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Human Rights

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Another weakness is that once a covert action has been carried out, Washington tends to assume that the problem has been solved. After the United States helped to overthrow Arbenz in 1954, Guatemala became a relatively low priority for U.S. policymakers. Even worse, what little concern it received was devoted mostly to routine transfers of economic and military assistance, thus paving the way for further corruption and oppression and a future problem for American leaders. Diplomatic support for needed internal reforms in the 1950s might have been able to resolve such difficulties, but, in the aftermath of Arbenz's removal, Washington never considered that option. A similar conclusion can be applied to Operation Ajax in Iran in 1953. The operation prolonged the shah's tenure but allowed the underlying problems to fester until they exploded into the radical Islamic revolution of the late 1970s.

Gregory Treverton argues that the presumption that a covert action will remain secret makes it all the more tempting to ignore longer-term costs. The costs, even if they are recognized, may never have to be borne. Yet history teaches that they probably will be borne. In all likelihood, the operation will become known and the United States will be judged for having undertaken it.[50]

In summary, the people responsible for covert actions have based these operations on an unrealistic hope that the actions will have the desired effect. They have been preoccupied with scenarios, tactical considerations, and conditions for success. However, they failed to make an adequate assessment of the effect of covert action on long-term U.S. foreign policy objectives. And regardless of the strategic planning, the record shows successes to be few and failures to be many.

Even the conservative International Institute for Strategic Studies concedes that covert action has pitfalls:
To begin with, covert action is no better than the policy it serves: no amount of clandestine expertise can change ill-informed or impatient policymakers into statesmen, nor can prodigies of ingenuity save incompetent leaders from their folly. Some policy-makers will always be drawn to the "quick fix," only to discover that it seldom stays fixed for long. Covert operators, too, whether from motives of professional pride or desire to please, have often encouraged their masters to believe that miracles can be achieved by sheer determination. Only later--usually after a disaster--is it recognized that the "can do" approach won't do. Moreover, covert action can have no other purpose than to serve policy: when it is used to circumvent, evade or subvert avowed policy, its propriety, not to say its prudence, is called into question. Convenience may be a perquisite of power, but one is ill-advised to consult it in deciding whether or not to undertake covert action.[51]