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Post Coups, Proxy Coups, and Failed Coups
Created by John Eipper on 07/07/13 7:18 AM

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Coups, Proxy Coups, and Failed Coups (Istvan Simon, USA, 07/07/13 7:18 am)

While John Heelan's theory of coups and attempted coups (7 July) may be pertinent for some of the coups of the long list in Wikipedia he enclosed, I found it striking how few of the coups that I know about on the list his theory really explains. For example, there are a number of coups by Getulio Vargas in Brazil on the list, in 1937, in 1938, the anti-Vargas coup of 1945, and the ouster of João Goulart in 1964 by the Brazilian military. None of these seem reasonably explainable by John's theory, nor I think is the current coup in Egypt.

Military coups that had a solid backing by millions of the local population, as was the case in 1964 in Brazil and also in Egypt currently, cannot be adequately explained by John's theory. To me it seems quite clear that much deeper local reasons and forces are involved in these cases.

The revolution that ousted Mubarak in Egypt was a popular revolt, not a military coup. It was not led at all by the Muslim Brotherhood, and so it could be properly said that the subsequent takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in all the Arab world that followed the Arab Spring revolts was a betrayal of the forces that actually were responsible for the successful revolts. The narrow victory in the elections of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was a result of the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in political organization during the long years that it was operating underground, as opposed to the other secular forces of society that were more divided and less monolithic. But in the case of Egypt, it was clear that these forces were very substantial, and it is their exclusion from any participation in the government by Morsi that led to his loss of power. I think that Yusuf Kanli's recent post reflected these facts very accurately.

Let's hope that the military will get it right this time, and that a more inclusive democratic government will emerge from this military coup. The Muslim Brotherhood should be part of such a government, because it represents nearly 50% of the political forces in Egypt, but it should not dominate it, as it did under Morsi.

It is by no means obvious that such a positive result will happen in Egypt--what the future holds is still quite murky. But there is at least a chance that a more successful democratic government will emerge than what Morsi's government was. One that does not think that the answer to all of Egypt's problems lies in Islam, for example.

Morsi was singularly unsuccessful in making any economic progress in his year and a half in power. If anything, Egypt's economy got much worse, due to the polarization he created. Tourism for example, which was such a large contributor to Egypt's economy, was affected very negatively by his hostile attitude to anything non-Muslim. But few of the tourists that went to Egypt were Muslims, so clearly a more welcoming approach is needed to continue this very large source of revenue than what Morsi was capable of. Likewise, it seems that Islam has little to offer in terms of modern engineering and management, which will produce more electricity or better communication services. Finally Morsi failed miserably to take into account the non-Muslim minorities of Egypt, to carve out a legitimate role for them in Egyptian society. I think that it is these factors that were responsible for his loss of power.

JE comments: I share Istvan Simon's cautious optimism for a stronger, more inclusive Egypt post-coup.  The Egyptian military can be sure of one thing:  the eyes of the world will be on them this time.

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  • Coups, Proxy Coups, and Failed Coups (Nigel Jones, UK 07/08/13 4:20 AM)
    I agree with Istvan Simon (7 July) that military coups are almost always dictated by local factors, and that John Heelan's theory that coups are usually the proxy work of that convenient bogyman US imperialism are more the result of John's Cold War anti-American imperialism than an analysis of the facts.

    This is not to say that the US never interferes in other nations' domestic politics. Of course it does, and as a world superpower it would be irresponsible for it not to do so, and slightly surprising if it did not. Indeed, current events in Egypt are largely a result of the Obama administration's disastrous dithering and refusal to intervene decisively on the side of those forces opposed to an Islamist takeover of a vital Middle Eastern ally.

    It was the refusal of a previous weakling Democratic President--the ineffable Jimmy Carter--to intervene in Iran that "lost" Iran to the rule of the mad Mullahs, with the appalling local and global consequences that we are still living with some 35 years later.

    Kermit Roosevelt Jr. of the CIA did not make that mistake in 1953 when he successfully mobilised the Teheran merchant class to mount a counter-coup against the anti-Western Iranian Premier Mosaddegh and return the Shah to power. Here again, however, the US merely took advantage of already strong local discontent to support its coup.

    Another example is the coup in South Vietnam in fall 1963, which brought down the unpopular Diem dictatorship. Although the US undoubtedly supported the officers who mounted the coup, discontent with the Diem regime was already enormous--witness the self-immolation of Buddhist monks--and about to blow. Here again it was local factors, not long-distance US plotting which was decisive.

    Ten years later, in Chile in September 1973, the middle classes were in open revolt against Allende's inept attempt to turn Chile into another Cuba long before Pinochet made his coup or Nixon and Kissinger got involved. (Remember the pan-banging by Santiago's housewives?)

    The same applied to Lumumba in the Congo in 1960/61; Sukarno/Suharto in Indonesia in 1965, and the Greek Colonels in 1967: conditions in all these countries had reached the point when the unpalatable choice lay between military dictatorship and chaos and anarchy and/or communist dictatorship.

    Speaking as someone who, as a general rule, supports the intervention of armed forces to correct the crimes, enormities or errors of civilian politicians, my only regret about the global role of the US is that it has seemingly lost its former ability to encourage or help organise a decent coup d'etat.

    JE comments: Any chance that the US has simply chosen the high road by abandoning the coup d'etat as a foreign policy tool? Nigel Jones and I have disagreed in the past on the 1973 Chilean coup; presently Allende has been rehabilitated and installed in the pantheon of Chile's national heroes, while Pinochet is largely a pariah. Pinochet defenders will justify the coup by pointing to Chile's economic and political successes since the return to democracy. What would Chile look like now if Allende had finished his term? We'll never know--and CIA intervention in '73 prevented us from ever having the chance to know.

    WAIS doesn't discuss Iran as much as it used to, but I'm interested in Nigel's views on what President Carter should have done differently. Arguably, the Islamist overthrow of the Shah was payback for the anti-Mosaddegh coup of a generation earlier.  From the perspective of 60 years later, one wonders what kind of Iran could have emerged if the secular reformer Mosaddegh had been left alone.  I can imagine Iran today looking more like Turkey, which also developed under the guidance of a secular nationalist.

    Sponsors of coups in foreign nations rarely look beyond their short-term interests.

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    • Further Thoughts on Coups (John Heelan, UK 07/08/13 6:56 AM)
      Nigel Jones (8 July) suggested that my comment that some military coups are proxies launched to protect US long-term interests stem more from "Cold War anti-American imperialism than an analysis of the facts." Maybe Nigel is correct. However, to clarify perhaps he could explain Operation Condor and US support of juntas in the Southern Cone of South America, as well as US past involvement in Venezuela and Iran?

      Of course, it is difficult for a military to succeed without local public support. But one needs to ask who would want to foment that support and for what motivation? Are we to believe that Western intelligence services would not be involved in fomenting such operations? Take a look at CIA's 2007 Operation Pliers in Venezuela (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pliers ). Of course it has been denied, as was the earlier involvement to overthrow Iran's Premier Mosaddegh in 1953. (see Clandestine Services 1954 report not released until 25 years later--http://cryptome.org/cia-iran-all.htm

      Wikipedia claims, "documentation shows that the United States provided key organizational, financial and technical assistance to the (Operation Condor) operation... CIA documents show that the agency had close contact with members of the Chilean secret police, DINA, and its chief Contreras was retained as a paid CIA contact until 1977... The Paraguayan Archives include official requests to track suspects to and from the US Embassy, the CIA, and FBI. The CIA provided lists of suspects and other intelligence information to the military states... (Kissinger to Argentina's Foreign Minister on 5 October 1976: 'Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported.')"


      "The US was also a key provider of economic and military assistance to the Videla regime in Argentina during the earliest and most intense phase of the repression... In 1977 and 1978 the United States sold more than $120,000,000 in military spare parts to Argentina, and in 1977 the US Department of Defense was granted $700,000 to train 217 Argentinian military officers... The re-establishment of diplomatic ties allowed for CIA collaboration with the Argentine intelligence service in training and arming the Nicaraguan Contras against the Sandinista government. The 601 Intelligence Battalion, for example, trained Contras at Lepaterique base, in Honduras."


      Do all these reports also emanate from "Cold War Anti-American Imperialism" commentators, including Dr. Donald N. Wilber, who wrote the Mosaddegh report and who had played an active role in the operation?

      JE comments:  Nigel Jones did not deny US involvement in a panoply of coups around the world, although he did argue that by and large, this was a good thing.

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      • Coups and US Intervention (Nigel Jones, UK 07/09/13 4:59 AM)
        I'm sorry that both Johns, Eipper and Heelan, misunderstood (perhaps willfully?) my last message re: coups. The whole point of which was to not to deny that the US supported coups, but to state that without local conditions being ripe for one, there would be no coup.

        JE comments: It certainly wasn't a willful misunderstanding, but my apologies. I must have been misled by Nigel's final comment of 8 July: "my [Nigel's] only regret about the global role of the US is that it has seemingly lost its former ability to encourage or help organise a decent coup d'etat."

        My disagreement with Nigel wasn't on whether the US had supported coups in the past, but with what I understood to be Nigel's support of military coups against dysfunctional civilian governments.

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      • Further Thoughts on Coups: Yugoslavia (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/09/13 6:00 AM)
        In response to John Heelan and to JE's as usual very good and pertinent comments (8 July), I wish to state that military coups are undemocratic, criminal and not acceptable if they are against our interests, but a military coup can be a good thing if it is in "our" interests. In such a case it is often not even described as a military coup, but as Churchill said in Parliament on April 27, 1941 in reference to the military coup in Belgrade, which shifted that nation to the Allied side of the war:

        "At Belgrade a revolution has started and the old ministers are under arrest. This patriotic manifestation is the expression of the anger of a courageous and valiant people."


        By the way, in the Italian history textbooks, the coup is not even mentioned at all and it is explained that both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy committed aggression against Yugoslavia: one of the many brilliant examples of political correctness.

        JE comments: One person's coup is another's "expression of a courageous and valiant people." It is interesting that the Yugoslavian coup is not mentioned in Italian history textbooks. Veteran WAISers know that international textbooks, and the competing versions of "truth" presented in them, were one of Prof. Hilton's favorite topics.

        It would be instructive to contrast how the 1941 Belgrade coup is portrayed in present-day Serbian and Croatian textbooks.  As a more general question, I'm curious how the Croats now remember their role in WWII, which by any measure requires a good deal of "spin" to make it palatable.

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        • Ragusa and Dubrovnik: A Re-Writing of History? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/11/13 4:38 AM)
          (I'm very happy that WAIS is back on line!)

          In reference to the pertinent comment of JE to my post of 9 July, concerning what the Croatian history textbooks say about the Yugoslavian coup of April 27, 1941, unfortunately I do not have any documentation as I do not speak Croatian, but I can give you a fair idea on how the Croatians view history.

          Let's go back to the Free and Sovereign Italian Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik). As I pointed out in an earlier post, it had an Italian majority until 1898, after which time the majority was Croatian. The name Dubrovnik comes from the name of a Croatian tribe called Dubroni, from Dubrava, which in their language means forest. This tribe was Catholic, but as they were inland close to schismatic enemies at the end of the 11th century, they asked for protection from the Republic of Ragusa, which remained faithful to the "asylum rights."  Ragusa granted the Dubroni the possibility of moving to the shore in front of the old city, originally founded on a small Island, Lausa, later connected to the mainland. This installation became the village of Dubrovnik, but it never had any cultural influence as Ragusa always remained with its Latin, and after 1472, Italian culture.

          Now from Croatian tourist books we can read that even if the official name was Respublica Ragusina, it is to be understood as Dubrovnik, and that by the 14th century the republic was completely Croatian. (But what about the official Italian language from 1472? Bah.)

          On the grounds of the Palace of the Rettore, there is a monument made by Pierpaolo Giacometti in 1638 in honour of the sailor Michele Prazatto, indicated as "Michaeli Prazatto Benemerito civi ex SC MDCXXXVIII," but this guy has now become known as Miha Pracat, the poet Giovanni Gondola of the 17th century has become Ivan Gundulic, the scholar Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich (1711-1787) has become Ruder Josip Boskovic, the painter Nicola Diodati, or Nicolò Ragusino, has become Bozidarevic, but in his case he is claimed not only by Croats but also by the Serbians, the architect Pasquale De Micheli has become Paskoje Milicevic, and so on. Of course these are not the only examples of annexation of culture and cancellation of history.

          JE comments:  The construction of Croatian national identity is a controversial (and bloody) topic that I wish I knew more about.  Interestingly, history's most famous Croat, Josip Broz/Tito, was not a nationalist at all but a pan-Yugoslav.  I've remarked before on the pages of WAIS that one step in the creation of Croatian nationalism has been its linguistic divorce from Serbian.  The Serbo-Croatian language that I read about in my youth no longer officially exists.

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        • History Textbooks and Croatia (David Pike, France 07/11/13 5:06 AM)
          JE referred (9 July) to the Serbian-Croatian clash in historiography, and to Ronald Hilton's Textbook Project that I did my best to assume a decade ago. I had just begun to teach graduate students at a second university in Paris, and I made history textbooks the centre of my interest and my appeal. Among the students that I drew into the project was Annemie Breesch, who is today the Serbian Ambassador to Paris. Annemie was working on a comparison of Serbian, Croatian and Slovene textbooks, when she realized that it would spell the end of her future in diplomacy. A sad conclusion, but she was right. I think that was the one element in the program that Professor Hilton had overlooked.

          So where does the project stand at WAIS? Kyle Ward holds the collection, but seems to have abandoned the project. The institute at Braunschweig remains active, I believe. What is not in question is the importance of the project. All over the world, how much prejudice is deliberately taught to readers still in the plastic state?

          For the project to succeed, it needs a young ambitious global empire-builder, another (inevitably lesser) Ronald Hilton, in the form of an Assistant Professor starting out life with a PhD in history and ready to devote her/his life to it.

          JE comments: It's been a long time since we've heard from Kyle Ward, the original caretaker of the WAIS/Ronald Hilton International History Textbook project. I sense that Kyle is not presently following WAIS discussions, but I must try to re-connect with him.

          One interesting twist on this project:  due to developments in technology, textbooks themselves are living on borrowed time.  How will historical perspective and nationalism be imparted in the Brave New World of bookless education?

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      • Further Thoughts on Coups: Chile and Iran (Istvan Simon, USA 07/09/13 6:43 AM)
        There is no doubt that the CIA was involved in a number of coups and that they did so to protect American interests. That was and is part of their job, and they should not be criticized for doing their job.

        Nor does it follow that American interests are necessarily against local interests. On the contrary, the objective of successful foreign policy, with or without coups, is always to persuade other countries that we have common interests.

        John Heelan (8 July) seems to have forgotten this, because though he does not say so explicitly, it seems implicit in his arguments that what is in the interest of the United States is somehow reprehensible and against the local interest. Yet this is debatable, and in my opinion in general it is also false.

        Furthermore, the CIA did not create the local conditions that allowed the coups in which it was involved to succeed. Taking the case of Chile head on, Salvador Allende was not a saint. He was a communist and he was doing his level best to create a new Cuba in Chile. That is as much historical fact as the reports that John Heelan cites.

        The CIA did not create Pinochet. Nor was the CIA responsible for everything that Pinochet did. Pinochet never was a puppet of the United States, nor was he always in alignment with American interests or policy. It can be properly argued that he was acting in the interests of Chile as he saw it. Take for example the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington in 1976. It is quite clear that in assassinating Letelier, Pinochet acted independently and against American interests and policy. I neither condone nor approve the assassination--I am merely pointing out that Pinochet acted independently of the United States, defending his regime against what were American interests and policy.

        Orlando Letelier was freed reluctantly by Pinochet because of pressure by the United States. He then was given an American Visa, and lived and worked in the US, where he was an active voice against the Pinochet regime. It is obviously ridiculous to suggest that his assassination had anything to do with American policy, and yet all this was connected with Operation Condor. This all shows that the merits or not of Operation Condor are more complex, and need to be examined in a deeper light than what John Heelan suggests in his post.


        Or take the case of Iran. The total number of politically motivated deaths in Chile under Pinochet, bad as it was, is smaller than the number ordered killed by the Ayatollah Khomeini in a single day, and also much much smaller than the bloodbath that occurred in Castro's Cuba. More than 3,000 political prisoners were murdered on Khomeini's orders while in custody of the regime in a single day, many of whom had already served their sentences. Yet I never heard John Heelan criticize either Khomeini or Castro in the same terms in which he criticizes Pinochet. The Ayatollah Khomeini was a monstrosity that created a monstrous regime in Iran, which is still in power more than 30 years after he took over. So is Fidel Castro, whose also monstrous regime is still in power 50+ years after his communist takeover. Contrast this to Pinochet, who voluntarily relinquished power and returned Chile to civilian and democratic rule. While I do not condone the human rights abuses of Pinochet's regime, compared to either Khomeini or Castro, General Augusto Pinochet was positively an angel, and his regime also left a legacy of a prosperous country that still benefits Chile today. On the other hand, both Iran and Cuba are in economic chaos, and still ruled essentially by dictators. Neither Iranians nor Cubans have today any of the ample political freedoms enjoyed by Chileans.

        JE comments: I hope John Heelan will send a response, but I don't recall him having anything good to say about the present-day regimes in Cuba or Iran. Returning to Pinochet, Istvan Simon has identified "Pinocho's" most endearing legacy--voluntarily stepping down. How many dictators in Latin America (or elsewhere) have done this?

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        • Coups, Foreign Sponsorship, and Smedley Butler (John Heelan, UK 07/12/13 4:05 AM)
          Istvan Simon (9 July) levels the accusation that "I never heard John Heelan criticize either Khomeini or Castro in the same terms in which he criticizes Pinochet."

          Might I suggest that Istvan's research is incomplete and he should look at my past WAIS posts on Cuba and Iran?

          As to Istvan's other charge that "it seems implicit in [John's] arguments that what is in the interest of the United States is somehow reprehensible and against the local interest." I suggest that he review the statement by perhaps the most famous US Marine General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), rightly a hero of the USMC, who said: "I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism."

          JE comments: We've seen the Smedley Butler quote before, but it bears repeating from time to time.  This Ronald Hilton post (February 1st, 2005) provides an excellent discussion on Gen. Butler's legacy, with input from John Heelan, Robert Whealey, Gen. Michael Sullivan, and Cameron Sawyer.  It's vintage WAIS at its analytical best:


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