Thursday, January 23, 2014

The "Third Force" That Never Works

In the aftermath of World War II, there was a great deal of infamy, betrayal and simply absurd actions on the part of the victorious Allies. Countries throughout Eastern Europe were sold out by the western powers to be handed over to Soviet subjugation. Britain and France, for example, had gone to war because of the German conquest of Poland yet were perfectly willing to allow the Soviet conquest of the same country. The United States, meanwhile, was establishing itself all over the world with a considerable military presence in places from West Germany to North Africa to South Korea and Japan while at the same time condemning the colonial empires of their own British and French allies. Much of this, it must be said, was done in a noble effort to prevent the further expansion of communism. However, to be fair it must also be said that the United States and Great Britain had, only a short time before, been heavily supporting and subsidizing these same communist forces. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, before his death in office, had made it clear that while he was fighting alongside Britain and France, he was an enemy of their colonial empires around the world and wished to see them brought down. With the onset of the Cold War, the ideological successors of FDR had their chance though, sadly, it would result in disaster for both the peoples in question and the United States.

This is what became known as the “third force” that Cold War America always seemed to be looking for in soon-to-be former colonial nations. In most of these countries, existing traditional authorities had long-standing relationships with the colonial power of Britain or France and after the Second World War both these local traditional authorities and the colonial empires were challenged by Soviet-sponsored communist rebels. So, there were usually, basically, two groups: the royalists and the communists. However, the American elites in Washington could not bring themselves to support either of these groups. So, as a result, America was always looking for a “third force” that was neither communist nor royalist/colonialist to give their support to and so further expand the anti-communist American “non-empire”. Of course, the desire to combat the spread of communism was a good thing but by always insisting on a “third force” successive American governments succeeded only in helping the Red Menace by splitting the anti-communist forces into two camps and setting them against each other. This was, sadly, a rather long-standing policy in spite of the repeatedly disastrous consequences that it produced all over the world.

Also playing a key role was the heavily leftist American labor unions. They too wanted to bring down colonial empires and native monarchies, and to gain influence before others could although they were much less clear about whether they considered the victory of Soviet communism to be all that bad of an outcome. It became standard policy for American organized labor to go to the colonies of American allies like Britain and France to set up labor unions amongst the locals and then to build on those unions as the core of a revolutionary political force. These labor unions would also lobby the government in Washington DC (having especially strong influence with the Democrats) to apply pressure to colonial countries to grant these places independence. When they did, the idea was that the new leader would come from the ranks of the new organized labor movement and they would have all these new countries solidly in their pocket. They could, and did, after all claim that these countries “owed” them their independence because of their lobbying on their behalf in the United States. This would also boost their popularity in America as well as they could portray themselves in a very patriotic light by taking down kings and monarchies while, in fact, they were thoroughly anti-American to their core.

One early, but often overlooked, example of this is to be found in Tunisia. The last Bey of Tunis, Muhammad VIII al-Amin, had come to power in 1943 when his cousin was overthrown by the Free French forces for having collaborated with the Vichy regime of Marshal Petain (a regime, by the way, which the United States recognized as the legitimate government of France until 1944). In 1956 he proclaimed independence from France and gave himself a promotion to King of Tunisia. By that time, however, he already had a powerful rival in place named Habib Bourguiba. He had started out as a socialist, always remaining very much on the left, and had supported the Allies in World War II. Needless to say he was a staunch republican who wished to tear down the monarchy. What is less well known is that he first gained his “mandate” and widespread support in the American press and with the U.S. State Department in September of 1951 at the congress of the AFL-CIO in San Francisco. The AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) being the largest American federation of labor unions. He launched a coup against the King of Tunisia, deposed and arrested him in 1957, abolishing the monarchy and ruling as a dictator until he was impeached in 1987 by his prime minister who then ruled as dictator of Tunisia until his overthrow in 2011 at the start of the so-called “Arab Spring”.

American labor unions also tried the same sort of tactic in the Kingdom of Morocco, backing Mahjoub ben Seddik in forming the Moroccan labor federation in violation of the laws of the French protectorate. This was part of their overall campaign to support independence while also pushing out French-backed labor unions in favor of American ones. It almost worked in Morocco as it had in Tunisia, however, the Royal Family proved too popular and eventually even those supported by the United States were insisting that pushing for the restoration of King Mohammed V to the throne was a wiser course of action that trying to establish a republic. He had been removed and exiled by the French and replaced by his uncle, Mohammed Ben Aarafa, but was eventually restored and negotiated the independence of Morocco from France in 1956. Still, the seeds that were planted continued to cause unrest and violence in Morocco for many years to come, particularly during the reign of King Hassan II, father of the current Moroccan monarch. All of this certainly did the country no good nor was it of any benefit to the United States. In forcing the country away from France, Morocco was obliged to draw closer to America but the unrest in the country only meant that America had an unstable ally which was surely not the ideal situation.

In 1952 Gamal Abdel Nasser planned the military coup that brought down the ancient Egyptian monarchy the following year. Coming from a socialist, anti-monarchy and anti-British Empire background, he had many admirers in the United States. After becoming dictator of Egypt, in 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, prompting a military intervention by Great Britain, France and the State of Israel. The U.S. administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a betrayal of his former World War II allies, denounced the intervention as a colonialist effort to hold on to empire. Eisenhower used American economic muscle (as Britain and France were still very dependent on U.S. financial assistance since the ruination of World War II) to force Britain and France to pull out of Egypt. Nasser himself praised Eisenhower as playing the “greatest and most decisive role” in ending the crisis. After leaving office, Eisenhower would remember the Suez Crisis as the greatest mistake of his presidency. Britain and France were forced out of the Middle East and America inherited all of their responsibilities and problems. To make matters worse, despite his words of gratitude, Nasser moved more and more back to his socialist roots and was much friendlier with the Soviet Union than he was with the United States. Still, the misfortune spread and the United States clearly learned nothing. Upon taking office, John F. Kennedy began a gushing correspondence with Nasser even while he was intervening in Yemen to fight royalists backed by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Great Britain. Eventually the royalists were destroyed and North Yemen was incorporated into the socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen to become the Yemen of today which remains a poor, chaotic and violent state.

Along with Africa and the Middle East, the effort to back a “third force” by America left behind a record of failure longer and even bloodier in Southeast Asia. In the case of Vietnam, America managed to be on almost every side of the conflict that engulfed the region at one point or another. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States funded, organized and trained the communist guerillas who became the Vietminh (and later the Viet Cong) under Ho Chi Minh to fight the Japanese and, perhaps later, the French. While Harry Truman was busy with Korea it became clear that Ho Chi Minh was a communist (which should have been obvious all along) and so under President Eisenhower the U.S. began to support the French and the last Vietnamese emperor in fighting this monster America had a hand in creating. However, the U.S. would not intervene to stop the communists outright at that stage (which would only mean far more extensive intervention later on) and, once again, a “third force” was sought that was neither French/Vietnamese monarchist or communist. The result was the emergence of Ngo Dinh Diem with strong backing from the United States. In 1955 American agents helped push him into deposing the former Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai and establishing a republic. Royalists were squashed and, through sheer brute force, for a time it seemed that this time the formula might be working. However, after President Diem proved to be a ‘puppet who wanted to pull his own strings’ President Kennedy, who had previously supported Diem in his rule and rise to power, authorized the coup that brought him down and ended in his assassination. South Vietnam was plagued by one coup after another virtually until a relatively stable period from 1965 until 1975 under General Nguyen Van Thieu. In the end, the communists were victorious.

King Savang Vatthana of Laos
President Eisenhower had said that Laos was the “cork in the bottle” of Southeast Asia and, originally, President Kennedy seemed to agree with him and his original focus in the region was on Laos rather than Vietnam. Toward that end, the CIA was sent in to give American support to pro-U.S. and anti-communist forces. The King wanted to keep Laos out of the Cold War entirely but not many others were interested. Laos had, simultaneously, three prime ministers all claiming power; a neutralist one (backed by the Soviets who preferred to fight one war at a time), an American-backed anti-communist one and a communist revolutionary one backed by the North Vietnamese (and thus, indirectly, the Soviet Union as well). The U.S. originally backed the right-wing faction along with even more dependable generals fully funded by the CIA in reserve. However, when Kennedy decided Laos was too messy and Vietnam should be the new focus for America, aid was cut and the right-wing faction was urged to align with the neutralist faction. The result was confusion with intermittent, clandestine support for certain parties by the United States in a civil war with the communists while the Lao Royal Army was stuck in the middle. This disastrous situation continued until the American pull-out from Vietnam left the non-communists high and dry and paved the way for the communists to seize power, making Laos a puppet state of the North Vietnamese.

Likewise, in Cambodia, there emerged an American faction, a communist faction and a royalist faction. King Norodom Sihanouk was trying to keep friendly with all sides, showing the sights to Jackie Kennedy one day and vacationing with Chairman Mao the next. He looked the other way to North Vietnamese incursions into Cambodia and to American CIA agents trying to buy influence for Cambodia coming into the war on the side of the United States and South Vietnam. In 1970 the U.S.-backed prime minister, General Lon Nol, staged a successful coup against King Norodom Sihanouk who was out of the country. A republican government was established which was quickly recognized by the United States under President Richard Nixon. The King was sentenced to death in absentia, his wife to lifetime imprisonment and even his mother was placed under house arrest. The new republic immediately went to war with the communist Vietnamese but deposing the King had forced him into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, the local communist insurgency, whose numbers swelled dramatically as a result. In the end, the Khmer Republic lasted only as long as American aid did, which was cut off after the U.S. government gave up on South Vietnam and with the collapse, the Khmer Rouge filled the vacuum. They disposed of the no-longer-necessary monarch and established a communist state that was murderous on a scale almost unequalled in world history. Such were the fruits of a “third force” in Cambodia.

Chin Peng, communist leader in Malaysia
All of this was a far cry from what happened in Malaysia, which provides a stark contrast to American mismanagement in fighting communism. At first, the situation could be seen as somewhat similar to that of America in Vietnam. In Malaysia there was a communist subversive movement, led by the Chinese, which was all about hostility toward the Empire of Japan (and this was prior to the Japanese war with Great Britain) due to the war in China. When World War II spread to Southeast Asia and Malaysia was invaded by Japanese forces, the British Empire, like the United States in Vietnam, gave support and training to these communist guerillas to fight against Japan. Of course, once the war was over, they intended to make a revolution in Malaysia to replicate the success of their communist brethren in China. However, the British did not attempt to create a “third force” in Malaysia but sent in combat units (Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia contributing as well) to fight alongside the Malaysian forces in defense of their existing state monarchies. The result was that the anti-communist forces were united, the counter-insurgency campaign was successful and, in the end, the communists were defeated and the Kingdom of Malaysia was able to continue on to become an independent member of the Commonwealth and is still today a prosperous constitutional monarchy.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Indonesia. Here again was an anti-colonial war that the United States reacted to but, even more outrageously, not by backing a “third force” but by backing the primary enemy of the colonial power, another World War II ally, the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Under the leadership of another socialist revolutionary, Sukarno, Indonesian rebels waged a guerilla war against the Dutch. Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands agreed to a compromise by which Indonesia would be granted complete autonomy as the United States of Indonesia while remaining under the Dutch Crown, rather like modern-day Aruba is a “constituent country” of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. However, the rebels rejected this offer and continued to wage war on the Dutch population. Their offer of good will being rejected, the Dutch responded with military force and were quite successful. They were positively winning the war when the United States, under President Harry Truman, decided to intervene. After threatening to cut off all Marshall Aid to the Netherlands (on which the country depended after World War II) unless the war was stopped, the Dutch had no choice but to concede total Indonesian independence and hand power over to Sukarno, retaining control only over western New Guinea as a safe haven for Dutch settlers who were suffering immense persecution.

Even then, the aim was not to maintain a Dutch colony in the region but to prepare Netherlands New Guinea for independence as its own country. Still, Sukarno used every means at his disposal to regain the territory including lobbying the United Nations, military attacks and ethnic cleansing of the Dutch living in Indonesia. Still, Netherlands New Guinea held out until 1962 when Presidential brother Robert Kennedy was sent to The Netherlands to demand that the territory be handed over to Sukarno. Once again, the Dutch had no choice in the face of American pressure but to give in and abandon New Guinea. And what was the result for America? A dictator in control of Indonesia who, during the Johnson administration, took his country firmly into the anti-American camp, making friends with Communist China, North Korea and North Vietnam. To make it all even more ironic, during World War II, the United States had considered Sukarno one of the foremost collaborators with the Axis powers in the world because of his cooperation with the Japanese. Previously, the United States had vetoed the continuation or restoration of monarchies in Korea, Manchuria and Vietnam all ostensibly because their monarchs had been in some way associated with Japan in World War II. Yet, a republican of socialist background, for some reason, was not held to the same standard. Instead, he was given American support and he used it to establish a firmly anti-American regime.

There are still other examples that could be cited but the point seems well made. All around the world, anti-monarchy bigotry on the part of U.S. foreign policy served to benefit no one but the very communists it was ostensibly intended to oppose. In some cases it was anti-imperialism that was the primary, motivating factor (such as in Africa where the U.S. backed rebel groups that were anti-Portuguese as well as anti-communist, the communists inevitably winning as a result) but then there are cases in which the colonial power was clearly going or already gone in which the U.S. seemed to oppose a national leader simply for being a monarch. Incredibly enough, the idea that such an anti-imperialist attitude was rather at odds with the fact that the U.S. had a military presence stretching from West Germany to Central America to Japan seems to have never occurred to many occupants of the White House and members of Congress. In spite of the facts surrounding them, the consistent attitude seemed to be, ‘it’s only imperialism when someone else does it’. Finally, this is in no-way an attempt to encourage the ever-present “blame America first” crowd that is so popular around the world. Just as much as what the U.S. did, at issue here is the fact that it did NOT work. The policies did not benefit America in the least. It led to defeats on the world stage that made America look weak and it undermined trust in the United States. Many would shake their heads in agreement with the bitter words of Madame Nhu that, “Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need an enemy”. If the American situation is to improve, Americans have to understand these facts and for future foreign policy success the United States needs to learn from what has happened and drop the knee-jerk rejection of any and all types of monarchy.


  1. I really appreciate your unique perspective. It shows a clarity seemingly not available to the democratized masses.

  2. As a Pole I must appreciate clarity of your political sight and knowledge of the afterwar situation in East and Central Europe. So few people know about the martyrs, who fought with communism after war... In Poland we had an underground army, which fought till 1950s with reds. Most of them were tortured and killed by NKVD and other soviet forces. They died for freedom, for a lost cause. Cursed Soldiers, we call them. For forty years communists tried to denigrate them. Among these heroes we had many aristocrats and noblesse, hated by the reds.

    Remember about those who fought even though they knew they're going to fall.

    Best regards from Poland,


  3. As a czech, I appreciate your knowledge of the US sell out of central and Eastern Europe. We Czechs were sold out to 40 years of communism, because of Roosevelt, wanting the USSR in peace. Hope it was worth them oppression of 10 million Czechs. I also hate how today all Wehrmacht are assumed to be nazis. My mothers great grand father was born in Germany, 1911 and fought for Germany in World War 2, yet he wasn't a nazi and I am not positive, but I do believe that he wanted the return of the Kaiser. Yet today all whermacht must be nazis, and Monarchy=Fascism, somehow


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