Bookmarks Issue: 

America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

A-OverthrowNext time you’re sipping a mai tai in Waikiki, consider this: the takeover of what would become America’s 50th state was the harbinger of our current conflict in Iraq. In Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Vietnam, America has consistently taken matters into its own hands when foreign governments aren’t in sync with our national interests (sugar in Hawaii, oil in Iran, etc.). Stephen Kinzer examines the risks and long-term consequences of these daring coups and discovers that politicians have long taken advantage of the American belief that regime change in the service of democratic values is fundamentally just. Though these conflicts have been discussed separately, Kinzer’s presentation of them as an uninterrupted chain lends credence and a startling coherence to his argument.
Holt/Times Books. 400 pages. $27.50. ISBN: 0805078614

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"It should be essential reading for any Americans who wish to understand both their country’s historical record in international affairs, and why that record has provoked anger and distrust in much of the world. Most important, it helps explain why, outside of Eastern Europe, American pronouncements about spreading democracy and freedom, as repeatedly employed by the Bush administration, are met with widespread incredulity." Anatol Lieven

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Kinzer recounts this century of overthrow with the swift pen of a newsman. … [H]e also provides a sharp critique of how the American press was often complicit in regime change." Kelly McEvers

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kinzer’s conclusion is inescapable: Various presidents from McKinley to Kennedy and George W. Bush have misled the American people about the real reasons for wars to topple foreign governments. … Kinzer ends with a series of tantalizing ‘what-ifs.’" Jon Wiener

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This fine synthesis has the added virtue of good timing. The lightning-swift invasion of Iraq and the subsequent slog through a bloody insurrection—dispiriting because it was so predictable—haunts this book as yet another lesson unlearned about how much like our former colonial masters we have become." Char Miller

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Kinzer asks at each juncture whether a different cast of characters—in the White House, at the CIA or on the ground—would have acted more cautiously. He concludes that although the particular instincts or politics of this or that American president often helped shape U.S. behavior abroad, a reckless imperial impulse is simply part of America’s DNA." Julia E. Sweig

Critical Summary

Former New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer has produced a book on foreign policy that can sit comfortably beside "edgy fiction, juicy memoirs or newsy exposes" (San Francisco Chronicle). His wide range of inquiry opens him up for some nitpicking: too much focus on American policy without considering the corresponding foreign policy; a tendency towards caricature; and entries on Iraq and Afghanistan that yield little new insight. But if reviewers feel that Kinzer’s thesis isn’t blindingly original—he has covered some of this material in his previous books All the Shah’s Men and Bitter Fruit—they concur that his amalgamation of the materials is unparalleled and, more important, a thrill to read.