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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Nixon’

eleonor

En las últimas semanas he estado disfrutando del blog Presidential de la periodista del Washington Post Lilliam Cunningham. Dos capítulos son especialmente dignos de mención.  El primero de ellos es  dedicado a la figura de Franklin D. Roossevelt. FDR es, sin lugar a dudas, uno de los más importantes presidentes en la historia de Estados Unidos. Su liderato durante la gran depresión y la segunda guerra mundial marcó a la nación estadounidense. Cunningham aborda la figura de FDR desde la perspectiva de la primera dama, Eleonor Roosevelt. El resultado es un excelente  retrato de una mujer realmente excepcional y de su relación con FDR.

El segundo capítulo enfoca el presidente más controversial de la historia estadounidense: Richard M. Nixon. Quien debiera ser recordado por sus grandes logros diplomáticos,   es perseguido  por su papel en el escándalo de Watergate y su renuncia a la presidencia. Para analizar a Nixon, Cunningham recurre a un ícono del periodismo estadounidense, Bob Woodward. Uno de los principales actores del drama que llevó a Nixon fuera de la Casa Blanca, Woodward analiza de forma magistral el camino de odio y desconfianza que llevó a Nixon a su ruina.

Aquellos interesados en la historia política estadounidense encontrarán en este blog una fuente valiosa y de gran calidad.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 20 de septiembre de 2016

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Vietnam: 40 años de una masacre

Por Luis Mazarrasa Mowinckel

EL PAÍS  04 de mayo de 2015
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Un tanque norvietnamita cruza delante del palacio presidencial en Saigón el 30 de abril de 1975. / Reuters

El 30 de abril de 1975 los telediarios mostraban la imagen en blanco y negro de un tanque con la bandera del Vietcong derribando la verja metálica del Palacio Presidencial de Saigón. La Guerra de Vietnam había terminado. Atrás quedaba un conflicto de altísima intensidad que había durado quince años, si se cuenta a partir del comienzo de la actividad guerrillera del Vietcong contra el Gobierno de Vietnam del Sur, en 1959, o incluso 34 si se considera como punto de partida los ataques de las guerrillas de Ho Chi Minh contra el colonialismo francés.

La Guerra de Vietnam, que tomaba por asalto a diario los noticieros de los años sesenta y setenta, fue el enfrentamiento bélico más fotografiado y filmado de la historia, el mayor filón que haya existido para un corresponsal de guerra y el que dejó también casi tantas bandas sonoras como los filmes sobre la II Guerra Mundial.

Esa cobertura exhaustiva del conflicto, sobre todo a partir de la total implicación del Ejército de EE UU a favor de Vietnam del Sur en 1964, fue precisamente un factor fundamental en su desarrollo, ya que incendió a la opinión pública mundial, incluida la norteamericana, que reclamó masivamente la retirada de esa potencia de la guerra en un país del Sureste asiático.

El origen de la contienda que terminó con la victoria de las tropas del Norte y la reunificación de Vietnam en 1975 se encuentra en la lucha del Viet Minh –el ejército guerrillero al mando del líder Ho Chi Minh- en los años cincuenta contra la potencia colonial que desde 1883 había integrado el país, junto con Laos y Camboya, en la Indochina Francesa.

Efectivamente, tras la derrota del invasor japonés al término de la II Guerra Mundial la actividad guerrillera y las ansias independentistas de los vietnamitas se recrudecieron. Así, con la rendición del ejército colonial en 1954 a los vietnamitas del general Giap, en lo que se calificó como el desastre de Dien Bien Phu, Francia se vio obligada a abandonar sus colonias en Indochina.

Los Acuerdos de Ginebra de ese mismo año establecieron una frontera temporal a lo largo del río Ben Hai, a la altura del Paralelo 17, que separó hasta las elecciones de 1956 el norte del país, con un Gobierno comunista que había liderado la victoria, de un Vietnam del Sur, capitalista y cuyos dirigentes se habían alineado con la Francia colonial.

Sin embargo, ante la previsible victoria de Ho Chi Minh –el líder del Norte apoyado por China- en las elecciones acordadas en Ginebra por todas las partes, el primer ministro del Sur, Ngo Dinh Diem, convocó un referéndum en su territorio que lo reafirmó en el cargo, suspendió los comicios y estableció como definitiva la frontera que dividía a la República Democrática de Vietnam del Norte –con capital en Hanoi- y a Vietnam del Sur, con un gobierno instalado en Saigón, también dictatorial, anticomunista y fuertemente ligado a los intereses de Estados Unidos, que desde la marcha de los franceses había inundado el sur de asesores militares.

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Cartel de propaganda en el Museo de Arte de Vietnam. / luis mazarrasa

La flagrante violación de los acuerdos de paz provocó el fin del alto el fuego y la reanudación, pues, de los ataques del Ejército del Norte en los alrededores del Paralelo 17 y de su guerrilla aliada del Vietcong en numerosos puntos del Sur donde se había infiltrado.

1964 marca el inicio de la implicación total de EE UU en el conflicto. El presidente Lyndon B. Johnson, que ha sucedido al asesinado John F. Kennedy, aprovecha el incidente del Golfo de Tonkín, en agosto de ese año –cuando dos buques norteamericanos fueron supuestamente atacados-, como pretexto para bombardear Vietnam del Norte y ordenar el desembarco masivo de marines en las playas de Danang. A finales de 1965 ya eran 184.000 los soldados estadounidenses en el territorio y dos años más tarde, medio millón.

Años después del fin de la contienda se reveló que, en realidad, el destructor Maddox sufrió un ataque al encontrarse en aguas jurisdiccionales norvietnamitas apoyando una operación de tropas de Vietnam del Sur, mientras que el Turner Joy no sufrió agresión alguna. Además, también se demostró que Lyndon Johnson ya disponía de un borrador de la resolución del suceso con fecha anterior a que el incidente de Tonkín hubiera ocurrido.

Las razones que en un principio los presidentes Kennedy y Johnson declararon a la opinión pública norteamericana para justificar la implicación en una guerra: la agresión a un país aliado por los comunistas de Ho Chi Minh y la “evidente” amenaza de un contagio a todo el Sureste asiático en caso de la victoria del Norte, que podría inducir a Tailandia, Camboya, Laos y Corea del Sur a integrarse en el bloque socialista, fueron perdiendo fuerza a medida que las noticias mostraban la terrible devastación provocada por los bombardeos de los B-52 en ciudades y aldeas y los testimonios de numerosos veteranos licenciados del combate y de otros tantos objetores a filas que rechazaban “ir a masacrar a unos campesinos de un país tan lejano”, como declaró algún marine a la vuelta a casa.

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Dos niños corren por una carretera intentando escapar de un ataque con napalm, en Trang Bang, a 26 millas de Saigón, el 8 de junio de 1972. / Reuters

Mientras el conflicto se enconaba, EE UU bombardeaba incesantemente Hanoi y otras ciudades del Norte y el presidente de Vietnam del Sur era asesinado en un golpe de Estado apoyado por la propia Administración norteamericana, las fuerzas armadas de Ho Chi Minh protagonizaban espectaculares golpes de mano, como la Ofensiva del Tet en 1968, que marcó el punto de inflexión en la guerra. Las imágenes en directo de la mismísima embajada de EE UU en Saigón tomada durante unas horas por un grupo de guerrilleros, que actuaban en coordinación con otros que atacaron más de cien ciudades y pueblos protegidos por los marines, conmocionaron aún más a una sociedad que meses más tarde viviría las manifestaciones pacifistas del verano  del amor en 1968 en California y las más violentas del mayo francés.

A ello se sumó la revelación de masacres cometidas por los marines en distritos como My Lai, donde el 16 de marzo de 1968 tres pelotones asesinaron a cientos de campesinos, mujeres, ancianos y niños, y las imágenes de la destrucción causada por los bombardeos y la utilización masiva por parte de EE UU de armas químicas, como el napalm y otras.

En 1970, el descrédito del Gobierno norteamericano por la guerra de Vietnam alcanza su cenit a raíz del golpe de estado tramado por los servicios de inteligencia estadounidenses contra el rey de la vecina Camboya, Norodom Sihanouk. Los soldados norteamericanos cruzaron la frontera para respaldar al dictador Lon Nol como mandatario del país y la Administración de Richard Nixon, el nuevo presidente de EE UU, se vio inmersa en otra guerra hasta entonces llevada en secreto.

Para entonces Estados Unidos ya había perdido más de 40.000 soldados en la Guerra de Vietnam, algo inaceptable para su opinión pública. Por contra, los cinco millones de víctimas vietnamitas –entre combatientes y civiles- no suponían lastre alguno para el Gobierno de Lê Duân, sucesor del recién fallecido Ho Chi Minh. Nadie cuestionaba el precio que habría de pagarse por una guerra nacionalista de liberación.

El 27 de enero de 1973 Estados Unidos, los dos Vietnam y el Vietcong firmaron en París un alto el fuego, la retirada total de las tropas estadounidenses, la liberación de prisioneros y la creación de un Consejo Nacional de Reconciliación. Por primera vez en 115 años el país se veía libre de la presencia de militares extranjeros. EE UU sufría la primera derrota de su historia, que le había causado más de 58.000 militares muertos.

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Atentado del Vietcong en la embajada de Estados Unidos en Saigón. / Agencia Keystone

Pero los Acuerdos de París no trajeron la paz inmediata, con el Sur tremendamente debilitado por la marcha de EE UU y las deserciones masivas de sus tropas. Las hostilidades se reanudaron y en enero de 1975 el Ejército del Norte cruzaba el Paralelo 17 en dirección a Saigón, esta vez sin ceder el protagonismo a los guerrilleros Vietcong.

El general Nguyen Van Thieu, a la cabeza de la República de Vietnam del Sur desde 1967, vio como la promesa de ayuda económica de EE UU para la fase de transición después de los Acuerdos de París era rechazada por la nueva Administración de Gerald Ford, al frente de un país con las heridas del conflicto vietnamita en carne viva y la vergüenza de la dimisión de Richard Nixon una año antes, en 1974, por el caso Watergate.

Con las ciudades del centro del país: Hue, Danang, Nha Trang… cayendo en manos del Norte como fichas de dominó, Van Thieu se atrincheró con sus pocos leales en Saigón hasta el 21 de abril de 1975, cuando dimitió y huyó camino del exilio. Nueve días más tarde, el 30 de abril, Saigón –que las nuevas autoridades de un Vietnam reunificado cambiarían el nombre por Ciudad de Ho Chi Minh- caía en medio de la euforia nacionalista. Las imágenes de la apresurada huida del embajador norteamericano y del personal de la CIA a bordo de helicópteros, horas antes desde las azoteas de sus edificios hacia portaaviones anclados en el Mar del Sur de China, serían la última humillación mediática para EE UU, envuelto en un conflicto que, como declararía años más tarde Robert S. McNamara, el ideólogo de los bombardeos sobre Hanoi y uno de los cocineros del embuste del incidente de Tonkín, fue un tremendo error: “No fuimos conscientes que los vietnamitas no luchaban solo por imponer el comunismo, sino por un ideal nacionalista”.

Hoy, cuando Vietnam celebra los cuarenta años de paz casi por primera vez en su convulsa historia, el país pasa por un espectacular desarrollo económico en el que la pobreza extrema prácticamente se ha erradicado y llueven las inversiones nacionales y extranjeras, aunque sus campos de verdes arrozales todavía sufren las secuelas de los bombardeos y la guerra química. Y medio millón de niños, muchos de ellos nacidos cuatro décadas después, padece terribles deformidades como consecuencia de la irrigación de la jungla con el agente naranja, el defoliante utilizado por EE UU para destruir el ecosistema del país. Su componente principal, la dioxina, daña el ADN de las personas expuestas y se estima que puede transmitir sus efectos durante tres generaciones.

Con un modelo calcado de su gigante vecino chino, Vietnam es una dictadura de partido único en lo político y sin asomo de libertad de expresión ni disidencia y, al mismo tiempo, se halla inmerso en un capitalismo casi salvaje en lo económico.

Luis Mazarrasa Mowinckel es autor de Viajero al curry (Ed. Amargord) y de la Guía Azul de Vietnam y de numerosos reportajes sobre este país.

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 The Cold War and the Origins of US Democracy Promotion

Robert Pee

U.S. Studies Online   Forum for New Writing

May 8, 2014

Soft power is the power to influence foreign governments, foreign publics, and world public opinion through the non-forcible projection of culture, ideology and political value systems. Soft power, in short, as its foremost scholar Joseph Nye explains, is “attractive power”. It has been a key facet of US foreign policy since the outbreak of the Cold War and its significance has continued to grow through the expansion of global communication networks and the ideological conflicts of the post-9/11 era.

This Featured Blog Series interrogates US soft power in terms of its historical and contemporary deployment, investigating the strategies, organisational frameworks and tactics which have shaped the US deployment of soft power, how this deployment has interacted with other foreign policy tools, and how overseas populations and elites have received US soft power and negotiated its meaning.


NEDDuring its time in office the Bush administration channelled over $1 billion to Arab democrats through the US Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Middle East Partnership Initiative,[1] with much of this funding going to democratic groups in previously-favoured dictatorships, such as Egypt. The Bush administration argued that the shift was necessary to safeguard US security by containing Islamist movements.[2] This equation between support for democratic groups overseas and US national security was not new, however; instead, the idea originated during the final stages of the Cold War, when a loose network of American intellectuals persuaded the Reagan administration to support the foundation of the National Endowment for Democracy. According to this network, strengthening pro-US parties and civil society groups in the Third World could be used to shore up the Washington’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union by blocking Marxist movements from seizing power in allied dictatorships.

Democracy promotion was conceptualised by actors outside the national security bureaucracy from 1972 onwards to resolve the strategic and organisational tensions which had marked US attempts to export democracy as a tool of national power in the Cold War. Strategically, policy-makers had disagreed over whether to support authoritarian regimes in the Third World or democratising economic and social reforms. Those who advocated support for right-wing dictatorships argued that attempts to create democratic governments would destabilise friendly states and possibly result in Communist takeovers; supporters of the democratic option claimed that it was the repression and inequality which characterised dictatorships that drove Third World populations to support Communist movements.[3] This division in the foreign policy elite led to an incoherent and disjointed strategic approach, in which democratising reforms were supported in some cases but not in others, and were often soft-pedalled or abandoned if they began to threaten existing US interests. Organisationally, the state had struggled to direct a covertly-funded state-private network of US civil society groups, deployed to co-opt key foreign demographic groups to the US cause, in a way that both preserved the credibility of US groups as private actors and was effective in achieving national security goals.[4]

Democracy promotion was proposed after these modes of intervention had declined. The exposure of the state-private network’s covert state funding in 1967[5] destroyed the credibility of the groups involved as private actors, and thus their operational effectiveness, while the Nixon administration implemented an overall strategy of supporting authoritarian regimes to contain Communist/radical movements. The basic blueprint for democracy promotion was outlined shortly after by William Douglas, a development theorist.

The new democratisation strategy outlined by Douglas strove to avoid the strategic dilemma which had led the state apparatus to implement inconsistent policies, and the credibility issues caused by the exposure of covert funding of private groups. Strategically, Douglas called for a democracy campaign embracing the whole Third World arguing that the creation of democratic states would produce governments less vulnerable to Communist subversion and prevent the West from being cut off from important raw materials.[6] To achieve this, socioeconomic reforms and the projection of democratic ideology should be replaced by direct aid to democratic parties overseas delivered by a non-state League for Democracy composed of Western and Third World democratic parties. This organisational arrangement would ease disagreements over whether the US should support dictatorships or democratic reform as the best guarantee of stability in the Third World, as the US government could maintain its support for dictatorships in the short-term while handing over diplomatically sensitive reform programs to a non-state actor, meaning that both strategies could be pursued simultaneously. The credibility problems caused by the exposure of the state-private network’s covert funding in 1967 could be solved by making government contributions to the League overt and transparent, or by turning to foundation grants or private donations as sources of funding. However, neither the Executive nor US civil society were interested in the idea initially. The Nixon administration believed efforts to democratise friendly dictatorships to be destabilising, while many US liberals linked democratisation and modernisation to the failure of US policy in Vietnam.

This changed in the second half of the 1970s as the US faced a growing wave of Third World revolutions,[7] re-opening the question of how political intervention could best be implemented to block the emergence of radical governments. The Carter administration attempted to steer a middle course between support for authoritarianism or democratisation by pressuring existing dictatorships to liberalise in order to defuse popular anger while leaving the structures of the regimes essentially unchanged – the essence of Carter’s Human Rights policy in the Third World.[8]However, the administration proved unable to implement the competing policies of preserving relations with allied authoritarian regimes and fostering reform through the US national security bureaucracy. Pressure for reform was often blunted or blocked by bureaucratic struggles between the Bureau of Human Rights and other agencies such as the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, the State Department’s Bureau for Security Assistance, and the Department’s regional bureaux, which sought to preserve relations with friendly authoritarian regimes such as the Philippines and Pakistan.[9]

Politicians in the Democratic Party offered a solution to this problem by founding a non-state organisation which could act as a channel for such initiatives outside the state apparatus – the American Political Foundation – in 1979. The APF was inspired by the West German Party Foundations: political training institutes, each linked to a West German political party, which implemented political assistance programs overseas with West German government funds.[10] The APF was established by George Agree, a former Congressional aide to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to follow this example by forging transnational party links to defend and extend democracy.[11] However, the organisation was small and lacked a clear strategy, adequate funding from business or foundations[12] and support from the Carter White House.

The decisive shift which opened up the possibility of convergence between non-state democracy promoters and the national security bureaucracy was the failure of Carter’s policies to prevent revolution in Nicaragua. The administration had failed to manage the competing imperatives of pressuring the Somoza dictatorship to liberalise so as to draw popular support away from the Marxist FSLN insurgency, while maintaining a regime strong enough to combat the insurgents militarily. The administration’s last-ditch attempt to remove Somoza in favour of a government of pro-US democrats to ward off the final FSLN victory failed because its chosen proxies within Nicaragua lacked the political skills and organisational strength to block a revolutionary takeover.[13]

A solution to this problem was conceived by Michael Samuels of the CSIS, who contacted the APF in early 1980. Samuels proposed that political aid programs to strengthen democrats in friendly authoritarian states threatened with revolution should be begun before these revolutions materialised. These programs would create strong pro-US political movements which could take power after the breakdown of a dictatorship and block revolutionary takeovers, preserving the target country’s geopolitical alliance with the US. They would be carried out through the “American Political Development Foundation”, a semi-private organisation receiving US government money overtly[14] — a further development of Douglas’ League for Democracy and Agree’s APF, but one which was wholly American rather than transnational, and tied to a current and specific US foreign policy problem, which made it more likely to gain the support of policy-makers.

Samuels’ proposal led to the coalescence of a loose network of non-state democracy promoters, including Douglas and the APF, which successfully lobbied the Reagan administration to support the initiative.[15] This led to the foundation of the legally private but government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, headed by Carl Gershman, a neoconservative and former Reagan administration official, in 1983 to channel funding to democratic groups overseas.[16] Under Reagan and George H.W. Bush the organisation aided the democratic forces which succeeded pro-US dictatorships in the Philippines and Chile, and those which replaced Marxist governments in Nicaragua and Poland,[17] thus safeguarding US national security interests in the final phase of the Cold War. The NED’s programs were also precursors of the later governmental initiatives in USAID and the State Department deployed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the Middle East. The NED itself is still active and counts among its board members former George W. Bush administration figures, such as previous NSC official Elliott Abrams, responsible for policy towards the Near East and Global Democracy Strategy, and Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.[18]

The origins of US democracy promotion were bound up with the search for an effective method of preventing the emergence of revolutionary governments in the Third World, which could damage Washington’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. The democracy promoters’ solution to the strategic dilemma of whether to support dictatorships to achieve short-term stability or democratic reform to create long-term stability was to lodge democracy programs in a non-state organisation. This would make democracy programs credible to Third World democrats and plausibly deniable to dictatorships, allowing the US to support dictatorships and strengthen democratic successor movements simultaneously. The strategic considerations which originally drove Cold War democracy promotion reappeared in US foreign policy towards the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks,  with the growth of democracy being expected to contain a disparate collection of Islamist groups, rather than Marxist rebels supposedly acting at the behest of Moscow.

However, previous strategic tensions re-emerged as the George W. Bush and Obama administrations both soft-pedalled democracy promotion in friendly Middle Eastern states such as Egypt when it clashed with immediate geopolitical objectives,[19] and were able to do so because the US government funds the NED and now implements the bulk of US democracy promotion programs.[20] Due to this back-tracking the fall of the authoritarian Mubarak regime was followed by a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military rather than a pro-US democratic successor elite. Thus, the tension between the pursuit of democracy and short-term US national security interests, which democracy promotion was originally generated to resolve, continues to operate as a basic feature of US foreign policy.


Footnotes

[1] Eric Patterson, “Obama and Sustainable Democracy Promotion”, International Studies Perspectives, 13 (2012): 29.

[2] Bush argued in 2003 that “As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export.” George W. Bush, “Remarks at the 20thanniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy,” 6th November 2003, available from http://www.ned.org/george-w-bush/remarks-by-president-george-w-bush-at-the-20th-anniversary, accessed 2nd May 2014.

[3] Compare the assertion of George Humphrey, Eisenhower’s Treasury Secretary that “whenever a dictator was replaced, communists gained” with Kennedy’s argument that “Dictatorships are the seedbed from which communism ultimately springs up.” Quoted from Tony Smith, America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), 192 and David F. Schmitz, The United States and Right-wing Dictatorships, 1965-1989 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 261.

[4] For further details on the state-private network see Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2008).

[5] Tity de Vries, “The 1967 Central Intelligence Agency Scandal: Catalyst in a Transforming Relationship between State and People,” Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (2012).

[6]William A. Douglas, Developing Democracy (Washington DC: Heldref Publications, 1972).

[7] Richard Saull, The Cold War and After: Capitalism, Revolution and Superpower Politics (London: Pluto Press, 2007), 139.

[8] James Earl Carter, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 1982), 143; and also Anonymous, “Presidential Review Memorandum 28: Human Rights”, Jimmy Carter Library, 8th July 1977, accessed 20th March 2009, http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.org/documents/pddirectives4.

[9] Victor Kaufman, “The Bureau of Human Rights during the Carter Administration,” The Historian 61, no. 1 (1998).

[10] Donald M. Fraser, “A Proposal that the Democratic National Committee employ at least one staff member assigned to follow and work with political movements abroad”, 1977, Folder 6: Reports and Proposals, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, Library of Congress, hereafter LOC.

[11] George Agree, “Proposal for a pilot study of international cooperation between democratic political parties,” 9thMay 1977, Box 1, Folder 6: Reports and Proposals, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, LOC.

[12] Difficulties with securing funding were mentioned in the minutes of organisation’s annual board meetings in 1980 and 1981. See APF, “Minutes of 1980 Annual Meeting, Board of Directors of American Political Foundation”, 19thMarch 1980 and “APF, Minutes of 1981 Annual Meeting, Board of Directors of American Political Foundation”, 7th July 1981, Folder 3: APF Minutes, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, LOC.

[13] See Robert A. Pastor, Not Condemned to Repetition: the United States and Nicaragua, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 2002), 82-99 and Morris H. Morley, Washington, Somoza and the Sandinistas: State and Regime in US Policy towards Nicaragua 1969-1981 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), 174-181.

[14] Michael A Samuels, Project Proposal: A Comprehensive Policy Response to Expanding U.S. Interests in the Third World, 1980, 1, attached to George Agree, Letter to Mr Michael A. Samuels, 15th February 1980, Folder 1: APF Correspondence, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, LOC.

[15] See General Accounting Office, Events Leading to the Establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy, 6th July 1984, accessed 27th December 2006, http://www.gao.gov/products/NSIAD-84-121, 1, for meetings between democracy promoters and officials and Alexander Haig, memo to the President, 8th March 1982, DDRS, accessed 11thDecember 2006, for the proposal of a semiprivate democracy institute to Reagan in the wake of these meetings.

[16] Nicholas Guilhot, The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and International Order (New York, Chichester: Columbia University Press, 2005), 90.

[17]William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 129-137, 175-193 and 221-239; Thomas Carothers, In the Name of Democracy: US Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years (Berkeley & Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1991), 94-95 and 158-160; and Gregory Domber “Supporting the Revolution: America, Democracy and the End of the Cold War in Poland, 1981-1989” (PhD thesis, George Washington University, 2008),  accessed 15th July 2013, http://transatlantic.sais-jhu.edu/ACES/ACES_Working_Papers/Gregory_Domber

_Supporting_the_Revolution.pdf, 209-216, 335-350 and 410-411

[18] See http://ned.org/about/board, accessed 3rd May 2014.

[19] Fawaz Gerges, Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 162-164.

[20] The Obama administration cut US government funding for democracy promotion in Egypt and restored the Egyptian government’s ability to veto the transfer of US funds to Egyptian groups, thus limiting the freedom of USAID and of NDI and IRI, NED’s Republican and Democratic Party Institutes, which provide aid to foreign democratic political parties. Richard S. Williamson, “Turning a Blind Eye to Egypt”, September 30th 2010, available from http://www.iri.org/news-events-press-center/news/iri-board-member-richard-williamson-urges-support-egypts-democratic-ac, accessed 26th April 2014

blog snapshotRobert Pee has recently graduated the University of Birmingham with a PhD. His thesis, titled “Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy under the Reagan Administration: 1981-1986”, examines the relationship of democracy promotion to national security in US strategy, with a particular focus on the origins of the National Endowment for Democracy and on democracy promotion during the Reagan administration. His research interests include US Democracy Promotion during the Cold War and the War on Terror, national security strategy, the role of non-state actors in the formation and execution of US foreign policy, and US policy towards the Arab Spring

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How the Pentagon Papers Came to be Published by the Beacon Press Told by Daniel Ellsberg & Others

Democracy Now  December 26, 2014

In 1972 Beacon Press lost a Supreme Court case brought against it by the U.S. government for publishing the first full edition of the Pentagon Papers. It is now well known how The New York Times first published excerpts of the top-secret documents in June 1971, but less well known is how the Beacon Press, a small nonprofit publisher affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, came to publish the complete 7,000 pages that exposed the true history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Their publication led the Beacon Press into a spiral of two-and-a-half years of harassment, intimidation, near bankruptcy and the possibility of criminal prosecution. This is a story that has rarely been told in its entirety. In 2007, Amy Goodman moderated an event at the Unitarian Universalist conference in Portland, Oregon, commemorating the publication of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance today. Today, we hear the story from three men at the center of the storm: former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, famed whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times; former Alaskan senator and presidential candidate Mike Gravel, who tells the dramatic story of how he entered the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and got them to the Beacon Press; finally, Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We begin with Ellsberg, who Henry Kissinger once described as “the world’s most dangerous man.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now back to an historic 2007 event, a discussion about how the Pentagon Papers came to be published. In 1972, Beacon Press lost a Supreme Court case brought against it by the U.S. government for publishing the first full edition of the Pentagon Papers. It’s well known how The New York Times first published excerpts of the secret documents in June ’71, but less well known is how the Boston-based Beacon Press, a small nonprofit publisher affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, came to publish the complete 7,000 pages that exposed the true history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Beacon’s publication led the Press into a spiral of two-and-a-half years of FBI harassment, intimidation, near bankruptcy and the possibility of criminal prosecution. This is a story that’s rarely been told in its entirety.

Well, back in 2007, I moderated this historic event at the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist conference. It took place in Portland, Oregon, in front of about 5,000 people. It was commemorating the publication of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance today.

Today, we hear the story from the three men on the stage at the center of the storm: former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, famed whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times; we also hear from former Alaskan senator and former presidential candidate Mike Gravel—he’ll tell the dramatic story of how he entered the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and got them to the Beacon Press; finally, Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

We begin with famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who Henry Kissinger once called “the most dangerous man in America.”

DANIEL ELLSBERG: There were 7,000 pages of top-secret documents that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates—I, for one—who had participated in that terrible, indecent fraud over the years in Vietnam, lying us into a hopeless war, which has, of course—and a wrongful war—which has, of course, been reproduced and is being reproduced right now and may occur again in Iran. So the history of that, I thought, might help us get out of that particular war.

Let me skip over the intervening 22 months then, really, which passed after I first copied the Pentagon Papers, when I was trying to get them out, and the senators and others who were not up to the task of putting them out, people who were otherwise very admirable and very credible in their antiwar activities: Senator Fulbright, Senator McGovern, Gaylord Nelson, Senator Gaylord Nelson, various others. Except for Nelson, Fulbright, McGovern and Senator Mathias, some of the best people in the Senate, had, in fact, contrary to the way it’s often reported, not refused to bring out these papers when I discussed them with them. Each one agreed to bring them out and then thought better of it over a period of time, said they just couldn’t do it, take the risk—in effect, in other words, “You take the risk, but I’ve got an important position here, and I can’t ruffle the waters here.”

I read in—I did give them to The New York Times — sorry, to Neil Sheehan, but with no assurance that they would come out in the Times, and for reasons not clear to me still, Neil, who, again, acted very admirably and credibly, as did the Times, which took a great risk in deciding to publish the papers, did not tell me they were bringing them out. I’m not clear to this day quite why that was. But so I continued up—while they were working to get the papers ready for publication in the spring of 1971, I was still worrying and trying to see where I could get them out. I approached Pete McCloskey, who, again, agreed to do it, but took efforts to get them officially from the Defense Department before he did that. He was very supportive of me during my trial later.

And I also thought then—I read in the paper about a Senator Gravel, whom I really didn’t know much about, from Alaska, who was conducting a filibuster against the draft, which was exactly what should have been done. By the way, I had raised as a litmus test—I probably never told Mike this—I had raised the idea of a filibuster with a number of senators as a litmus test to see whether they were the kind of person who might go one step beyond that and maybe put out these papers. And in every case I got serious answers—they weren’t frivolous—but the point was, as Senator Goodell put it to me, “Dan, in my business, you can’t afford to look ridiculous. You cannot afford to be laughed at.” And he said, “If I could find other people who would join me, I would do it.” I heard that, by the way—I’ll mention—each name I’m mentioning here is very—the top people in the Senate. Senator—oh, darn, at my age I forget some of these names—but anyway, other senators said much the same: “If I could find somebody else to go with me, I would do it, but I can’t do it by myself. I would look foolish. I can’t afford that.”

So here was a senator who was not afraid to look foolish, basically, and that’s the fear that keeps people in line all there lives. Don’t get out of line. It’s the kind of thing you learn at your mother’s knee to get along, go along—your father’s knee. And don’t stick out, don’t make yourself look, you know—don’t raise your head, sort of this thing, and look ridiculous. But he wasn’t afraid to do that on a transcendent issue like the draft in the middle of this war. So I thought, “OK, maybe this is the guy.” I hadn’t met—I had met the other ones before, I knew them. So I didn’t know him. I said, “OK, he’s doing a filibuster.”

So at some point—and we were just discussing this. It’s not even clear in my mind when I had a discussion I’ll mention in a moment, but I do remember very clearly that not knowing that the Pentagon Papers were about to be published by The New York Times on June 13th—the night of June 12th, they came out, I was in Boston at the time—and nobody had told me that this was happening, so I had them in my apartment for the first time ever. I had never allowed them to be in our apartment, lest the FBI swoop down and get them. That was my nightmare. I had a number of copies stashed with different people, so I could say, even from jail, you know, “OK, get that one out or get this out,” with my 10-cent call that I was allowed, that they couldn’t stop it. But I never allowed it to be in my apartment. For once, I had it there because—and Mike did not even know this—because I intended to communicate with his office on Monday to go to Washington, not knowing they were coming out in the Times, and offer this thing to this man who was conducting the filibuster.

So I was quite shocked to learn from a friend in the Times that the building was locked down. They were worried about an FBI raid and an injunction, because they were copying this seven—they were putting out this big study, which I hadn’t been told. So I go, “Well, that’s very interesting.” And meanwhile, I had these papers in my apartment. The FBI might come any minute, and I had already had a scheduled meeting with Howard Zinn that night, with our families—his wife and my wife—to go to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And so, I called Howard, didn’t say it over the phone, but I said, “I’ll come to your apartment. We’ll go from your place,” and I went there with the papers, and asked him if I could dump them in his apartment for that night, which he said, you know, “Fine.” I had already shown him. He was one of two people I’d shown—Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, both—some of these papers earlier.

So, the papers came out that night, and we got them at midnight in Harvard Square. There wasn’t a lot of attention on Sunday to them, which everybody was surprised at in The New York Times. The TV didn’t pick it up, and so forth. But on Monday they had got attention, and the key thing was that John Mitchell, the attorney general, then asked a request of The New York Times that they cease publication of this criminal act, stop this. Remember, they had lost their law firm already, Lord & Day, on the grounds that their lawyers had told them this was treason and a criminal act, and they wouldn’t represent them. And Mitchell was confirming that and telling them that they must stop.

Well, they went ahead; they did not obey the request. So the next day, Tuesday, they enjoined The New York Times for the first time in our history. We know from the tapes now that Nixon had asked Mitchell on the tape—I’ve heard this—the day before, on Monday, Mitchell wanted to put the Times on notice. And, of course, Nixon says, “Have we ever done this before?” And Mitchell says, “Oh, yes, many times.” Terrific legal advice from the bond lawyer. It had never been done in our history and, of course, led to a constitutional battle, which Nixon lost and the attorney general lost. But they did enjoin it, and so the question was what to do next.

I hadn’t been identified yet, but I decided, on the base of one other person who suggested it to me, that I give it to The Washington Post. And meanwhile, I had called up Gravel’s office—I was still able to use a phone, not my home phone, but I went out to a pay phone—and said to the person there, “Is your boss interested in putting out the Pentagon”—I didn’t say the “Pentagon Papers”—”Is your boss intending to keep up this filibuster? Is he going to stay there?” They said, “Oh, absolutely.” I said, “Well, I’ve got some material that could keep him reading till the end of the year, if he’s interested in it, you know.” And that being the number one story at the moment, he sort of guessed what it was. And I think Mike will go on from there. He went on and informed Mike of this possibility. But the question then was how to get them to him. I could no longer travel, as I’d planned to do.

So I’ll end with this story, which will tie in with—Mike can take up the story from there. The question was how to get it to him. I was not in a position to travel at this point. So I did arrange with a former colleague from RAND, Ben Bagdikian, an editor of The Washington Post who had spent a year or two at RAND as a consultant—mic’s down? Can you hear me? OK—Ben Bagdikian, I said, I knew. So I called him up and arranged to have him come to Boston—yeah, it was a colorful story, which I think is told in the thing you have there. He came to Boston, Cambridge. We took a room at the Treadway Inn near Harvard Square, and my wife and I brought these boxes of ill-assorted papers, tremendous stuff we hadn’t collated ideally, to him, and we spent the night with him collating and putting them in an order that he could take back with him. And in the morning he had this big box. He didn’t have—he needed a cord for the box and asked the Treadway, and the motel owner said, “Well, somebody’s been tethering a dog outside. I can give you the dog cord.” So we tied up the box, and he went off and put it on.

My wife and I looked at the television before we went home. We had been all night on this now. This was about 7:00, 8:00, 7:30 in the morning, and there was our home being—with some FBI agents knocking on the door on live television. And they were knocking on the door, so we thought, “Hmm, maybe this isn’t the best time, you know, to go back home, actually.” And what had happened was that Sid Zion, who was mad at the Times for having fired him, had rather quickly found out who their source was, and to get back at them, he had revealed it on a radio show, the Barry Graves show, the night before. So the FBI was at my door, and having seen it on television, I was now in a position to not be caught and to put out the other copies.

Well, the reason—so we didn’t go home. We went underground in Cambridge. For the next 13 days, the FBI conducted what the papers said was the biggest manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping, and they were—we were in Cambridge—they were all over the world, in the south of France, in [inaudible] in California. I had a feeling there was a good deal of junketing going on, actually, by the FBI looking for us, but meanwhile we were putting it out to these other newspapers.

And I will mention, as one last point here, it’s always the Times and the Post who are mentioned, of course, as having had the courage to go along with this, as we spent the 13 days putting it out. That’s why I was evading the FBI. I had other copies, and I was putting them out. Actually, there were four injunctions, also The Boston Globe and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, before they gave up on injunctions, or there would have been more. Altogether 17 other newspapers published those papers. And oddly, they don’t seem to mention it much in their own histories. They don’t commemorate this, as we’re commemorating the Beacon Press right now, but they should. That was a wave of civil disobedience across the country by publishers who were being told that they were violating the Espionage Act, they were committing treason, they were hurting national security. They read the documents we gave them and decided they didn’t agree with that as Americans and patriots, and they published them. So it was institutional civil disobedience of a type—I don’t really know of any country or any other journalists, and that’s a kind of freedom and courage we need to celebrate and we need to continue. So, thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon Papers whistleblower Dan Ellsberg. Coming up, former Senator Mike Gravel picks up the story from there. But first, our break, sung by Barbra Streisand for Dan Ellsberg.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Barbra Streisand singing “I’ll Get By,” a live recording at a 1973 fundraiser for Daniel Ellsberg. Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison of The Beatles also attended. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to Senator Mike Gravel from Alaska. In 1971, he received the Pentagon Papers from Washington Post journalist Ben Bagdikian, who in turn had gotten them from Daniel Ellsberg.

MIKE GRAVEL: Let me just pick up where he left off, because it really—there’s a lot of little vignettes, and I’ll talk fast, but I want to get all the details out, because I know what you want to know is the inside skinny. You can read the broad lines, but it’s what happened to both our lives at the time that—

Dan calls my office. He talks to Joe Rothstein, who was my administrative assistant. My administrative assistant—I was down in the Senate gym getting a massage. I was on the table. And, of course, you can’t have staff come into the Senate. This is hallowed ground, so—into the Senate gym. So he’s knocking at the door. He says, “I’ve got to see the senator! It’s an emergency!” And he works his way in to get into the massage stall, and the masseur pulls back a little bit, and he whispers down in my ear. He says, “Somebody wants to give you the Pentagon Papers.” I said, “Man! Where is he?” He says, “He’s going to call us back.” So, man, I get dressed up real quick. We bolt back to the office. And I’m sitting in my office waiting for this call.

Along comes this voice. He says, “Senator, would you read the Pentagon Papers as part of your filibuster?” I says, “Yes. Now please hang up.” The reason for that is I have a background in intelligence. When I was 23 years old, I was a top-secret control officer. I could classify and I could declassify, and I was 23 years old.

So now, here are the papers coming at me. I had a sense of what they were, was a history, a history, and, of course, I had read what the Times had published. And so, lo and behold, Dan and I have other conversations. To tell you the truth, our memories are a little vague. He informed me about something that I didn’t know, and occasionally I had done that with him, when he was doing his memoir Secrets. We’d spend near a couple days: “Oh, is that what—that’s your interpretation of what you think we did?” “Yes.” “Well, no, that’s my”—”Oh, no. We did it that way.” And what happens, that’s human beings. We all have a different read on some of the details.

The long and short of it is, he called me in a few days, and he was angry. He was on the phone, and he says, “Why the hell haven’t you used the papers?” And I says, “Why the hell haven’t you got them to me? I don’t have them. I haven’t heard anything.” So he goes back to Ben Bagdikian, and Ben then contacts my office.

Well, quite candidly, I didn’t know who Ben was, but he wanted to get to meet with me. So we meet somewhat secretively on the front steps of the Capitol behind a column in broad daylight during the session. So Ben is standing there. We’re talking about how we’re going to move the papers across, and then out comes Bob Dole, who was one of my enemies, but we’re on the same committee, and he walks up, and Bagdikian is slipping behind a column so he can’t be seen. And so, I get rid of Dole fairly fast, and so we go back.

And Bagdikian had this plan. We’re going to meet someplace out in the country, you know, Rock Creek Park in a dark—I say, “Wait a second, Ben. I’ve got to tell you. I’ve got a little more experience in this than you have. What we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to transfer the papers: You’re going to come at 12:00 at night under the marquee of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. At 12:00 you park your car there. I will come up with my car. You’ll open your trunk. I’ll open my trunk. And I’ll pop the papers in, and I’ll race off. That’s the way we’ll do it, before God and country, and they won’t even know what happened.”

Well, what happens? A group of Alaskan natives walk by, “Oh, there’s our senator,” and they all want to come up and talk with me. And I’m trying to peel them away: “Well, I’ve got to run. I’ve got to run.” And so, I got in my car. We did that. We transferred the papers. I sped away, parked my car, came back in, and Ben and I had a coffee.

I took the papers home. Where are you going to put them? I brought them home. That’s the first time I told my wife at the time, Rita, I says, “I’ve got the Pentagon Papers right here.” And, of course, the whole world was looking, trying to chase him down and catch him and get the papers. She says, “What are you going to do with them?” “We’re going to put them under the bed, and we’re going to sleep on them. That’s what we’re going to do.” We did.

Next morning—I’m dyslexic, and so I couldn’t read all those papers if it took me a year. And so, what happened, I started calling staff in. And I said, “Look at, you’re going to come in. You bring a toilet kit. Don’t tell your wife what you’re doing. You’re just coming to the senator’s house.” And I met them at the door, and I said, “Look at, I’ve got the Pentagon Papers. You come in, you can’t leave until I leave. But I won’t think ill of you if you don’t come in, because there’s risks that we don’t know anything about.” And so, every one, to the person, said, “Senator, let me have it.” So about four or five people for two days were sleeping on the living room floor, and we would go through the papers.

The style that I used in going through it, I was reading my little portion of it, the first part of it, which is the most historic and the most interesting part. But the others would—I said, “Whenever you come across a name, come and show me the name.” I would then read around the context and make a judgment if this should be excised or not. And when we excised, we didn’t just take a pencil, we took scissors and cut it out, so there would be no misunderstandings.

Now, I’ve got to bring the papers from my home to the Capitol, and so I buy two flight bags, you know, those old flight bags without wheels. I buy two of those to honor the papers. And so, I spend the money, pack them up with two bags like that, and so I’m going to take them to the Capitol. But now I’m concerned, so I call the Vietnam Veterans of America, and I say, “Look at, I’ve got a problem. I need somebody to guard my office. And what I want, I want the most disabled veterans you can find.” And lo and behold, I trudge in—and I wouldn’t let my staff touch the papers—so I trudge in with my two big bags, heavy, and, of course, staff is walking with me, and the cops, they’re looking. Why the hell is the senator carrying the bags and the staff is not carrying his bags? So we walk down to the end of the hall, and there are about six, seven soldiers in uniform, you know it, ponytails, badges all over, all in wheelchairs. And they could do wheelies. And all they could do—they didn’t know what I had. All they said: “Go get ’em, Senator! Go get ’em!” I was just about to cry, with the commitment of these human beings. And they guarded the office. No, but they would have thrown their bodies at anybody that tried to break in.

I had the papers, so I go to the floor of the Senate. Now, I had made a deal with Alan Cranston. I had to get—I wanted to read in the filibuster. Now, I had a little bit of ego trip going on here: I wanted to break Strom Thurmond’s record in filibustering. And the draft was going to expire at the end of the month, so I wanted to two days, about close to 48 hours, break his record. Now, how are you going to do that? Most people don’t know when Huey Long and those guys used to debate, what they’d do is—they’re drinking a lot of water—they pee right on floor, right on the Senate floor. Make no mistake about it. But I’m a little more cultured than that. So what I do is I rig myself up. I go to the doctor’s office. I tell him what’s going on, tell him I’m going to filibuster. And so, he rigs me up with a colostomy bag with a little hose down to my ankle. And my administrative assistant’s job is going to bleed the colostomy bag.

Then, it gets better than that. We now go to—I’ve got to get somebody to chair, because you can’t control the floor if you don’t control the chair. So I go to Alan Cranston, my closest friend. I say, “Alan, I need help.” “Well, what do you need, Mike?” “I’ve got the Pentagon Papers.” “Oh, my god, Mike! You need more than help. You’ve got problems,” so he says. I said, “Alan, you don’t have to do anything to risk. You don’t have to touch the papers. You just get in the chair by 5:00. We’ll turn around, and you just stay in that chair as long as I’m filibustering.” And that was our plan. And so, I said, “Now go down to the doctor’s office and get a colostomy bag.” He does that. And, of course, I had a rubber mat. It was very interesting to go into the dynamics of that.

So, lo and behold, I come to the floor of the Senate. I’m trudging in with these papers. I put them next to my desk. And I was a freshman, so I was way on the side. And so, Muskie had come up to me for some committee—we were on the same committee. He’s talking to me. He looks down at these two black bags, and he says, “Mike, are those the Pentagon Papers?” And I look up at him with a blank stare. It was just a joke on his part. But I’m looking at him, “My god!” So, lo and behold—here, I’m a nice guy, so what I wanted to do, I know I’m going to be talking for a couple days, so I want to tell the staff of the Senate that, “Hey, you better call your wife, because you’re not getting out here shortly.”

And so, what I do is I lay on a quorum call. Now, if you’re familiar with the procedures in the Senate, a quorum call, they have to now stop—they have to start calling the roll. And there was only one other senator in the chamber. That was Griffin. The Democrats had gone to a banquet. The Republicans had gone home. And so, there’s two senators in the chamber. So I lay on a quorum call. Griffin walks up to me, and he says, “Mike, what are you going to do?” I says, “Well, you know, I’m just continuing my filibuster on the draft.” But I had always done that because Mansfield had set up a two track. Mind you, I filibustered for five months. It could only happen because Mansfield set it up without anybody seeing his velvet hand. And so, I says, “Well, you know.” He says, “But wait, what are you doing at night?” I said, “Well, the draft is about to expire, and I just want to really make a big show.”

He goes back to his desk, and he’s thinking and he’s thinking. Then, of course, I wait 30 minutes to let the staff notify that they’re going to be there a good part of the evening. And, lo and behold, I make a unanimous consent to remove to quorum call. He objects. The minute he did that, I knew I had just been harpooned. And all I could think is, my mind: Good men don’t win. Good men don’t win. I was so angry. He came up to me, and he says, “Well, Mike, what are you doing?” And I started swearing at him, you cannot believe. Well, by that time, he knew something was really afoot. So he went to the Republican cloak room, said, “Stay away from the Senate,” telling all the Republicans. I’m sending my troops to go out there and get the Democrats to come back from the banquet. Well, that goes on for ‘til about 9:30, 10:00, and we could not get a quorum. I’m stuck.

Rothstein comes up to me, and he says, “Senator, we’re stuck. There’s nothing we can do here.” So I grabbed—and he says, “But our attorneys think they’ve got a plan B.” So we grab the bags, trudge back to the office again. By this time, the Vietnam vets are out there, they know there’s something really serious afoot, because there’s a lot of media following us. And so, I go in, sit down. “What’s our plan?” “Well, Senator, it’s interesting. There’s not much hope, but we do have one precedent that we could follow.” And that’s the precedent, believe it or not, the House Un-American Activities Committee, for those of you who know what that means.

He says, “What they were doing is they would go around the country and they would immediately call a hearing so that they could grab somebody, pull him up, swear him in, and get him to talk.” He says, “With that precedent, what you could do”—and now, mind you, I’m a freshman—”you’re chairman of a committee, a subcommittee,”—and, of course, that committee was the Buildings and Grounds Committee. So, lo and behold, they say, “What you could do is you could convene a hearing of this committee, and you would be still within the umbrage of the Senate.” And so, I said, “Fine. Let’s do that.” But what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to have somebody to testify. So we type up the notice that I’m chairman, I’m calling a hearing, slip it under the doors of all these senators who are not there, that I’m notifying them of the hearing, so that that’s covered legally. And then the peace group calls up a Congressman Dowd from Upper New York. He doesn’t know what it’s about. All they tell him on the telephone: “Senator Gravel needs you to come and testify at a very important hearing.” He gets dressed—he was an elderly fellow—gets dressed, comes down, and we convene.

By this time, we’re upstairs in one of the Senate chambers, committee room, and the whole phalanx of the media. And then Congressman Dowd comes up, and I’m sitting there with my two black bags and my staff assistant. And the congressman—and I gavel the meeting to order. “Congressman, can I help you? Now, I understand you want to testify.” He says, “Yes. I’d like to get a federal building in my district.” And I say, “Congressman, let me interrupt you right there. I know you need a federal building in your district, and I’d love to give you a federal building in your district, but I’ve got to tell you, our government’s broke. We don’t have any money to give you a federal building. And let me tell you why we’re broke: because we’re squandering all this money in Southeast Asia. And let me tell you how we got into Southeast Asia.” And I haul out the papers, put them on the table, and I’m reading.

It gets better than that. I read for an hour. Now, here again, I’m dyslexic, but there’s no way on God’s green earth I’m going to read—but I’m reading it. Now, keep in mind I hadn’t slept for about three or four days. And so, I’m reading, and I break out sobbing. It’s about 12:00 at night, and I am sobbing, and I can’t get control of myself. Here’s what was going through my head. A journalist on one of the networks the next morning: “Well, this was a bizarre occurrence the night before. You know, Gravel was very bizarre. He cried.” And so, what I was sobbing over—I had been to Walter Reed a month or more before to walk around, and I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take it emotionally to look at the wounded. And so, I can handle macro-problems, but not micro-, and so, lo and behold, I kept saying to myself, “My god! I love my country. My country is committing immoral acts. We’re killing human beings. There’s no reason for it.” And I’m sobbing, and as I’m dyslexic, I’m reading rote. You know, I couldn’t follow the words in front of me. So Rothstein comes up to me. He says—and the understatement of the year—he says, “Senator, I think you’ve lost it.”

And so—and I keep sobbing, and then he goes back, and I try to get a hold of myself, and I can’t. And so he comes back. He says, “Senator, why don’t you put it in the record.” And then I sobered up immediately and said, “Oh, yes. I got power. I’m the chairman of this committee. So I move and ask unanimous consent to put all these papers that I was going to read into the record, to put them in the record automatically.” Bang! They’re in the record. That’s how it officially got into the record of the United States of America.

And obviously, the media, by that point, they’re out there going really—so I put the papers back in. We’re trudging back to my office. The media is following us. “We want the papers! We want the papers!” So we cut a deal with them. “Look at, we’ve got a copy of the papers, because we want to hang on to a set. And as we copy them, we’ll turn them to you. We’ll set up a pool, and then you go copy them and distribute them to the world.” That’s what happened all night long. And that’s what made the Supreme Court decision moot, which was at 11:00 or 12:00 that very day. And what they did is they said you could not put on prior restraint, but what you could do is, if you published, you’d be at risk. And that’s what happened. Those that had published took the risks, but they weren’t prepared to take the risks after that.

We scoured the country, and this is where the meeting comes in with Beacon. We scoured the country, could not find one major or minor, or anybody, that would touch the Pentagon Papers. We had some inkling that maybe MIT Press would, so with my staff, Fishman and one other attorney, we go to Boston. Whoever was handling it—and I don’t recall—at the time, he said, “Senator, I’ve got bad news for you. MIT Press won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.” And then I’m just crestfallen, like we’re going to check how to get back to Washington. He said, “But I’ve got some good news for you: Beacon Press has got the money, and they will publish it. And Gobin Stair and Bob West are downtown in Boston waiting for you, if you want to come down and make the deal with them.” And I said, “Let’s go!” And we had a press conference shortly thereafter. And that’s when we announced that we were going to do it.

I was a Unitarian even before all this happened in Alaska, but I can’t tell you what I feel for Beacon Press, for the Unitarians and for Dan Ellsberg. Dan quoted and likes to say that when I went in the service, I was going in to be a spy, but I wasn’t getting any action, so I went in to be a combat infantry platoon leader. And on the patch on my shoulder said, “Follow me.” Well, when I saw Dan do what he did, all I could think of: Here’s a guy that’s walking up the hill, taking his life in his own hands, and the least I could do is follow Dan Ellsberg.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, who put the Pentagon Papers into the public record. When we come back, the man who allowed the Beacon Press to take the risk of publishing the secret documents, an act that almost brought down the Unitarian Church. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Ringo Starr singing “With a Little Help from My Friends,” yes, sung at the 1973 fundraiser for Daniel Ellsberg. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we pick up the story with Robert West, the former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Beacon Press. While every other publishing house former Senator Gravel had approached and had refused to publish the Pentagon Papers, West agreed, despite the considerable political and financial risks involved.

ROBERT WEST: My first involvement with the Pentagon Papers was on a midsummer day in 1971, when the director of Beacon Press, Gobin Stair, came into my office. He told me about the 35 publishers who had refused to publish them, and he requested my approval for Beacon Press to do it. I gave my approval that day, and we started down a path that led through two-and-a-half years of government intimidation, harassment and threat of criminal punishment.

Beacon published the Pentagon Papers that October, after having publicly announced its intention in August. In September, Gobin was visited by two intelligence agents from the Defense Department who, in a meeting Gobin described to me as intimidating, tried to dissuade him from publishing the papers. He also received a phone call from President Nixon, who, after saying what a decent fellow Gobin was, pointedly suggested that he was sure Gobin would not want to get into trouble by proceeding to publish them.

One morning in early November, a vice president of our bank called our UUA treasurer to advise us that FBI agents had secretly been working at the bank for the last seven days. They were there with a subpoena from the federal grand jury that called for copies of all UUA financial records, which meant every check written and every check deposited into UUA accounts over a period of four-and-a-half months, amounting to thousands of checks, including those of all individuals who contributed to our denomination.

Senator Gravel immediately brought contempt proceedings against the government and succeeded in halting the FBI investigation and examination of our bank records for two months. But agents were authorized to resume their scrutiny on January 10. The next day, the UUA filed suit against the FBI, the Justice Department and the grand jury, seeking to stop the investigation. We emphasized the grounds of religious freedom and freedom of association, as well as freedom of the press. And we succeeded in halting it on a temporary basis.

But before all the events had run their course in 1974, we were in federal courts on numerous occasions, including the Supreme Court. FBI agents served grand jury subpoenas on Gobin Stair and our UUA treasurer, and then withdrew them. The U.S. attorney in Boston filed a memorandum in court that indicated the strong likelihood that Beacon Press officials would be prosecuted for criminal activity. And Gobin Stair was subpoenaed to appear at the Ellsberg trial in California, with me next in line.

Ultimately, the mistrial that was declared in the Ellsberg case meant we did not have to appear at the federal trial in California. The federal court in Boston never allowed the FBI investigation of our bank records to continue, and no one associated with Beacon Press or the UUA was prosecuted for criminal activity.

What the government did to us as a continental religious denomination was unprecedented in the history of our nation. The Justice Department investigated our entire denomination’s financial affairs and threatened our association’s staff members because one of our departments, Beacon Press, published one book that was controversial, a text that was already in the public domain.

The relevance of our experience, those 35 years ago, to secrecy and deception in government today is patently obvious. For example, three of the issues and principles that were involved in our court actions were misuse of power of the Justice Department, invasion of privacy, and misuse of secrecy by the government. All of those clearly apply to what is happening today.

In his 1972 dissenting opinion in the Gravel case, Supreme Court Justice Douglas said, “The story of the Pentagon Papers is a chronicle of the suppression of vital decisions to protect the reputations and political hides of men who work an amazingly successful scheme of deception on the American people.” And he went on to say in that decision that he had no choice but to hold that it was the government that is lawless, not the press.

In 1971, Senator Gravel wrote, “The Pentagon Papers show that we have created a new culture, protected from the influence of American life by the shield of secrecy.” In that same year, Beacon Press Editor-in-Chief Arnold Tovell spoke of the Pentagon Papers aiding those who try to unravel exactly how a well-meaning nation could have committed such a colossal blunder in its foreign affairs.

In closing, I would cite these words from my annual report to the 1973 UUA General Assembly, words that could be spoken just as appropriately in this general assembly today: We in this denomination have confidence in a democratic process. We want to make known our determination to resist every government intrusion upon constitutional liberties and to encourage others also to resist. We, as a religious movement, are qualified by our nature, by our heritage, and indeed by our recent experience, to play a significant role at this time in our history to help resist and reverse the ominous trend affecting constitutional liberties. We can, and we will.

AMY GOODMAN: Dan Ellsberg, in the last few years, you have been calling for people, who like you 35 years ago were inside the system, to step outside and to release an equivalent of the Pentagon Papers. Do you think they exist—the papers and these people who could step forward?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, of course, the papers exist. The Pentagon Papers, the equivalent of them, exist in safes in Washington, all over Washington, not only in the Pentagon, but in the CIA and the State Department and elsewhere. Are there people who realize what the meaning of those—the full meaning of those papers in their safes? Yes. We know from many leaks and memoirs that have come out that there were people in the White House and the CIA and the Pentagon who realized that we were being lied into war. They realized that as early as 2001.

So my message, Amy, over the last two years has been to officials in that position, of whom there are hundreds, not only in 2001 and 2002, hundreds right now who could prevent a war with Iran that is on the tracks right now, that they know, and that they know would be disastrous. They could put that out with the authority of their position, but especially of documents, at the risk—the certainty—of losing their clearances, which would almost certainly—which would mean losing their career with the executive branch, possibly, very likely, subjecting them to prosecution, possibly to conviction, possibly to prison. And by taking that risk, they would have a high chance of averting a catastrophe that would lead to the deaths of tens, hundreds of thousands of people and disastrously reduce our security. They know that. So by taking their own personal risk, like the 5,000 people who went to prison as draft resisters in Vietnam, and by the people here who took risks with their institution and their privacy, by taking that risk they could avert this.

AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon Papers whistleblower Dan Ellsberg, Unitarian leader Robert West and former Senator Mike Gravel. They were all speaking in 2007 at an event I moderated in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church, a crowd of 5,000 in Portland, Oregon.

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The democratically-elected Arbenz government hoped for economic prosperity through economic reform and a highway to the Atlantic.

United States Interventions What For?

By John H. Coatsworth 

Revista Harvard Review of Latin America 

Spring/ Summer 2005

In the slightly less than a hundred years from 1898 to 1994, the U.S. government has intervened successfully to change governments in Latin America a total of at least 41 times. That amounts to once every 28 months for an entire century (see table).

Direct intervention occurred in 17 of the 41 cases. These incidents involved the use of U.S. military forces, intelligence agents or local citizens employed by U.S. government agencies. In another 24 cases, the U.S. government played an indirect role. That is, local actors played the principal roles, but either would not have acted or would not have succeeded without encouragement from the U.S. government.

While direct interventions are easily identified and copiously documented, identifying indirect interventions requires an exercise in historical judgment. The list of 41 includes only cases where, in the author’s judgment, the incumbent government would likely have survived in the absence of U.S. hostility. The list ranges from obvious cases to close calls. An example of an obvious case is the decision, made in the Oval Office in January 1963, to incite the Guatemalan army to overthrow the (dubiously) elected government of Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes in order to prevent an open competitive election that might have been won by left-leaning former President Juan José Arévalo. A less obvious case is that of the Chilean military coup against the government of President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. The Allende government had plenty of domestic opponents eager to see it deposed. It is included in this list because U.S. opposition to a coup (rather than encouragement) would most likely have enabled Allende to continue in office until new elections.

The 41 cases do not include incidents in which the United States sought to depose a Latin American government, but failed in the attempt. The most famous such case was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. Allvadorso absent from the list are numerous cases in which the U.S. government acted decisively to forestall a coup d’etat or otherwise protect an incumbent regime from being overthrown.

Overthrowing governments in Latin America has never been exactly routine for the United States. However, the option to depose a sitting government has appeared on the U.S. president’s desk with remarkable frequency over the past century. It is no doubt still there, though the frequency with which the U.S. president has used this option has fallen rapidly since the end of the Cold War.

Though one may quibble about cases, the big debates—both in the public and among historians and social scientists—have centered on motives and causes. In nearly every case, U.S. officials cited U.S. security interests, either as determinative or as a principal motivation. With hindsight, it is now possible to dismiss most these claims as implausible. In many cases, they were understood as necessary for generating public and congressional support, but not taken seriously by the key decision makers. The United States did not face a significant military threat from Latin America at any time in the 20th century. Even in the October 1962 missile crisis, the Pentagon did not believe that the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba altered the global balance of nuclear terror. It is unlikely that any significant threat would have materialized if the 41 governments deposed by the United States had remained in office until voted out or overturned without U.S. help.

In both the United States and Latin America, economic interests are often seen as the underlying cause of U.S. interventions. This hypothesis has two variants. One cites corruption and the other blames capitalism. The corruption hypothesis contends that U.S. officials order interventions to protect U.S. corporations. The best evidence for this version comes from the decision to depose the elected government of Guatemala in 1954. Except for President Dwight Eisenhower, every significant decision maker in this case had a family, business or professional tie to the United Fruit Company, whose interests were adversely affected by an agrarian reform and other policies of the incumbent government. Nonetheless, in this as in every other case involving U.S. corporate interests, the U.S. government would probably not have resorted to intervention in the absence of other concerns.

The capitalism hypothesis is a bit more sophisticated. It holds that the United States intervened not to save individual companies but to save the private enterprise system, thus benefiting all U.S. (and Latin American) companies with a stake in the region. This is a more plausible argument, based on repeated declarations by U.S. officials who seldom missed an opportunity to praise free enterprise. However, capitalism was not at risk in the overwhelming majority of U.S. interventions, perhaps even in none of them. So this ideological preference, while real, does not help explain why the United States intervened. U.S. officials have also expressed a preference for democratic regimes, but ordered interventions to overthrow elected governments more often than to restore democracy in Latin America. Thus, this preference also fails to carry much explanatory power.

An economist might approach the thorny question of causality not by asking what consumers or investors say about their preferences, but what their actions can help us to infer about them. An economist’s approach might also help in another way, by distinguishing between supply and demand. A look at the supply side suggests that interventions will occur more often where they do not cost much, either directly in terms of decision makers’ time and resources, or in terms of damage to significant interests. On the demand side, two factors seem to have been crucial in tipping decision makers toward intervention: domestic politics and global strategy.

Domestic politics seems to be a key factor in most of these cases. For example, internal documents show that President Lyndon Johnson ordered U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 not because of any plausible threat to the United States, but because he felt threatened by Republicans in Congress. Political competition within the United States accounts for the disposition of many U.S. presidentions

nts to order interventions.

The second key demand-side factor could be called the global strategy effect. The United States in the 20th century defined its strategic interests in global terms. This was particularly true after World War II when the United States moved rapidly to project its power into regions of the earth on the periphery of the Communist states where it had never had a presence before. In the case of Latin America, where the United States faced no foreseeable military threat, policy planners did nonetheless identify potential future threats. This was especially true in the 1960s, after the Cuban Revolution. The United States helped to depose nine of the governments that fell to military rulers in the 1960s, about one every 13 months and more than in any other decade. Curiously, however, we now know that U.S. decision makers were repeatedly assured by experts in the CIA and other intelligence gathering agencies that, in the words of a 1968 National Intelligence Estimate, “In no case do insurgencies pose a serious short run threat…revolution seems unlikely in most Latin American countries within the next few years.” Few challenged the idea that leftist regimes would pose a secutiry threat to the United States. threat…revolution seems unlikely in most Latin American countries

Thus, in a region where intervention was not very costly, and even major failures unlikely to damage U.S. interests, the combination of domestic political competition and potential future threats—even those with a low probability of ever materializing—appear to explain most of the 20th century US interventions.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that U.S. interventions did not serve U.S. national interests well. They generated needless resentment in the region and called into question the U.S. commitment to democracy and rule of law in international affairs. The downward trend in the past decade and half is a positive development much to be encouraged.

CHRONICLING INTERVENTIONS

U.S. DIRECT INTERVENTIONS 
Military/CIA activity that changed governments

COUNTRY YEAR EVENT SUMMARY
Cuba 1898-1902 Spanish-American War
1906-09 Ousts elected Pres. Palma; occupation regime
1917-23 U.S. reoccupation, gradual withdrawal
Dominican Rep 1916-24 U.S. occupation
1961 Assassination of Pres. Trujillo
1965 U.S. Armed Forces occupy Sto Domingo
Grenada 1983 U.S. Armed Forces occupy island; oust government
Guatemala 1954 C.I.A.-organized armed force ousts Pres. Arbenz
Haiti 1915-34 U.S. occupation
1994 U.S. troops restore constitutional government
Mexico 1914 Veracuz occupied; US allows rebels to buy arms
Nicaragua 1910 Troops to Corinto, Bluefields during revolt
1912-25 U.S. occupation
1926-33 U.S. occupation
1981-90 Contra war; then support for opposition in election
Panama 1903-14 U.S. Troops secure protectorate, canal
1989 U.S. Armed Forces occupy nation

U.S. INDIRECT INTERVENTION
Government/regime changes in which U.S. is decisive

COUNTRY YEAR EVENT SUMMARY
Bolivia 1944 Coup uprising overthrow Pres. Villaroel
1963 Military coup ousts elected Pres. Paz Estenssoro
1971 Military coup ousts Gen. Torres
Brazil 1964 Military coup ousts elected Pres. Goulart
Chile 1973 Coup ousts elected Pres. Allende.
1989-90 Aid to anti-Pinochet opposition
Cuba 1933 U.S. abandons support for Pres. Machado
1934 U.S. sponsors coup by Col. Batista to oust Pres. Grau
Dominican Rep. 1914 U.S. secures ouster of Gen. José Bordas
1963 Coup ousts elected Pres. Bosch
El Salvador 1961 Coup ousts reformist civil-military junta
1979 Coup ousts Gen. Humberto Romero
1980 U.S. creates and aids new Christian Demo junta
Guatemala 1963 U.S. supports coup vs elected Pres. Ydígoras
1982 U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Lucas García
1983 U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Rios Montt
Guyana 1953 CIA aids strikes; Govt. is ousted
Honduras 1963 Military coups ousts elected Pres. Morales
Mexico 1913 U.S. Amb. H. L. Wilson organizes coup v Madero
Nicaragua 1909 Support for rebels vs Zelaya govt
1979 U.S. pressures Pres. Somoza to leave
Panama 1941 U.S supports coup ousting elected Pres. Arias
1949 U.S. supports coup ousting constitutional govt of VP Chanís
1969 U.S. supports coup by Gen. Torrijos
John H. Coatsworth is Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs. Coatsworth’s most recent book is “The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America,” a two-volume reference work, edited with Victor Bulmer-Thomas and Roberto Cortes Conde – See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157958#sthash.I6nAx9Oq.dpuf

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America’s conspiracy mania: Why Ebola and 9/11 truthers reflect a tortured history

From 9/11 to McCarthyism, we have a long history of conspiracy theories — and government acts have encouraged them

Salon. com  November 3, 2014

America's conspiracy mania: Why Ebola and 9/11 truthers reflect a tortured history

(Credit: AP/Seth Wenig/Bridget Besaw Gorman)

Hey, did you hear that President Obama purposefully allowed Ebola to enter the United States so America will be more like Africa?

That’s what conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said earlier this month, after the first Ebola case reached our shores. In the darker corners of the Internet, others suggested that Obama was spreading Ebola to justify the imposition of martial law; still others charged that government health officials had conspired with pharmaceutical companies to foster the disease and then to hawk a vaccine to cure it.

How could anyone believe that our government would plot to harm its own citizens? Because it’s happened before. Over the past century, the American federal government has repeatedly conspired against the people who elect it. And that’s why so many people suspect that the same thing is happening now.

From 1932 until 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service denied potentially lifesaving treatment to syphilitic African-American men as part of a study of their disease. And starting in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency secretly tested LSD and other drugs on psychiatric patients. It also hired prostitutes to lure unwitting patrons to CIA safe houses, where the agency slipped LSD into their drinks and observed their reactions.

Meanwhile, the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation illegally wiretapped and harassed thousands of civil rights and antiwar activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. The FBI even sent a tape recording of King making love with one of his mistresses to his office, where the package was opened by his wife.

Then came Watergate, when President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to spy on their political enemies and then conspired to cover all of it up. And the 1980s brought the Iran-Contra conspiracy, in which federal officials sold arms to Iran and illegally funneled the profits to rebels in Nicaragua.

And when the government wasn’t conspiring against Americans, it was spreading false conspiracy theories of its own. The great master of the genre was Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who blamed the Yalta accords, the Soviet hydrogen bomb, and the Communist takeover of China on “Reds” inside America. Indeed, McCarthy charged, the so-called fall of China reflected “a conspiracy so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.”

Yes, a small handful of duplicitous Americans passed atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. But the idea of a vast Communist conspiracy within the United States was itself a lie, hatched by McCarthy and others to whip Americans into a frenzy of fear.

To combat accusations of his own conspiratorial activities, meanwhile, Nixon spread false conspiracies about his predecessors. One Nixon aide faked a cable implicating John F. Kennedy in the murder of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, then leaked it to the press.

In the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, finally, the George W. Bush administration invented a conspiracy between the hijackers and Saddam Hussein. Just hours after the attacks Bush instructed counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke to investigate Saddam’s role in them, turning aside Clarke’s protests that “al Qaeda did this.” Then Vice President Dick Cheney went on television to declare that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague several months before the attack, even though FBI agents found records indicating that Atta was in the United States around that time.

No wonder that over one-third of surveyed Americans in 2006 said that the Bush administration had either planned the 9/11 attacks or knew about them beforehand and did nothing to stop them. And after so many years of government conspiracies, real and invented, no one should be surprised when Americans announce that Ebola, too, is a plot by their government.

Let’s be clear: There is no evidence whatsoever for the claims about President Obama spreading Ebola. The people who spread these lies are reprehensible demagogues, and we should do everything that we can to expose them as such.

But we should also keep challenging government secrecy and duplicity, which provide a fertile ground for conspiracy theorists of every stripe. After last year’s revelations that the government was secretly collecting phone records of millions of Americans, whether they were suspected of a crime or not, many Americans got a bit more suspicious of their government. Didn’t you?

When the government creates conspiracies, it encourages the rest of us to do the same. But if it’s transparent, we’re more likely to trust it.

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory and three other books.

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Watergate’s most lasting sin: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and the pardon that made us all cynics

Rick Perlstein

Salon.com   September 8, 2014

Ronald Reagan, left, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, far right, pose with George Bush in the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in 1990. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) (Credit: Associated Press)

Ronald Reagan, left, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, far right, pose with George Bush in the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in 1990. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) (Credit: Associated Press)

When you’ve published a book about Watergate, your phone rings off the hook in the days leading up to Aug. 9, 2014, the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation. But my phone’s been quiet this week — even though the event that took place almost exactly one month later, on Sept. 8, 1974, is the one that really changed the world. It’s still changing the world 40 years later.

Gerald Ford had announced upon acceding to the highest office in the land, “Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not men. Here the people rule.” For the sentiment, he reaped a harvest of gratitude. The very existence of this new presidency, everyone said, proved that “the system worked.”

Then, four Sundays later, 11:05 a.m., when many Americans would have, like Ford, just returned from church — in the mood, he hoped, for mercy — Ford proceeded to read, then sign, a proclamation announcing that pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, he was granting “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20 through August 9, 1974.”

It was an enormously unpopular act. Ford’s approval rating declined from 71 to 49 percent, the most precipitous in history. This pardon was proof, the people said, that the system didn’t work — America was still crooked. Suspicions were widespread that it was the fruit of a dirty deal between Nixon and Ford: the presidency in exchange for the pardon. “The son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch,” was how Carl Bernstein broke the news Bob Woodward on the phone.

Since then, judgment on the pardon has reversed 180 degrees. First Woodward, then Bernstein, came to conclude there had been no deal, and that this was instead an extraordinarily noble act: Ford “realized intuitively that the country had to get beyond Nixon.” After Ford died in 2006, Peggy Noonan went even further. She said Ford “threw himself on a grenade to protect the country from shame.”

They’re wrong. For political elites took away a dangerous lesson from the Ford pardon — our true shame: All it takes is the incantation of magic words like “stability” and “confidence” and “consensus” in order to inure yourself from accountability for just about any malfeasance

In 1975 the Senate and House empaneled committees to investigate the CIA, FBI and, later, the NSA after it was discovered these agencies had operated unethically and illegally. The House committee, under Rep. Otis Pike, who died last year in obscurity, discovered not merely that the CIA was out of control, but that it was incompetent — for instance, predicting Mideast peace the week before the Yom Kippur War broke out. Frank Church’s Senate committee, meanwhile, proved the NSA was illegally gathering the telegraph traffic of American citizens, without even top executives of the telegraph companies being aware of it.

But, in the spirit of the Nixon pardon, the idea of holding elite institutions to reckoning had fallen out of favor. At the height of the intelligence investigations Washington Post’s publisher Katharine Graham complained of the media’s tendency to “see a conspiracy and cover-up in everything.” Sen. J. William Fulbright said “these are not the kind of truths we need most right now,” that the nation demanded “restored stability and confidence” instead. The CIA had no trouble promptly drumming up a disingenuous propaganda campaign that all but neutered reform. And, 39 years later, these institutions are still largely broken, and still almost entirely unaccountable.

Follow the thread a little more than a decade later. Ronald Reagan’s administration contravened law and its own solemn pledges by selling hundreds of thousands of missiles to Iran in an attempt to free hostages held in Lebanon. The president’s own diaries revealed that he approved the action; he lied about that in a press conference. The deal didn’t even work; Hezbollah just took more hostages. Then profits were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras in direct violation of congressional statute. But instead of a Watergate-style Senate investigation (the one in 1973 heard witnesses live on TV for over five months and produced 26 volumes of reports), Iran-Contra was investigated by a panel convened by Reagan himself and led by a political ally, Sen. John Tower; at subsequent congressional hearings, deliberately limited in scope, the star witness, Oliver North, testifying under immunity, bragged of destroying thousands of pages of evidence.

Six administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, were indicted by a special prosecutor. But one month before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush — who did not testify in congressional hearings about his own involvement in the affair as vice president, because the Democratic chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, wished to spare him embarrassment — pardoned them all.

Just like 40 years ago today, a longing for consensus over messy conflict, for elite comity instead of accountability, “stability and confidence” instead of justice, trumped all.

Meanwhile, the congressional minority report on Iran-Contra, drafted by then-Rep. Richard Cheney, all but rejected the very notion of congressional oversight over the executive branch — and Cheney, as George W. Bush’s vice president, literally took Iran-Contra as the subject for a “lessons learned” workshop on how to put such a foreign policy into practice.

Note, of course, that Cheney had once been top deputy in Gerald Ford’s White House. The Nixon pardon had to have been a lesson learned for him, too — future administrations would let the Bush administration get away with things like illegally spying on Americans, and starting a war on false pretenses, scot-free. And he was right: Following his 2008 election, President Obama announced “that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward.”

Comity over accountability. Denialism instead of risking national “shame.” In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library awarded Ford its Profile in Courage award for the pardon decision. But the idea that “too big to fail” institutions are too fragile to handle honest reckoning with the truth is not courage. It is civic cowardice. Better, much better, that we keep the faith: that our Constitution can work, that our great republic is a government of laws and not men, and that here, the people rule.

Rick Perlstein is the author of “The Invisible Bridge,” “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” and “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus”

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