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June 17, 2004

Kissinger by Proxy

As reported in the Nation and the Times, a big brouhaha over a Foreign Affairs book review by former Council on Foreign Relations Latin America expert Ken Maxwell.

Maxwell's review and summary of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability edited by Peter Kornbluh drew a 1,500 word response from Kissinger's former Asst Secretary of State and current vice chair of Kissinger's consulting firm decrying the notion of U.S. involvement in the overthrow of the democratically-elected Allende government as a practice of "mythmaking" lacking any "smoking gun" to support it and suggesting that Maxwell (in summarizing Kornbluh's work?) is biased. Maxwell responds with some suggestions of his own:

It is certainly true that the Chilean Communists were no Thomas Jeffersons; that Allende bears much of the blame for the Chilean economy's tailspin; that Chilean society was bitterly divided; that the Chilean armed forces, not those of the United States, overthrew Allende; and that this story cannot be told only in terms of U.S. involvement. I said so very pointedly in my review. But to claim that the United States was not actively involved in promoting Allende's downfall in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary verges on incredulity.
There is a way to clear the air. Some countries have established "truth commissions" to look into such matters. In the United States, however, the record has been extracted painfully, like rotten teeth. Accusations of "mischievous nonsense" do not help. Whether or not these difficult legacies should be buried or debated is, of course, a matter of judgment. Rogers evidently believes they are best left undisturbed. My own belief is that we should seek to learn from the past if we have the wisdom to do so.

Maxwell's rebuttle drew a further response from Rogers in which he tacitly suggests that the Council distance itself from Maxwell and his views. Then the debate was cut off, as Foreign Affairs editor James Hoge refused Maxwell the customary final word. The Times reports that a response from Kornbluh was also refused publication. The Nation on weight thrown around behind the scenes:

High-ranking sources at the council say that Kissinger and Rogers applied enormous pressure, directly and indirectly, on Foreign Affairs editor James Hoge--and on the council itself--to close off the debate. Neither Rogers nor Kissinger is a stranger to the institution: Rogers served three terms on its board of directors; Kissinger has been affiliated off and on since 1955, and he currently co-chairs a task force on US policy toward Europe. Maxwell notes that the institution's new president, Richard Haass, who succeeded Leslie Gelb in 2003, "is very much anxious to engage him." Maxwell declines to elaborate on the specific ways Kissinger and Rogers exerted their influence, but he does allow that "they know how to act in these matters, and they bring heavy guns to bear."

Maxwell has since tendered his resignation from his endowed chair on the Council. From the Times:

"There is a question of principle at stake here," Mr. Maxwell wrote to Mr. Hoge. "It was made abundantly clear to me, as you know, that there was intense pressure on you, on Foreign Affairs and on my employer, the Council on Foreign Relations, from Henry Kissinger and others, to close off this debate about accountability and Mr. Kissinger's role in Chile in the 1970's."

Again, from the Nation:

In his resignation letter to Hoge, Maxwell wrote, "I have no personal ax to grind in this matter, but I do have a historian's obligation to the accuracy of the historical record. The Council's current relationship with Mr. Kissinger evidently comes at the cost of suppressing debate about his actions as a public figure. This I want no part of."

"Kissinger by Proxy"
Posted by Dan at 11:43 AM


Referenced in this post:

Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs: Crisis Prevention—William D. Rogers
Foreign Affairs: Fleeing the Chilean Coup: The Debate Over U.S. Complicity
Foreign Affairs: The Other 9/11: The United States and Chile, 1973—Kenneth Maxwell
New York Times: Kissinger Accused of Blocking Scholar—Diana Jean Schemo
Peter Kornbluh (ed.)—The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (A National Security Archive Book)
The Nation: The MaxwellAffair—Scott Sherman