Fascinating fresco of the early Cold War era as seen through the lives of the extraordinarily powerful Dulles brothers.
John Foster Dulles was
secretary of state while his brother, Allen Dulles was director of the
Central Intelligence Agency. In this book, Stephen Kinzer places their
extraordinary lives against the background of American culture and
author is pushing the message that the Dulles brothers and Eisenhower
made terrible foreign policy mistakes that America is still paying for, and that they are responsible for the disastrous present conditions of many countries like Congo, Guatemala, and others where the US executed covert operations to topple governments.
This position embraced by the author, although based on clearly documented facts, is very broad-brush and it left me perplexed. YES, in those
years the United States overthrew many foreign governments through
covert operations, in Iran, Guatemala, Congo, and other countries, YES,
from the moral standpoint some of these operations were "dirty work",
YES, Foster Dulles was very close to many big US corporations that often benefited from these policies, and YES, these covert activities were heavy-handed and often messy (some
of them were even complete disasters, and that has been acknowledged by many CIA officials), BUT I see Kinzer's overall
narrative as a bit shallow and not completely objective, in that he is too quick to
dismiss the Russia of the '50s as "non interested at all in sponsoring
regime changes or in influencing other countries governments". It makes me think. Yes, Russia was doing everything possible to hide the real extent of the country's poverty and limited resources, but how could the United States back then know for sure? And here they come, the evil Dulles brothers and
their boss, Eisenhower, making huge irreparable damages only to defend
the interest of the evil of ALL evils: the US corporations. Simplistic
as it sounds, that seems to be Kinzer's opinion.
Kinzer's view seems a little unbalanced, although always faithful to the facts that today we have access to.
believes that the communist threat was over-estimated (sometimes on
purpose) especially by Foster Dulles, and his reaction to it
exaggerated, and he might be right on both counts. However, he fails to
indicate any realistic alternative geo-strategic policy that would have
actually led the US to prevail in the Cold War. Let-live diplomacy and
isolationism? What would have been a different and more effective
policy, that would have brought more benefits to the US? The point is,
we are actually not sure what would have happened to the world's balance
of power if America had pursued such a different policy in those years.
We can only guess. As these powerful men, with all their flaws and their ultra-privileged background, could only guess back then.
Having said all this - despite not agreeing
with the author's main ideas, and perhaps finding it a little too high-level, I enjoyed the book immensely, as it is
very well-written and it provides a thoroughly researched description of a
piece of history that is not very much talked about.