The First George W on 'Blowback'

Email Print


After two four-year
terms as president of the United States, George Washington delivered
some exceptionally sound advice in his farewell address in 1796,
advice that’s been basically ignored.

After expressing
hope “that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands,
may be sacredly maintained,” Washington, commander in chief of the
Continental Army, referred to “overgrown military establishments
which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty
and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican

In foreign
relations, Washington advocated a posture of strict neutrality:
“The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or
an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to
its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient
to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”

Not only was
a strategy of impartiality, of “good faith and justice toward all
nations,” the most effectual stance for the nation, it was also
the ethical thing to do, Washington maintained: “Religion and morality
enjoin this conduct.”

In relations
with trading partners, the “great rule of conduct” for the United
States should be “to have with them as little political connection
as possible,” Washington advised. “It is our true policy to steer
clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

On Aug. 25,
1796, several weeks before his farewell address, Washington succinctly
stated his nonintervention policy in a letter to James Monroe: “I
have always given it as my decided opinion that no nation had a
right to intermeddle in the internal concerns of another; that every
one had a right to form and adopt whatever government they liked
best to live under themselves.”

That concept
of America staying out of the internal business of other countries
is long gone. From Guatemala, Iran and Cuba to Chile, Vietnam and
Iraq, “preemptive war” and “regime change” are painted as humanitarian

On March 19,
2000, for instance, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
acknowledged America’s past intervention in the internal concerns
of Iran: “In 1953, the United States played a significant role in
orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammed

Believing that
Iranian oil belonged to Iranians, Mossadegh became a U.S. target
after he backed a policy of nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil
Company, a British firm that controlled the production and sale
of Iranian oil since the early years of the 1900s.

Not unlike
George Washington, Mossadegh saw his country getting the short end
of the stick in its economic relationship with the British.

The New
York Times ran an editorial approving the coup against Mossadegh,
in which it said, “Underdeveloped countries with rich resources
now have an object in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of
their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism.”

Berserk and
fanatical nationalism by developed countries was different, i.e.,
acceptable. We didn’t invade Iraq; we “liberated” it.

Following the
ousting of Mossadegh, the United States during the next quarter
century backed the Shah’s regime, a dictatorial government that,
in Albright’s words, “brutally repressed political dissent.”

The coup against
Mossadegh was “clearly a setback for Iran’s political development,”
said Albright, “and it is easy to see now why so many Iranians continue
to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”

“The 1953 CIA
coup in Iran was named ‘Operation Ajax’ and was engineered by a
CIA agent named Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore
Roosevelt,” writes Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of
The Future of Freedom Foundation.

For a time,
as Hornberger explains, it looked to U.S. planners like the coup
was an unqualified triumph: “U.S. officials, not surprisingly, considered
the operation one of their greatest foreign policy successes –
until, that is, the enormous convulsion that rocked Iranian society
with the violent ouster of the Shah and the installation of a virulently
anti-American Islamic regime in 1979.”

The coup, in
essence, paved the way for the rise to power of the Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini and all the rest that’s happened right up to 9/11 and beyond.

It’s called
“blowback,” i.e., the unintended consequences of covert operations
– or as Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman, defines it, “the
CIA’s term for what happens when a foreign operation explodes in
one’s own face.”

It’s something
that George Washington seemed to understand.

1, 2007

R. Reiland [send him mail]
is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University
in Pittsburgh.

R. Reiland Archives

Email Print