In This Review

Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq
Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq
By Stephen Kinzer
Henry Holt, 2006, 400 pp

Over the last century, the United States has intervened in over a dozen countries to overthrow their governments -- more often than any other great power in modern history. In this fascinating history, Kinzer explores the reasons for such operations and what they accomplished. The pattern of regime-change operations has followed the arc of U.S. global engagement in the twentieth century. In the early cases -- Hawaii, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras -- U.S. presidents acted openly and in imperial fashion to protect corporate interests and spheres of influence; in the Cold War cases -- Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, Chile -- more subtle techniques and clandestine actions prevailed. The most recent interventions -- in Afghanistan and Iraq -- reveal new and staggeringly more complicated circumstances and calculations. Across the cases, which are recounted in lively and colorful detail, Kinzer argues that the motives for regime change have ranged from the prosaic and the pecuniary to the principled and the strategic. But in each case, action was undertaken when foreign governments refused to protect U.S. interests as defined at the moment. What Kinzer does not clarify is why interventions occurred in some countries and not others. Still, he offers a useful portrait of the presidents who have influenced the exercise of U.S. power and the interesting judgment that interventions have often succeeded in their immediate goals but failed to advance U.S. interests in the long term.