When economic, ideological, and cultural appeals failed, the United States, like the Soviet Union, employed spies and covert operations in an effort to achieve its aims in the developing world. Both employed a variety of tactics, including bribes, intimidation, propaganda, and violence. As a Communist Party dictatorship, the Soviets were less accountable to their public than the Americans were to theirs. Anxious to avoid public scrutiny, the Central Intelligence Agency and other covert branches of the national security state conducted their operations in secret. U.S. covert operations included extralegal coups against revolutionary regimes in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In 1953, for example, a CIA operation, approved directly by Eisenhower, led to the overthrow of the elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddeq. The Iranian leader had moved to assert national control over his nation's oil supplies, an action that menaced the interest of U.S. and British oil conglomerates and smacked of socialism. The coup succeeded, as the CIA paved the way for Shah Reza Pahlavi to assume power and keep Iran open to the West. The foreign policy of intervention proved shortsighted a quarter-century later, however, as Iranian fundamentalists overthrew the shah, condemned the United States as the "Great Satan" in world affairs, and held fifty-three American hostages for more than a year.
In 1954 another CIA coup overthrew Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, the legitimate ruler of the Central American nation of Guatemala. Arbenz had engaged in land redistribution, threatening the interest of the United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation. Moreover, Washington was determined to curb such socialist-style behavior out of fear that it would inspire similar actions by other nations of the region. The coup replaced Arbenz with a more compliant leader but ultimately led to more than a quarter-century of factionalism, poverty, and state terror in Guatemala. In part it was the success of the Guatemalan coup that led the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations to confidently approve plans for a takeover in Cuba, an initiative that failed spectacularly at the Bay of Pigs. Castro's fully prepared forces destroyed the U.S.-backed Cuban exile guerillas shortly after their landing at Cochinos Bay. Lack of air support and widespread publicity on the eve of a putatively "covert" operation doomed the invasion and left a humiliated Kennedy administration even more determined to contain communism. An even more disastrous intervention subsequently unfolded in Asia.