Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election stunned many Americans. But it shouldn’t have. This interference was consistent with the way that both the U.S. and Russia have behaved for decades. Many thought the end of the Cold War marked the end of such acts. But it didn’t — on either side.
Some reporters and boosters of the U.S. government argue that current American efforts, unlike both U.S. meddling during the Cold War and Russian interference today, aim to support friends of democracy. But this claim is untrue. In reality, the U.S. has continued its longtime practice of working to destabilize democratically elected, leftist governments throughout Latin America right up to the present day.
While CIA covert operations undoubtedly play a role in this interference, the spy agency is far from the only one working to destabilize foreign governments. Most notably, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) play an immense role in influencing political outcomes throughout the world. And they do it openly — under the guise of “democracy promotion.”
Three contemporary cases of U.S. “democracy promotion” expose that this practice is little more than outright interference in other countries’ elections, aimed not at ensuring functional democracies, but rather at installing governments friendly to U.S. interests. Rather than seeking to perpetuate democracy across the globe like a global superpower, the U.S. behaves like an imperial power that attempts to cultivate governments supporting U.S. economic and security interests, regardless of their democratic credentials.
Should the U.S. continue this practice, it shouldn’t be surprised that other global powers will push back against the U.S., often through their own covert actions.