Often, it is impossible to mention the phrase “CIA” without instantly filling a listener’s mind with imagery ranging from detonating cell phones to explosive penguins. However, there are some researchers, such as McBride Program director Ken Osgood, who have spent the time digging up real information about the CIA’s murky past.
During a Human Systems lecture last week, Osgood gave a speech entitled “The CIA and Regime Change in the Cold War.” The talk was taped by the TV channel C-SPAN and drew conclusions regarding the American, and more specifically, the CIA’s, mentality during the Cold War from three scenarios occurring overseas at the time.
After a brief description of the history of the CIA, Osgood turned his focus to Iran in 1953. During that time, there was a dispute between the British and locals over oil nationalization. After Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq promised to stand up to the oil companies, the British responded by lobbying the US to overthrow him, claiming that he was a communist. The CIA decided to intervene and aided in successfully overthrowing the democratically-elected Mossadeq.
Guatemala found itself in a similar situation just one year later. Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz wanted to redistribute non-fertile local land, owned by the United Fruit Company (UFC), to his own people. However, the UFC held a powerful position in the US as even the director of the CIA held stock in their company. They utilized this power to coerce the CIA into action, which eventually led to the replacement of Árbenz with a US chosen leader.
Osgood’s final area of interest was 1973 Chile. US president Nixon was contacted by a wealthy and powerful Chilean businessman, who portrayed president-elect Salvador Allende as a communist and begged for his removal. Nixon contacted the CIA head, who responded by ordering about $8 million dollars worth of propaganda and anti-Allende activities, in hopes of ruining Allende’s appearance. The mission was a success for the CIA, and Allende was eventually overthrown.
Osgood wrapped up his speech by summarizing what can be learned from these scenarios. He was quick to dismiss the CIA as a rogue agency by pointing out that “all operations were ordered by a democratically elected president” and were “permissible under US law.”
Osgood then focused his attention on the ideal of nationalism. He said that, “In all of the cases, the key factor that triggers the crisis is the threat of nationalization.” He believes that the US and other nations confused nationalism with communism at the time, pointing out that there was “no evidence linking the three leaders to the Soviet Union.”
Osgood summarized his argument when he posed the question, “Did Americans not understand 3rd world nationalism, or did they not want to understand 3rd world nationalism?” He concluded with a message for all. Instead of fighting fire with fire, it’s often “better to fight fire with water.”