Don't expect U.S. to create democracy in Iraq (lessons from Greece)

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by Mickey Z.

It would be nice to believe that the U.S./British invasion of Iraq may have been horribly mishandled but the motivation behind it was sincere. After all, it's a timeless classic: toss out a depot and introduce democracy. However, even the most perfunctory glance at previous U.S./British ventures would promptly expose the lies. An excellent example is post-WWII Greece.

Before the (so-called) Good War, Greece was a right-wing monarchy and dictatorship, but German occupation gave birth to a civil war. The National Liberation Front (EAM), an extremely popular left-wing group, and the People's Liberation Army, the guerilla resistance wing of EAM, gained the support of the masses and were largely responsible for Greece being relatively Nazi-free by the time the British army arrived in late 1944. Viewing EAM's early support by the Greek Communist Party and its tendency towards unrealistic slogans like education for the illiterate and welcoming women as soldiers as a precursor of what post-war Greece may be like, a British army of intervention promptly stepped in to restore the right-wing dictatorship.

In response to the inevitable jailing and repression of regime opponents and trade union leaders, a left-wing guerilla movement sprang forth. By the fall of 1946, this friction led to civil war. Great Britain, no longer able to extend itself globally, was unable to handle the rebellion and called on the U.S. for help. "Thus it was," explains author William Blum, "that the historic task of preserving all that is decent and good in Western Civilization passed into the hands of the United States."

The U.S enthusiastically took on the task of ferreting out communist traitors (despite the fact that the Greek rebels were not receiving any aid from the Soviet Union) by setting the standard for its Cold War interventions: it sent military advisors and weapons to Greece. "In the last five months of 1947," writes Howard Zinn, "74,000 tons of military equipment were sent by the United States to the right-wing government in Athens, including artillery, dive bombers, and stocks of napalm. Two hundred and fifty army officers, headed by General James Van Fleet, advised the Greek army in the field." Foreshadowing the tenor of future U.S. entanglements, Van Fleet advised the Greek authorities to forcibly remove Greek citizens from their homes in an effort to isolate the guerillas and drain their popular support.

By 1949, the civil war was over. With the leftist rebels defeated and "outside influences" removed, Greece was free to not only maintain its high levels of poverty and illiteracy in peace, but it could now do so with the help of investment capital from Esso, Dow Chemical, and Chrysler.

Two decades later, within the context of a slightly warmer Cold War, the U.S. had to intervene yet again in the domestic affairs of Greece. When liberal Prime Minister George Papandreou was elected in 1964, it did not sit well in Washington. Things went from bad to worse when Greece further annoyed its superpower benefactor by squabbling with Turkey over Cyprus, and then objecting to U.S. plans to partition the island. Democrat Lyndon Johnson summoned the Greek ambassador for a brief-and very instructive-lesson on how America handles its affairs. "Fuck your parliament and your constitution," said LBJ. "America is an elephant, Cyprus is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good...We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me a talk about democracy, parliament, and constitutions, he, his parliament, and his constitution may not last very long."

Within a year, the Greek Royal Court was able to unseat Papandreou. It was later revealed that CIA Chief-in-Station in Athens, John Maury, had helped King Constantine in 1965 in the toppling of the Papandreou government. As new elections became inevitable, however, the CIA threw its considerable weight behind Colonel George Papadopoulos who had been on the Agency payroll for 15 years. Before that, he served as a captain in Nazi Security Battalions during the German occupation of Greece. The elephant most certainly did whack the flea in early 1967 when Papadopoulos seized control in a coup. Parliamentary democracy was abolished, while torture, oppression, and political murder became standard policy.

One year after the coup, the Papadopoulos military junta dutifully contributed $549,000 to the Nixon-Agnew election campaign. When the U.S. Senate called for an investigation to discern whether or not the CIA originally funneled this money to the junta, the investigation was swiftly the direct request of certain Mr. Kissinger.

The moral of this story: Iraqis hoping for democracy shouldn't hold their breath.

Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at

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