Reaction to my previous column (“Foreign Affairs magazine bares CIA covert ops in Iran, Congo, Chile and Pakistan,” Manila Times, October 2, 2014), was swift and copious, and I must say most enlightening, especially the letters that sought to fill me in on wide gaps in my knowledge of the CIA, beyond what I see in the movies and on TV series.
One reader pointed me to a treasure trove of materials and a new line of inquiry. But I have to reserve my comments for a later column, in order to finish my commentary on the Foreign Affairs articles.)
The articles, which were discussed in my previous column, leave in no doubt that the United States during the Cold War frequently intervened in the affairs of sovereign states, to influence their choice of leaders and their policymaking, sometimes to the extent of plotting the overthrow of their democratically elected governments.
What shaped this outlook was the primordial conflicts of the Cold War – the contest between the United States and the Soviet Union for global influence and supremacy at one end, and the ideological contest between capitalism and socialism-communism at the other.
In this conflict, the cult of intelligence was born, and James Bond became a household word and superhero. As the major powers sought to avoid a hot war with each other, they turned to covert operations and insurgency to beat the other. In fighting the Cold War, the US relied chiefly on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to conduct covert operations and propaganda, and foment rebellion in the communist bloc.
The term “Cold War” is generally used to denote the state of political and military tension and competition after World War II between the powers in the Western Bloc (the United States, its NATO allies and others such as Japan) and the powers in the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its allies in the Warsaw Pact).
Historians have designated the years 1947–1991 as demarcating the Cold War. It was “cold” because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, although there were major regional wars in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
The first phase of the Cold War began in the first two years after the end of World War II in 1945. The USSR consolidated its control over the states of the Eastern Bloc while the United States began a strategy of global containment to challenge Soviet power, extending military and financial aid to the countries of Western Europe and creating the NATO alliance. The Berlin Blockade (1948–49) was the first major crisis of the Cold War.
In the mid-1980s, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the liberalizing reforms of perestroika (“reorganization,” 1987) and glasnost (“openness,” ca. 1985) and ended Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. In 1989, a wave of revolutions peacefully overthrew all the Communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe.
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself lost control and was banned following an abortive coup attempt in August 1991. This led to the formal dissolution of the USSR in December 1991. That left the United States as the sole superpower in the world.
Which brings us to the present, and the new world of terrorism and Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Saga of two pairs of brothers
In the same August-September issue of Foreign Affairs, which featured the articles on Iran, Congo, Chile and Pakistan, the distinguished Harvard professor Joseph S. Nye Jr. also contributed a long review of two biographies that are coincidentally about two pairs of brothers, who figured prominently in the shaping of US foreign policy during the Cold War.
The books reviewed and the subjects are:
The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and their Secret World War, By Stephen Kinzer (Times books, 2013)
The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy: Brothers in Arms, By Kai Bird (Simon and Schuster, 1998)
The Dulles brothers were key players in the administration of Dwight Eisenhower. They were educated at Princeton. John Foster Dulles was appointed as Eisenhower’s Secretary of State in 1953. In the same year, his younger brother, Allen Dulles, was named director of the CIA, a post which he would serve up to 1961, when John F. Kennedy fired him after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba.
The Bundy brothers held key positions in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. They were educated in Harvard. McGeorge Bundy served as national security adviser under Kennedy, and for the first two years of the Johnson presidency. Bill Bundy held high-level positions in the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Kinzer, in his biography of the Dulles siblings, offers this chilling assessment: “Never before had siblings directed the overt and covert sides of American foreign policy…There would be no reason for State department and CIA officers to meet and thrash out the possible advantages and disadvantages of a proposed operation…With a glance, a nod, and a few words, without consulting anyone other than the president, the brothers could mobilize the full power of the United States anywhere in the world.. And when ambassadors or bureaucrats obstructed their schemes, they were removed.”
CIA covert action: a substitute for military engagement
Nye in his review comments: “Eisenhower was determined to avoid a hot war with the Soviet Union, and he relied on the Dulles brothers to carry out covert action as a substitute for military engagement. Some of the resulting schemes, such as the overthrow of the governments of Prime minister Mosaddeq in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, succeeded in the short run but hurt US foreign policy in the long run. But Kinzer also provides a long list of covert operations that failed: in Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Indonesia, Tibet, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.”
The Bundy brothers also engaged in covert operations, such as the unsuccessful Operation Mongoose to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba, and the 1963 coup that ousted Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime in South Vietnam.
Bird’s biography holds the Bundy brothers as partly accountable for the debacle of Vietnam.
Nye concludes his review with this comment: “however much influence the Dulleses and the Bundys might have had, it was eclipsed even during this period by the power of an anxious general public. Fear, according to one scholar, ‘served as the emotional glue that held this world together: fear of soviet expansionism, of communist subversion at home, of nuclear war.’ ”
“What is America’s mission, and how should it be implemented?” Nye wryly concludes. “Those questions will probably remain long after the Dulles and the Bundy brothers are forgotten and some future historian writes a book called the sisters.”
Part III: The Philippines
In my next column, I will conclude this series on the CIA and American interventionism with a look at how America intervened in our sovereign affairs during the Cold War, and how this is continuing in the 21st century.
I will answer the letters and comments of readers then.