Right Wing Dictators

1 January 2017

A significant part of his thesis is that the Vietnam War unsettled the consensus about foreign policy and, particularly in the guise of the investigative work of the Ghurch Gommittee, led to a more probing examination of U. S. foreign policy and the moral reasoning, or lack thereof, that undergirded it (p. 46). The book is a chronological account of successive presidencies and how each dealt with right-wing dictatorships under the exigencies of the Gold War. The accounts are detailed, and the author draws on a good range of primary sources to present the case studies.

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All such accounts are well known, but such detail of so many has not been presented in one place before. The author deems all presidents and their administrations culpable of immoral and unjustifiable support for distasteful regimes, with the exception of Jimmy Garter and John E Kennedy (who receives something of an apologia and whose inclusion, along with etails of the Gongo crisis, might come as a bit of a surprise in a book supposedly spanning the years 1965-1989). The narrative is lucid with one or two exceptions, most notably: “[SAVAK] arrested people who were held in jail without charges or trial” (p. 172). It is also informative and provocative in a manner that should be useful for classroom debates. At times, however, the text becomes polemical, and the evidence does not always do the work claimed for it. The author often uses documents from the Ghurch Gommittee and its investigations of U. S. foreign policy. The committee’s report v4/- eged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders is cited, along with two secondary sources, for the following judgement about the Gongo crisis: “While the ciA did not actually kill 336 The Journal of American History June 2007 Lumumba, it was responsible for his removal from power and his delivery into the hands of Tshombe, who did assassinate him” (p. 23n48). It is quite conceivable that this is actually what happened, but the primary source quoted does not establish the responsibility for such a sequence of events. Section 6 of the Church Committee interim report states that there was no evidential basis for claiming that the

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “conspired in this plan or was connected to the events in Katanga that resulted in Lumumba’s death” (Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, 94 Cong. , 1 sess. , 1975, p. 48). The author also has a tendency to quote key actors from secondary sources without indicating the original sources (see, for example, pp. 25 and 26). His thesis is also pressed in chapter 6 regarding the Ronald Reagan administration. Much is made of the impact that the neoconservatives and fellow travelers had n policy, but there is no indication that most of them had left the administration by 1983, and there is little or no explanation of Reagan’s diplomatic engagement with the Soviets. Those omitted facts suggest that the situation was more complex and contested in the Reagan administration than the author claims. This book presents interesting and often compelling evidence of the shortcomings of U. S. policy toward right-wing dictatorships. It exposes many of the unfortunate and unproductive consequences of such policies, but it has a tendency to overstate its case. The evidence does not always demonstrate the claims made.

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