In The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, Stephen Kinzer frames his fine biography of the Dulles brothers as a polemic about American foreign policy. Foster and Allen Dulles were lawyers, not plutocrats. But they became wealthy by doing legal work for plutocrats. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, Foster served as Secretary of State; Allen, as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Kinzer carefully details the CIA’s covert efforts to destabilize Iran (119-46), Guatemala (147-74), Vietnam (175-215), Indonesia (216-46), the Congo (247-83), and Cuba (284-307). In this way he shows how debatable American foreign policy has been. As a result, he suggests that we Americans need to have a “grand debate” about American foreign policy.
As Kinzer explains, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia had inspired fear in President Woodrow Wilson and other Western leaders at the Paris Peace Conference in 1918-1919 at the end of World War I, which the Dulles brothers participated in (32). During the Cold War, fear of the Soviet Union and fear of world-wide communism supposedly directed by Moscow dominated American politics.
Kinzer quotes Foster Dulles as making the following statement: “‘For us there are two kinds of people in the world,’ Foster once said. ‘There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others’” (320-21). Us vs. them. As we will see, fear was the motivating force behind “us.” As we will also see, no neutrality was allowed.
Kinzer suggests that the Dulles brothers and President Eisenhower in the 1950s were determined to wage their global war against communism because they were “reassured by a diffuse, supra-rational assumption that American power must always prevail in the end” (297). Kinzer claims that Foster and Allen Dulles “were shaped by missionary Calvinism and America’s pioneer tradition, believed that godly and satanic forces were at war on earth, and felt called to crush the satanic ones” (227). Elsewhere, Kinzer quotes Max Weber to explain the sharp binary of good versus evil that the Dulles brothers worked with: “They assimilated what the sociologist Max Weber described as two fundamental Calvinist tenets: that Christians are ‘weapons in the hands of God and executors of His providential will’ and that ‘God’s glory demanded that the reprobate be compelled to submit to the law of the church’” (115-16). So for Foster and Allen, the Cold War was really a holy war. Because the communists were officially opposed to religion, their official position reinforced the sense that the Dulles brothers and many other anti-communist Americans had that the Cold War was a holy war.
In the view of the Dulles brothers and President Eisenhower, neutrality was not an acceptable option for non-communist nations around the world. In other words, communism was supposed to be the common enemy of all non-communist nations in the world.
With the full collaboration of President Eisenhower, the Dulles brothers geared up the CIA for a wide range of dark arts, including destabilizing regimes that were deemed to be unacceptable.
For example, with President Eisenhower’s approval, the CIA planned the invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. But the invasion was carried out in 1961 after President John F. Kennedy had taken office and had approved it. It turned out to be a disaster. As a result of that debacle, President Kennedy subsequently relieved Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell of their CIA positions. (Kinzer claims that Allen Dulles had serious health issues for months before Kennedy relieved him of his CIA position.) Kinzer carefully details how President Eisenhower had acted over the years regarding various CIA operations. Kinzer suggests that Richard Bissell, who was primarily responsible for the invasion plan, had most likely expected President Kennedy to supply air cover for the invasion, as President Eisenhower almost certainly would have.
But did Kennedy’s later removal of Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell prompt certain disgruntled CIA officials to assassinate Kennedy -- bringing then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson into their conspiracy to handle the cover-up afterward? Kinzer does not explore this possibility. However, he could have explored this possibility in at least general terms. Let me explain.
In his fine book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2008), James W. Douglass suggests that JFK was assassinated because he was a peacenik in a government in which peaceniks were not over-represented, to put it mildly. As Douglass has detailed, President Kennedy stands as a decided contrast with Foster and Allen Dulles – as detailed by Kinzer. For example, JFK’s attitudes toward the Soviet Union, Cuba, Latin America in general, Africa in general, and Indonesia stand in sharp contrast with the views of the Dulles brothers and of the CIA. According to Douglass, President Kennedy was using back channels to explore avenues of peace with Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union and with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Neither the Joint Chiefs nor the CIA would have welcomed President Kennedy’s peace overtures with Khrushchev and Castro.
Instead of using President Kennedy’s policies as points of contrast with the policies of the Dulles brothers, Kinzer works with a polemical framework. Here’s how Kinzer sums up his concern about the Dulles brothers: “Their actions frame the grand debate over America’s role in the world that has never been truly joined in the United States” (327).
Kinzer says, “Many Americans still celebrate their country’s [supposedly] providential ‘exceptionalism’” (328). According to Kinzer, this supposed exceptionalism involves “the view that the United States is inherently more moral and farther-seeing than other countries and therefore may behave in ways that others should not” (3). But Kinzer also claims that there is a related “belief that because of its immense power, the United States can not only topple governments but guide the course of history” (3).
In theory, the grand debate about the role of the United States in the world could involve all the key points identified by Kinzer. However, I suspect that the grand debate about the role on the United States in the world is not ever going to be joined. In other words, I do not expect that there will ever be a grand debate.
After all, President George W. Bush had a sharp bipolar view of the world that clearly resembled the sharp bipolar view of the anti-communist Americans such as the Dulles brothers and Eisenhower. Moreover, President George W. Bush used his bipolar view of the world to launch his regime change against Saddam Hussein in Iraq – based on the fear that Saddam allegedly had weapons of mass destruction.
As this example shows once again, fear is the culprit. By inciting fear, elected and appointed government officials can help generate hysteria.