'To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins.' So said US vice-president Mike Pence. Incoming US president, Joe Biden, said: 'The scenes of chaos do not reflect the true America, do not represent who we are.'
These statements came after armed pro-Donald Trump protesters flooded into Congress in Washington DC on 6 January, breaking windows and doors and occupying offices for hours. One member of the mob was shot dead by a police officer, in circumstances which are not clear at the time of writing. The violence could easily have escalated. Molotov cocktails were found in the grounds of the Capitol, where Congress is, and pipe bombs were found at the headquarters of the Democratic and Republican parties.
My first reaction to hearing Mike Pence was to think of the US- and British-sponsored coup in Iran in 1953. Violence never wins?
We now know that the British government tried to overthrow the elected nationalist government of Mohammed Mussadiq (sometimes spelled 'Mossadegh' or 'Mossadeq') in 1951. The head of MI6's Iran station at the time, Norman Darbyshire, later detailed the 1951 attempt and his participation in the US-led 1953 coup.
This is how the Guardian summarised Darbyshire's account of the 1951 actions: 'In 1951 the UK's deputy prime minister, Anthony Eden, without consulting his senior officials, dispatched an academic and wartime spy, Robert Zaehner, to try to oust Mossadegh by bribing members of the Majlis [parliament] and other prominent Iranians.' Darbyshire said: 'Vast sums of money were being spent.... He used to carry biscuit tins with damn great notes. I think he spent well over a million and a half pounds.'
Understandably, Mussadiq then threw British diplomatic staff (including intelligence officials) out of Iran. The British had to turn to the CIA for 'help' in overthrowing the democratically-elected prime minister, and installing a more obedient government under the shah of Iran. The CIA officer on the ground was Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of former US president Teddy Roosevelt.
Kermit Roosevelt's campaign was described by New York Times journalist, Stephen Kinzer for Democracy Now!. (Kinzer is author of All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.)
'The first thing [Roosevelt] did was he started bribing members of parliament and leaders of small political parties that were a part of Mossadegh's political coalition. Pretty soon the public started to see the Mossadegh coalition splitting apart and people denouncing him on the floor of parliament. The next thing Roosevelt did was start bribing newspaper editors, owners and columnists and reporters. Within a couple of weeks, he had 80 percent of the newspapers in Tehran on his payroll and they were grinding out every kind of lie attacking Mossadegh.
'The next thing Roosevelt did was start bribing religious leaders. Soon, at Friday prayers, the Mullahs were denouncing Mossadegh as an atheist enemy of Islam. Roosevelt also bribed members of police units and low-ranking military officers to be ready with their units on the crucial day.
'In what I think was really his master stroke, he hired the leaders of a bunch of street gangs in Tehran, and he used them to help create the impression that the rule of law had totally disintegrated in Iran. He actually at one point hired a gang to run through the streets of Tehran, beating up any pedestrian they found, breaking shop windows, firing their guns into mosques, and yelling “We love Mossadegh and communism.” This would naturally turn any decent citizen against him.
'He hired a second mob to attack the first mob, to give people the impression that there was no police presence and order had completely disintegrated. So, within just a few weeks, this one agent, operating with a large sum of cash and a network of contacts and various elements of society, had taken what was a fairly stable country and thrown it into complete upheaval.'
This first US effort also failed on 15 August 1953. However, a second US attempt on 19 August succeeded. The day started with pro-shah protesters marching on parliament (the Majlis) again. They were incited by a US agent to set fire to the offices of one pro-Mussadiq newspaper along the way – another group were led by another US agent to the offices of several left-wing newspapers, 'all of which were thoroughly sacked'. That's from the official, internal CIA history of the coup.
Mobs gathered in the centre of Tehran, and parts of the military and police came out against the government. According to the internal CIA history, three people were killed in the taking of Radio Tehran, the most important target of the coup. The radio was used to mobilise coup plotters in different parts of the country, and bring provincial governments 'into line'.
'Violence never wins'? 'Freedom wins'?
The history of US foreign policy, certainly since 1945, demonstrates the opposite of both statements. Despite US promises during the Second World War, the immediate postwar period saw the US restoring anti-democratic forces to power, including fascists, across the world.
The US (and Britain) helped France try to reconquer Vietnam, a commitment which led eventually to the Vietnam War. This was part of a wider pattern of anti-democratic restoration in Asia and beyond. The most extraordinary part of this was allowing the emperor of Japan to remain in position, without any penalty for having led his country through over a decade of massacre and violent conquest. In Greece, Britain and then the US waged war against the former anti-fascist resistance (led by the Communist party) and restored former collaborators.
Soon after overthrowing Mussadiq in Iran, the CIA overthrew another democratically-elected government in 1954, this time in Guatemala.
Mussadiq's crime had been to ask the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company for a fair share of oil revenues, and then, when the company (now BP) refused, nationalising the oil industry – just as the British Labour government was doing for Britain's key industries at the same time. The crime of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala was to propose policies that benefited the poor, including land reform, which threatened the power of the US company, United Fruit.
The list of other anti-democratic interventions by the US is very long.
If we just take 'meddling in elections', a US academic, Dov Levin, has calculated that there were 117 'partisan electoral interventions' in the world between 1946 and 2000. According to Levin, the US was responsible for almost 70 percent of these efforts. While some of the interventions were public and minor (voicing support for one candidate over another), almost two-thirds of them were carried out in secret.
While I don't support in any way the actions of the armed crowd that tried to carry out a pro-Trump coup yesterday, I oppose just as fiercely the propaganda that is now flowing reinforcing the idea that the US government stands for democracy and freedom. The 'true' USA showed its face in Tehran in 1953, and so many other places.
It would be wrong to leave this topic without mentioning 'the other 9/11', the destruction of Chilean democracy on 11 September 1973 by a US-backed military coup.
Democratically-elected president Salvador Allende was overthrown by the CIA. Among many, many other brutal actions, the CIA provided weapons, money and even life insurance to Chilean assassins to get rid of an obstacle to the military coup: the commander-in-chief of the Chilean armed forces, general Rene Schneider. Military aircraft and tanks fired on the presidential palace and surrounding buildings in the last stages of the coup.