral damage was freedom in Cuba.

Iran

When Iran elected a nationalist politician, Mohammed Mosaddeq, the U.S. intervened to launch a coup in 1953, which CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt led. Mossadegh’s crime was to nationalize a British oil company, a forerunner to BP, and to spark concerns among the paranoid Dulles brothers that he was leaning toward the Soviet Union. The U.S. installed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran’s monarch, as the head of Iran and his repressive rule led to the Iranian revolution. That uprising, in turn, has given us a brutally repressive regime in Iran, client terrorist groups around the Middle East, savage sectarian violence in Iraq and a nuclear standoff. Sad! 

Haiti

It’s hard to know which specific meddling we’re talking about when it comes to Haiti, given the high number of U.S.-sponsored coups and interventions there. None, at least, were under Secretary Clinton’s watch. But memos that WikiLeaks published suggest the State Department, in collaboration with local factory owners, helped suppress a minimum wage increase in the Caribbean nation. The Clinton Foundation, meanwhile, has done some impressive work in Haiti, while also catching plenty of flack for its shortcomings. 

HVN/AP
Congo Premier Patrice Lumumba, left, with Andrew W. Cordier, executive assistant to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, at the United Nations, New York City, in 1960. Congo's first elected leader met a grisly end.

Congo

Malcolm X once called Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent.” Lumumba led an anti-colonial campaign to oust the ruling Belgians from the Congo and he became the country’s first elected leader. The U.S. set about almost immediately to overthrow and assassinate him, perceiving Lumumba (incorrectly, it turned out) to be a pawn of the Soviet Union. The Belgians took the lead in the plot against Lumumba, but the U.S. was a willing participant. When he was finally captured, he was tortured and killed. So that the public wouldn’t learn of the crime, he was doused in acid to make his body disappear. The assassins ran out of the substance, so they crushed, hacked and ground his body to pieces, scattering the remains in an area that would later be named for Lumumba. More than 50 years of conflict has followed. His killing has been called “the most important political assassination of the 20th Century.” 

Indonesia

Another leader who resisted being pulled into the U.S.-Soviet Cold War was Sukarno of Indonesia. When the Communist Party finished fourth in an Indonesian election and Sukarno offered them proportional representation in his government, the U.S. panicked and secretly supported the brutal purging of suspected communists. Thousands died and the military emerged the most powerful institution in the country. It quickly tossed Sukarno from power in 1967 and squashed democracy. Just last week, a panel on an international tribunal at the Hague found the U.S., along with Australia and the United Kingdom, had been complicit in Indonesia’s crimes against humanity in 1965.

National Archives via Getty Images
President John F. Kennedy speaks at a press conference about North Vietnam in 1961, the year he sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam.

Vietnam

When the French withdrew from Vietnam in the 1950s, they scheduled an election to be held shortly after. It became increasingly clear that the communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh would win it in a landslide. So the U.S. intervened and installed Ngo Dinh Diem as leader of a new country it recognized as South Vietnam. The national election was canceled, but the U.S. still needed a way to pretend the puppet regime had political support. So it set up an election between Diem, who was widely disliked, and an exiled member of the royal family who was even more hated. Diem won with an absurd tally of 98.2 percent. U.S. media declared it a deeply moving expression of the will of the South Vietnamese people.The John F. Kennedy administration wound up helping plan a 1963 coup against Diem, who ended up dead. For the next decade, the U.S. went to war to defend the fictional government we had propped up, at the cost of 58,000 American lives and perhaps 2 million Vietnamese. The last U.S. troops withdrew from the country in 1973.

Afghanistan

The election in 2014 didn’t go as the U.S. intended (like the one in 2009, shot through with fraud that gave it to Hamid Karzai). So the U.S. declared it a tie and created a new position not in the Afghan constitution called Chief Executive Officer.

Which we guess is better than assassinating the other guy. 

The one thing that ties all the stories above together is that not only did they inflame anti-American sentiment, they actually worked against the interests of the U.S. in the long run.

When the CIA pressed President Barack Obama on its plan to arm “moderate” rebels working to oust Bashar Assad in Syria, he asked a provocative question: Has this kind of thing ever worked? An assessment was done, but if the agency found any examples, none have ever surfaced.

Among the many counter examples, of course, is Osama bin Laden, who the United States paid to fight, not coincidentally, the Soviet Union. In throwing his weight behind Donald Trump, Putin might want to be careful what he wishes for.

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