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Posts Tagged ‘Henry Kissinger’

War Without Reason

Henry Kissinger dismissed facts and data in favor of grandiose notions of moral power.

Jacobin  September 14, 2015
Henry Kissinger at an April 1975 news conference on the evacuation of Americans and others from Saigon.

Henry Kissinger at an April 1975 news conference on the evacuation of Americans and others from Saigon.

Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University and the author of many books, including Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman, from which the following is adapted.

The ferocity with which Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger bombed Cambodia, along with the desire to inflict extreme pain on North Vietnam, had a number of motivations. Some were explicit — to wring concessions out of Hanoi; to disrupt the National Liberation Front’s supply and command-and-control lines — and others implicit — to best bureaucratic rivals; to look tough and prove loyalty; to appease the Right.

“Savage was a word that was used again and again” in discussing what needed to be done in Southeast Asia, recalled one of Kissinger’s aides, “a savage unremitting blow on North Vietnam to bring them around.”

But there’s another way to think about the savagery, along with the wild, off-the-books way their air assault was carried out.

Everything about the secret operation seemed to be a reaction to the man Kissinger identified as the ultimate technocrat: Kennedy’s and Johnson’s secretary of defense, Robert McNamara. In office from 1961 to 1968, McNamara is famous for imposing on the Pentagon the same integrated system of statistical analysis he had, in the previous decade, used to rescue the Ford Motor Company.

“McNamara’s revolution” continued reforms that had been underway since World War II, but in a much more intensified and accelerated fashion. McNamara’s “whiz kids” sought to subordinate every aspect of defense policy — its lumbering bureaucracy, its cornucopia budget for equipment appropriation, its doctrine, tactics, chains of command, its supply logistics and battlefield maneuvers — to the abstract logic of economic modeling. Intangibles that couldn’t be graphed or coded into an economic model — will, ideology, culture, tradition, history — were disregarded. McNamara even tried, without success, to impose a single, standard uniform on all the different branches of the armed services.

As might be expected, such efforts to achieve “cost effectiveness” greatly expanded paperwork. Every operational detail was recorded so that, back in DC, teams of economists and accountants could figure out new opportunities for further rationalization. Finance and budget came under special scrutiny; among McNamara’s early major reforms was to “develop some means of presenting” the Pentagon’s “costs of operation in mission terms.” What this meant for the Strategic Air Command is that every gallon of fuel was accounted for, every flight hour recorded, every spare part used, along with every bomb dropped.

Kissinger’s plans to bomb Cambodia — plans worked out with Air Force colonel Ray Sitton, who was also skeptical of McNamara’s methods — weren’t quite the antithesis of McNamarian bureaucracy. They were more a shadow version, or perversion, of that bureaucracy.

According to Sitton, Kissinger approved a highly elaborate deception to circumvent “the Strategic Air Command’s normal command and control system — highly classified in itself — which monitors for budgetary requirements such items as fuel usage and bomb tonnage deployed.” A “duel reporting system” was established; briefings of pilots focused exclusively on objectives inside South Vietnam, but once in the air, radar sites would redirect a certain number of planes to their real destination in Cambodia. All documentation — maps, computer printouts, messages, and so on — that might reveal the true targets was burned.

“Every piece of paper, including the scratch paper, the paper that one of our computers might have done some figuring on, every piece of scrap paper was gathered up,” Maj. Hal Knight, who carried out the falsification on the ground in South Vietnam, testified to Congress in 1973: “I would wait until daylight, and as soon as that time came, I would go out and burn that.”

For Kissinger and the other men who bombed Cambodia for four years, this was a way of subverting the soulless enervation of “systems analysis,” of taking war out of the hands of bureaucrats and giving it back to the warriors.

Kissinger was much more aware of the philosophical foundation of his positions than most other postwar defense intellectuals. Yet, what is more important, at least in terms of understanding the evolution of the national security state, is how his critique reflects a deeper current in American history.

The idea that spirit and intuition need to be restored to a society that had become “overcivilized” and “overrationalized,” too dependent on logic, instruments, information, and mathematics, has a pedigree reaching back at least to the late 1800s. “Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, in a 1911 Harvard address (quoted by Kissinger in his undergraduate thesis).

Throughout the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, every generation seemed to throw up a new cohort of “declinists,” militarists who warn about the establishment’s supposed overreliance on data and expertise, complain about the caution generated by too much bureaucracy, protest the enervation that results from too much information. The solution to such lassitude is, inevitably, more war, or at least more of a willingness to wage war, which often leads to war.

Kissinger, in the 1950s and 1960s was part of one such cohort, contributing to the era’s right-wing lurch in defense thinking, the idea that we needed to fight little wars in gray areas with resolve. In the mid-1970s, ironically, he himself was a primary target of just such a critique, at the hands of Ronald Reagan and the first generation of neoconservatives.

But before we get to that irony, there’s another worth considering: the role that one of Robert McNamara’s left-behinds, the economist Daniel Ellsberg — a man who liked to do his sums, whose understanding of the way the world worked was so diametrically opposed to Henry Kissinger’s metaphysics that he might be thought of as an anti-Kissinger — had in bringing down the Nixon White House.


Henry Kissinger and Daniel Ellsberg did their undergraduate and graduate studies at Harvard around the same time, both young veterans on scholarship and both brilliant and precocious. And it was Ellsberg, stationed in the US embassy in Saigon, who briefed Kissinger during his first visit to South Vietnam.

Like Kissinger, Ellsberg was interested in the question of contingency and choice in human affairs. But Ellsberg approached the subject as an economist, going on to do groundbreaking work in game theory and abstract modeling. Focused on atomized individuals engaged in a series of rational cost-benefit transactions aimed to maximize their advantage, these methods were far removed from Kissinger’s metaphysical approach to history, ideas, and culture.

Kissinger, in fact, had Ellsberg’s kind of methodology in mind when he criticized, in his undergraduate thesis, the smallness of American social science and the conceits of “positivism,” the idea that truth or wisdom could be derived from logical postulates or mathematical formulas.

Ellsberg spoke the language of axioms, theorems, and proofs, and believed that sentences like this could help defense strategists plan for nuclear war:

For any given probability distribution, the probability of outcome a with action III is p(A ∪ C) = PA + PC. The probability of outcome a with action IV is p (B ∪ C) = PB + PC. . . . . This means there must be a probability distribution, PAPB PC (0 ≤ pi ≤ p ∑ pi = 1), such that PA > PB and PA + PC < PB +PC. But there is none.

In contrast, Kissinger the metaphysician, wrote things like:

It does not suffice to show logically deduced theorems, as an absolute test of validity. There must also exist a relation to the pervasiveness of an inward experience which transcends phenomenal reality. For though man is a thinking being, it does not follow that his being exhausts itself in thinking. . . . the microcosm contains tension and polarity, the loneliness of the individual in a world of strange significances, in which the total inner meaning of others remains an eternal riddle. Rhythm and tension, longing and fear, characterize the relationship of the microcosm to the macrocosm.

The clash between these two ways of thinking about human experience would play themselves out in the first few months of Kissinger’s tenure as Nixon’s national security adviser.

Shortly before Nixon’s inauguration, Ellsberg, in a meeting with Kissinger at the president-elect’s headquarters at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan, offered some advice. He related a story of how Robert McNamara, soon after being named secretary of defense, shook up the bureaucracy by immediately flooding Pentagon officers and staff with written questions. The answers he received weren’t important. McNamara was merely establishing his dominance.

Ellsberg suggested Kissinger do something similar: draft questions on controversial issues and send them out to the whole bureaucracy, to every agency and office. The agency principally responsible for any given subject, Ellsberg predicted, would have one opinion on the matter, and secondary agencies would have another, and the difference between the two opinions would provide a useful map of the ambiguities, doubts, and uncertainties that existed in the bureaucracy.

But, Ellsberg said, there was another, more Machiavellian reason to conduct the survey. The “very revelation of controversies and the extremely unconvincing positions of some of the primary agencies,” he said, “would be embarrassing to the bureaucracy as a whole. It would put the bureaucrats off-balance and on the defensive relative to the source of the questions — that is, Kissinger.”

“Kissinger,” Ellsberg remembered, “liked the sound of that.”

The questions, as Ellsberg predicted, prompted a backlash. Soon a counterproposal for reorganizing the NSC around the State Department began to float around, which allowed Kissinger to identify potential rivals. The proposal was quashed and its authors were sidelined.

That first stage of the exercise worked well for Kissinger. The next, not so much.

Kissinger had asked Ellsberg to collate, analyze, and average the responses to the questions related to the Vietnam War, over five hundred pages in total. The gloom revealed by the survey was astounding.

Even those hawks “optimistic” about the pacification of Vietnam thought that it would take, on average, 8.3 years to achieve success. All respondents agreed that the “enemy’s manpower pool and infiltration capabilities can outlast allied attrition efforts indefinitely” and that nothing short of perpetual troops and bombing could save South Vietnam.

When the findings were presented to Kissinger, he must have immediately recognized the trap he had fallen into. For all his warnings about how the “accumulation of facts” by technocrats like Ellsberg has the effect of sapping political will, Kissinger had foolishly given him free rein to, in effect, data mine the bureaucracy, providing him with hard evidence that the majority of the foreign service thought the war either was unwinnable or could be won only with actions that were politically impossible: permanent occupation or total obliteration.


Kissinger was the statesman, Ellsberg the expert. And according to Kissinger’s worldview, Ellsberg shouldn’t have existed, or at least he shouldn’t have done what he did.

Ellsberg was what Kissinger in his undergraduate thesis called a “fact-man.” His faith in data, his belief that he could capture the vagaries of human behavior in mathematical codes and then use those codes to make decisions, should have led him to a state of, if not paralysis, then predictability.

Kissinger would later boast about the difference between statesmen and experts, writing “the scope of the statesman’s conception challenges the inclination of the expert toward minimum risk.” But it was Ellsberg who was speaking out against the war and then leaking top-secret documents, taking a tremendous risk, including the possibility of imprisonment. And with this one audacious act, he changed the course of history.

The difference between Ellsberg and Kissinger is illustrated by the Pentagon Papers themselves. The “major lesson” offered by the massive study, Ellsberg thought, “was that each person repeated the same patterns in decision making and pretty much the same policy as his predecessor without even knowing it,” thinking that “history had started with his administration, and had nothing to learn from earlier ones.” Ellsberg, the economist, believed that breaking down history into discrete pieces and studying the decision making process, including the consequences of those decisions, provided a chance to break the destructive pattern.

But when Ellsberg tried, in their last meeting before leaking the documents, to get Kissinger to read the papers, Kissinger brushed him off.

“Do we really have anything to learn from this study?” he asked Ellsberg, wearily. “My heart sank,” recalls Ellsberg.


On Monday, June 14, 1971, the day after the New York Times published its first story on the papers, Kissinger exploded. He waved his arms, stomped his feet, and pounded his hands on a Chippendale table, shouting: “This will totally destroy American credibility forever. . . . It will destroy our ability to conduct foreign policy in confidence. . . . No foreign government will ever trust us again.”

The Pentagon Papers were a bureaucratic history of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia up until Johnson’s presidency. There was nothing specifically damaging to Nixon. But it was Kissinger’s “fury” that convinced Nixon to take the matter seriously. “Without Henry’s stimulus,” John Ehrlichman said, “the president and the rest of us might have concluded that the Papers were Lyndon Johnson’s problem, not ours.”

Why? The leak was bad for Kissinger in a number of ways. He was just then negotiating with China to reestablish relations and was afraid the scandal might sabotage those talks. He feared that Ellsberg, working with other dissenters on the NSC staff, might have breached the closed informational circuit that he had worked hard to establish, perhaps even acquiring classified memos on Cambodia.

Also, on a more abstract level, the Pentagon Papers really were something conjured out of Kissinger’s worst anti-bureaucratic fever dream. The project was a huge endeavor, written by an anonymous committee staffed by scores of what Robert McNamara called “knowledgeable people” drawn from the mid-level defense bureaucracy, universities, and social science think tanks.

Headed by two “experts,” Morton Halperin and Leslie Gelb, the committee based its findings on the massive amount of paperwork produced by various departments and agencies over the years — what Kissinger in his undergraduate thesis dismissed as the “surface data” of history. Missing, therefore, from its conclusions was what the young Kissinger would have described as the immanent possibility, the contingency, the intuition, and “freedom” that went into every decision point.

But Kissinger’s rage was also as much about the leaker as about the leak, obvious in the way he swung between awe and agitation when describing Ellsberg to his coconspirators, as almost Promethean in his intellect and appetites. “Curse that son of a bitch, I know him well,” he began one Oval Office meeting.

Kissinger keyed his performance to stir up Nixon’s varied resentments, depicting Ellsberg as some kind of liberal and hedonisticsuperman — smart, subversive, promiscuous, perverse, and privileged: “He’s now married a very rich girl,” Kissinger told Nixon. “Nixon was fascinated,” Ehrlichman said. “Henry got Nixon cranked up,” Haldeman remembered, “and then they started cranking each other up until they both were in a frenzy.” “Kissinger,” he said, “was absolutely infuriated and, in his inimitable fashion, managed to beat the president into an equal froth of fury.” Alexander Haig said that Kissinger, “did drive the president’s concern” about the leak.

It was in the meeting where Kissinger gave his most detailed denunciation of Ellsberg that Nixon ordered a series of illegal covert operations, putting Nixon on the road to ruin. These included the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in California, hoping to find information that could be used to “discredit his character.”

“He’s nuts, isn’t he?” Haldeman asked Kissinger, about Ellsberg, in one of their meetings.

“He’s nuts,” Kissinger answered.


For what must have been for him a long year, between mid-1973 and mid-1974, it seemed Henry Kissinger, now holding the position of both national security adviser and secretary of state, was going down with Richard Nixon, along with his top aides.

Kissinger almost got caught on Cambodia, when Maj. Hal Knight sent a whistle-blowing letter to Senator William Proxmire informing him of his falsification of records. The Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings through the middle of 1973, and Seymour Hersh came very close to establishing Kissinger’s involvement in setting up the dual record reporting system. Hersh couldn’t confirm Kissinger’s role (he would at a later date) but that didn’t let Kissinger off the hook.

In June 1974, Hersh widened the net, filing stories fingering Kissinger for the first round of illegal wiretaps the White House set up, done in the spring of 1969 to keep the Cambodia bombing secret. Reporters, senators, and representatives were circling, asking questions, digging up more information, issuing subpoenas.

Landing in Austria, en route to the Middle East, and finding that the press had run more unflattering stories and editorials, Kissinger took a gamble. He held an impromptu press conference and threatened to resign (this was June 11, less than two months before Nixon’s resignation). It was by all accounts a bravura turn. “When the record is written,” he said, seemingly on the verge of tears, “one may remember that perhaps some lives were saved and perhaps some mothers can rest more at ease, but I leave that to history. What I will not leave to history is a discussion of my public honor.”

The bet worked. The press gushed. He “seemed totally authentic,”New York Magazine wrote. As if in recoil from the unexpected assertiveness they had shown in recent years, reporters and news anchors rallied around. The rest of the White House was being revealed to be little more than a bunch of shady two-bit thugs, but Kissinger was someone America could believe in.

“We were half-convinced,” Ted Koppel said in a documentary in 1974, just after Kissinger’s threatened resignation, “that nothing was beyond the capacity of this remarkable man.” The secretary of state was a “legend, the most admired man in America, the magician, the miracle worker.”

Kissinger, Koppel said, “may be the best thing we’ve got going for us.”

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Nixon, Kissinger, and the Madman Strategy during Vietnam War

By William Burr and Jeffrey P. Kimball

National Security Archives  May 29, 2015

book-cover-346-2Washington, D.C., May 29, 2015 – President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger believed they could compel “the other side” to back down during crises in the Middle East and Vietnam by “push[ing] so many chips into the pot” that Nixon would seem ‘crazy’ enough to “go much further,” according to newly declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.gwu.edu).

The documents include a 1972 Kissinger memorandum of conversation published today for the first time in which Kissinger explains to Defense Department official Gardner Tucker that Nixon’s strategy was to make “the other side … think we might be ‘crazy’ and might really go much further” – Nixon’s Madman Theory notion of intimidating adversaries such as North Vietnam and the Soviet Union to bend them to Washington’s will in diplomatic negotiations

Nixon’s and Kissinger’s Madman strategy during the Vietnam War included veiled nuclear threats intended to intimidate Hanoi and its patrons in Moscow. The story is recounted in a new book, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War, co-authored by Jeffrey Kimball, Miami University professor emeritus, and William Burr, who directs the Archive’s Nuclear History Documentation Project. Research for the book, which uncovers the inside story of White House Vietnam policymaking during Nixon’s first year in office, drew on hundreds of formerly top secret and secret records obtained by the authors as well as interviews with former government officials.

With Madman diplomacy, Nixon and Kissinger strove to end the Vietnam War on the most favorable terms possible in the shortest period of time practicable, an effort that culminated in a secret global nuclear alert in October of that year. Nixon’s Nuclear Specter provides the most comprehensive account to date of the origins, inception, policy context, and execution of “JCS Readiness Test” – the equivalent of a worldwide nuclear alert that was intended to signal Washington’s anger at Moscow’s support of North Vietnam and to jar the Soviet leadership into using their leverage to induce Hanoi to make diplomatic concessions. Carried out between 13 and 30 October 1969, it involved military operations around the world, the continental United States, Western Europe, the Middle East, the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Sea of Japan. The operations included strategic bombers, tactical air, and a variety of naval operations, from movements of aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines to the shadowing of Soviet merchant ships heading toward Haiphong.

To unravel the intricate story of the October alert, the authors place it in the context of nuclear threat making and coercive diplomacy during the Cold War from 1945 to 1973, the culture of the Bomb, bureaucratic infighting, intra-governmental dissent, international diplomacy, domestic politics, the antiwar movement, the “nuclear taboo,” Vietnamese and Soviet actions and policies, and assessments of the war’s ending. The authors also recount secret military operations that were part of the lead-up to the global alert, including a top secret mining readiness test that took place during the spring and summer of 1969. This mining readiness test was a ruse intended to signal Hanoi that the US was preparing to mine Haiphong harbor and the coast of North Vietnam. It is revealed for the first time in this book.

Another revelation has to do with the fabled DUCK HOOK operation, a plan for which was initially drafted in July 1969 as a mining-only operation. It soon evolved into a mining-and-bombing, shock-and-awe plan scheduled to be launched in early November, but which Nixon aborted in October, substituting the global nuclear alert in its place. The failure of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s 1969 Madman diplomacy marked a turning point in their initial exit strategy of winning a favorable armistice agreement by the end of the year 1969. Subsequently, they would follow a so-called long-route strategy of withdrawing U.S. troops while attempting to strengthen South Vietnam’s armed forces, although not necessarily counting on Saigon’s long-term survival.

In researching Nixon’s Nuclear Specter, the authors filed mandatory and Freedom of Information requests with the Defense Department and other government agencies and examined documents in diverse U.S. government archives as well as international sources. Today’s posting highlights some of the U.S. documents, many published for the first time:

    • A March 1969 memorandum from Nixon to Kissinger about the need to make the Soviets see risks in not helping Washington in the Vietnam negotiations: “we must worry the Soviets about the possibility that we are losing our patience and may get out of control.”
    • The Navy’s plan in April 1969 for a mine readiness test designed to create a “state of indecision” among the North Vietnam leadership whether Washington intended to launch mining operations.
    • Kissinger’s statement to Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin in May 1969 that Nixon was so flexible about the Vietnam War outcome that he was “was prepared to accept any political system in South Vietnam, provided there is a fairly reasonable interval between conclusion of an agreement and [the establishment of] such a system.”
    • The top secret warning to the North Vietnamese leadership that Nixon sent through an intermediary Jean Sainteny: If a diplomatic solution to the war is not reached by 1 November, Nixon would “regretfully find himself obliged to have recourse to measures of great consequence and force. . . . He will resort to any means necessary.”
    • The Navy’s plan for mining Haiphong Harbor, code-named DUCK HOOK, prepared secretly for Nixon and Kissinger in July 1969.
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The cover page to the Navy’s Duck Hook plan for mining Haiphong Harbor, developed in July 1969 at the request of President Nixon and national security adviser Kissinger.

    • A telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Manila reporting on the discovery of the mining readiness test by two Senate investigators, including former (and future) Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. After learning about aircraft carrier mining drills in Subic Bay (the Philippines), the investigators worried about a possible escalation recalling that Nixon had made such threats during the 1968 campaign.
    • A report from September 1969 on prospective military operations against North Vietnam (referred to unofficially within the White House as DUCK HOOK) included two options to use tactical nuclear weapons: one for “the clean nuclear interdiction of three NVN-Laos passes”-the use of small yield, low fall-out weapons to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The other was for the “nuclear interdiction of two NVN-CPR [Chinese People’s Republic] railroads”-presumably using nuclear weapons to destroy railroad tracks linking North Vietnam and China.
    • A Kissinger telephone conversation transcript, in which Nixon worried that with the 1 November deadline approaching and major anti-Vietnam war demonstrations scheduled for 15 October and 15 November, escalating the war might produce “horrible results” by the buildup of “a massive adverse reaction” among demonstrators.
    • As part of the White House plan for special military measures to get Moscow’s attention, an October 1969 memorandum from the Joint Staff based on a request from Kissinger for an “integrated plan of military actions to demonstrate convincingly to the Soviet Union that the United States is getting ready for any eventuality on or about 1 November 1969.” .
    • A Department of Defense plan for readiness actions that included measures to “enhance SIOP [Single Integrated Operational Plan] Naval Forces” in the Pacific and for the Strategic Air Command to fly nuclear-armed airborne alert flights over the Arctic Circle.
    • Navy messages on the 7th Fleet’s secret shadowing of Soviet merchant ships heading toward Haiphong Harbor

The thematic focus of Nixon’s Nuclear Specter is Madman Theory threat making, which culminated in the secret, global nuclear alert. But as the Kissinger statement to Dobrynin cited above suggested, a core element in Nixon’s and Kissinger’s overall Vietnam War strategy and diplomacy was the concept of a “decent interval” between the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam and the possible collapse or defeat of the Saigon regime. In private conversations Kissinger routinely used phrases such as “decent interval,” “healthy interval,” “reasonable interval,” and “suitable interval” as code for a war-exiting scenario by which the period of time would be sufficiently long that when the fall of Saigon came-if it came-it would serve to mask the role that U.S. policy had played in South Vietnam’s collapse.

In 1969, the Nixon’s administrations long-term goal was to provide President Nguyen Van Thieus government in Saigon with a decent chance of surviving for a reasonable interval of two to five years following the sought-after mutual exit of US and North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam. They would have preferred that President Thieu and South Vietnam survive indefinitely, and they would do what they could to maintain South Vietnam as a separate political entity. But they were realistic enough to appreciate that such a goal was unlikely and beyond their power to achieve by a military victory on the ground or from the air in Vietnam.

Giving Thieu a decent chance to survive, even for just a decent interval, however, rested primarily on persuading Hanoi to withdraw its troops from the South or, if that failed, prolonging the war in order to give time for Vietnamization to take hold in order to enable Thieu to fight the war on his own for a reasonable period of time after the US exited Indochina. In 1969, Nixon and Kissinger hoped that their Madman threat strategy, coupled with linkage diplomacy, could persuade Hanoi to agree to mutual withdrawal at the negotiating table or lever Moscows cooperation in persuading Hanoi to do so. In this respect, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter is an attempt to contribute to better understanding of Nixon and Kissinger’s Vietnam diplomacy as a whole.

William is Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive, where he directs the Archives nuclear history documentation project. See the Archives Nuclear Vault resources page;
Jeffrey is professor emeritus, Miami University, and author of Nixon’s Vietnam War and The Vietnam War Files.

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Vietnam: 40 años de una masacre

Por Luis Mazarrasa Mowinckel

EL PAÍS  04 de mayo de 2015
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Un tanque norvietnamita cruza delante del palacio presidencial en Saigón el 30 de abril de 1975. / Reuters

El 30 de abril de 1975 los telediarios mostraban la imagen en blanco y negro de un tanque con la bandera del Vietcong derribando la verja metálica del Palacio Presidencial de Saigón. La Guerra de Vietnam había terminado. Atrás quedaba un conflicto de altísima intensidad que había durado quince años, si se cuenta a partir del comienzo de la actividad guerrillera del Vietcong contra el Gobierno de Vietnam del Sur, en 1959, o incluso 34 si se considera como punto de partida los ataques de las guerrillas de Ho Chi Minh contra el colonialismo francés.

La Guerra de Vietnam, que tomaba por asalto a diario los noticieros de los años sesenta y setenta, fue el enfrentamiento bélico más fotografiado y filmado de la historia, el mayor filón que haya existido para un corresponsal de guerra y el que dejó también casi tantas bandas sonoras como los filmes sobre la II Guerra Mundial.

Esa cobertura exhaustiva del conflicto, sobre todo a partir de la total implicación del Ejército de EE UU a favor de Vietnam del Sur en 1964, fue precisamente un factor fundamental en su desarrollo, ya que incendió a la opinión pública mundial, incluida la norteamericana, que reclamó masivamente la retirada de esa potencia de la guerra en un país del Sureste asiático.

El origen de la contienda que terminó con la victoria de las tropas del Norte y la reunificación de Vietnam en 1975 se encuentra en la lucha del Viet Minh –el ejército guerrillero al mando del líder Ho Chi Minh- en los años cincuenta contra la potencia colonial que desde 1883 había integrado el país, junto con Laos y Camboya, en la Indochina Francesa.

Efectivamente, tras la derrota del invasor japonés al término de la II Guerra Mundial la actividad guerrillera y las ansias independentistas de los vietnamitas se recrudecieron. Así, con la rendición del ejército colonial en 1954 a los vietnamitas del general Giap, en lo que se calificó como el desastre de Dien Bien Phu, Francia se vio obligada a abandonar sus colonias en Indochina.

Los Acuerdos de Ginebra de ese mismo año establecieron una frontera temporal a lo largo del río Ben Hai, a la altura del Paralelo 17, que separó hasta las elecciones de 1956 el norte del país, con un Gobierno comunista que había liderado la victoria, de un Vietnam del Sur, capitalista y cuyos dirigentes se habían alineado con la Francia colonial.

Sin embargo, ante la previsible victoria de Ho Chi Minh –el líder del Norte apoyado por China- en las elecciones acordadas en Ginebra por todas las partes, el primer ministro del Sur, Ngo Dinh Diem, convocó un referéndum en su territorio que lo reafirmó en el cargo, suspendió los comicios y estableció como definitiva la frontera que dividía a la República Democrática de Vietnam del Norte –con capital en Hanoi- y a Vietnam del Sur, con un gobierno instalado en Saigón, también dictatorial, anticomunista y fuertemente ligado a los intereses de Estados Unidos, que desde la marcha de los franceses había inundado el sur de asesores militares.

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Cartel de propaganda en el Museo de Arte de Vietnam. / luis mazarrasa

La flagrante violación de los acuerdos de paz provocó el fin del alto el fuego y la reanudación, pues, de los ataques del Ejército del Norte en los alrededores del Paralelo 17 y de su guerrilla aliada del Vietcong en numerosos puntos del Sur donde se había infiltrado.

1964 marca el inicio de la implicación total de EE UU en el conflicto. El presidente Lyndon B. Johnson, que ha sucedido al asesinado John F. Kennedy, aprovecha el incidente del Golfo de Tonkín, en agosto de ese año –cuando dos buques norteamericanos fueron supuestamente atacados-, como pretexto para bombardear Vietnam del Norte y ordenar el desembarco masivo de marines en las playas de Danang. A finales de 1965 ya eran 184.000 los soldados estadounidenses en el territorio y dos años más tarde, medio millón.

Años después del fin de la contienda se reveló que, en realidad, el destructor Maddox sufrió un ataque al encontrarse en aguas jurisdiccionales norvietnamitas apoyando una operación de tropas de Vietnam del Sur, mientras que el Turner Joy no sufrió agresión alguna. Además, también se demostró que Lyndon Johnson ya disponía de un borrador de la resolución del suceso con fecha anterior a que el incidente de Tonkín hubiera ocurrido.

Las razones que en un principio los presidentes Kennedy y Johnson declararon a la opinión pública norteamericana para justificar la implicación en una guerra: la agresión a un país aliado por los comunistas de Ho Chi Minh y la “evidente” amenaza de un contagio a todo el Sureste asiático en caso de la victoria del Norte, que podría inducir a Tailandia, Camboya, Laos y Corea del Sur a integrarse en el bloque socialista, fueron perdiendo fuerza a medida que las noticias mostraban la terrible devastación provocada por los bombardeos de los B-52 en ciudades y aldeas y los testimonios de numerosos veteranos licenciados del combate y de otros tantos objetores a filas que rechazaban “ir a masacrar a unos campesinos de un país tan lejano”, como declaró algún marine a la vuelta a casa.

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Dos niños corren por una carretera intentando escapar de un ataque con napalm, en Trang Bang, a 26 millas de Saigón, el 8 de junio de 1972. / Reuters

Mientras el conflicto se enconaba, EE UU bombardeaba incesantemente Hanoi y otras ciudades del Norte y el presidente de Vietnam del Sur era asesinado en un golpe de Estado apoyado por la propia Administración norteamericana, las fuerzas armadas de Ho Chi Minh protagonizaban espectaculares golpes de mano, como la Ofensiva del Tet en 1968, que marcó el punto de inflexión en la guerra. Las imágenes en directo de la mismísima embajada de EE UU en Saigón tomada durante unas horas por un grupo de guerrilleros, que actuaban en coordinación con otros que atacaron más de cien ciudades y pueblos protegidos por los marines, conmocionaron aún más a una sociedad que meses más tarde viviría las manifestaciones pacifistas del verano  del amor en 1968 en California y las más violentas del mayo francés.

A ello se sumó la revelación de masacres cometidas por los marines en distritos como My Lai, donde el 16 de marzo de 1968 tres pelotones asesinaron a cientos de campesinos, mujeres, ancianos y niños, y las imágenes de la destrucción causada por los bombardeos y la utilización masiva por parte de EE UU de armas químicas, como el napalm y otras.

En 1970, el descrédito del Gobierno norteamericano por la guerra de Vietnam alcanza su cenit a raíz del golpe de estado tramado por los servicios de inteligencia estadounidenses contra el rey de la vecina Camboya, Norodom Sihanouk. Los soldados norteamericanos cruzaron la frontera para respaldar al dictador Lon Nol como mandatario del país y la Administración de Richard Nixon, el nuevo presidente de EE UU, se vio inmersa en otra guerra hasta entonces llevada en secreto.

Para entonces Estados Unidos ya había perdido más de 40.000 soldados en la Guerra de Vietnam, algo inaceptable para su opinión pública. Por contra, los cinco millones de víctimas vietnamitas –entre combatientes y civiles- no suponían lastre alguno para el Gobierno de Lê Duân, sucesor del recién fallecido Ho Chi Minh. Nadie cuestionaba el precio que habría de pagarse por una guerra nacionalista de liberación.

El 27 de enero de 1973 Estados Unidos, los dos Vietnam y el Vietcong firmaron en París un alto el fuego, la retirada total de las tropas estadounidenses, la liberación de prisioneros y la creación de un Consejo Nacional de Reconciliación. Por primera vez en 115 años el país se veía libre de la presencia de militares extranjeros. EE UU sufría la primera derrota de su historia, que le había causado más de 58.000 militares muertos.

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Atentado del Vietcong en la embajada de Estados Unidos en Saigón. / Agencia Keystone

Pero los Acuerdos de París no trajeron la paz inmediata, con el Sur tremendamente debilitado por la marcha de EE UU y las deserciones masivas de sus tropas. Las hostilidades se reanudaron y en enero de 1975 el Ejército del Norte cruzaba el Paralelo 17 en dirección a Saigón, esta vez sin ceder el protagonismo a los guerrilleros Vietcong.

El general Nguyen Van Thieu, a la cabeza de la República de Vietnam del Sur desde 1967, vio como la promesa de ayuda económica de EE UU para la fase de transición después de los Acuerdos de París era rechazada por la nueva Administración de Gerald Ford, al frente de un país con las heridas del conflicto vietnamita en carne viva y la vergüenza de la dimisión de Richard Nixon una año antes, en 1974, por el caso Watergate.

Con las ciudades del centro del país: Hue, Danang, Nha Trang… cayendo en manos del Norte como fichas de dominó, Van Thieu se atrincheró con sus pocos leales en Saigón hasta el 21 de abril de 1975, cuando dimitió y huyó camino del exilio. Nueve días más tarde, el 30 de abril, Saigón –que las nuevas autoridades de un Vietnam reunificado cambiarían el nombre por Ciudad de Ho Chi Minh- caía en medio de la euforia nacionalista. Las imágenes de la apresurada huida del embajador norteamericano y del personal de la CIA a bordo de helicópteros, horas antes desde las azoteas de sus edificios hacia portaaviones anclados en el Mar del Sur de China, serían la última humillación mediática para EE UU, envuelto en un conflicto que, como declararía años más tarde Robert S. McNamara, el ideólogo de los bombardeos sobre Hanoi y uno de los cocineros del embuste del incidente de Tonkín, fue un tremendo error: “No fuimos conscientes que los vietnamitas no luchaban solo por imponer el comunismo, sino por un ideal nacionalista”.

Hoy, cuando Vietnam celebra los cuarenta años de paz casi por primera vez en su convulsa historia, el país pasa por un espectacular desarrollo económico en el que la pobreza extrema prácticamente se ha erradicado y llueven las inversiones nacionales y extranjeras, aunque sus campos de verdes arrozales todavía sufren las secuelas de los bombardeos y la guerra química. Y medio millón de niños, muchos de ellos nacidos cuatro décadas después, padece terribles deformidades como consecuencia de la irrigación de la jungla con el agente naranja, el defoliante utilizado por EE UU para destruir el ecosistema del país. Su componente principal, la dioxina, daña el ADN de las personas expuestas y se estima que puede transmitir sus efectos durante tres generaciones.

Con un modelo calcado de su gigante vecino chino, Vietnam es una dictadura de partido único en lo político y sin asomo de libertad de expresión ni disidencia y, al mismo tiempo, se halla inmerso en un capitalismo casi salvaje en lo económico.

Luis Mazarrasa Mowinckel es autor de Viajero al curry (Ed. Amargord) y de la Guía Azul de Vietnam y de numerosos reportajes sobre este país.

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Henry Kissinger’s ‘World Order’: An Aggressive Reshaping of the Past

Henry Kissinger


The Washington Free Beacon October 11, 2014

Henry Kissinger projects the public image of a judicious elder statesman whose sweeping knowledge of history lets him rise above the petty concerns of today, in order to see what is truly in the national interest. Yet as Kissinger once said of Ronald Reagan, his knowledge of history is “tailored to support his firmly held preconceptions.” Instead of expanding his field of vision, Kissinger’s interpretation of the past becomes a set of blinders that prevent him from understanding either his country’s values or its interests. Most importantly, he cannot comprehend how fidelity to those values may advance the national interest.

So far, Kissinger’s aggressive reshaping of the past has escaped public notice. On the contrary, World Order has elicited a flood of fawning praise. The New York Times said, “It is a book that every member of Congress should be locked in a room with — and forced to read before taking the oath of office.” The Christian Science Monitor declared it “a treat to gallivant through history at the side of a thinker of Kissinger’s caliber.” In a review for the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton praised Kissinger for “his singular combination of breadth and acuity along with his knack for connecting headlines to trend lines.” The Wall Street Journal and U.K. Telegraph offered similar evaluations.

Kissinger observes that “Great statesmen, however different as personalities, almost invariably had an instinctive feeling for the history of their societies.” Correspondingly, the lengthiest component of World Order is a hundred-page survey of American diplomatic history from 1776 to the present. In those pages, Kissinger persistently caricatures American leaders as naïve amateurs, incapable of thinking strategically. Yet an extensive literature, compiled by scholars over the course of decades, paints a very different picture. Kissinger’s footnotes give no indication that he has read any of this work.

If one accepts Kissinger’s narrative at face value, then his advice seems penetrating. “America’s moral aspirations,” Kissinger says, “need to be combined with an approach that takes into account the strategic element of policy.” This is a cliché masquerading as a profound insight. Regrettably, World Order offers no meaningful advice on how to achieve this difficult balance. It relies instead on the premise that simply recognizing the need for balance represents a dramatic improvement over the black-and-white moralism that dominates U.S. foreign policy.

America’s Original Sin

John Quincy Adams

“America’s favorable geography and vast resources facilitated a perception that foreign policy was an optional activity,” Kissinger writes. This was never the case. When the colonies were British possessions, the colonists understood that their security was bound up with British success in foreign affairs. When the colonists declared independence, they understood that the fate of their rebellion would rest heavily on decisions made in foreign capitals, especially Paris, whose alliance with the colonists was indispensable.

In passing, Kissinger mentions that “the Founders were sophisticated men who understood the European balance of power and manipulated it to the new country’s advantage.” It is easy to forget that for almost fifty years, the new republic was led by its Founders. They remained at the helm through a series of wars against the Barbary pirates, a quasi-war with France begun in 1798, and a real one with Britain in 1812. Only in 1825 did the last veteran of the Revolutionary War depart from the White House—as a young lieutenant, James Monroe had crossed the Delaware with General Washington before being severely wounded.

Monroe turned the presidency over to his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams. The younger Adams was the fourth consecutive president with prior service as the nation’s chief diplomat. With Europe at peace, the primary concern of American foreign policy became the country’s expansion toward the Pacific Ocean, a project that led to a war with Mexico as well as periodic tensions with the British, the Spanish, and even the Russians, who made vast claims in the Pacific Northwest. During the Civil War, both the Union and Confederacy recognized the vital importance of relations with Europe. Not long after the war, the United States would enter its brief age of overseas expansion.

One of Kissinger’s principal means of demonstrating his predecessors’ naïve idealism is to approach their public statements as unadulterated expressions of their deepest beliefs. With evident disdain, Kissinger writes, “the American experience supported the assumption that peace was the natural condition of humanity, prevented only by other countries’ unreasonableness or ill will.” The proof-text for this assertion is John Quincy Adams’ famous Independence Day oration of 1821, in which Adams explained, America “has invariably, often fruitlessly, held forth to [others] the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity … She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations.” This was a bold assertion, given that Adams was in the midst of bullying Spain on the issue of Florida, which it soon relinquished.

Kissinger spends less than six pages on the remainder of the 19th century, apparently presuming that Americans of that era did not spend much time thinking about strategy or diplomacy. Then, in 1898, the country went to war with Spain and acquired an empire. “With no trace of self-consciousness,” Kissinger writes, “[President William McKinley] presented the war…as a uniquely unselfish mission.” Running for re-election in 1900, McKinley’s campaign posters shouted, “The American flag has not been planted in foreign soil to acquire more territory, but for humanity’s sake.” The book does not mention that McKinley was then fighting a controversial war to subdue the Philippines, which cost as many lives as the war in Iraq and provoked widespread denunciations of American brutality. Yet McKinley’s words—from a campaign ad, no less—are simply taken at face value.

Worshipping Roosevelt and Damning Wilson

Theodore Roosevelt

For Kissinger, the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt represents a brief and glorious exception to an otherwise unbroken history of moralistic naïveté. Roosevelt “pursued a foreign policy concept that, unprecedentedly for America, based itself largely on geopolitical considerations.” He “was impatient with many of the pieties that dominated American thinking on foreign policy.” With more than a hint of projection, Kissinger claims, “In Roosevelt’s view, foreign policy was the art of adapting American policy to balance global power discretely and resolutely, tilting events in the direction of the national interest.”

The Roosevelt of Kissinger’s imagination is nothing like the actual man who occupied the White House. Rather than assuming his country’s values to be a burden that compromised its security, TR placed the concept of “righteousness” at the very heart of his approach to world politics. Whereas Kissinger commends those who elevate raison d’etat above personal morality, Roosevelt subscribed to the belief that there is one law for the conduct of both nations and men. At the same time, TR recognized that no authority is capable of enforcing such a law. In world politics, force remains the final arbiter. For Kissinger, this implies that ethics function as a restraint on those who pursue the national interest. Yet according to the late scholar of international relations, Robert E. Osgood, Roosevelt believed that the absence of an enforcer “magnified each nation’s obligation to conduct itself honorably and see that others did likewise.” This vision demanded that America have a proverbial “big stick” and be willing to use it.

Osgood’s assessment of Roosevelt is not atypical. What makes it especially interesting is that Osgood was an avowed Realist whose perspective was much closer to that of Kissinger than it was to Roosevelt. In 1969, Osgood took leave from Johns Hopkins to serve under Kissinger on the National Security Council staff. Yet Osgood had no trouble recognizing the difference between Roosevelt’s worldview and his own.

For Kissinger, the antithesis of his imaginary Roosevelt is an equally ahistoric Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s vision, Kissinger says, “has been, with minor variations, the American program for world order ever since” his presidency. “The tragedy of Wilsonianism,” Kissinger explains, “is that it bequeathed to the twentieth century’s decisive power an elevated foreign policy doctrine unmoored from a sense of history or geopolitics.” Considering Theodore Roosevelt’s idealism, it seems that Wilson’s tenure represented a period of continuity rather than a break with tradition. Furthermore, although Wilson’s idealism was intense, it was not unmoored from an appreciation of power. To demonstrate Wilson’s naïveté, Kissinger takes his most florid rhetoric at face value, a tactic employed earlier at the expense of William McKinley and John Quincy Adams.

The pivotal moment of Wilson’s presidency was the United States’ declaration of war on Germany. “Imbued by America’s historic sense of moral mission,” Kissinger says, “Wilson proclaimed that America had intervened not to restore the European balance of power but to ‘make the world safe for democracy’.” In addition to misquoting Wilson, Kissinger distorts his motivations. In his request to Congress for a declaration of war, Wilson actually said, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” John Milton Cooper, the author of multiple books on Wilson, notes that Wilson employed the passive tense to indicate that the United States would not assume the burden of vindicating the cause of liberty across the globe. Rather, the United States was compelled to defend its own freedom, which was under attack from German submarines, which were sending American ships and their crewmen to the bottom of the Atlantic. (Kissinger makes only one reference to German outrages in his discussion.)

If Wilson were the crusader that Kissinger portrays, why did he wait almost three years to enter the war against Germany alongside the Allies? The answer is that Wilson was profoundly apprehensive about the war and it consequences. Even after the Germans announced they would sink unarmed American ships without warning, Wilson waited two more months, until a pair of American ships and their crewmen lay on the ocean floor as a result of such attacks.

According to Kissinger, Wilson’s simple faith in the universality of democratic ideals led him to fight, from the first moments of the war, for regime change in Germany. In his request for a declaration of war, Wilson observed, “A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants.” This was more of an observation than a practical program. Eight months later, Wilson asked for a declaration of war against Austria-Hungary, yet explicitly told Congress, “we do not wish in any way to impair or to rearrange the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is no affair of ours what they do with their own life, either industrially or politically.” Clearly, in this alleged war for liberty, strategic compromises were allowed, something one would never know from reading World Order.

Taking Ideology Out of the Cold War

John F. Kennedy

Along with the pomp and circumstance of presidential inaugurations, there is plenty of inspirational rhetoric. Refusing once again to acknowledge the complex relationship between rhetoric and reality, Kissinger begins his discussion of the Cold War with an achingly literal interpretation of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, in which he called on his countrymen to “pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Less well known is Kennedy’s admonition to pursue “not a balance of power, but a new world of law,” in which a “grand and global alliance” would face down “the common enemies of mankind.”

Kissinger explains, “What in other countries would have been treated as a rhetorical flourish has, in American discourse, been presented as a specific blueprint for global action.” Yet this painfully naïve JFK is—like Kissinger’s cartoon versions of Roosevelt or Wilson—nowhere to be found in the literature on his presidency.

In a seminal analysis of Kennedy’s strategic thinking published more than thirty years ago, John Gaddis elucidated the principles of JFK’s grand strategy, which drew on a careful assessment of Soviet and American power. Gaddis concludes that Kennedy may have been willing to pay an excessive price and bear too many burdens in his efforts to forestall Soviet aggression, but there is no question that JFK embraced precisely the geopolitical mindset that Kissinger recommends. At the same time, Kennedy comprehended, in a way Kissinger never does, that America’s democratic values are a geopolitical asset. In Latin America, Kennedy fought Communism with a mixture of force, economic assistance, and a determination to support elected governments. His “Alliance for Progress” elicited widespread applause in a hemisphere inclined to denunciations of Yanquí imperialism. This initiative slowly fell apart after Kennedy’s assassination, but he remains a revered figure in many corners of Latin America.

Kissinger’s fundamental criticism of the American approach to the Cold War is that “the United States assumed leadership of the global effort to contain Soviet expansionism—but as a primarily moral, not geopolitical endeavor.” While admiring the “complex strategic considerations” that informed the Communist decision to invade South Korea, Kissinger laments that the American response to this hostile action amounted to nothing more than “fighting for a principle, defeating aggression, and a method of implementing it, via the United Nations.”

It requires an active imagination to suppose that President Truman fought a war to vindicate the United Nations. He valued the fig leaf of a Security Council resolution (made possible by the absence of the Soviet ambassador), but the purpose of war was to inflict a military and psychological defeat on the Soviets and their allies, as well as to secure Korean freedom. Yet Kissinger does not pause, even for a moment, to consider that the United States could (or should) have conducted its campaign against Communism as both a moral and a geopolitical endeavor.

An admission of that kind would raise the difficult question of how the United States should integrate both moral and strategic imperatives in its pursuit of national security. On this subject, World Order has very little to contribute. It acknowledges that legitimacy and power are the prerequisites of order, but prefers to set up and tear down an army of strawmen rather than engaging with the real complexity of American diplomatic history.

Forgetting Reagan

Ronald Reagan

In 1976, while running against Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination, Ronald Reagan “savaged” Henry Kissinger for his role as the architect of Nixon and Ford’s immoral foreign policy. That is how Kissinger recalled things twenty years ago in Diplomacy, his 900-page treatise on world politics in the 20th century. Not surprisingly, Kissinger employed a long chapter in his book to return the favor. Yet in World Order, there is barely any criticism to leaven its praise of Reagan. Perhaps this change reflects a gentlemanly concern for speaking well of the dead. More likely, Kissinger recognizes that Reagan’s worldview has won the heart of the Republican Party. Thus, to preserve his influence, Kissinger must create the impression he and Reagan were not so different.

In Diplomacy, Kissinger portrays Reagan as a fool and an ideologue. “Reagan knew next to no history, and the little he did know he tailored to support his firmly held preconceptions. He treated biblical references to Armageddon as operational predictions. Many of the historical anecdotes he was so fond of recounting had no basis in fact.” In World Order, one learns that Reagan “had read more deeply in American political philosophy than his domestic critics credited” him with. Thus, he was able to “combine American’s seemingly discordant strengths: its idealism, its resilience, its creativity, and its economic vitality.” Just as impressively, “Reagan blended the two elements—power and legitimacy” whose combination Kissinger describes as the foundation of world order.

Long gone is the Reagan who was bored by “the details of foreign policy” and whose “approach to the ideological conflict [with Communism] was a simplified version of Wilsonianism” while his strategy for ending the Cold War “was equally rooted in American utopianism.” Whereas Nixon had a deep understanding of the balance of power, “Reagan did not in his own heart believe in structural or geopolitical causes of tension.”

In contrast, World Order says that Reagan “generated psychological momentum with pronouncements at the outer edge of Wilsonian moralism.” Alone among American statesmen, Reagan receives credit for the strategic value of his idealistic public statements, instead of having them held up as evidence of his ignorance and parochialism.

Kissinger observes that while Nixon did not draw inspiration from Wilsonian visions, his “actual policies were quite parallel and not rarely identical” to Reagan’s. This statement lacks credibility. Reagan wanted to defeat the Soviet Union. Nixon and Kissinger wanted to stabilize the Soviet-American rivalry. They pursued détente, whereas Reagan, according to Diplomacy, “meant to reach his goal by means of relentless confrontation.”

Kissinger’s revised recollections of the Reagan years amount to a tacit admission that a president can break all of the rules prescribed by the Doctor of Diplomacy, yet achieve a more enduring legacy as a statesman than Kissinger himself.

The Rest of the World

Henry Kissinger

Three-fourths of World Order is not about the United States of America. The book also includes long sections on the history of Europe, Islam, and Asia. The sections on Islam and Asia are expendable, although for different reasons.

The discussion of Islamic history reads like a college textbook. When it comes to the modern Middle East, World Order has the feel of a news clipping service, although the clippings favor the author’s side of the debate. In case you didn’t already know, Kissinger is pro-Israel and pro-Saudi, highly suspicious of Iran, and dismissive of the Arab Spring. The book portrays Syria as a quagmire best avoided, although it carefully avoids criticism of Obama’s plan for airstrikes in 2013. Kissinger told CNN at the time that the United States ought to punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, although he opposed “intervention in the civil war.”

The book’s discussion of China amounts to an apologia for the regime in Beijing. To that end, Kissinger is more than willing to bend reality. When he refers to what took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989, he calls it a “crisis”—not a massacre or an uprising. Naturally, there are no references to political prisoners, torture, or compulsory abortion and sterilization. There is a single reference to corruption, in the context of Kissinger’s confident assertion that President Xi Jinping is now challenging it and other vices “in a manner that combines vision with courage.”

Whereas Kissinger’s lack of candor is not surprising with regard to human rights, one might expect an advocate of realpolitik to provide a more realistic assessment of how China interacts with foreign powers. Yet the book only speaks of “national rivalries” in the South China Sea, not of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to intimidate its smaller neighbors. It also portrays China as a full partner in the effort to denuclearize North Korea. What concerns Kissinger is not the ruthlessness of Beijing, but the potential for the United States and China to be “reinforced in their suspicions by the military maneuvers and defense programs of the other.”

Rather than an aggressive power with little concern for the common good, Kissinger’s China is an “indispensable pillar of world order” just like the United States. If only it were so.

In its chapters on Europe, World Order recounts the history that has fascinated Kissinger since his days as a doctoral candidate at Harvard. It is the story of “the Westphalian order,” established and protected by men who understood that stability rests on a “balance of power—which, by definition, involves ideological neutrality”—i.e. a thorough indifference to the internal arrangements of other states.

“For more than two hundred years,” Kissinger says, “these balances kept Europe from tearing itself to pieces as it had during the Thirty Years War.” To support this hypothesis, Kissinger must explain away the many great wars of that era as aberrations that reflect poorly on particular aggressors—like Louis XIV, the Jacobins, and Napoleon—rather than failures of the system as a whole. He must even exonerate the Westphalian system from responsibility for the war that crippled Europe in 1914. But this he does, emerging with complete faith that balances of power and ideological neutrality remain the recipe for order in the 21st century.

Wishing Away Unipolarity

AP

Together, Kissinger’s idiosyncratic interpretations of European and American history have the unfortunate effect of blinding him to the significance of the two most salient features of international politics today. The first is unipolarity. The second is the unity of the democratic world, led by the United States.

Fifteen years ago, Dartmouth Professor William Wohlforth wrote that the United States “enjoys a much larger margin of superiority over the next powerful state or, indeed, all other great powers combined, than any leading state in the last two centuries.” China may soon have an economy of comparable size, but it has little prospect of competing militarily in the near- or mid-term future. Six of the next ten largest economies belong to American allies. Only one belongs to an adversary—Vladimir Putin’s Russia—whose antipathy toward the United States has not yielded a trusting relationship with China, let alone an alliance. (Incidentally, Putin is not mentioned in World Order, a significant oversight for a book that aspires to a global field of vision.)

The reason that the United States is able to maintain a globe-spanning network of alliances is precisely because it has never had a foreign policy based on ideological neutrality. Its network of alliances continues to endure and expand, even in the absence of a Soviet threat, because of shared democratic values. Of course, the United States has partnerships with non-democratic states as well. It has never discarded geopolitical concerns, pace Kissinger. Yet the United States and its principal allies in Europe and Asia continue to see their national interests as compatible because their values play such a prominent role in defining those interests. Similarly, America’s national interest entails a concern for spreading democratic values, because countries that make successful transitions to democracy tend to act in a much more pacific and cooperative manner.

These are the basic truths about world order that elude Kissinger because he reflexively exaggerates and condemns the idealism of American foreign policy. In World Order, Kissinger frequently observes that a stable order must be legitimate, in addition to reflecting the realities of power. If he were less vehement in his denunciations of American idealism, he might recognize that it is precisely such ideals that provide legitimacy to the order that rests today on America’s unmatched power.

Rather than functioning as a constraint on its pursuit of the national interest, America’s democratic values have ensured a remarkable tolerance for its power. Criticism of American foreign policy may be pervasive, but inaction speaks louder than words. Rather than challenging American power, most nations rely on it to counter actual threats. At the moment, with the Middle East in turmoil, Ukraine being carved up, and Ebola spreading rapidly, the current world order may not seem so orderly. Yet no world order persists on its own. Those who have power and legitimacy must fight to preserve it.

Agradezco al amigo Luis Ponce por ponerme en contacto con esta nota.

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Credit Photograph by David Hume Kennerly/White House via AP

Credit Photograph by David Hume Kennerly/White House via AP

 

Obama and the Fall of Saigon

By

The New Yorker    September 10, 2014

Almost forty years ago, in April of 1975, as the North Vietnamese Army was sweeping through South Vietnam toward Saigon, President Gerald Ford addressed a joint session of Congress. He asked for seven hundred and twenty-two million dollars in emergency military assistance for the government of South Vietnam. He invoked the dire risk faced by tens of thousands of South Vietnamese, including those affiliated with the United States. In “Last Days in Vietnam,” Rory Kennedy’s gripping new documentary about the fall of South Vietnam and the chaotic U.S. evacuation, Henry Kissinger, who was the Secretary of State, says of Ford, “He had two major concerns. The first was to save as many people as we could. He cared for the human beings involved—that they were not just pawns and, once they had lost their military power, they were abandoned. The second was the honor of America—that we would not be seen at the final agony of South Vietnam as having stabbed it in the back.”

It’s a little jarring to hear Kissinger distance himself on moral grounds from using human beings as pawns. His and Richard Nixon’s policy in Southeast Asia amounted to little more than that: sacrificing untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians, as well as thousands of American troops, to bloodless terms like “credibility,” “strategic realignment,” and “peace with honor.” But Kissinger’s account of American efforts during the fall of South Vietnam is accurate: in Washington and in Saigon, officials went to great, though tragically belated, lengths to rescue those Vietnamese associated with the governments of South Vietnam and the United States. “Last Days in Vietnam” will unsettle many of your fixed ideas about the end of the war. (For example, the film raises the possibility that, had Nixon not resigned over Watergate, nine months before the fall of Saigon, the North Vietnamese wouldn’t have invaded the South so readily, because they regarded Nixon as a madman capable of anything.)

In the long view of history, the war was unwinnable. As Neil Sheehan’s masterpiece “A Bright Shining Lie” shows, it was a war of Vietnamese nationalism, and the French and American interventions were seen by most Vietnamese as last stands of colonialism rather than as Cold War imperatives. By that April, two years after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and the withdrawal of the last American combat forces, most people back home didn’t want to hear the name of the country where, in twelve years, almost sixty thousand U.S. troops had died. Congress, reflecting that exhaustion, voted down Ford’s emergency request (which would only have postponed defeat). Hearing the news, the mild-mannered President cursed, “The sons of bitches!” The fall of Saigon was just days away.

“Last Days in Vietnam” is full of dramatic tales illustrated by vivid archival footage. With no space for a landing, a South Vietnamese pilot drops his family out of his transport helicopter, onto the deck of an offshore American Navy vessel, then dives into the South China Sea and saves himself as the chopper crashes into the waves. A Vietnamese student named Binh Po buys and talks his way onto the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, joining ten thousand other desperate people, only to wind up among the four hundred and twenty left behind when an order from President Ford ends the evacuation prematurely and the last Marine chopper takes off. (Binh Po spent a year in a Communist reëducation camp before escaping from Vietnam by boat, in 1979.) Marine Sergeant Mike Sullivan and other Embassy guards, without orders, take it upon themselves to make sure that the Vietnamese they know personally—tailors, cooks, dishwashers, and their families—make it out on the Chinooks. As North Vietnamese tank divisions roll toward Saigon, individual Americans break official rules and risk their lives to get as many of the Vietnamese who worked with Americans as they can to safety, along with their families—an inspiring example of moral heroism in the final days of a war best known for its mistakes, crimes, and sheer waste.

At the same time, the evacuation was a disaster. Ambassador Graham Martin, a rigid Cold Warrior out of “The Quiet American,” refused to believe that Saigon was about to fall, and wouldn’t allow fixed-wing air evacuations from the Tan Son Nhut airbase while it remained out of North Vietnamese hands. The result of Martin’s delusion was the frantic helo lifts from the Embassy grounds, the last and worst option, too little and too late, which left tens of thousands of our Vietnamese allies behind to suffer the brutality of the North. Yet even Martin, who lost his only son in the war, emerges, more ambiguously, as a conscientious diplomat at the last hour, postponing his own evacuation long enough to get thousands of Vietnamese out.

Army Captain Stuart Herrington, one of the heroes of the evacuation, had to lie to the Vietnamese left behind at the Embassy, telling them that a big chopper was on the way, then sneak away to board the last flight off the roof. Still haunted, he speaks for the film: “The end of April of 1975 was the whole Vietnamese involvement in a microcosm. Promises made in good faith, promises broken, people being hurt because we didn’t get our act together. The whole Vietnamese war is a story that kind of sounds like that. But, on the other hand, sometimes there are moments when good people have to rise to the occasion and do the things that need to be done, and in Saigon there was no shortage of people like that.”

Back in 2007, when I started writing about the betrayal of Iraqis associated with America in Iraq, I spoke with two of the men featured in “Last Days in Vietnam”: Frank Snepp, the chief C.I.A. analyst in Saigon and the author of “Decent Interval,” an account of that period; and Richard Armitage, a naval officer, who returned to Vietnam as a civilian defense official and ended up bringing twenty thousand Vietnamese out on boats. Hearing their stories, I thought that the analogies with Iraq were obvious—willful blindness at the highest levels, no plan for rescuing Iraqis—but the differences were even sharper. The Vietnam-era Americans came off much better. With a few exceptions, it was hardly possible to imagine Embassy officials or troops in Baghdad taking great risks to get their Iraqi contacts out before we left. Relationships with Iraqis were much more distant, and Americans much more isolated, owing to security restrictions and other factors. Above all, in Baghdad there was a pervasive air of deskbound caution, buck-passing, and ass-covering, in contrast with the Wild West atmosphere that broke out, for better and for worse, in Saigon in April of 1975. It was all too easy for Americans in Iraq not to know what they didn’t want to know.

On Wednesday night, President Obama will speak to the country about his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. I wonder if he’ll have a chance to see “Last Days in Vietnam,” which opened on Friday. He would probably be struck by the historical irony that, like Ford, he must try to explain to Congress and a weary, sour public why the U.S. should get involved again in a far-off, supposedly concluded war that most Americans now view as a waste.

This is a speech that Obama, even more than Ford, never wanted to give. He ran for reëlection, in part, on having fulfilled a promise to end the war in Iraq—always the previous Administration’s war. His eagerness to be rid of the albatross of Iraq played no small part in clearing the way for ISIS to take a third of the country, including Mosul, and to threaten Baghdad and Erbil.

All the more reason to give the President credit (though his political enemies never will) for his willingness, however reluctant, to turn around and face the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq and Syria. Wednesday’s speech will no doubt nod toward staying out (no boots on the ground, no new “American war”), even as it makes the case for going back in (air strikes, international coalitions, the moral and strategic imperative to defeat ISIS). This is the sort of balancing act that Obama speeches specialize in. But he also needs to tell the country bluntly that there will almost certainly be more American casualties, and that the struggle against ISIS—against radical Islam generally, but especially in this case—will be difficult, with no quick military solution and no end in sight. Otherwise, he’ll have brought the public and Congress on board without levelling with them, a pattern set in Vietnam and repeated in Iraq, with unhappy consequences.

By the time Ford gave his speech, that war was lost, and seven hundred and twenty-two million dollars couldn’t have done what billions of dollars and half a million American troops hadn’t—though the end game, as Kennedy’s film compellingly shows, was a last unnecessary fiasco. But the Iraq War never ended, except in the minds of most Americans. Unlike Vietnam, ISIS is an irreconcilable enemy and a metastasizing threat. We Americans want to wake up as fast as possible from our historical nightmares, whatever the cost to other people. It’s human nature. Unfortunately, this one still requires our attention.

George Packer became a staff writer in 2003. For the magazine, he has covered the Iraq War, and has also written about the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone, civil unrest in the Ivory Coast, the megacity of Lagos, and the global counterinsurgency. In 2003, two of his New Yorker articles won Overseas Press Club awards—one for his examination of the difficulties faced during the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, and one for his coverage of the civil war in Sierra Leone. His book “The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq” was named one of the ten best books of 2005 by the New York Times and won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award and an Overseas Press Club book award. He is also the author of “The Village of Waiting,” about his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, and “Blood of the Liberals,” a three-generational nonfiction history of his family and American liberalism in the twentieth century, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; in addition, he has written two novels, “The Half Man” and “Central Square.” He has contributed numerous articles, essays, and reviews to the New York Times Magazine, Dissent, Mother Jones, Harpers, and other publications. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2001-02, and has taught writing at Harvard, Bennington, and Columbia. His most recent book is “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.”

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Allende, the Third World, and Neoliberal Imperialism

Chris Dietrich

Imperial & Global Forum June 18, 2014

allende“Allende was assassinated for nationalizing the . . . wealth of Chilean subsoil,” Pablo Neruda wrote on September 14, 1973. Neruda was lamenting the overthrow and death of his friend, Chilean President Salvador Allende, a week before he himself succumbed to cancer.  “From the salt-peter deserts, the underwater coal mines, and the terrible heights where copper is extracted through inhuman work by the hands of my people, a liberating movement of great magnitude arose,” he continued.  “This movement led a man named Salvador Allende to the presidency of Chile, to undertake reforms and measures of justice that could not be postponed, to rescue our national wealth from foreign clutches.”  Unfortunately, Allende’s flirtation with economic nationalization ran up against the country’s multinational business interests, particularly those that had support from the U.S. government. His socialist reforms were also ill timed; the U.S. government’s ideological view towards the global economy tended towards the Manichean.

So what was the American role in Allende’s overthrow?

The Chilean coup, as such a vivid moment of crisis, continues to occupy a murky and ambiguous position on the moving line that divides the past and the present. And owing to the release of new material, the episode has received a good deal of renewed coverage in the past half-decade. In particular, the recent publication of volumes on U.S. foreign policy toward Chile between 1969 and 1973 by the Historian’s Office of the U.S. State Department and the National Security Archive at George Washington University have led to a flurry of new studies.

CIA2Earlier this month, self-described CIA “spymaster” Jack Devine stirred the pot again with a Foreign Affairs article entitled “What Really Happened in Chile.” Based on his personal experience in Chile at the time, Devine explains “how the U.S. government learned of the coup in Chile” only two days before it happened. Although admitting that the CIA supported an earlier coup attempt against Allende in 1970, Devine takes great pains to shift the blame away from Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. He instead argues that the U.S. government did not plot with the Chilean military in the successful overthrow of Allende; what the U.S. government did do was attempt to reduce support for Allende and exacerbate the political opposition he already faced “from not only the wealthy but the middle and working classes as well.” Accusations that the Nixon administration played a greater role, Devine concludes, do little more than “muddy the waters.”

In this interpretation, Devine follows the likes of historian Mark Falcoff, Nixon’s secretary of state, William Rogers, and Kissinger himself, who have sought to exculpate the Nixon administration. Duke University professor Hal Brands controversially expanded upon this line of argument in Latin America’s Cold War in 2012. If a major historical trend in the past generation has been an emphasis on agency from below, Brands asks, why haven’t historians sought interpretations of Latin American insecurity and violence that move U.S. foreign policy from the center to the periphery of analysis? In other words, shouldn’t Latin American leaders be held accountable for their own actions in their own nations? In this reading, left-wing extremism led to right-wing extremism, or vice-versa, in a vicious circle. Both were part of “a larger cycle of radicalism and reaction” that was largely indigenous.

But others have found damning evidence that points to a more important role for the Nixon administration.   Most vocal among them is Peter Kornbluh, who in 2013 released a revised edition of his award-winning book, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. Kornbluh has long held that the policies of Henry Kissinger made a singular contribution “to the denouement of democracy and rise of dictatorship in Chile.”  In particular, Kissinger spearheaded a Nixon administration campaign that fed money to opposition groups in politics and civil society, escalated aid to the military, financed dissenting journals and newspapers, and advocated other policies designed to weaken the government. In making these claims about immorality and interventionism, Kornbluh is joined by historians Stephen Rabe, Jonathan Haslam, Kristian Gustafson, Lubna Qureshi, the journalist Stephen Kinzer, and most famously, the late leftist intellectual Christopher Hitchens.

harmer allendeNevertheless, the story is more complicated than what London School of Economics historian Tanya Harmer calls “the blame-game.”   In her authoritative 2012 international history of the coup, Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War, she asks the crucial question: If not directly responsible for the events of September 1973, what role did the United States play? The answer Harmer provides suggests that the Nixon administration decided to undertake close consultation with like-minded governments in South America, in particular Brazil, to coordinate efforts to not only oppose Allende but also to improve the relations with friendly military leaders in the hemisphere. Like Kornbluh, Harmer argues that the United States helped frame and apply a campaign to subvert Allende’s government from the moment of his election. But Kissinger and Nixon did not direct events. Rather, they worked closely with the military regime of General Emílio Garrastazu Médici in Brazil, who became the most powerful campaigner for regime change in Chile. At the same time, disagreements between Allende and Cuban president Fidel Castro pointed to a great degree of variation in leftist policies in the region.

Transforming the Third World Economic Order

Harmer thus explores what New York University historian Greg Grandin has called “a metaphysics of Allende-hating” in terms of an inter-American Cold War of many itineraries. For Grandin, though, the driving cause of the Nixon administration’s concern about Chile built upon, and went beyond, standard Cold War arguments of “national security and economics.”  He is right, but divergent understandings of the past and future of the global economy drove that metaphysics.  In other words, the problem was not that Allende was an avowed Marxist or even that he pushed through a constitutional amendment nationalizing the huge copper investments of Cerro, Anaconda, and Kennecott on July 16, 1971.  Nor was it the threat that a socialist Chile, along with new nationalist governments in Bolivia and Peru, would provide a toe-hold for Cuba and the Soviet Union in the region.  (In fact, the intransigence the White House felt towards Chile contrasted markedly with the easing of relations with the Soviet Union and the opening up of China at the same time.)

Nixon and Kissinger were less concerned about those problems than about the example Allende would set in Latin America and beyond. “Everyone agrees,” Kissinger wrote in 1969, that Allende would seek a socialist and Marxist state that would line up ideologically and politically with the USSR and Cuba.  The consolidation of Allende in power would thus “pose some very serious threats to our interests and position in the hemisphere and . . . elsewhere in the world.”  Nixon felt the same way. “Our main concern,” he told the National Security Council on November 5, 1970, “is the prospect that he can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success.”

More than anything, these quotes remind us that the stakes of Allende’s success or failure were global.  Actors in Chile certainly took on a perspective that looked beyond their borders.  One of Allende’s spokesmen recalled the recent “liquidation of the left in Indonesia” to dramatize the danger of counterrevolution.  Allende himself became a vocal proponent of the Third World’s broader challenge to the international economy, which was directed through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Group of 77, and the Non-Aligned Movement.  Since the end of the Second World War, groups from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa had discussed the problem of imperial continuity in the international economy.

Theirs was a widely shared moral and political stance of concise logic; decolonization entailed more than political independence from a colonial master, and nowhere did imperial power exert itself with greater vigor than in the material worlds of law and economics.  This Third World challenge also held a particular policy prescription designed to end economic domination — if the “poor lands” remained ensconced in the shadow of empire, the use of national legal power offered an escape. In this context, the CIA reported in January 1969, “further steps toward greater government participation in or even outright nationalization of” the holdings of multinational corporations in Chile were “inevitable.”

Based on the guiding principal of permanent sovereignty, advanced in the previous two decades as part of a new international law in the UN General Assembly and Economic and Social Council, developing nations held the right to “rebalance” the international economy. Upon nationalizing the major copper mines in Chile, Allende pushed to host the third ministerial meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development in 1972.  When he gave a stirring address welcoming the diplomats to Santiago, he was followed to the podium by Raúl Prebisch, who by that time was considered the father of the Third World critique of global economic inequality.  Prebisch thanked Allende for hosting the conference, and began his speech.  The joint problem of the poor nations was “above all to achieve sovereignty in a full sense,” he said.  The poor nations needed “to establish it on solid foundations and then pass from the present relationship of dependence—which is unacceptable in the light of the political maturity of our peoples—to interdependent relationships which involve new forms of cooperation.”

One can see the thrust of this position in any number of the meetings that preceded the 1974 UN Declaration of a New International Economic Order, which was the culmination of the Third Worldist program of “economic emancipation.”  For example, the 59 foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement regrouped in Guyana months after the Santiago meeting.   There, they signed the 1972 Georgetown Declaration, which gave  “full support” to Allende and other leaders that “in the exercise of their sovereign rights over the natural resources of their countries [had] nationalized the interests of powerful foreign monopolies.”  As in Santiago, the ministers turned directly to the expression of sovereignty as a legitimate and moral international stance.  “[I]t is fundamentally important to stress that the full exercise of their sovereignty over natural resources is essential for economic independence,” the foreign ministers wrote.  Moreover, economic emancipation was “closely linked to political independence, and that the latter is consolidated by strengthening the former.”

If the imperial past required correction, there was clearly space within that argument for more nuanced, less dialectical national policies.  For example, Allende did not see the July 16, 1971 constitutional amendment nationalizing Chilean copper investments as contradictory to his stated policy of utilizing access to investment capital in the “Western financial system” to develop the national economy.

In fact, U.S. Ambassador Edward M. Korry had negotiated with Allende and other government leaders a compromise by which the Constitutional Amendment was modified to provide compensation to the affected multinational companies.  (To the great ire of Korry, the Nixon administration, and corporate executives, Allende deftly used the compromise to insist that “excess profits” from the past be deducted from the settlement.)

At the same time, Allende had already concluded sales agreements for nationalized copper with other multinational corporations, including RCA, Bethlehem Steel, and Bank of America.  What the State Department called the “Chilean propaganda attack” on two firms, Anaconda and Kennecott, was thus more of an attempt to isolate the larger and more controversial businesses from other U.S. investors than to attack foreign capital investment writ large.

Linking Neoliberalism to Its Imperial Past

But the position linking global capitalism to the imperial past remained widespread, and not only among Allende, Prebisch, and other leaders of the developing world.  In 1973, two special subcommittees of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both headed by Idaho senator Frank Church, began investigations of multinational corporations, intelligence activities, and U.S. foreign policy.  Although U.S. involvement in Chile was only one subject of the investigations, the reports condemned the Nixon administration for using the powerful position of U.S. firms in Chile to “make the economy scream” during Allende’s period as president.

Such outbursts of outrage were relatively scarce, though.  Most actors in the United States and Western Europe recoiled at the Third World demands for a New International Economic Order in 1974 and after, and warned that “economic emancipation” would further disrupt a fragile global economy, which already stood on shaky foundations in the early 1970s because of skyrocketing oil prices, runaway inflation, and the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system.  Above all, nationalization programs like Chile’s were viewed as serious hindrances to private capital flows.

The gravitas of that ideological battle was dramatized in a 1972 conversation between Allende and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, George Herbert Walker Bush, who sought to set Allende straight regarding recent public statements in which he labelled U.S. foreign policy imperialist.  “I told him that we did not consider ourselves “imperialists,” Bush reported.

[T]hat we did not recognize that people were correctly identifying us when we were termed imperialists, and that we still had a deep conviction that our free enterprise system was not selfish but was the best system—certainly for us, though we had no intention to insist on it for others. And when it went abroad it did not “bleed” other people.”

When Allende responded that his speeches had clearly differentiated “between the government of the United States, the people of the United States, and multinational corporations,” Bush had an easy answer: “because of our deep conviction in the free enterprise system, the people, the government, and the system were all interlocked.” 

That was exactly the implication that Neruda and a generation of Third World intellectuals were left with after the 1973 coup.  A month later, an “energy crisis” gave multinational companies and their supporters in the U.S. government an opening to exploit the convergence that Bush described.  When the oil producers also invoked the international law of sovereignty as a means to legitimize their four-fold increase in the global price of oil, the response was ready-made. 

Neoliberal diplomacy, in particular U.S. government protection of foreign investments, became the basis of a new foreign policy for the 1970s and beyond.  

Nowhere was that neoliberal policy more evident than in Chile, where Milton Friedman’s “Los Chicago Boys” applied a series of policies designed to “open up” the Chilean market.  At the same time, the United States strengthened the new military regime of Augusto Pinochet, providing both economic and military support.

General Pinochet meeting with Milton Friedman.

General Pinochet meeting with Milton Friedman.

Whether or not the neoliberal policies of Chile promoted development or, more broadly, societal well-being is an open question.  It is certain, though, that the Chilean trajectory gave credence to a generation of critics who would link U.S. foreign policy and the “free-market” basis of contemporary globalization to the concept of imperialism.

The World Peace Council, meeting in the newly independent nation of Guinea Bissau, saw the connection in 1975.  Not only had the U.S. Gulf Oil Corporation financed the founding of a separatist organization that challenged the government.  It was also “significant” that members of the Brazilian “Death Squad,” who the Peace Council believed were involved in the “CIA-engineered overthrow of the Allende Government,” have been spotted in Pinochet’s Chile.  Algerian president Houari Boumedienne called the rise of Pinochet “a tragic scene,” part of a longer-running “imperialist plot…stirred up through the multinational companies.”

For the Algerian jurist Mohammed Bedjaoui, a long-time civil servant at the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, the lesson was more optimistic, but only slightly so.  The acts of men like Allende, and the broad movement they represented, had deprived imperialism of legitimacy for all time.  “[T]he major revolution of our time that began with decolonization” had not ended, he wrote in a 1976 tract on the Non-Aligned Movement and international law, funded by the Carnegie Foundation. The process of self-assertion, begun in the United Nations and continued in the Non-Aligned Movement and elsewhere, instead was a first step that “enriched the content of cardinal notions like that of sovereignty.” Yet he dedicated the work to Salvador Allende.  The dedication used a phrase coined by Régis Debray in his martyr’s tribute—mort dans sa loi, or “dead by his own law.”  The fall of Allende came not just at the hand of military traitors or multinational corporations, but because of a system of western interests that had a greater meaning.

Voices across the world joined Neruda, Bedjaoui, and Boumedienne in celebrating the sovereignty of Chile, decrying the fall of Allende, and blaming the United States for his overthrow and death. Months later, Gabriel García Márquez wrote that the overthrow may have taken place in Chile “to the greater woe of Chileans, but it will pass into history as something that has happened to us all, children of this age, and it will remain in our lives forever.”

The role of the United States in the coup, as well as its bloody aftermath, remains an important one.  But the findings will do little to overthrow Allende’s global Third World legacy, especially in an era in which market-based national economic policies remain prominent in the global economic system.

Chris Dietrich is Assistant Professor of History at Fordham University. His first book monograph analyzes the rise and fall of anti-colonial law and economics in the twentieth century. His second project is a psychoanalysis of American neoliberalism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Follow on Twitter @C_R_W_Dietrich

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arbannsmU.S. Covert Intervention in Chile: Planning to Block Allende Began Long before September 1970 Election

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 470

May 23, 2014

For more information contact:
Peter Kornbluh 202/374-7281 or peter.kornbluh@gmail.com

 

battleOfChileWashington, DC, May 23, 2014 – Covert U.S. planning to block the democratic election of Salvador Allende in Chile began weeks before his September 4, 1970, victory, according to just declassified minutes of an August 19, 1970, meeting of the high-level interagency committee known as the Special Review Group, chaired by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. “Kissinger asked that the plan be as precise as possible and include what orders would be given September 5, to whom, and in what way,” as the summary recorded Kissinger’s instructions to CIA Director Richard Helms. “Kissinger said we should present to the President an action plan to prevent [the Chilean Congress from ratifying] an Allende victory…and noted that the President may decide to move even if we do not recommend it.”

The document is one of a compendium of some 366 records released by the State Department as part of its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. The much-delayed collection, titled “Chile: 1969-1973,” addresses Richard Nixon’s and Kissinger’s efforts to destabilize the democratically elected Socialist government of Salvador Allende, and the U.S.-supported coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973. The controversial volume was edited by two former officials of the State Department’s Office of the Historian, James Siekmeier and James McElveen.

“This collection represents a substantive step forward in opening the historical record on U.S. intervention in Chile,” said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Chile documentation project at the National Security Archive, and is the author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. Kornbluh called on the State Department to continue to pursue the declassification of all relevant records on the U.S. role in Chile, including all records of CIA contacts with the Chilean military leading up to the September 11, 1973, coup; CIA funding for the truckers’ strike as part of the “destabilization” campaign, and CIA intelligence on the executions of two U.S. citizens in the wake of the military takeover, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.

The FRUS series is scheduled to release an electronic supplement of additional records in the fall, and to publish another volume,Chile, 1973-1976, next year. “The next volume could advance the historical record on CIA support for the Chilean secret police, DINA, CIA knowledge of Operation Condor, and Pinochet’s act of international terrorism in Washington D.C. that killed Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt,” Kornbluh suggested.

In the aftermath of General Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in October 1998, the National Security Archive, along with victims of the Pinochet regime, led a campaign to press the Clinton administration to declassify the still-secret documents on Chile, the coup and the repression that followed. Some 23,000 NSC, State Department, Defense Department and CIA records were released. Some of those have been included in the new FRUS collection which contains a set of meeting memoranda of the “40 Committee” — an interagency group chaired by Henry Kissinger which oversaw covert operations in Chile, as well as dozens of formerly secret cables, including CIA communications.

The release of the records comes amidst renewed debate over the CIA role in supporting the military coup in Chile. The forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs contains an article by former CIA operative Jack Devine, “What Really Happened in Chile: the CIA, the Coup Against Allende, and the Rise of Pinochet,” which reveals that intelligence he obtained on September 9, 1973, alerted President Nixon in advance to the timing of the coup. “I sent CIA headquarters in Langley a special type of top-secret cable known as a CRITIC, which takes priority over all other cables and goes directly to the highest levels of government. President Richard Nixon and other top U.S. policymakers received it immediately. ‘A coup attempt will be initiated on 11 September,’ the cable read.”

Nevertheless, Devine asserts that the CIA “did not plot with the Chilean military to overthrow Allende in 1973.”

However, according to a transcript of the first phone conversation between Kissinger and Nixon following the coup, when the President asked if “our hand” showed in the coup, Kissinger explained that “we didn’t do it,” in terms of direct participation in the military actions: “I mean we helped them,” Kissinger continued. “[deleted word] created the conditions as great as possible.”

The Kissinger-Nixon transcript is reproduced in the 2013 edition of The Pinochet File.

Read the FRUS volume here

 

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