Four Grotesque Male Heads. | Wenzel Hollar/Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University. Source: Foreign Policy - Photo: 2023

Why the Ugly American?

By Jonathan Power

LUND, Sweden | 17 October 2023 (IDN) — American foreign policymakers often wonder aloud why much of the world has such an anti-American reflex. Why the “Ugly American”? Graham Greene would never have written a novel entitled “Ugly Russian” or even “Ugly German”. Not just Iran considers the US the “Great Satan.”

Remember that day at the UN General Assembly when the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, accused President George W. Bush of belching sulfurous fumes, and most of the chamber chuckled. Today, we have the US funding and arming Ukraine after provoking Russia by advancing NATO up to Russia’s borders. In the Middle East, President Joseph Biden supports Israel unequivocally, without speaking of the often murderous history of Israel’s repression and Israeli claims to and occupation of Palestinian land.

When the Russian government denied that they switched their publicly announced mission of deploying planes to Syria to fight ISIS and had instead concentrated on bombing the redoubts of groups engaged in the civil war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a majority of the world’s governments seemingly accepted the denial, despite the contrary evidence.

When Russia claimed it had taken a righteous stand with its incursion into eastern and southern Ukraine, most countries in the world, voting at the UN, either voted against the US or abstained. When the US bombed a hospital in Afghanistan, killing many staff members of “Doctors Without Borders”, this confirmed the opinion of those who are always convinced that America does things like this on purpose after careful planning and will do it again as soon as the opportunity offers itself.

US armed forces have 750 Bases in 80 countries

There are two reasons, I think, for the image of the Ugly American. The first is America’s standing as the world’s number one economic and military power, which deploys its armed forces to 750 bases in 80 countries around the world. Compare this to China’s one base and Russia’s ten.

The second is the CIA, the notorious Central Intelligence Agency. The British have their MI6 and its special agent, the glamorous James Bond. But the CIA only has its reputation as the master of the black arts of corruption, torture and assassination.

Tragically, for America, its bad reputation is largely deserved. There are some notorious examples of its malfeasance that every politically educated non-American knows about. The most recent, perhaps, were the waterboarding and other torture methods carried out by the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The Congo

The Congo and its goings-on immediately after its independence from Belgium is rightly the stuff of legend, novels, history and film. On 30 June 1960, the young leftist firebrand Patrice Lumumba was sworn in as prime minister. Within days, the army mutinied against their all-white officer corps. Belgium responded by sending troops to reoccupy the country. Its richest province, the mineral-rich Katanga, was encouraged to secede.

Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union, which immediately flew in transport planes. That’s when the Eisenhower administration sent in the CIA. At that time, it ranked as the US’s largest covert operation in the CIA’s history. Its station chief, Lawrence Devlin, became so powerful that he controlled many of the key political players in the country.

The CIA plotted to have Lumumba deposed, even murdered if necessary. 

The CIA encouraged President Joseph Kasavubu to turn against Lumumba. He fired the prime minister. Devlin was quick to find a substitute- Mobutu Sese Sese, the 29-year-old army chief of staff. According to an official US government study, Devlin told his CIA bosses that “this was the beginning of the plan for Mobutu to take over the government”.

Ten weeks after independence, Mobutu announced he was suspending parliament and the constitution. Mobutu became the CIA-funded de-facto dictator, with Devlin as his chief counsellor. The two of them agreed that Lumumba must be arrested, and they sent him to Katanga, the Belgium-supported secessionist province, whose government had repeatedly called for his scalp. He was shot dead within days of his arrival, as the CIA wanted.

The CIA then masterminded Cyril Adoula to be a nominal prime minister under Mobutu’s thumb. The CIA bribed parliamentarians, labour unions, and the organization of tribal chiefs to back Adoula. 

The seesawing in Congolese politics continued for another five years before Mobutu, with CIA help, became the paramount leader with no need for a façade of parliamentary rule. For 32 years, Mobutu, always considered a close friend by the US, milked the economy for his financial benefit. The country ended up as the basket case of Africa, more riddled by continuous warfare, corruption and poverty than any other African country. 

Finally, in 1997, rebels headed by a former Lumumbist and backed by military forces from Uganda, Rwanda, and Angola deposed Mobutu, leading to a regional war that would kill more than three and half million people over the next decade. Only in the last handful of years has the Congo, with massive UN help, begun to right itself.

“Like Water On Stone”

Another case of the perfidy of the CIA I have told at length in my book, “Like Water On Stone”, (Penguin, 2001). It’s the story of the overthrow of Chile’s legitimately elected leftist government in 1973. The US supported cruelly repressive Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras governments.

Other countries have done bad things like the Americans—the British in Kenya, the Russians in Ethiopia, and southern Ukraine but the world forgets and even forgives. But not with America. To take liberty with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The evil that America does lives after it. The good is oft interred with its bones”. [IDN-InDepthNews]


Copyright: Jonathan Power.

Image: Four Grotesque Male Heads. | Wenzel Hollar/Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University. Source: Foreign Policy

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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