Should the U.S. Allow the CIA to Destabilize or Lead Overthrows of Hostile Foreign Governments?

In a Nutshell

Yes

No

  1. The risk of civilian deaths is reduced or eliminated.
  2. Internal coups lead to a more credible and internationally-recognized government than a foreign overthrow.
  3. Less damage is done to the infrastructure of the country.
  4. Fewer lives of American troops are put on the line.
  5. The financial costs are dramatically reduced.
  6. Popular support for an all-out war is usually impossible to achieve.
  7. Less resentment and anti-American sentiment is accumulated.
  8. At a minimum, it prepares efforts for military action that may be needed in the future.
  9. We can help counter anti-American propaganda from the inside.
  1. These actions lead to wild conspiracy theories, whether or not the CIA has a hand in things.
  2. The credibility of the U.S. and the intelligence community is damaged.
  3. A lack of democratic decision making could lead to corruption and bad decisions.
  4. Other countries could follow the same policies.
  5. It could lead to Saddam/Stalin-like internal crackdowns on the population.

Yes

  1. The risk of civilian deaths is reduced or eliminated. In an all-out war, no matter how surgical the strikes and no matter how good the intelligence, there is always going to be a high risk of civilian casualties. As we've seen in Iraq, our terrorist enemies represent the lowest form of scum on Earth who will hide behind children, shoot people for failing to take their human shield post, and blackmail people into being suicide bombers. And even if our precision bombs are 99.9 percent accurate, it only takes one bomb to go astray and wipe out a civilian neighborhood. On the other hand, a CIA-led overthrow helps force a collapse from within. Usually the only people put at risk are the ones directly participating in the overthrow.

  2. Internal coups lead to a more credible and internationally-recognized government than a foreign overthrow. Whenever a foreign country uses military force to overtake another, you inevitably hear the word "occupation" and arouse consequential resentment. It will take a massive amount of time and diplomacy to get an internationally recognized government in Iraq. And even then, much of the Arab world won't accept it, instead labeling it as a puppet American government much like that of Afghanistan. However, if a nation's own people overthrow a government and install a democracy, the same problems don't occur. For example, imagine the differences of an Iran overthrow if we led another military invasion as opposed to leading the largely reform-minded people to take out the militant cleric leadership themselves.  The same can be said of an internal overthrow of the governments of Syria, Libya, and a host of other terrorist and/or dictatorial states.

  3. Less damage is done to the infrastructure of the country. The massive power of the American military can achieve amazing goals in record time; however, even low-casualty operations usually result in damage to roads, bridges, buildings, etc. This damage is time-consuming and expensive to repair. If there's a way to achieve our objectives without using our military might, we should take it.

  4. Fewer lives of American troops are put on the line. As we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, our enemies are usually made up of corrupt, vicious leadership and a less-than-enthusiastic supply of soldiers. The same can be said for our current enemies in Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Taking out the leadership alone often means winning the peace. This is much better achieved from an internal overthrow than a foreign invasion.

  5. The financial costs are dramatically reduced. For a large-scale invasion, we must pay for troop salaries, bombs, fuel, food rations, and so much more. This is in addition to secondary costs such as increasing foreign aid to countries for basing rights. It's dramatically cheaper to do the overthrow internally.

  6. Popular support for an all-out war is usually impossible to achieve. Much of the world has grown uneasy about the growth of American power. Any military operation by the U.S. is going to face major opposition no matter how justified, necessary, or liberating it is. In the case of Iraq, we were dealing with one of the most brutal, aggressive, threatening monsters in human history; we were dealing with a man who had started unprovoked wars against 3 neighbors and ran a tortuous rule over his own people. If ever there was a good case for launching a pre-emptive strike, it was Saddam's Iraq. Even in this case, we couldn't get UN support. Imagine the chances of getting popular support for a war against Syria, Iran, or North Korea.

  7. Less resentment and anti-American sentiment is accumulated. Each time the U.S. uses its military to overtake a foreign enemy, the resentment and anti-American sentiment grows. If we can achieve our objectives without appearing to have a hand in the operation, we could avoid this problem.

  8. At a minimum, it prepares efforts for military action that may be needed in the future. A wealth of intelligence and internal contacts are needed to win a war quickly and with a minimum of casualties. It takes a long time to build up the information and contacts. If tensions worsen and we're forced to go to war in the future, it's best to be prepared well in advance.

  9. We can help counter anti-American propaganda from the inside. Most people don't realize the extent of communist-led or dictator-led propaganda campaigns right here in the U.S. For decades, Stalin and Castro communists paid off journalists and government officials to counter the democratic capitalist ideals of our country. Saddam accomplished similar goals by paying off people from Al Jazeera, the British parliament, (possibly) former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, and others. The main cause of anti-American sentiment around the world is the one-sided, America-is-evil biased news coverage. If we get more CIA officials inside other countries, we can counter some of this one-sidedness. Of course, in our case, we don't have to use "propaganda", but simply truth and reason.

No

  1. These actions lead to wild conspiracy theories, whether or not the CIA has a hand in things. Conspiracy theorists flog the internet like never before. Rumors and falsehoods grow at exponential rates. Much of the Arab world still thinks the 9/11 attacks were engineered by the CIA and Israeli Mossad to create an excuse to attack Muslim countries. People who are undereducated and and those not trained in critical thinking skills are more likely to believe statements not based in reality, evidence, and logic. Unfortunately, if we start to involve the CIA in more operations, these conspiracy theories are only going to grow. Who knows how long it will be before the U.S. is blamed for creating hurricanes and tornados to wipe out our enemies?

  2. The credibility of the U.S. and the intelligence community is damaged. When the goal of the CIA to overthrow government becomes public, people have less faith in information that paints an enemy in a negative light. For example, Iran is obviously a country for which we'd like a regime change. That stated, when the CIA releases information that Iran is making nuclear weapons, it is harder to believe.

  3. A lack of democratic decision making could lead to corruption and bad decisions. Most of the operations in the intelligence community takes place in secrecy. In the interests of national security and the safety of agents, operations must often be hidden from the public, Congress, and press. Thus, when a decision needs to be made, the President or intelligence officers must make their own choices. This eliminates public debate and checks'n'balances control of power. We've seen throughout our history (e.g. Vietnam, Iran-Contra, Bay of Pigs, etc.) how this can lead to corrupt, ineffective, or bad decisions.

  4. Other countries could follow the same policies. Whenever we undertake a new type of military policy, we invite the same from our enemies. Even if terrorists cannot retaliate in the same way, the animosity may lead to more terrorist attacks.

  5. It could lead to Saddam/Stalin-like internal crackdowns on the population. Saddam Hussein and Josef Stalin were two examples of dictators who made several enemies and faced a constant threat of assassination or overthrow. The resulting paranoia prompted them to both crack down very hard on their own population through purges, torture, forced starvation, and more. The brutal environment of fear kept both of them in power for decades even with their vast unpopularity. When the CIA leads internal overthrows, there's always the chance the overthrow will fail, thus giving an excuse for the government to strike against its enemies. The resulting operation may cause much death and suffering, and ironically, keep the current government in power longer than it might have stayed without intervention.


Is anything missing? Is any of the material inaccurate? Please let me know.

Written by:
Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated:
01/05/2012
More To Explore