Last October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called U.S. accusations that it meddled in the 2016 elections “flattering.” Though denying the accusation, he was saying the 2016 hacking was small potatoes if you compare Russian meddling with U.S. meddling. Noam Chomsky put it this way: “By U.S. standards, the Russian efforts are so meager as to barely elicit notice.” In a research database created by Dov Levin of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, between 1946 and 2000, Russia/USSR meddled in 36 elections, while the U.S. easily beat them, meddling in a total of 81 elections. The two superpowers interfered in one out of nine elections around the world.
I sincerely hope Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller puts his investigation in the context of a long history of U.S. interference in foreign elections over the years:
The U.S. helped organize the 1955 campaign for Ngo Dinh Diem in a Vietnam election that appears to have been rigged. We supported Diem again in 1961. But we grew tired of the man, and a CIA operative provided funds to local coup plotters who overthrew him in 1963, and he was executed in the back of an armored personnel carrier.
In 1964, the CIA put $4 million behind Eduardo Frei Montalva in his campaign against Salvador Allende for the presidency of Chile. The CIA got behind Frei again in 1966, but this time Allende won. Undaunted, the U.S. launched an aggressive effort to undermine Allende’s presidency. In 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s orders were conveyed: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.” And that’s what happened, and a handy AK47 put an end to Allende’s life.
The 1976 congressional Pike Report asserted that between 1948 and 1970, the U.S. spent over $65 million on elections in Italy, helping maintain the Christian Democrats’ grip on power for eight successive elections. The CIA officer who ran this for 25 years said, “We had bags of money.”
With up to $5 million at his disposal, CIA agent Edward Lansdale actually ran Ramon Magsaysay’s hugely successful 1953 campaign for the presidency of The Philippines, earning him the nickname “Agent Landslide.”
Even better than having the campaign chief on the U.S. payroll is to have the candidate himself — as was Joaquin Balaguer, who with U.S. help won the presidency of the Dominican Republic in 1966.
The CIA also had members of the Haitian military junta which ousted popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 on its payroll.
In 2000, Congress appropriated $40 million in funding and training to support Vojislav Kostunica’s successful bid for the presidency of Serbia.
Although Russia was spiraling downwards during Boris Yeltsin’s first term, with surging poverty and unemployment, life expectancy falling sharply, and oligarchs gaining vast power, President Bill Clinton endorsed a $10.2 billion IMF loan to Russia which ensured Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election, leading to further chaos. And in the run-up to Vladimir Putin’s 2012 re-election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used her influence to condemn his United Russia Party’s Parliamentary victory: “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. And that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.”
U.S. interference in foreign elections has not always been about geopolitical imperatives. Sometimes it is driven by naked business relationships, for example the future British Petroleum in Iran 1953, British sugar companies in Guiana the same year, and the notorious United Fruit Co. coup in Guatemala the following year.
The U.S. helped the Shah of Iran, Aldo Moro in Italy, Violeta Chomorro in Nicaragua, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak in Israel, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, and Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, and also meddled in elections in Macedonia, Argentina, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand, Greece, Lebanon, Bolivia, the Congo, and even France, Germany, Japan, and Australia. Borrowing a line from President Trump, “You think our country’s so innocent?”
Distinguished historian Mark Trachtenberg, UCLA Professor Emeritus, writing in Public Affairs, put it this way:
“The assumption is that while we have the right to intervene in the internal political affairs of all kinds of countries around the world, it is outrageous if any of them try to do the same thing to us. We have the right to eavesdrop on the private communications of the leaders of foreign countries, but it is outrageous that they should try to hack into the email accounts of American leaders and their associates.
“America is the ‘indispensable nation,’ and the rules that apply to other countries simply do not apply to us. Those are the unspoken assumptions, and it’s not hard to imagine how foreigners react to the sort of behavior they lead to. Does the word ‘arrogant’ come to mind here?
“My own feeling is that a double standard of this sort is morally repulsive and politically counterproductive. I don’t think we should arrogate to ourselves rights that we would not grant to others. But what that means is that, given the way we behave, we should not get too upset if other countries behave the same way.
“If we approach the recent email hacking affair with those thoughts in mind, we should be able to take what the Russians did in stride. It was in line with the way the world works — a world that is in large part of our own making.”
Excellent reading for Special Prosecutor Mueller.
Henry Seggerman managed Korea International Investment Fund, the oldest South Korean hedge fund, from 2001 until 2014. He is a regular columnist for the Korea Times, and has also been a guest speaker, written for, or been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Bloomberg Television, Reuters, and FinanceAsia — covering not only North and South Korea, but also Asia, as well as U.S. politics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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