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Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

An insider's account of imperialism in the modern age

By John Perkins
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Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
Synopsis

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004) is an insider’s account of imperialism in the modern age. Drawing on the experiences of John Perkins, a consultant who spent decades working behind the scenes to further America’s interests, these blinks shed light on how the United States uses debt to manipulate and control smaller nations. 

Key idea 1 of 10

A covert operation in Iran in the 1950s provided a template for American foreign policy, but it needed tweaking.

Throughout history, empires have relied on military force. If they wanted to control a territory, they dispatched their armies and seized it. Rivals might dispute these claims, and this might lead to war, but that was rarely a deterrence. Conflict was simply an unavoidable cost of doing imperial business. 

This calculation changed after World War II. Now, as older European powers waned, two new empires emerged – the Soviet Union and the United States. Both possessed the atomic bomb, which meant that war between them was likely to end in nuclear armageddon. That was a deterrence, and it led the US to develop a new approach to imperial management. 

The key message here is: A covert operation in Iran in the 1950s provided a template for American foreign policy, but it needed tweaking.

In 1951, the Iranians elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, a popular nationalist who promised to return control of the nation’s vast oil reserves to its people. In March 1953, he made good on this pledge and nationalized the British company that controlled Iran’s oil – APOC, or the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. 

Washington was appalled. A trusted ally had lost control of a vital strategic resource, and Mosaddegh had set an example other countries were sure to follow. Getting rid of Mosaddegh was tricky, though. If the US invaded Iran, the Soviet Union might retaliate. That left just one option: a covert operation. 

It was led by CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt. A master of the dark arts of subversion, Roosevelt instigated riots and anti-government protests, making Iran practically ungovernable. This chaos was the perfect pretext for a coup. In August 1953, Mosaddegh was removed from office and replaced by a pro-Western government that quickly returned control of Iran’s oil to APOC. 

American strategists were delighted. They had overthrown a troublesome government without firing a single shot. In the process, they had created a template for covert interference that would be used time and again in the coming years. There was, however, one loose end. 

Roosevelt was a CIA employee. If he’d been caught, the US would have been implicated in the coup. That would have invited Soviet retaliation and risked a catastrophic war. What strategists now realized was that they needed plausible deniability. As we’ll see later on, they also realized that the best way of achieving this was to outsource covert operations to the private sector. 

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