In celebration of the Fourth of July, 1821, John Quincy Adams delivered a speech before Congress that is famously titled, “In Search of Monsters to Destroy.” Adams used the occasion to describe the foreign policy of the United States:
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
Needless to say, America abandoned that foreign policy long ago in favor of one based on going abroad in search of foreign leaders to destroy or replace. Central to that fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy has been the Central Intelligence Agency.
A recently published book details the role the CIA played in regime-change operations from its origin in 1947 through the early 1960s: The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret War, by Stephen Kinzer, a former reporter for the New York Times and currently visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
(In 2008 Kinzer was a speaker at FFF’s conference, “Restoring the Republic: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties.” The video of his speech can be found here.)
Kinzer is author of several other books, some of which revolve around U.S. regime-change operations, such as Overthrow, All the Shah’s Men, and Bitter Fruit. The Brothers is a masterful culmination of Kinzer’s study in this area. What makes this book so fascinating is that it examines the role of two brothers, John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, in the early years of the CIA.
The first part of the book constructs the personal backgrounds of the Dulles brothers, creating a foundation for the second part of the book, which focuses on the six “monsters” the Dulles brothers sought to destroy with the CIA, along with the repercussions and consequences of those operations.
The Dulles brothers did not have ordinary childhoods. Their maternal grandfather, John Watson Foster, was “an eminent lawyer, diplomat, and pillar of the Republican Party,” and served as minister to Mexico and Russia. Thus their mother, Edith, grew up riding horses in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City and dancing with Russian princes at grand balls. While later serving as U.S. secretary of state, John Foster Watson was instrumental in engineering the overthrow of Hawaii’s monarchy in 1893.
Their father, Allen Macy Dulles, had pursued the same career path as his father and his two other brothers — as a clergyman. As such, both boys, John Foster and Allen, were imbued with a deep religiosity that would later play a major role in their foreign-policy views.
Believing her boys were too special for public schools, Edith had them educated by live-in governesses and tutors from a private academy. Grandfather Foster played an active role in the raising of the two boys. According to Kinzer,
During their childhood and early teens, both brothers came to feel at ease in the most rarified circles. They dined with ambassadors, senators, cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, and other grand figures, including William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Andrew Carnegie, and Woodrow Wilson.
Both brothers graduated from Princeton and became lawyers. At 38, Foster became sole managing partner in the New York law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, the biggest and most successful law firm in the country at that time. Soon after, he brought his brother Allen into the firm. Sullivan and Cromwell specialized in international finance and represented some of the biggest corporations in the United States. It was that particular area of law practice that would also help shape the Dulles brothers’ foreign-policy views later on.
Not surprisingly, both brothers served stints in the government as well. For example, Foster was appointed by Woodrow Wilson to serve as legal counsel at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War I. During World War II, Allen served in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the intelligence service for the U.S. government and the precursor to the CIA.
But both brothers had specific dreams for a particular form of government service. Foster’s dream was to become secretary of state. Allen’s dream was to become director of the CIA. With the election of Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, both dreams became reality in 1953.
By that time, America was fully embroiled in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. In 1947 Harry Truman had secured passage of the National Security Act, which brought the CIA into existence. While he had intended the CIA to be nothing more than an intelligence-gathering agency, the CIA relied on nebulous language in the law to justify its expansion into covert activity.
Truman also announced his Truman Doctrine, which offered to have the United States guarantee freedom from communism to countries all over the globe. He issued NSC-68, a top-secret document that committed the United States to ever-increasing military expenditures to confront greatly exaggerated Soviet capabilities and intentions.
The fierce Cold War mindset that guided Truman was shared by the Dulles brothers. Thus when they took over the reins of state and the CIA, they were prepared to hit the ground running with the Cold War machinery that Truman had put into place.
What guided the two brothers was their view that communism, especially Soviet communism, posed a grave threat to the United States and the Western world. Unless the United States assumed the responsibility of opposing this threat, the entire world would end up under communism. Integrated into this Cold War mindset were their deep religious beliefs. In the eyes of the Dulles brothers, the U.S. government was doing God’s work in opposing communism. Viewing the United States as serving in a messianic role, they viewed themselves as saving mankind from the devil.
Thus it was that John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles went abroad in search of six monsters to destroy during their tenures as secretary of state and CIA director.
The first monster was the prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, who had been appointed by Iran’s parliament and named Time magazine’s 1951 “Man of the Year.” Mossadegh, an ardent nationalist, had committed the cardinal sin of nationalizing British oil interests in Iran. When the British sought help from the CIA in overthrowing Mossadegh, Truman nixed the deal by saying the U.S. government would not involve itself in toppling foreign governments.
When Dwight Eisenhower became president, however, the CIA simply repackaged the plan in Cold War language. Mossadegh’s unstable administration, the CIA argued, made Iran ripe for a Soviet takeover, with obvious ramifications for the supply of oil to the West. On that basis Eisenhower approved Operation Ajax, the CIA regime-change plan that succeeded in ousting Mossadegh from power and reinstalling the brutal regime of the shah of Iran, a pro-U.S. ruler.
While the CIA celebrated the short-term success of the operation, the celebration was muted some 25 years later when the Iranian people revolted against the shah’s tyrannical regime and installed a radical Islamic regime that the U.S. government is still waging war against today.
The second monster was the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, who nationalized some of the vast real estate holdings of United Fruit, a giant U.S. corporation that had long been one of Sullivan and Cromwell’s premier clients. The CIA engineered Arbenz’s ouster, installing a pro-U.S. brutal military dictator, Carlos Castillo-Armas, in his stead. Kinzer points out,
His first acts included dissolving Congress, suspending the Constitution, disenfranchising three-quarters of the population by banning illiterates from voting, and decreeing repeal of the land reform law that had enraged United Fruit.
Again, the CIA celebrated the short-term results of their coup. Never mind that the coup laid the groundwork for a civil war that would last decades and take the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
The third monster was situated in Asia. His name was Ho Cho Minh, a nationalist who wished to free his country, Vietnam, from French colonial rule. Why was he considered a monster? Because he was a communist and therefore it was necessary to stop or destroy him; otherwise the “dominoes” would start falling and ultimately bring down the United States.
Since it was a virtual certainty that Ho would prevail in national elections in Vietnam that had been agreed on under the Paris Peace Accords after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the Dulles brothers ensured that South Vietnam would not participate in any such elections. Instead, they installed their own authoritarian as president of South Vietnam and set the United States on the road to intervention to preserve its independence. It was a road that would ultimately lead to the deaths of some 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese. North Vietnam won anyway, and the dominoes never fell.
The fourth monster was Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia. What was his offense? He actually loved the United States, a sentiment he made very clear when he visited here. The problem, however, as far as the Dulles brothers were concerned, was that he also loved China and the Soviet Union. In fact, Sukarno’s philosophy seemed to be one of love for everyone.
That didn’t sit well with the Dulles brothers. In their minds, in the war against godless communism there could be no neutrals. The way they figured it was that if a foreign ruler wasn’t squarely on the side of the United States in the Cold War, he was an enemy. So the CIA, in a super-secret operation, incited a massive military rebellion against Sukarno, one that ultimately failed. As Sukarno lamented later in his life, “Oh America, what is the matter with you? Why couldn’t you have been my friend?”
The fifth monster was Patrice Lamumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo. His offense was his refusal to become embroiled in Cold War politics. He wanted the Congo to be neutral.
In the eyes of the Dulleses, that made Lamumba an enemy of the United States. This time, however, their plan involved more than just a standard coup. For the first time in U.S. history, a president, Eisenhower, authorized the CIA to assassinate a foreign leader.
Enlisting the assistance of a man named Sidney Gottlieb, the CIA devised its plan to murder Lamumba. Who was Gottlieb? He headed the CIA’s MKULTRA, an infamous Cold War plan whereby the CIA drugged unsuspecting people with LSD and other drugs in order to study their effects. Gottlieb’s job was to furnish the poison that would be used to murder Lamumba. The poison, however, never had to be used because Lamumba was murdered by domestic opponents before the CIA could get to him.
The sixth monster is the one with whom Americans have lived for more than 50 years — Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Believing that America could never survive with a communist outpost 90 miles away, the Dulles brothers committed the United States to ousting Castro from power and replacing him with a pro-U.S. ruler.
That’s what the Bay of Pigs debacle was all about. The CIA had assured John Kennedy that the plan would succeed without U.S. military intervention, but that was lie. The CIA assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that Kennedy would change his mind about using U.S. forces once the operation looked like it was failing.
Allen Dulles’s career as CIA director ended ignominiously when he was fired by Kennedy, who also promised to tear the CIA into a thousand pieces. (Foster had died of cancer in 1959.)
It wouldn’t be the end of governmental service for Allen Dulles, however. In 1963 he was appointed by Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Warren Commission, whose ostensible mission was to investigate the assassination of Kennedy. As Kinzer states,
Allen never told the other members of the Warren Commission that the CIA had plotted to kill Castro, or revealed what it knew about Kennedy’s accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. He advised other members of the commission about ways to question CIA officers, while at the same time advising the officers how to reply. By one account he “systematically used his influence to keep the commission safely within bounds, the importance of which only he could appreciate…. From the start, before any evidence was reviewed, he pressed for the final verdict that Oswald had been a crazed gunman, not the agent of a national and international conspiracy.”
Kinzer points out that history has not been kind to the Dulles brothers. While they were two world-famous figures in their time, they have both been long forgotten by most Americans. I’ll bet not one American in a thousand even knows whom Dulles International Airport is named after.
This article was originally published in the January 2014 edition of Future of Freedom.