Most people consider Bernie Sanders’ race for the presidency to be an exercise in futility. That’s because, they say, he doesn’t have any realistic chance of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
But there is another reason why Sanders’ quest for the presidency might be futile. It’s unlikely that the U.S. national-security establishment would ever permit Sanders to become president, on grounds of “national security.”
Now, before anyone cries, “Conspiracy theory, Jacob!” let’s not forget what happened in Chile in the early 1970s. The Pentagon and the CIA orchestrated a military coup that removed Chilean president Salvador Allende from office and replaced him with military strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
It’s true that Allende was a self-described communist while Sanders is a self-described socialist, but isn’t that a distinction without a difference? If you compare the economic philosophies and policies that Allende favored to those that Sanders favors, my hunch is that you won’t find a great deal of difference.
Why did the U.S. military and the CIA remove Allende from power? They did it because of his communist and socialist beliefs. They considered any communist or socialist leader in the Western hemisphere to be a threat to U.S. national security.
Don’t forget Cuba, after all, where the Pentagon and the CIA have used an invasion, terrorism, sabotage, an embargo, and even assassination to remove Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power. That’s because they have always considered Castro, a self-avowed communist and socialist, to be a threat to U.S. national security.
In fact, what also doesn’t bode well for Sanders is that he has publicly criticized the U.S. national-security state’s coup in Chile. Imagine that: a democratic socialist U.S. presidential candidate condemning the Pentagon’s and CIA’s ouster of a democratic socialist in Chile, an action that the Pentagon and CIA hold was absolutely essential to protecting the national security of the United States.
Would it make any difference that Sanders was democratically elected by American voters? Allende was elected by the Chilean people in a democratic election and that made absolutely no difference to the U.S. military and the CIA. In fact, they believed that that made it more important to oust him from office because they believed that democratic socialism was an even bigger threat to U.S. national security than an unelected socialist dictator. Allende’s election showed that democracy and socialism are entirely compatible with each other, a phenomenon that scared U.S. officials to death.
As Henry Kissinger, who was one of the key U.S. officials in charge of national security, put it, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
Now, it’s true that the Pentagon and the CIA did not orchestrate and initiate the plan to oust Allende all on their own. They were ordered to do so by President Nixon. But it’s also a fact that they were fully on board with Nixon’s decision and reasoning. Thus, when they embarked on a secret campaign that would encompass bribery of public officials, a propaganda campaign in the Chilean press, the violent kidnapping (and resulting assassination) of the head of the Chilean armed forces, the intentional infliction of economic chaos in the country, and the coup itself, they did so with the same conviction, eagerness, and enthusiasm that Nixon had.
In fact, even today, you’ll find any number of American conservatives who are convinced that it was a wonderful thing that the U.S. and Chilean national-security establishments ousted Allende from power and replaced him with Pinochet. They say the coup saved the country from communism and socialism.
Of course, one might suggest that while the U.S. national-security establishment would oust a foreign president from office who was threatening national security, they would never do that to an American president.
Really? Why not? Isn’t a threat to national security a threat to national security? Would the military and the CIA really just stand by and let the United States fall to the communists, socialists, terrorists, or some other threat owing to the policies of a U.S. president when they wouldn’t let that happen as a result of a foreign president’s policies?
Let’s not forget a crucial factor here: While the U.S. national-security establishment removed Allende from power on the ground that he was a threat to U.S. national security, the Chilean national-security establishment cooperated in his removal from power for another reason: that he was a threat to the national security of Chile.
Why is that important? Because from 1970-1973, U.S. national-security state officials were convincing their counterparts in the Chilean national-security establishment that it was their solemn duty to oust their president from power. Never mind that the Chilean constitution prohibited a coup. It had to be ignored. After all, the constitution isn’t a suicide pact, is it? If following the constitution is going to lead to the death of the nation, then it becomes the duty of the military and the CIA to save the nation, even if that involves violating the Constitution. The end justifies the means.
That’s the way the Chilean national security establishment viewed the situation. That’s what the U.S. national-security establishment believed.
Since U.S. military and intelligence officials convinced their Chilean counterparts that they had a solemn duty to remove Allende from power, why would U.S. military and intelligence officials permit Sanders to serve as president?
Equally important, let’s not forget what Pinochet and his goons did to people who supported Allende. Thirty thousand of them were rounded up, put into concentration camps or military dungeons, tortured or raped or both, executed, or disappeared.
Through it all, the U.S. national security establishment was ecstatic because, in their minds, communists were being defeated in Chile, unlike the situation in Vietnam, where communists were defeating the U.S. military. In fact, as a secret U.S. State Department investigation later revealed, the U.S. national-security establishment even had the Chilean national-security establishment murder two young Americans, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi. Moreover, U.S. foreign aid flooded into Pinochet’s regime, thereby providing a strong financial base for running his concentration camps, torture chambers, rape rooms, and executions.
Horman’s and Teruggi’s “crime”? The same “crime” that the rest of those 30,000 victims committed – believing in socialism or communism or simply supporting the president of their country or his policies.
Of course, ordinary Americans would say, “That could never happen to us because we just believe in democracy, not socialism.” Really? If they were to take this a quiz published last month in the Washington Post entitled “Are You a Democratic Socialist Like Bernie Sanders? Take the Quiz,” I think most Americans (libertarians being the notable exception) would be surprised to learn that they’re as much democratic socialists as Bernie Sanders and, for that matter, Salvador Allende.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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