Sunday, 04 May 2014 16:25

Robert Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World

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Taken as a whole, this is a valuable book. When coupled with Muehlenbeck's Betting on the Africans, much needed light has now been cast over the specifics of Kennedy's dealings with the Third World: how these broke with the past, and how LBJ and Nixon then returned them to their previous state, writes Jim DiEugenio.

The historiography of the presidency of John F. Kennedy has taken a notable curve over the five decades since his passing. In the wake of his assassination, from about 1965 to 1973, there were a number of books published from former members of his White House staff. For example Ted Sorenson's Kennedy and Arthur Schlesinger's A Thousand Days were released in 1965. Pierre Salinger published With Kennedy in 1966. Ken O'Donnell and Dave Powers published Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye in 1973. These books all had value, and still are useful books. But the problem with them as history is that they are not, in the best sense, scholarly works. By and large they are memoirs. None of them have bibliographies in any sense. And none of them, except Schlesinger's book is annotated – and even that is very sparse. Consequently, if one wanted to pen a book – for whatever reason – that was anti-Kennedy, one could dismiss these works as being non-objective books which, because of their personal ties to the president, paint a one-sided view of the man.

Well, the anti-Kennedy movement did come. And with a vengeance. As I noted in my essay, The Posthumous Assassination of John F. Kennedy, it began right after the revelations of the Church Committee. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pgs. 324-73) That committee implicated Dwight Eisenhower and Allen Dulles in at least one attempted assassination plot of a foreign leader. But it could not do the same with President Kennedy. Although it did produce plenty of evidence that the CIA on its own, and with help from the Mafia, did try and kill Fidel Castro.

As a reaction to this verdict, which was perceived by many on the right to be partisan – even though it was partly based on the CIA's own Inspector General Report – there began to be an effort to reverse the image of Kennedy portrayed in these previous insider books. And also an attempt to reverse the verdict of the Church Committee: that somehow Kennedy was actually involved in assassination plots. In that essay, I mentioned four books published from 1976 onward in this vein. The first was The Search for JFK by Joan and Clay Blair and in 1984, the late John Davis published The Kennedys: Dynasty and Disaster. The Blair book concentrated on Kennedy from his youth until he decided to run for congress. The Davis book went into his presidency, and used an array of questionable witnesses and twisted testimony to implicate him in the Castro plots. Also in 1984, those reformed leftists Davis Horowitz and Peter Collier published an equally lopsided and untrustworthy volume called The Kennedys: An American Drama. Collier and Horowitz used people like Tim Leary and Priscilla Johnson to portray Kennedy as nothing more than an empty headed playboy upon his arrival in the White House.

In 1991, Thomas Reeves published A Question of Character, the worst of the four. Reeves did almost no original research. He just crammed as much of the anti-Kennedy literature he could between the covers of his book. Even though he was a Ph. D. in history, he used some of the most specious sources one could imagine, for example John Davis on the Castro plots and Kitty Kelley and People Weekly on the likes of Judith Exner. As I pointed out in my essay, Reeves had an agenda. And the agenda did not include writing good history. Because I exposed why any real historian, if he was looking, should have seen through the falsities in both Davis and Exner. Reeves was not looking.

But already in 1983 there had begun to be a twist in the curve. Richard Mahoney published his landmark book JFK: Ordeal in Africa. This book could not be dismissed as an insider memoir because Mahoney had spent about a year at the Kennedy Library going through all they had on the immense Congo crisis. He then produced a book that told us more about the origins and design of Kennedy's foreign policy than any previous tome. Then in 1991, UCLA historian Irving Bernstein published Promises Kept, a reassessment of President Kennedy's domestic policies dealing primarily with the economy and civil rights. In 1992, John Newman published JFK and Vietnam, which was the most detailed and convincing book written to that time – and perhaps since – on Kennedy's intent to withdraw from Vietnam. In 1994, Professor Donald Gibson published Battling Wall Street, a volume dedicated almost exclusively to an examination of Kennedy's economic policies at home and abroad, e.g. The Alliance for Progress.

The impact of these four books was considerable. They began to turn the tide. Because, unlike the earlier books, these works were scholarly in approach and tone. They were filled with footnotes and sources and therefore could not be easily dismissed. And much of the footnoting was to primary sources, which had just recently been declassified. In the light of this impact, other authors now began to mine this field. One which authors like Davis, Reeves and Sy Hersh had done all they could to muddy the waters about. We therefore got valuable work on the Kennedy presidency by authors like David Kaiser, Jim Douglass, James Blight, David Talbot and Gordon Goldstein. By and large, what these books prove is that the first wave of authors, if scanty in their sourcing, were correct in their judgment. The Kennedy presidency really was a break from what had preceded it. And what came after it.

In the last two years, we have seen the arrival of two books that go even further in that regard. They deal with a rarified but important subject: Kennedy's approach to, and his dealings with the Third World. First there was Betting on the Africans by Philip Muehlenbeck. This was an acute and comprehensive look at Kennedy's foreign policy in Africa. That book is now out in paperback and it is well worth purchasing. (See my review)

After Muehlenbeck's work, we now have Robert Rakove's book on a similar subject. It is entitled Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World. The Rakove book is a good complement to Muehlenbeck's for two reasons. First, although the book does not deal as extensively with Africa as Muehlenbeck, Rakove does deal with other countries outside of Africa e.g. India, and Indonesia. Secondly, Rakove goes into events well beyond Kennedy's death, which helped reverse his Third World policies, e.g. Nixon's famous Bohemian Grove speech of 1967.


Rakove begins his book on November 23, 1963. Depicting a state of official mourning in Cairo, he quotes Anwar El Sadat as saying Kennedy was the first American president who understood the Afro-Asian world. He then shifts the scene to India. There, Nehru addressed a special session of congress. He said that with Kennedy's murder, a crime against humanity had been enacted. Not just against the American people but also, because of Kennedy's sweeping and humane vision of the world, the crime had been committed against all mankind. In Jakarta, Sukarno delivered a heartfelt eulogy and ordered all flags lowered to half-mast.

Rakove then gets to the point of his book. He notes that just one year later, angry mobs attacked the American libraries in both Egypt and Indonesia. And President Johnson was maligned in no uncertain terms by all three leaders. Three years after that, Gamal Abdul Nasser, the charismatic leader of Egypt actually severed relations with the United States over Johnson's break with Kennedy's policy in the Middle East, which clearly favored Israel in the Six-Day War. These personal attacks in Africa and Asia were to become a recurrent event as time went on. Culminating, of course, with the physical attacks on the USA in September of 2001.

Rakove notes that, as an historical marker, the non-aligned movement began in 1955. This was the group of Third World countries who did not want to commit to either the east or west, and therefore become pawns in the Cold War. The man given credit for the first organizational meeting was Achmed Sukarno. His foreign minister organized that meeting, and it was held in Bandung, Indonesia.

One reason Sukarno did this was because neither he, nor many other Third World leaders, had any trust in Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. (Rakove, p. 3) These leaders looked askance at Dulles' penchant of ringing the USSR with American inspired regional alliances to stop the spread of communism. Nehru called this "a wrong approach, a dangerous approach, and a harmful approach." (ibid, p. 5) Dulles' Manichean view of the world inevitably created conflicts in three areas: 1.) the Middle East 2.) Southeast Asia, and 3.) sub-Sahara Africa. For instance, Nasser clearly objected to the creation of the Bagdad Pact in 1955, which included Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and the United Kingdom. (p. 6) Dulles' State Department was so much enamored of the "with us or against us" Cold War mentality that it labeled the growth of the non-aligned movement as "one of the most dangerous political trends of the fifties." (ibid, p. 6) In fact, Dulles even contemplated staging a shadow Bandung Conference with conservative, sympathetic American allied nations at the conference. (p. 9) In fact, at a speech in Iowa in 1956, Dulles actually spoke aloud about the false pretense of a nation pretending to be neutral. In fact, he said his alliance system had eliminated that possibility. So much for the idea of a non-aligned country steering clear of the Cold War. (p. 10) Dulles was so reviled in the non-aligned world that, after he died, he became known as the man who made their foreign policy immoral.

Like Muehlenbeck, Rakove begins with some choices made by Eisenhower and Dulles that clearly connote that they were not for the revolution in nationalism that was taking place in Africa and Asia at the time. Quite aptly, Rakove mentions Dulles pulling out of the Aswan Dam deal in Egypt and making Nasser go to the Russians for financing of the project. In the dispute between India and Portugal over the Indian Goa exclaves, the administration seemed to favor Portugal. (p. 14) And in Indonesia, Dulles tended to ignore the dispute between the Netherlands and Sukarno over the valuable island territory of West Irian. In fact, privately he was opposed to turning over the territory to Indonesia, and twice he refused to commandeer negotiations between the two countries. (p. 15) Rakove then describes how when Sukarno seemed to get too close to the Soviets, the Dulles brothers began to plan a coup against him.

In continuing his summary of the Eisenhower-Dulles policy in the Third World, Rakove states that in Southeast Asia, Eisenhower wanted to assume control over the fallen French Empire in Indochina. (p. 16) Rakove adds that John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, the CIA Director, were also opposed to neutral governments in Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

Turning to Africa, Rakove states that Eisenhower had not even set up a State Department section dealing with African affairs until 1958. In a revealing aside, he writes that, before that time, African policy was run out of the European Bureau. (p. 18) Dulles was quite explicit about how wealthy certain areas of Africa were in mineral resources. He then added that the West would be in serious trouble if Africa were lost to the Free World.

Like Muehlenbeck, Rakove notes that when France ostensibly left Africa, DeGaulle tried to keep as much control and influence as he could over Francophone Africa. Only Sekou Toure of Guinea did not accept DeGaulle's terms for aid in order to stay part of what was in essence a commonwealth. Therefore, France tried to isolate his country. Dulles went along with this by not recognizing its independence at first. (p. 19) He did later only when communist countries agreed to aid the country.


From here, Rakove now segues into the giant Congo crisis. As I have said several times, no author I know of did a better job of describing that struggle and America's role in it than Richard Mahoney in his classic JFK: Ordeal in Africa. At this stage of his book, Rakove gives us a decent enough precis of that titanic struggle, up to the murder of Patrice Lumumba. He uses this as a mirror to show how angry most of the African leaders of the time were about, as with France, Belgium's duplicity in announcing a withdrawal, but using that withdrawal to keep control of their former colony by other imperial means instead of direct colonization. Rakove writes that whatever Eisenhower and Dulles said in public about being neutral in the Congo struggle, their actions clearly betrayed their siding with Belgium against revolutionary leader Patrice Lumumba. (p. 21) Two other examples of this favoritism toward colonialism were the CIA's role in the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953, and the attempt to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia. In these three cases, Eisenhower and Dulles clearly sided with regressive forces as opposed to the nationalists who wanted to be independent.

In the face of all this, and also the USA's intervention in Lebanon in 1958, the USSR now began to make headway in the Third World. Rakove draws the above as background to what he is about to detail as a not so quiet revolution in foreign policy by President Kennedy. The word he will use to describe it is "engagement".

In fact, Rakove begins the second chapter of his book with a promise by president-elect John F. Kennedy. This promise made explicit that JFK was going to break with the Eisenhower/Dulles vision of the Third World. Kennedy said that he would not support substituting a new kind of tyranny for the former shackles of colonialism. But further he said he would not expect these new states to support America's view of the world in each and every instance; but he would expect them to support their own freedom. (p. 29) These comments, in direct opposition to what Dulles had stated, set the tone for the split that will now come from Kennedy versus Eisenhower and Dulles. To show just how big a divide Kennedy would launch, Rakove notes that, even Adlai Stevenson, the liberal icon of the Democratic Party, called Kennedy's memorable 1957 speech on the French/Algerian civil war "a great mistake". (p. 32) But today, this speech is seen as the baseline for JFK's beliefs about colonial conflict and the state of the emerging Third World. And it was these beliefs that would now be set into action by what Rakove calls the policy of engagement. A revolutionary policy that the author says academia has not really recognized.

Rakove points out India as an example of a key state in the non-aligned world. Kennedy thought he could use India as a broker state to communicate with other non-aligned nations from Casablanca to Jakarta. Kennedy felt this way at least since 1958. For at that time, with Sen. John Sherman Cooper – a former ambassador to India – he co-sponsored the Kennedy-Cooper resolution, which featured expanded aid to India. (p. 33) But in addition to India, upon his inauguration, Kennedy wanted to develop better relations with both Nasser of Egypt and Sukarno of Indonesia.

The author now goes into the reason d'etre for engagement. Kennedy felt that the "get tough" attitude that Foster Dulles had displayed with these countries had been, quite often, counter-productive. To the point where it had provided openings for the Soviets or Chinese to gain a competitive advantage. (p. 40)

Rakove then makes an interesting distinction in the different attitudes toward engagement in the Kennedy administration. He points out one group of policy-makers who he calls idealists, that is men who acted as they did out of sheer fairness and charity over past Western crimes in the Third World. Rakove includes here Chester Bowles, African supervisor Mennen Williams and John K. Galbraith. Then he delineates a second group of men who he calls realists. These are policy-makers who acted as they did more out of a pragmatic view of the world. That is, if the USA repeated the excesses of Dulles/Eisenhower, then the USSR and China would make more inroads in the Third World. Rakove lists in this group Walt Rostow, George Ball and NSC staffer Robert Komer.

At this point, the author notes the central case of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and his relations with first Kennedy and then Johnson. (p. 52) Rakove writes that Kennedy and Rusk only had the barest of formal relationships. For instance, JFK often called him "Mr. Secretary". There was none of the personal bonding between the two that Kennedy had with say Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Galbraith or even George Ball. And, as others have noted, Rusk very likely would have been replaced in a second Kennedy term. He contrasts this with the warmer relations that Rusk had with Lyndon Johnson, who decided to keep Rusk on throughout his presidency. And unlike Ball, McNamara and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. Rusk endured the entire build up of forces in South Vietnam, something Kennedy almost certainly would not have done. But Rakove also notes, Rusk was a key reason that Kennedy's policy of engagement wavered and then died under President Johnson. For in Kennedy's outreach to the Third World, Rusk was only following orders. He had no internal beliefs in the policy to parallel Kennedy's. Therefore, when Johnson eventually dropped engagement, Rusk offered no real resistance.

But to further delineate what happened after Kennedy's murder, Rakove outlines the working relationship between Foster Dulles and Johnson in the fifties. As Senate Majority Leader, LBJ had a close working relationship with the former Secretary of State. In fact, when Dulles was in the hospital dying of cancer, Johnson had sent him flowers and Dulles thanked Johnson for his many kindnesses and concern for his condition. (p. 55)

In addition to this, Rakove notes – as many others have – that Kennedy's management style differed from Johnson's. Kennedy encouraged open debate and the exchange of contrary ideas. To put it mildly, Johnson did not. Therefore, in relation to the non-aligned world, Kennedy's successor tended to ignore the input of Williams, Bowles and Stevenson. (p. 58) For instance, when Stevenson once tried to advise Johnson on his China policy, LBJ told him that is not what he was paid for. That was what Rusk was paid for. (p. 59) It was this difference in style, plus Johnson's view of foreign aid as granting America rights of return on investment, plus the soaring escalation in Vietnam, which eventually managed to kill Kennedy's engagement policy


Rakove traces the beginnings of the formal engagement policy to a State Department paper issued in May of 1961. This paper recommended cooperation with neutralist countries, and also the necessity of countering Nikita Khrushchev's January, 1961 appeal of Russian aid for wars of national liberation. (p. 166) Also, Kennedy drafted a message supporting the 1961 Belgrade Conference of non-aligned nations. This contrasts with Dulles' strategy, which contemplated staging a rival conference of American-friendly states. (p. 76) After the Belgrade Conference, Kennedy began to direct attention to non-aligned states through the appointment of active and knowledgeable ambassadors like Galbraith in India and John Badeau in Egypt. (p. 83) Some of these men, like Galbraith, were personal friends of JFK.

In May of 1961, Kennedy sent a letter to the leaders of the Arab world asking for their help in seeking a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. (p. 85) Almost every reply was belligerent, especially that of Saudi Arabia. The exception was the one by Nasser of Egypt. Kennedy used that reply to begin a correspondence with the pan Arab leader. This friendship managed to tone down Nasser's anti-American and anti-Israeli invective while JFK was president. Kennedy also began to use foreign aid, especially food aid packages, to nations like Egypt, India and Indonesia in order to further relationships in the non-aligned world.

But beyond these matters, it was Kennedy's policies in places like Congo, Portuguese Africa, and West Irian that really brought him the appreciation and sympathy of the leaders of the non-aligned nations. These actions symbolized a clean break from the "with us or against us" attitude of John Foster Dulles. And it therefore acknowledged the desire of the non-aligned countries to go their own way with confidence. Knowing that the new president would understand that independence from Washington's dictates did not mean automatic alliance with the USSR. In fact, in some cases, as with William Attwood's posting to Guinea, Kennedy's policies either lessened or even negated growing relationships in the Third World with the USSR. (pgs. 89-91)

By 1963, with Kennedy's help to India during a Chinese incursion, Rakove says engagement was at its apogee. (p. 92) Especially in the wake of the Russian attempt to make Cuba a forward base for its atomic weapons. But according to the author, in 1963, the policy effectiveness began to wind down. Rakove's opinion on this is that with Kennedy occupied with the big issues of Berlin, Vietnam and Cuba, a dispute broke out that was actually three sided. It was between the previously noted idealist faction, the realist faction, and on the third side Dean Rusk. Who, according to Rakove, never really had his heart in the policy. (pgs. 95-96)

But there were also external forces at work. As Rakove says, by 1963, the White House was getting it from both sides on this issue. From the Europeans for siding with the Third World, and from the non-aligned countries for not making anti-colonialism a clearly demarcated American policy. Concerning the former, both England and France advised Kennedy not to join in the UN military solution to the Congo crisis. (p. 104) JFK did so anyway. On the other side, India wondered why the USA did not formally back its military attempt to expel Portugal from Goa. Actually, the American ambassador tried to talk Nehru out of taking military action there. And, in fact, Adlai Stevenson opposed the Indian action in the United Nations. (pgs. 109-110)

Rakove now points out a third element that began to slow down the policy of engagement. Because Kennedy's policy was now so out there, that it began to attract opposition from congress. Even from so-called liberal Democrats like Stuart Symington. (p. 110) And finally, struggles like the Congo and the West Irian dispute in Indonesia were so difficult and drawn out that they sapped the energy and the will of the White House to do more. The West Irian dispute necessitated Kennedy sending his brother Robert to The Hague for personal diplomacy with the colonialists.

According to the author, these factors set the stage for the eclipse of the engagement policy in 1964, under the stewardship of Johnson and Rusk.


To Rakove, a key point in the collapse of engagement was the change in policy under LBJ in Congo. (p. 128) After the death of Dag Hammarskjold, and under the influence of ambassador Edmund Gullion, Kennedy had gotten personally involved in leading the effort to keep the Congo intact. Thereby stopping the European attempt to split off the rich Katanga province and precluding a replacement of colonialism by European imperialism. The high point of this policy was Kennedy's backing of a UN military mission in 1963 to prevent the succession of Katanga by Moise Tshombe. But in the fall of 1963, a leftist rebellion against Kennedy's chosen successor to Lumumba, labor leader and Lumumba colleague, Cyrille Adoula, began in Stanleyville. Kennedy wanted to use special forces commandoes under the leadership of Colonel Michael Greene to train Adoula's army, the ANC. But after Kennedy's murder, this whole situation went completely awry.

The Pentagon did not want to back Adoula. They favored army chief Joseph Mobutu, a staunch anti-communist who was much friendlier with the Europeans than Lumumba or Adoula. They deliberately stalled Greene while Kennedy was alive. After his death, the hardliners at the Pentagon now took over. Exhausted and sensing a power shift after Kennedy's death, Adoula resigned in July of 1964. President Kasavubu appointed Moise Tshombe in his place. (p. 128) Tshombe pulled out all the stops in putting down the Stanleyville rebellion. Including bringing in mercenaries from the whites controlled state of Rhodesia. When leftists kidnapped Belgians citizens and American diplomats, Johnson now reversed Kennedy's policy and sided with Belgium. American aircraft flown by CIA backed Cuban exiles now begin a massive air bombardment around Stanleyville. This led to a firestorm of criticism from the non-aligned states in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. (p. 130) Which is why Rakove calls the Stanleyville operation a milestone in the turning around of America's image in the Third World from Kennedy to Johnson and then Nixon. In fact, Rakove notes that the Stanleyville incursion sparked even more criticism of the USA than did the death of Lumumba. As Rakove notes, with the retaliation by Johnson over the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the United States was now seen by many of the non-aligned countries as becoming an imperial power. (p. 134)

Which leads to another distinction between Johnson and Kennedy. Kennedy risked relations with Europe in order to correct injustices in the Third World. And at times, he refused to go along with European allies on matters of principle outside colonial disputes e.g. the Skybolt affair with England, his refusal to give atomic weapons to Bonn. Johnson had little patience or appetite for these kinds of disputes. He was very conscious of the age-old American alliance with the United Kingdom.(p. 136) And in fact, very soon after the transition, Komer saw that LBJ would not be as sympathetic to the Third World as JFK was. For instance, Kennedy had always treated Nkrumah with respect. But now LBJ began to favor the more conservative African states who considered Nkrumah wild and unpredictable, or even worse. (p. 144) Nkrumah understood what was happening and he began to turn on the Europeans, for example, the British.

The same thing happened between Johnson and Sukarno. Sukarno was against the formation of the British union of Malaysia. This included the countries of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. England needed the USA to stop supporting Sukarno in order to establish Malaysia. It was created in September of 1963. England brought much pressure on JFK to back Malaysia and ignore Sukarno's protests. (p. 148) In fact, when Sukarno sent one of his top generals to visit Kennedy that fall, Kennedy was set to tell him that he still backed Sukarno and considered the Malaysia dispute only a temporary diversion. (p. 149) But General Nasution arrived not to meet Kennedy, but as Sukarno's emissary to his funeral. But during their meeting, LBJ told Nasution he would continue Kennedy's policies in regards to Indonesia.

As Rakove points out, in light of what was about to happen, it is hard to believe that Johnson was doing anything but dissimulating with Nasution. For Johnson did not sign the aid bill that Kennedy was about to sign, which was still on the president's desk. He now began to freeze out Sukarno and termed him a bully in private. And since Johnson favored England in the Malaysia dispute, he felt that if he talked to Sukarno it would show a sign of weakness. (p. 149) This played into the hands of the anti-Sukarno lobby in congress, which was growing fast. Kennedy had a state visit to Indonesia scheduled at the time of his death. Johnson never fulfilled that promise and never invited Sukarno to Washington. As Rakove notes, one reason LBJ changed Kennedy's policy was in response to growing conflicts in Vietnam. He perceived Sukarno as too far left and to beholden to the PKI, the communist party in Indonesia. Kennedy's attitude in this regard was the contrary. He was not afraid of Sukarno's backing because he knew he was primarily a nationalist. But further if America froze Sukarno out, this would gravitate him to the communists.

Which is what happened. Sukarno was now driven into the arms of the Chinese. And the USSR now sold MIG-21's to Sukarno. Sukarno now recognized North Vietnam, and condemned growing aid by Johnson to Saigon. By late 1964, Sukarno was in an open alliance with Bejing. (p. 151)

The same pattern occurred in Egypt. Three factors were at work that ended up poisoning the constructive work Kennedy had done with Nasser. First, Johnson was much more openly sympathetic to Israel than Kennedy was in the Israeli-Arab dispute. Second, unlike JFK, Johnson leaned toward the more conservative Arab states in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran. Third, LBJ was not sympathetic toward Nasser's ambition to lead the non-aligned movement. (p. 150) As Rakove points out, Kennedy's moves toward friendly relations with Nasser were looked upon with a jaundiced eye by Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In the civil war in Yemen, Kennedy took Nasser's side with the nationalist rebels versus the monarchy. He even tried to mediate the dispute. But England now openly sided with the monarchists and began to refer to Nasser as an Arab Hitler. (p. 156)

By 1964, Nasser decided that the United States was about to shift policy in the Middle East in favor of Israel. (p. 159) In anticipation of this, he decided to warm up to the Russians and invited Nikita Khrushchev to visit. His growing violent rhetoric inspired students to attack the US Embassy in Cairo. And seeing where the United States was headed in Congo, he demanded all American influence out of that country.

Finally, Rakove deals with the India/Pakistan dispute. Most commentators would say that Kennedy favored India. And again, the British did not like the fact that he did so. (p. 165) Now Johnson again began to reverse Kennedy's policy in the area toward Pakistan. Predictably, India now began to buy arms from the Soviets.

As Rakove writes, by 1964, the image of the USA abroad was literally in flames. US libraries in Cairo and Jakarta were burned. That is how fast the perception circulated that Johnson was breaking with Kennedy.


As the author notes, Kennedy was very active in extending aid packages to Third World countries. Some of these programs he initiated, some he used to a unique and unprecedented degree: Alliance for Progress, Food for Peace, the Peace Corps. There were two views of foreign aid. One view said it should be used to help the economies of the undeveloped world grow and prosper. Therefore, if expensive, large-scale programs were necessary, Kennedy should go to congress and ask for the money. Which he did.

The second view of foreign aid was that it was really more like an insurance policy. If the USA gave someone aid, we expected loyalty back. The battle over these two views gained momentum as Kennedy took more and more risks with his engagement policy. (p. 180) As conflicts grew in places like Congo, Goa, Yemen, and Malaysia, Kennedy's opponents began to make the argument that the lowering of foreign aid should be a way of punishing non aligned countries who would not heed Washington's wishes. And the fact that Kennedy even extended aid to Tito of Yugoslavia, who was part of the Communist Bloc, made his program more vulnerable. (p. 182)

Again, men in his own party now challenged Kennedy. For instance, Democratic senator Bill Proxmire wanted to ban all foreign aid to communist countries. Stuart Symington opposed aid to India for construction of a steel mill. He cited the words of the Shah of Iran, a Kennedy nemesis, "No country could afford to stay neutral in the Cold War." (p. 184) Ernest Gruening opposed aid to Nasser. (p. 189) So in his last year, Kennedy's request for a large foreign aid package of nearly 5 billion was gradually whittled down while he was alive to about 4 billion. But when Johnson took office, it drooped even more, down to 3 billion. (p. 190) Simply because Johnson looked at the program through the second lens, as a way of rewarding friends and punishing perceived enemies. And then after this, Johnson never made the high requests for foreign aid that JFK did. As a result of this change in policy, the USA has little leverage in places like Egypt and Indonesia. And Rakove notes that by 1966, the whole Kennedy experiment with engagement was finished. Even Pakistan had moved closer to China, and India to the USSR. And as the Vietnam War now began to spin out of control, and non-aligned countries began to criticize the bombing program, Johnson began to cut even more aid programs to his critics. In fact, some countries now swore off any US aid e.g. Egypt and India. (p. 207-08) In fact Johnson actually created the Perkins Committee on foreign aid to explicitly recommend aid for political ends. (p. 212)

Near the end of the book, Rakove tries to find specific reasons for the cessation of engagement. He goes overboard when he says that the White House encouraged the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. As both John Newman, and Jim Douglass have shown, the overthrow of Diem was a plot manufactured by a cabal in the State Department made up of Averill Harriman, Roger Hilsman and Mike Forrestal. They were aided and abetted in Vietnam by Henry Cabot Lodge and Lucien Conein. (See John Newman's JFK and Vietnam, pgs. 345-56; James W. Douglass' JFK and the Unspeakable pgs. 163-167)

Rakove gets more realistic when he writes that Johnson was never as interested in Third Word problems as Kennedy was. (p. 217) Some, like Komer, tried to tell Johnson what was at stake if Kennedy's policy was not upheld and continued after his death. But it was no use. Johnson did not continue with state visits at the pace Kennedy had. He did not exchange correspondence as Kennedy did. And he did not have nearly the personal charm or warmth towards these leaders that Kennedy did. As Rakove writes, "LBJ lacked Kennedy's intellectual interest in decolonization and his advisors had lost some of their enthusiasm for presidential diplomacy." (p. 218) As the author notes, Johnson never met with any African non-aligned head of state. In fact, the new president began to meet with representatives of countries who were opposed to the non-aligned world, like Israel and Malaysia. And as the policy changed, Kennedy's handpicked ambassadors now left their posts, like John Badeau in Egypt. And now the White House tried to actually discourage certain countries from attending the non-aligned meetings. (p. 221)

Then as three non aligned leaders were disposed of by coups – Ben Bella in Algeria, Sukarno in Indonesia, and Nkrumah in Ghana – Johnson looks at these as bad men getting their comeuppance. Rakove argues that these events encouraged Johnson to escalate even further in Vietnam. (I must point out another point of contention with the author. He argues that the great Indonesia overthrow of 1965 was completely internal. Many others disagree and believe Western intelligence has a role in it beforehand, since it was accurately predicted a year in advance.) And as Johnson senselessly escalated in Southeast Asia, the no aligned leaders now vilified him even more. Which, in turn, made Johnson cut off even more aid programs, which worsened relations. (p. 243)

In fact, the whole relationship with Egypt collapsed in 1966. Johnson had sold more and more arms to Israel in 1965 and 1966. (p. 246) And Johnson also favored the monarchy in Saudi Arabia over Nasser. When Israeli jets bombed the Egyptian Air Force on June 5, 1967, within 24 hours, Nasser broke relations with the USA. (p. 247) They would stay broken for six years. Two things now happened in the non-aligned movement. It became more Soviet backed. And also more of the members explicitly criticized Johnson's support for Israel over the Arabs. But further, Johnson did next to nothing to try and get Portugal to dispose of her African colonies. Which was another reversal of Kennedy's policy.

As Rakove points out, Johnson's lack of respect and interest for the Third World continued under Richard Nixon. In a famous speech Nixon gave at eh Bohemian Grove in 1967, Nixon recommended only giving aid to nations allied to America, and noting the rioting against America abroad, he looked askance at Kennedy's engagement policy and what it had achieved. (pgs. 253-55)

Near the end, Rakove maps out three turning points which turned around the engagement policy. These were the Stanleyville operation in Congo, Rolling Thunder in Vietnam, and Johnsons' support for Israel during the Six Day War. (p. 256) But he says the main factor was probably not one of specifics. But it was the difference between the two men, Kennedy and Johnson.

Overall, this is an intelligent and worthy book on Kennedy's revolutionary foreign policy. I have made a couple of criticisms , and I could add one more. Rakove writes that Johnson committed to Vietnam because Kennedy had. Which ignores the fact that Kennedy was withdrawing from Vietnam in 1963 and Johnson knew that and explicitly disagreed with that policy and therefore reversed it. But again, taken as a whole, this is a valuable book. When coupled with Muehlenbeck's Betting on the Africans, much needed light has now been cast over the specifics of Kennedy's dealings with the Third World. How these broke with the past, and how LBJ and Nixon then returned them to their previous state. Which made our relations in the undeveloped world much less humane. Or as Bobby Kennedy called it, America had now lost what it should always maintain, "A decent respect for the opinions of Mankind"

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:26
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and Reclaiming Parkland (2013/2016), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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