Saturday, July 18, 2015

The brothers, Stephen Kinzer

The Brothers by Stephen KinzerFascinating 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 history.

The 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.

Kinzer 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.

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