U.S. Presidents and Latin American Interventions
Pursuing Regime Change in the Cold War
Lyndon Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic. Richard Nixon sponsored a coup attempt in Chile. Ronald Reagan waged covert warfare in Nicaragua. Nearly a dozen times during the Cold War, American presidents turned their attention from standoffs with the Soviet Union to intervene in Latin American affairs. In each instance, it was declared that the security of the United States was at stake—but, as Michael Grow demonstrates, these actions had more to do with flexing presidential muscle than responding to imminent danger.
From Eisenhower's toppling of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 to Bush's overthrow of Noriega in Panama in 1989, Grow casts a close eye on eight major cases of U.S. intervention in the Western Hemisphere, offering fresh interpretations of why they occurred and what they signified. The case studies also include the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Reagan's invasion of Grenada in 1983, and JFK's little-known 1963 intervention against the government of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana.
“An ambitious, tightly argued, and remarkably self-assured book.”
“An insightful and valuable study. For those familiar with the contours of U.S.-Latin American relations, this book will reshape and reinvigorate the debate; for those newer to this subject, it will serve as an accessible introduction to a perpetually contested subject.”
—Journal of Contemporary HistorySee all reviews...
“Grow demonstrates that domestic political imperatives continued to be fundamental in presidential decisions to promote regime change in Latin America through military, covert, and proxy interventions during and immediately following the Cold War.”
“A truly splendid book and impressive scholarly achievement. Grow is an excellent writer and a polished storyteller, all of which make his book valuable for scholars, students, and other interested readers.”
—Journal of Cold War Studies
“A concise, easy-to-read account. This book is a significant achievement.”
—Journal of American History
“[This book] better moves forward the debate about the causes of U.S. intervention by asking too-often-overlooked questions about credibility, domestic politics, and Latin American agency.”
—Hispanic American Historical Review
“Michael Grow tells his readers early that this will be a fresh interpretation of the root causes of U.S. interventionism in the Western Hemisphere during the Cold War—a reconceptualization that seeks to move the historiography of hemispheric interventionism beyond old orthodoxies of security versus economics (p. xiii). It is that, in addition to a rich, fast-moving historical synthesis, that works extremely well. Grow has produced a wonderfully readable overview of U.S. interventionism in Latin America during the Cold War, with each key intervention laid out as a chapter. This is not a history of the interventions themselves or of historical context outside of one very specific objective: Grow is concerned with showing how and why presidents made decisions to intervene. The author makes a compelling case that repeatedly the buck stopped with the president. . . . There is simply no other historical synthesis of U.S. interventionism during the Cold War that so effectively combines these features in weaving a strong narrative on presidential power and interventionism.”
“A stunning account that defines for our lifetime the meaning of the term ‘hegemony,’ with a graceful, inviting style that foregoes the strident tone of much of the literature on intervention. . . . Should be at the top of Washington’s reading list.”
—Lars Schoultz, author of Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America
“An important addition to the literature on U.S. policy toward Latin America and the general literature on U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War.”
—William LeoGrande, author of Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977–1993
“A wonderful and refreshingly clear-eyed book.”
—Howard J. Wiarda, author of The Soul of Latin AmericaSee fewer reviews...
Grow argues that it was not threats to U.S. national security or endangered economic interests that were decisive in prompting presidents to launch these interventions. Rather, each intervention was part of a symbolic geopolitical chess match in which the White House sought to project an image of overpowering strength to audiences at home and abroad—in order to preserve both national and presidential credibility. As Grow also reveals, that impulse was routinely reinforced by local Latin American elites—such as Chilean businessmen or opposition Panamanian politicians—who actively promoted intervention in their own self-interest.
LBJ's loud lament—"What can we do in Vietnam if we can't clean up the Dominican Republic?"—reflected just how preoccupied our presidents were with proving that the U.S. was no paper tiger and that they themselves were fearless and forceful leaders. Meticulously argued and provocative, Grow's bold reinterpretation of Cold War history shows that this special preoccupation with credibility was at the very core of our presidents' approach to foreign relations, especially those involving our Latin American neighbors.