THE BROTHERS: JOHN FOSTER DULLES,. ALLEN DULLES AND THEIR SECRET WORLD WAR by Stephen Kinzer

Having written or co-authored books on the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, ALL THE SHAH’S MEN, Jacobo Arbenz, BITTER FRUIT, and a general compendium of American coups in OVERTHROW it seems inevitable that Stephen Kinzer, an award winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times would proceed to publish a work on the two men whose goal centered on maintaining American corporate interests abroad and were obsessed with the concept that indigenous nationalism was another term for communism.  Kinzer has accomplished his mission in his new dual biography of John Foster and Allen Welsh Dulles who served respectfully as Secretary of State and Director of the CIA during the Eisenhower administration.  In THE BROTHERS: JOHN FOSTER DULLES, ALLEN DULLES AND THEIR SECRET WORLD WAR Kinzer presents an in depth study of Foster and Allen (as he refers to them in the book) as they implement American foreign policy during the Cold War.  The author goes beyond the analysis of the individual decisions that they made as he places events within the context of American foreign policy today.  As a result he reaches the conclusion that both men were active proponents of what has been termed “American Exceptionalism,” which many of our leaders still affirm, and their actions help explain many of the foreign policy problems the United States currently faces.  Since the work of the Dulles brothers still rings true today, “understanding what they did, and why they did it, is a step toward understanding why the United States acts as it does in the world.” (328)  If that was what Kinzer was trying to achieve in his latest work, he has been remarkably successful.

Kinzer minces no words as he traces the early years of the brothers.  The reader sees that foreign policy and government overthrow were in their DNA as their grandfather; John Watson Foster was Secretary of State in 1893 when he helped direct the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.  Keeping with tradition, Eleanor Dulles, Foster and Allen’s sister married Robert Lansing, who became Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.  For the brothers many doors were opened by these family connections including  positions at the Wall Street law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell.  It was early in Foster’s legal career during W.W.I.  under the auspices of “Uncle Bert,” (Robert Lansing’s nickname) that he participated in his first foreign intervention as Sullivan and Cromwell clients’ interests were threatened in Cuba in 1917.  Foster and Uncle Bert agreed to send American destroyers to Cuba along with marines to protect American corporate clients.  As Kinzer correctly points out it showed Foster “how easy it can be for a rich and powerful country, guided by the wishes of its wealthiest corporations, to impose its will on a poor and weak one.” (25)

Foster became the managing partner at Sullivan and Cromwell at the age of thirty-eight at a time when the United States went from a debtor nation to a creditor nation for the first time.  New York would replace London as the world’s financial capital and wealthy Americans spread their money and financial interests around the world, and those wealthy Americans “clamored for Sullivan and Cromwell’s services.  “The list of those Foster represented reads like a guide to the upper reaches of American commerce, manufacturing, and finance.” (37-38) It was from this perch that Foster and Allen, who joined the firm in 1926, would develop their unquestioned belief in “liberal internationalism,” the idea “that trouble in the world came from misunderstanding among ruling elites, not from social or political injustices, and that commerce could reduce or eliminate this trouble.  This was a refined version of the ‘open door’ policy the United States had embraced for decades… [a policy] aimed at forcing other countries to accept trade agreements favorable to American interests.  At its core was the reassuring belief that whatever benefited American business would ultimately benefit everyone.” (55-56)  According to Kinzer it was this firm belief held by the brothers that guided them through their careers whether it was support for Hitler and the Nazis before Pearl Harbor or the myriad coups they arranged to protect American corporate interests in the 1950s.

World War II found Allen’s career in espionage take off as a member of William Donavan’s inner circle at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), first as a station chief in New York then moving to Bern, Switzerland to develop American spy capabilities in Europe.  He was able to create a web of spies that allowed the United States to learn what was happening behind enemy lines and inside Nazi Germany itself.  Following the war Allen’s career took a hit as President Truman abolished the OSS.  During the war Foster emerged as one of the top two foreign policy spokespersons for the Republican party (Arthur Vandenberg was the other) as an advisor to Thomas Dewey who ran for President in 1944 and 1948.  It was during this period that Foster honed his view of communism that began in the 1920s as the Soviet Union struggled to survive.  By the end of WWII Foster was warning that the Soviet Union was bent on “eradicating the non-Soviet type of society and that if the United States did not strike back, an alien faith will isolate us and press in on us to a point where we shall have be faced with surrender or with a new war.” (83)

The shift in American foreign policy in 1950 was embodied in NSC-68, a document that redefined the communist threat and by arguing “that the Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.”  As a result Truman now facing the North Korean invasion of the south immediately asked Congress for $10 billion to expand the army.  After the North Korean attack Walter Bedell Smith became head of the CIA and named Allen as Deputy Director of Operations.  By 1952 with the election of Dwight Eisenhower as President, Smith became Undersecretary of State, allowing Allen to replace him as head of the CIA, and Foster became Secretary of State.  Now all was in place for the brothers.  As Kinzer points out, never in history did two siblings hold such powerful offices together and their missionary zeal, belief in American exceptionalism, years of defending corporate interests, and a view of themselves as instruments of destiny would now be put to the test.

When one reads THE BROTHERS, the author’s command of his material as he synthesizes the most important works on Foster and Allen is readily apparent.  This is true as he explores how the brothers  overthrew of Mohammad Mossedegh in Iran, removed Jacobo Arbenz from power in Guatemala, tried to deal with Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, sought to win Gamal Abdul Nasser to the western point of view, failed to replace President Sukarno in Indonesia, participated in the murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, and failed to cope with Fidel Castro leading to failure at the Bay of Pigs.  In all instances the brothers refused to accept the concept of indigenous nationalism and argued that it was nothing more than an excuse for communism.  They made no attempt at understanding Third World nationalism and its roots.  Once independence was gained many former colonies  joined a “neutralist” movement highlighted by the Bandung Conference in 1955. The brothers saw neutral nations as nothing more than communist puppets.  They refused to engage “the aspirations of hundreds of millions of people who were emerging from colonialism and looking for their place in a tumultuous world.” (313)

When one thinks about all the covert operations attempted in the 1950s one must ask were the brothers totally responsible and what role did President Eisenhower play.  For many years historians assumed that John Foster Dulles set the agenda and Eisenhower allowed him to carry it out.  During the last twenty years as further and further documentation emerged the reverse is now believed.  One of the first to argue this view was Richard Immerman in his HIDDEN HAND DIPLOMACY and I found in my own research for DAWN OVER SUEZ that Eisenhower held the levers of power and he used them.  According to Kinzer it was Ike who ordered the death of Patrice Lumumba, it was Ike who was the guiding hand behind the Bay of Pigs operation.  In these and other “coups” the only thing that mattered to Eisenhower was that they be successful and could not be traced back to the United States.  According to Blanche Wesson Cooke in her study DECLASSIFIED EISENHOWER there were more coups attempted during the Eisenhower administration than any other in American history.  As Richard Bissell, the CIA operative in charge of the Bay of Pigs recalled, “Eisenhower was a tough man behind that smile.” (293)

Kinzer discussion of the overthrow of Mohammad Mossedegh in 1953 was a recapitulation of material he presented in his previous works.  Operation AJAX was fully approved by Eisenhower and Foster’s law firm Sullivan and Cromwell had the most to lose once Mossedegh came to power as one of Allen’s most important clients, “the J. Henry Shroder Banking Corporation served as the financial agent for Anglo-Iranian Oil Company… It also jolted Foster who was then seeking business in Iran for another Sullivan and Cromwell client, the Chase Manhattan Bank.” (123)  Mossedegh’s attempt at having the Iranian people benefit from its country’s own resources was abhorrent to the Dulles brothers because of self-interest which was couched in virulent anti-communism.  After the overthrow of Mossedegh the next target was Jacobo Arbenz the president of Guatemala who wanted to institute land reform.  His proposal was simple, it required large landowners to sell the uncultivated part of their holdings to the government for redistribution to peasant families.  The problem was that the United Fruit Company, a Dulles client of which Foster held stock in controlled 85% of Guatemala’s uncultivated land.  As Kinzer pointed out in a previous book he co-authored on the Guatemalan coup, BITTER FRUIT, the United Fruit Company was the power and the Guatemalan government was the subsidiary.  Arbenz was overthrown and Brother’s policy in Central America was clear, “they embraced the regions dictators while working to undermine its few democracies.” (159)  The next target for the brothers was Ho Chi Minh who had written President Truman and asked him to support Vietnamese independence and not allow the French to return after WWII.  The rationale was simple, “they singled him out not simply because who he was, but where he was.  Europe had settled into its Cold War pattern, and although Foster and Allen still considered it the center of the world, they believed the front line had moved to East Asia.  They mistakenly saw China as a pawn of the Soviet Union, and Ho, also mistakenly, as a puppet of both.” (176)  Following the defeat of the French at Dienbienphu, the Geneva Conference in April, 1954 decided to divide Vietnam at the 17th parallel, Ho receiving the north, and the new western mandarin, Ngo Dinh Diem as the leader of the south.  In addition within two years elections would be held to unify the country.  Edward Landsdale was the CIA operative in charge of dealing with coup. His instructions were clear, to recreate his earlier success in the Philippines when he installed Ramon Magsaysay to national leadership and crushed a guerilla insurgency.  Landsdale could not repeat history and by early 1956 it was clear Ho might garner 85% of the vote.  Landsdale’s major success was organizing the mass movement of one million Catholics from the north to the south by employing psy-ops and other propaganda means.  Since Diem was a catholic (in a country that was 90% Buddhist) he thought it could help solidify Diem’s reign after the United States refused to allow an election to take place.  For the United States the Vietnam War had begun.

The only area that I have reservations about Kinzer’s analysis is the Middle East.    As mentioned earlier the Dulles brothers abhorred the concept of neutralism and the neutral bloc that emerged from the Bandung Conference in 1955.  One of its leaders was Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser.  Kinzer skirts over all American policy in dealing with Nasser up until the United States reneged on a deal in July 1956 to build the Aswan Dam.  He fails to discuss secret project ALPHA which was designed to try and bring about peace between Israel and Egypt and then use Nasser as sort of a pied piper in leading the other Arab states into a Middle East Defense Pact.  Nasser played the United States along until a peace mission led by former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Anderson finally failed.  The result was a shift in US policy.  At a National Security Council meeting on March 28, 1956 Eisenhower and his Secretary of State implemented Operation OMEGA designed to replace Nasser as the preferred Arab leader with King Saud of Saudi Arabia and the withdrawal of food and other financial aid that was designated for Egypt.  A March 28 Dulles memo concluded that “planning should be undertaken at once with a view to possibly more drastic action in the event the above courses of action do not have the desired effect.” (Memorandum from the Secretary of State to the President, March 28, 1956, Eisenhower Library, Ann Whitman File)  Kinzer further skirts Foster disingenuousness after Nasser seized the Suez Canal in July, 1956 and fails to mention that on October 29, 1956 the same day that Israel invaded the Sinai as part of its conspiracy with England and France that led to the Suez War, an American-sponsored coup was scheduled to take place in Syria, which because of the invasion was rescinded. (DAWN OVER SUEZ, 188) Kinzer correctly points to the issuance of the Eisenhower Doctrine in January, 1957 as another attempt to control communism in the Middle East, but Dulles’ policy in the region would be a failure especially with the overthrow of the pro-western Nuri al-Said and King Feisal II in Iraq in 1958 by the military, and the continued machinations by Nasser throughout the region as he emerged from the Suez War as an Arab hero.  Kinzer quotes historian Ray Takeyh who believes that Suez was “a sideshow that disrupted Eisenhower’s policy of covertly undermining Nasser and his radical allies.” (224).  I would respectfully disagree as events in France under DeGaulle, Foster’s move to get closer to Israel, and the complete failure of the Eisenhower Doctrine have shown.

As the 1950s was drawing to a close the Dulles brothers continued to pursue foreign policy by coup despite the fact that their record was not as stellar as they believed.  When President Sukarno became a major proponent of neutralism in Indonesia and accepted $100 million dollar loan from the Soviet Union in 1957, the brothers began planning a military coup with disgruntled officers.  In the end, Operation ARCHIPELAGO’s attempt to foment a civil war by providing weapons, planes and other logistics was concluded in failure. By May, 1958 the coup was called off as The Director of the CIA called the Secretary of State and told him “We’re pulling the plug.” (241)  After Foster died in 1959, Allen was left to deal with the next target on the American “hit list,” Patrice Lumumba, the newly elected president of an independent Congo.  Both the United States and Belgium, the former colonial overlord of the Congo, opposed Lumumba because the southeastern province of Katanga was “an invaluable source for industrial diamonds, and strategic metals like copper, manganese, zinc, cobalt and chromium.” (260)  Once Lumumba began speaking out against the colonialism that dominated the Congo’s past he had to disappear.  Working with Belgium, President Eisenhower order Lumumba’s murder, and for the first time an American president ordered the death of a foreign leader.  The United States and Belgium fostered the secession of the Katanga province under the leadership of Joseph Mobutu, a Congolese military officer, who had Lumumba captured, tortured, and then murdered. Not what Allen Dulles had expected.  The last failure of the Dulles reign of coups was the Bay of Pigs.  So much has been written about this catastrophe, but Kinzer brings up a number of interesting points.  First, Allen Dulles did not direct the operation, he put it in the hands of Richard Bissell.  Dulles’ hand off approach would cost him a great deal in the end to his reputation and it eventually cost him his job.  Secondly, Eisenhower was directly involved at all stages of planning and was able to convince John F. Kennedy to continue the operation once the senator from Massachusetts was elected president.  Kennedy would fire Dulles and because of the Bay of Pigs fiasco developed an aversion to accepting advice from the CIA and the Pentagon at face value.

The Brothers policy of replacing governments was mostly a failure if one takes into account the long range implications of what they tried to accomplish.   Allen emerges “not the brilliant spymaster many believed him to be.  Nearly every one of his major covert operations failed or nearly failed.  Foster’s diplomatic planning and Allen’s operational failures spread all across the globe: Berlin, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Indonesia, Tibet, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Cuba, and beyond.” (319)  In the end Foster and Allen could not have attempted what they had without the complete support of President Eisenhower.  In the final analysis, “Foster and Allen were born into privilege and steeped in the ethos of pioneers and missionaries.  They spent decades promoting the business and strategic interests of the United States.  More than any two figures of their age, they were the vessels of American history.  No other secretary of state or director of central intelligence could have done what they did.  Only brothers could have achieved it—and only these two.” (319)  As Kinzer correctly points out, we are still reaping the “lack of benefits” from what they sowed—this is why this book is an important read.

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