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Saturday, 21 November 2020 20:20

The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins

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Jim DiEugenio reviews Vincent Bevins new book The Jakarta Method by demonstrating how he fitted the facts to a pre-conceived narrative rather than fairly considering the actual facts regarding the development of the Cold War and JFK’s foreign policy.


Vincent Bevins’ book, The Jakarta Method is an ambitious volume. It essentially tries to tell the story of the Cold War, largely from its impact in what we today call the “Third World.” In his introduction, Bevins writes that he has avoided speculation entirely. (p. 7) He then adds that there is much we do not know. As we shall see, he fails to deal with some things we do know and he does not avoid speculation.

I note upfront, Bevins is not an academic, let alone an historian. He is a journalist who has been employed by the LA Times, Washington Post, and the Financial Times of London. He gives acknowledgements to several academics, including Bradley Simpson of the University of Connecticut. As we shall see—and as I will explain—that is a rather revealing statement by the author.

I

The book has no index. But I took extensive notes. Oddly—considering his subject—Bevins gives rather short shrift to the origins of the Cold War. One of the strangest things about the book is this: I could find no mention of George Kennan. Any writer dealing with the subject would have to at least make mention of the crucial importance of Kennan in how it all began. Bevins does not.

George Kennan enlisted in the American diplomatic corps out of college in 1925. He was stationed in Prague during the Anschluss and in Berlin until the American declaration of war against Germany in December of 1941. Kennan had studied the USSR and sided with the likes of former ambassador William Bullitt and State Department experts like Loy Henderson and Chip Bohlen on the subject, thereby disagreeing with Franklin Roosevelt’s former Russian ambassador Joseph Davies about the possibility of any kind of reliable alliance with Joseph Stalin against the Third Reich. Yet, as anyone who has studied the era understands, this was what Roosevelt was relying on in his pre-war strategy and his actual tactics during the conflict.

At the end of the war, Kennan was appointed deputy chief of mission in Moscow. What makes what he did there so important is that FDR had passed on in April of 1945. Davies’ influence was now weakened. In February of 1946, Kennan cabled his famous/infamous Long Telegram to Washington. It’s called that since it was well over 5,000 words in length. (Click here for more information)

Many observers consider the Long Telegram crucial in understanding what came afterwards. It provided an intellectual underpinning for the hardliners in the White House and State Department to sanction the Cold War and depict it as a life and death struggle over the fate of mankind. Whatever one thought of Kennan, he was an intelligent, well-read man who could write. So even if one disagreed with him, one had to admit he knew how to construct an argument. It was the Long Telegram and Kennan’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine the following year that set the stage for the American policy of containment against the—according to Kennan—naturally expansive Soviet Union. President Harry Truman adapted it and it governed American policy towards the USSR for the next forty years. And some would say longer.

Now, one of his implicit arguments—never formally stated, but clearly implied—is that the Cold War, and all its accompanying savagery, was somehow inevitable. That pall hangs over The Jakarta Method as thickly as it does David Halberstam’s similarly flawed—and today obsolete— book on Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest. But, if FDR and his Secretary of State Cordell Hull had stayed in power, it is highly suspect that Kennan’s Long Telegram would have carried the day. In fact, Kennan spent a large part of his later career denying that he ever meant his cable to be carried to the extremes it was taken to. (Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, pgs. 211, 229–30) The Kennan-induced hysteria led to Paul Nitze’s complete militarization of the Cold War with his 66-page document labeled NSC 68, presented to Truman in 1950. Nitze was not satisfied with containment. He advocated rollback. (Click here to read NSC 68)

It’s not just important to mention FDR’s cooperation with the USSR before and during the war. We should also note his plans for after the war. In a secret interview with Robert Sherwood in 1946, Anthony Eden, Churchill’s foreign minister, said that he blamed the present state of affairs on the death of Roosevelt. He spoke of Roosevelt’s subtlety and contrasted that with Truman and Winston Churchill. Eden told Sherwood that, had Roosevelt lived and maintained his health, he would have never let the Soviet/American situation deteriorate as it had. He concluded that FDR’s “death therefore was a calamity of immeasurable proportions.” (Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances, by Frank Costigliola, p. 2)

This relates directly to Bevins’ subject. For instance, FDR did not want Indochina to be returned to France after the war. He said, “The people of Indochina are entitled to something better than that.” Stalin supported Roosevelt on the decolonization issue. FDR also said, one week before his death, that once the Japanese had been cleared from the Philippines, that archipelago would be granted its independence. (Stone and Kuznick, pp. 112–13). Neither of these occurred. Winston Churchill resisted this decolonization movement. It was Truman who befriended Churchill even after he was defeated for reelection for prime minister. He then allowed Churchill to make his wildly Manichaean Iron Curtain speech in the USA in March of 1946. It came less than a year after FDR’s death. Five months later, Eden made his comments to Sherwood about the calamitous loss of Roosevelt.

When looked at in this manner, the so-called inevitability—or the ineluctable tragedy of the Cold War—is not so inevitable and not so ineluctable. With Roosevelt and Hull in power, it might not have happened. Or at least it would not have been so epochal. I could not detect that alternative in the Bevins book. In my view, any real historian would have noted it.

II

When I got to Chapters 2 and 3, I detected another historical lacuna in The Jakarta Method. This is where Bevins begins to focus on Indonesia and also the rise of the CIA as an overseas arm of American foreign policy. I got the impression that somehow Bevins thought that CIA clandestine operations officer Frank Wisner and American ambassador to Indonesia Howard Jones were more important in those two areas than the Dulles brothers and Dwight Eisenhower. This is the impression a novice would get in reading those two chapters (pp. 31–75).

Blanche Weisen Cook noted in her book, The Declassified Eisenhower, that while he was serving as president of Columbia University in New York, Dwight Eisenhower was attending a tutoring course at the Council on Foreign Relations. He concentrated on economics and how America was influencing the world through the Marshall Plan. In all likelihood it was through this process, plus his disagreement with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that Eisenhower became enamored with both covert action and the use of economic forces in order to confront communism and control nationalistic revolution in the Third World. This was much more attractive to him than risking a final and devastating war with Russia. As she wrote, “For Eisenhower, missiles represented deterrence. Yet covert operations, misinformation, nonattributable intervention were part of his active arsenal.” (Letter to the New York Times of August 2, 1981) I should also add that, in her book, the key role of C. D. Jackson as a propaganda expert was first fully revealed. It was through people like Jackson that Eisenhower made propaganda and psychological warfare a constant in countries like Poland, Hungary and Italy. (ibid)

Eisenhower actually asked at an NSC meeting in 1953 why it was not possible “to get some of the people in these downtrodden countries to like us instead of hating us.” (Stone and Kuznick, p. 258) Eisenhower never really learned how to answer that question in any practical way. As historian Philip Muehlenbeck notes in his study of African colonial liberation, from 1953 to 1960 nineteen independent states emerged on that continent. Not once did the USA ever vote against a European power over a colonial dispute at the UN. (Betting on the Africans, p. 3) Eisenhower rarely, if ever, criticized colonial rule by an ally. He would often find a reason to go golfing when a new African head of state arrived in Washington. (ibid)

His vice-president had the same lack of empathy and understanding of the Third World. Richard Nixon made his reputation in the Alger Hiss case. That case helped launch the Red Scare of the 1950’s. Therefore, a virulent strain of anti-communism now existed domestically as well as in American foreign policy. Nixon was part of both. In 1954, Nixon was the first high official to advocate for inserting American troops into Vietnam. (John Prados, Operation Vulture, E book version, Chapter 9) To say Nixon was rather condescending to the peoples of the Third World is an understatement. At an NSC meeting the vice-president claimed that “some of the peoples of Africa have been out of the trees for only about fifty years.” (Muelhenbeck, p. 6) These personal traits carried over into action. While Nixon was president, the military wanted to cut back on Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, Nixon had it renewed. (Anthony Summers, The Arrogance of Power, p. 334) Bevins covers Phoenix as part of his theme of brutalization of third world populations. (p. 267) Yet, I barely recall Nixon being mentioned in the book in relation to Indochina.

For this reviewer, there was another lacuna in the book which I also found strange. In large portion, Bevins draws the Cold War in terms of ideology. Certainly that is the way that operatives like Frank Wisner and Tracy Barnes saw it. But as one goes up the ladder the motivational funnel broadens. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, both worked for decades at the giant international law firm Sullivan and Cromwell. That firm represented sprawling corporate interests in varying fields e.g. banking, petroleum and mining. Many of these were part of either the Rockefeller or Morgan empires. Those business interests had large holdings in the Third World. As international corporate lawyers, the Dulles brothers were beholden to these interests and therefore sensitive to them. This is why Michael Parenti has said that the acronym CIA could also stand for Corporate Interests of America. The book doesn’t have a bibliography, but from scanning his notes, Bevins would have benefited in reading A Law unto Itself, a history of Sullivan and Cromwell. Concerning the CIA’s 1954 overthrow of the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala, he just says the Dulles brothers worked on Wall Street and they did some things for United Fruit. (p. 46) Later, he does supply a bit more information, but this is in his footnotes. (p. 279)

Bevins follows this pattern with Operation Ajax in 1953 in Iran, the overthrow of Mossadegh. Bevins spends all of six paragraphs on the overthrow. Considering the subject of the book, this was so skimpy as to be jarring. Bevins did not have to devote a full chapter to Iran, but to deal with this very important subject in just six paragraphs was, for me, a non-starter, because it does not do justice to the event, the people involved in it, its importance in history and therefore to the story he is telling. And that story relates to Iran, the Third World, and the United States.

III

In 1933, the Anglo-Iranian Oil company—later to become British Petroleum—was formed. It was a combination in ownership of the British government and private business, i.e. British Shell. That entity purchased a 100,000 square mile claim of land in Iran. The company then sold off 20% of it to Exxon and Mobil. The terms were a 20 year sublease expiring in 1953. (John Blair, The Control of Oil, pp. 43–44) The interests of the American ownership in the company were represented by Allen Dulles at Sullivan and Cromwell. And the Shah of Iran was a longtime acquaintance of Mr. Dulles. (Nancy Lisagor and Frank Lipsis, A Law unto Itself, p. 210)

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was the pride and joy of Winston Churchill. He looked at it as a way of supplying the great British navy with an endless supply of cheap fuel. (Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game, p. 109). The company was rather stingy in its arrangement with the Iranian government. The split between the two was 84–16% in favor of the company. There was a lot of money involved since the company was the third largest producer of crude in the world. (Stone and Kuznick, p. 258). From the time he was in the Iranian parliament, Mohammad Mosaddegh detested dealing with the British. Like another secular Arab leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, he considered them the worst colonizers on the globe. As early as 1944 he advocated nationalizing their holdings. (Dreyfuss, p. 109) This was made worse when Mosaddegh learned that the American owned Arabian American Oil Company had a 50/50 profit sharing deal with Saudi Arabia.

Shah Reza Pahlavi did not really want to be a monarch. He admired what Kemal Ataturk had done in Turkey. So he also wished to turn Iran into a republic. But the powerful set of mullahs, named the Ulema, resisted this. (Dreyfuss p. 110) They were backed by the radical fundamentalist terrorist group the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood resorted to assassination of members of the Shah’s government between 1949–51. In a very important point, completely missed by Bevins, this extremist group was backed by the British who supplied them with suitcases full of money to bribe the mullahs and to purchase followers in the Grand Bazaar of Tehran. (Dreyfuss, pp. 111–13) As Robert Dreyfuss points out in his fine book Devil’s Game, the British did not want the Middle East turned into a Pan Arab union of republics, for this would mean that they would not get the favored oil arrangements they had from the royal monarchies.

Mossadegh led the political group called the National Front. The Shah appointed him prime minister in 1951. He announced a series of progressive and democratic reforms; peasantry was banished, unemployment insurance was begun, land reform was instituted. On May 1, 1951 Mossadegh nationalized Anglo-Iranian. He wished to use the profits for the betterment of Iranians. In another key point slighted by Bevins, when Mossadegh visited Washington in 1951, Truman warned London not to attack Iran. A policy which his Secretary of State Dean Acheson was in agreement with. (Dreyfuss, p. 113; Stone and Kuznick, p. 259) Therefore, Churchill decided to wage economic war on Tehran. Mossadegh cut off diplomatic relations with London.

The British knew they needed an ally in their goal of overthrowing Mossadegh. He was being granted emergency powers because of the economic warfare. Under Truman and Acheson, the USA would not volunteer. Under the new administration, America did so. In fact, people in the CIA understood something had now changed with Iran policy. Previously, they liked Mossadegh and he was seen as a bulwark against the Tudeh, Iran’s small communist party. (William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History, p. 69) They were now going to work with the British MI-6 to displace him, and the issue was oil. (Dreyfuss, p. 115) When the CIA station chief in Tehran resisted, Allen Dulles removed him. (Stone and Kuznick, p. 260)

With his brother Allen as CIA Director, the blueprint to overthrow Mossadegh was designed in John Foster Dulles’ office in the State Department in June of 1953. (John Ranelagh, The Agency, p. 261) The idea was to get the Shah to dismiss Mossadegh, which he was reluctant to do. In August of 1953, he finally did. Then the Shah fled to Rome. Once Mossadegh was formally dismissed, the idea was to portray him as a tool of Tudeh, which Foster Dulles knew he was not. But both the New York Times and Allen Dulles said he was. (Blum, pp. 70, 75). In fact, during the entire crisis, the Russians did not try and extend aid to ease the economic embargo, even in the face of the actual overthrow. And Mossadegh did not ask for Russian aid. (Blum, p. 75) Step three was the CIA, under their ground supervisor, Kermit Roosevelt, would now enlist the British allied Muslim Brotherhood and the Ulema to raise violent demonstrations against Mossadegh. They even got some of the Brotherhood to masquerade as members of the Tudeh. Under disguise, they threw rocks at mosques and mullahs and wore placards saying they would hang the mullahs from lampposts in all major cities in Iran. (Dreyfuss, p. 117; Stone and Kuznick, p. 260) Step five was, in the face of this CIA created chaos— which weakened Mossadegh—to secretly supply the army and enlist them on their side. (Blum, p. 73) In the midst of this violent and deadly maelstrom, step 6 was now taken: the Shah was to appoint a new leader, handpicked by the CIA and Kermit Roosevelt. After a final tank battle was waged in front of his home, Mossadegh stepped down. He was first imprisoned and then placed under house arrest. His followers were jailed, many were executed. Allen Dulles, who had temporarily stationed himself in Rome, now ordered a plane to transport the Shah from Italy back to Tehran. (David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard, pp. 235–38)

I have outlined what happened in Tehran from 1951–53. I invite anyone to compare the above six paragraphs with what Bevins has written on the subject. (See pgs. 38–40). I guarantee the reader will learn more, in every way, from the above. Recall, this was the first successful overthrow of an elected government through covert action by the CIA.

The results, for the American oil companies allied with the Anglo-Iranian company, were tangible. They got an increased share of the company. (Blair, p. 46) The Shah was now the recipient of well over 100 million dollars in aid in the first year he was restored. (Stone and Kuznick, p. 260). He gratefully joined the Baghdad Pact. The Dulles brothers were quite pleased with what had occurred in Tehran, as was Eisenhower. Kermit Roosevelt was not. When Foster Dulles asked him to repeat the performance later, he declined. In 1958, he quit the CIA and went to work for Gulf oil. (Ranelagh, p. 264). As anyone can understand, except perhaps Vincent Bevins, the forces that the Dulles brothers helped unleash to bring down Mossadegh in 1953 were, in large part, the same forces that overthrew the Shah in 1979. This included the Ayatalloh Khomeini, who, in 1979—with the help of the BBC and ABC—turned the USA into the Great Satan of the Middle East. (Stone and Kuznick, p. 260) Khomeini also ushered in the explosion of Islamic fundamentalism that—as we shall see, but Bevins does not—Senator John Kennedy warned about in 1957.

IV

I have tried to show above how there was a discernible darker gradation from Franklin Roosevelt, to Harry Truman, to Dwight Eisenhower in regards to the Cold War. I did not really detect this in Bevins’ book. It was under Ike that Allen ran the CIA and Foster was Secretary of State. It was then that the CIA tried to perfect the art of the overthrow. Prior to this, the Agency was run by two military men. On and off, Allen Dulles had served in both the State Department and the Office of Strategic Services, as well as at Sullivan and Cromwell, for virtually his entire life.

With that in mind, and in this reviewer’s opinion, to leave out Truman’s regret at what Allen Dulles had done to the CIA is not being candid with the reader. Those regrets were real and he shared them with others like Admiral Sidney Souers. Appointed by Truman, Souers briefly ran the Central Intelligence Group, the immediate forerunner to the CIA. Years later, Truman had communicated with Souers about what Allen Dulles had done to the CIA. Both men were gravely disappointed in the result. Souers wrote to Truman that Dulles “caused the CIA to wander far from the original goal established by you, and it is certainly a different animal than I tried to set up for you.” (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 379)

This was not an isolated opinion. Both Robert Lovett and David Bruce also lamented what the Dulles brothers had done. Both were scions of the Power Elite e.g. Bruce was a longtime ambassador who married into the wildly wealthy Mellon family. Lovett worked for Brown Brothers Harriman as well as serving under Truman as Secretary of Defense. As well established in the upper circles as these men were, they were highly critical of what the Dulles brothers had done with the CIA. They filed a report while serving on the civilian control board for the Agency. Bruce referred to what Allen Dulles was doing as “king-making”. Agreeing with Truman, both men wrote that intelligence collection had been superseded by covert action under Dulles. And this was not what Truman had in mind at the outset. (DiEugenio, p. 49) Their complaints fell on deaf ears since Eisenhower was president at the time.

This is important because it touches on what is supposed to be the main focus of Bevins’ book: Indonesia. In the Bruce-Lovett report, it specifically points out that Foster Dulles had removed ambassador John Allison in advance of the attempted coup against Sukarno in 1958, for the reason that Allison opposed it. (DiEugenio, p. 49). He was replaced by Howard Jones, who was kept in the dark about what was upcoming.

Before addressing the attempted 1958 coup against Sukarno, I think it’s important to mention the Bandung conference of 1955, Bevins does deal with this event, but I think its notable to point out a chronology. Many commentators believe that Sukarno of Indonesia and Nehru of India called the Non-Aligned Conference at this time because the CIA had overthrown elected governments in Iran and Guatemala in the two consecutive years prior. These leaders specifically singled out their lack of trust and belief in John Foster Dulles. (Robert Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World, p. 3) But it was not just Dulles’ interest in Third World overthrows that made him suspect. It was also his penchant for ringing the world with anti-communist treaties. Nehru specifically called this out as “a wrong approach, a dangerous approach, and a harmful approach.” (Rakove, p. 5) For instance, Dulles created the Baghdad Pact just two months before Bandung. As noted, the Shah joined. Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt did not. (ibid, p. 6) Foster Dulles counted this against Nasser. It was one of the reasons why the USA pulled out of the Aswan Dam deal, which led to the Suez Crisis of 1956, which led to Nasser going to the Russians for co-financing of Aswan. (See this essay for an in depth treatment of this event) This is what Nehru meant when he said Foster Dulles’ penchant to divide up the world was a harmful approach. The Baghdad Pact was especially offensive to the non-aligned leaders since the United Kingdom—the greatest colonizer in the modern world—was part of it.

Bevins deals with Washington’s reaction to Bandung in five sentences. (p. 59) Yet, Dulles’ State Department called the expansion of the non-aligned movement “one of the most dangerous political trends of the fifties.” Foster Dulles was so predisposed against the movement that he thought of staging a shadow conference featuring conservative, American allied nations. At a speech in Iowa in 1956, the Secretary of State said that the idea of neutrality was simply a false pretense. He added that his alliance system had eliminated that alternative. After his death, Dulles was reviled in the non-aligned world as the man who made their foreign policy immoral. (Rakove, pp. 6–10) There is even evidence that the CIA plotted to blow up Zhou En Lai’s plane as he was traveling to the conference. (NY Times, November 22, 1967, p. 23)

In 1957, the CIA decided to enlist a group of officers in the outer islands of the Indonesia archipelago to rebel against Sukarno. This ended up being the largest covert action project the Agency had attempted prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion. But to fully understand what Eisenhower and Foster Dulles were doing, one must keep this in mind: Sukarno was not a communist. There were no communists in the high echelons of the military or in his government. That included D. N. Aidit, the leader of the PKI. In fact, the military was opposed to the PKI.

Then what was this really about? One way to reply is that it was part of the CIA’s war on neutralism. If we recall, there were no real indications that Mossadegh was a communist either. Therefore, one way to interpret the almost mad reaction to both men is simply that Foster Dulles meant what he said about there being no room for neutrality in the Cold War. As a result, and due to a wide examination of the record, Audrey and George McT. Kahin ended up agreeing with Blanche Weisen Cook. In 1995, in. a book length study of the attempted overthrow, they wrote that “Probably at no time since World War II has violence—especially on a militarized level—in the execution of American foreign policy been so widespread as during the Eisenhower administration.” (Subversion as Foreign Policy, p. 8)

The 1958 overthrow attempt against Sukarno failed. It was climaxed by the shooting down of a CIA pilot, Alan Pope. This exposed the denials of U.S. involvement by the American government and the New York Times. (Bevins, pp. 68–69) Australian Indonesia scholar Greg Poulgrain postulates that Allen Dulles saw the fail coming. He, therefore, shifted allegiance in the conflict for the purposes of giving the army Strategic Reserve Command, Kostrad, more power and stature in the government. (The Incubus of Intervention, pp. 8–10) As we shall see, Allen Dulles knew something about Indonesia that neither Eisenhower nor Sukarno did.

V

Up until this point, I was ready to call Bevins’ book fair to middling. If I was a professor, I would have given him a passing grade. When I got to his writing about John Kennedy, I altered that grade downward. It is important to note just what he does.

Kennedy’s first appearance in The Jakarta Method is as a senator. (Bevins, p. 59) The author spends two paragraphs on JFK and what he labels as a speech he gave in the senate opposing Eisenhower’s backing of France in Algeria. He does make a vague reference to other speeches Kennedy made after Bandung, which occurred in 1955. But Bevins references this as a speech by Kennedy on European colonialism from 1952, before Bandung. (Bevins, p. 281) In that reference, he says this speech took place in the senate. But Kennedy was not in the senate in 1952. He was still in the lower House. It gets worse. Because the rebellion in Algeria did not begin until 1954, two years after the date Bevins puts on this speech. Kennedy’s milestone speech against Eisenhower and Foster Dulles on Algeria did not occur until 1957. And, as I have noted, in that speech Kennedy warned about the possible explosion of Islamic fundamentalism in north Africa.

Whatever the reason for this sloppiness, it indicates something faulty in Bevins’ depiction of Kennedy. For Kennedy did not begin his crusade against the State Department’s approach in the Third World in 1955 or in 1957. It began in 1951, owing to his meeting with diplomat Edmund Gullion in Saigon amid France’s attempt to retake Indochina after the war. (Richard Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa, p. 108) There, at a rooftop restaurant, Gullion told the young Kennedy that France would not win their colonial war in Vietnam. (Click here for a full discussion)

As several authors have described, this meeting had an impact on Kennedy. He immediately began to communicate his doubts about supporting the French effort—and the State Department’s overall performance in the Third World—to his constituents. (Mahoney, pp. 14–15). In other words, from 1951 to the end of his senate term, Kennedy was in opposition to both Truman/Acheson and Eisenhower/Dulles. At times, he specifically said both political parties were wrong in their approach to the problem of nationalism in emerging nations. (Mahoney, p. 18) He was upset that Eisenhower had greatly increased aid to France for its colonial war in Indochina—going way beyond what Truman had been willing to give in that lost cause. (Mahoney, p. 16) Therefore, at the start, Bevins’ portrayal of Kennedy in relation to his main theme is both foreshortened and inaccurate.

This continues with president elect Kennedy and the Congo. What Bevins does with this episode is startling. He leaves out the fact that Kennedy was the chair of a senate subcommittee on Africa in 1959–60. During the 1960 campaign, the senator mentioned Africa close to 500 times. (Muehlenbeck, p. 37) The problem was, unbeknownst to Kennedy, Eisenhower and the CIA had marked out Patrice Lumumba, the elected leader of Congo, for assassination. Allen Dulles was backing the Belgian plan to split off the mineral rich Katanga province from Congo, thereby depriving Lumumba of Congo’s main source of wealth. When the USA would not help the democratically elected Congo leader expel the uninvited Belgian paratroopers, Lumumba turned to the USSR. That sealed his fate in the eyes of Eisenhower and Allen Dulles. The CIA now put together a series of murder plots to assassinate Lumumba. (John Newman, Countdown to Darkness, pp. 236–68)

They did not work. But the CIA cooperated with the Belgians to capture Lumumba and have him shipped to Katanga. There, he was executed by firing squad, his corpse soaked in sulphuric acid and then set aflame. (Newman, pp. 295–96). Bevins writes that Lumumba was killed three days before Kennedy was inaugurated. He does not note that the CIA never told Kennedy about his murder. He found out about it through Adlai Stevenson at the UN almost a month later. Bevins also fails to note that some authors think the CIA hurried the plots in order to kill Lumumba before Kennedy took office. (John Morton Blum, Years of Discord, p. 23) And he does not show the reader this picture.

Kennedy gets the news of Lumumba’s death on 2/13/61 from Adlai Stevenson. This picture was taken by Jacques Lowe who said Kennedy groaned and said “Oh no.”

But perhaps most importantly, Bevins does not tell the reader that—not knowing he was dead—Kennedy immediately began to alter American policy in Congo. He even removed the ambassador and replaced him with Gullion. (Mahoney, pp. 77–78) He did these things because, unlike Eisenhower who wanted him killed, he favored Lumumba. And unlike Allen Dulles, he did not back the Katanga secession. He admired UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, who moved to stop the secession. (Susan Williams, Who Killed Hammarskjold?, p. 239)

And, this only tells the reader half the story, for Bevins then makes a Bob Beamon historical leap to Josef Mobutu taking control of Congo. (Bevins, p. 84) Again, this is startling, since it did not formally happen until 1965. But by making that elision, he cuts out the whole two year struggle Kennedy went through with Hammarskjold—and then after Dag’s murder—to keep Congo independent and stop it from reverting back to European imperialism. Kennedy did this mostly on his own. Because after the assassination of Hammarskjold in September of 1961, the UN was not that eager to spend more money on this conflict. Kennedy went to the UN twice to convince them to see the mission through. Partly perhaps because Gullion had cabled Washington that he suspected the Hammarskjold plane crash was not an accident, it was done by sabotage. (Interview by Oliver Stone with Richard Mahoney for the upcoming documentary JFK: Destiny Betrayed. For a concise treatment of this whole tragic episode, click here)

And here is the capper. By avoiding all of this, Bevins can dodge the fact that President Lyndon Johnson reversed Kennedy’s Congo policy and essentially reverted back to what Eisenhower and Allen Dulles were advocating. (Mahoney, pp. 230–31; Jonathan Kwitny, Endless Enemies, pp.79–85). This is how Mobutu took over and became a 30-year dictator, imperial stooge and, perhaps, the wealthiest man in Africa.

VI

Following the lead of the late Alexander Cockburn and author Roger Morris, Bevins tries to implicate Kennedy in the Ramadan Revolution of February, 1963. This was the overthrow of the leader of Iraq, Karim Qasim, by the Baath Party. (Bevins, p. 89) Morris made this implication in an article he did for the New York Times in March of 2003. This was at the height of the MSM’s wild propaganda war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. We know, through the disgraced work of Times reporter Judith Miller, that the Times was an armature for Dick Cheney to build a huge broadcast and print communications wave. That wave was created to prepare America for President George W. Bush’s (ultimately) disastrous invasion of Iraq. That pointless attack ended up being the worst American foreign policy disaster since Lyndon Johnson landed ground troops in Vietnam. In the face of all this, Bevins uses a Times newspaper column as his source for the Qasim overthrow. Even though there have been much more scholarly sources—books and dissertations—written on the subject since that time. Let us use those to indicate the quality of his scholarship.

In 1958, Qasim led a violent coup against the Hashemite monarchy, one which killed both the king and the crown prince. Qasim then tried to navigate amid four sources of power in the country: the communist party (CPI), the Baath party, which admired Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, the army, and the Kurds of Northern Iraq. The main outside influence was the Iraq Petroleum Company, owners of the large oil concession which was of major value to both Iraq, and the world’s, supply. To put it mildly, Qasim was not up to this juggling task. In 1959, in a plot which Hussein was a part of, the Baaths tried to assassinate him. (Bryan Gibson, US Foreign Policy : Iraq and the Cold War 1958–75, London School of Economics dissertation, 2013)

In the beginning, the problem for Qasim was posed by the Pan Arabists and a demonstration they held in Mosul. This caused him to withdraw from the Baghdad Pact, which angered Allen Dulles. (Gibson, p. 47) But according to both Gibson and another dissertation by Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt, done at Stanford in 2005, nothing Dulles had planned for was ever approved or put in action. There is no evidence, according to Wolfe-Hunnicutt, that the Baath had any connections to the CIA prior to the 1959 plot. (p. 42, The End of the Concessionary Regime.) Gibson agrees with this, saying the CIA did not even know about it. (pp. 57–58)

What is striking about the Kennedy administration is that it does not appear that President Kennedy was very interested in Qasim, especially in comparison with Eisenhower, who had set up a special committee on Iraq. (Gibson, p. 49) That committee was, for all practical purposes, rendered null during the Kennedy administration. (Gibson, p. 68) By this time, 1961, Qasim had abandoned the CPI. In fact, he had actually turned on the communists. (Wolfe-Hunnicutt, pp. 52–56). As time went on, he had serious problems with the British, because he had revised the concessionary agreement with the oil consortium, the IPC. This was a largely British owned company centered in London. Qasim now claimed all the land IPC had not used for oil development as Iraq’s. (Wolfe-Hunnicutt, pp. 68–71)

An even more serious problem was the Kurdish rebellion in the north, which evolved into a civil war. This went on for months on end. The Kurds were good guerilla fighters who inflicted a series of defeats on the Iraqi army at the end of 1962. This caused a drop in morale in the military ranks. (Gibson, p. 92) And that set the stage for the February 8, 1963, coup against Qasim. Because the Baaths, after the Kurdish victories, now infiltrated the army. But in addition, representatives of that party now negotiated with the Kurds. (Ibid) There is no credible evidence that the CIA or State Department commandeered this plot either. (Peter Hahn, Missions Accomplished?, p. 48) Consequently, the underlying tenets of what the author presents in this passage are dubious.

That includes the idea that the CIA supplied names of hundreds of communists for the Baath Party to eliminate. Bevins says the number ended up being 5000. (p. 267) Neither the CIA station nor the State Department had even 1/20 of that many names in their files. (Wolfe-Hunnicutt, p. 85) Finally, although Bevins says Hussein was part of this overthrow, most biographies of Saddam place him in Egypt studying law at the time. For that reason, the idea that this led to his rise to party leader is both questionable and illogical. But beyond that, the Baaths were removed just eight months later. When Saddam returned to Iraq, he was placed in prison.

VII

The author gives the Alliance for Progress the back of his hand. (Bevins p. 88. For an objective view of that socio-economic effort, click here) In my view, he makes a mess of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and Operation Mongoose. (pp. 85–88) Predictably, he leaves out President Kennedy’s attempt at détente with Castro after the Missile Crisis. He also makes the spurious statement that Bobby Kennedy suspected Castro may have been involved in his brother’s assassination. (Bevins, p. 106)

Next to Indonesia, his second area of concentration is Brazil. He writes that Janio Qadros, who was president from January to August of 1961, angered the Kennedy administration because he admired neutralists like Nehru and Nasser. This is nonsense. Anyone who has read anything about Kennedy—going as far back as 1983 and Richard Mahoney’s book—would know that Kennedy liked and worked with both men.

Kennedy made a mistake in approving Lincoln Gordon as ambassador to Brazil. In that position, Gordon proved to be a Henry Jackson type Democratic cold warrior. Today, his cables are almost legendary in their rhetoric against Qadros’ successor, Joao Goulart. In one Gordon compared the turn of Brazil to the left as equivalent to the fall of China to Mao Zedong. Unfortunately, Kennedy and his Secretary of State Dean Rusk took these seriously. This began a program to weaken Goulart in 1963. (Anthony Pereira, June 20, 2016, Bulletin of Latin American Research).

But Kennedy did not approve his overthrow. In fact, he refused to take a meeting with David Rockefeller for that reason. (A. J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors, p. 104). In January of 1964, President Johnson—who was quite friendly with the Rockefellers—did take the meeting. Quickly, the coup planning was on. There is a debate today over whether or not the American arm of the overthrow was necessary. Some, like the late scholar Thomas Skidmore—a Brazil specialist—believed that Goulart had alienated the military to the point that they would have gotten rid of him themselves. But there is no doubt that the USA was involved. Bevins tries to say that few people knew about that at the time. (pp. 110–11) Yet there were demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro against Hanna mining, a Rockefeller company. And pro-Goulart newspapers wrote that John McCloy, the point man for David Rockefeller, was in Rio in late February of 1964 negotiating with Goulart. (Kai Bird, The Chairman, p. 551) In his biography of McCloy, Bird tends to agree with Skidmore: the Brazilian military did not need the outside help. (ibid, p. 553)

Robert Kennedy was quite upset with what Johnson had done with the Alliance for Progress. He was also outraged that Johnson had sent troops to the Dominican Republic to stop Juan Bosch, who JFK had favored, from returning to power. Bosch said at the time that the aims of the Alliance stopped when JFK was killed in Dallas. (Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and his Times, p. 722) When Bobby became senator from New York, he arranged a tour of Latin America. When he got to Brazil he met with the new leader, Castelo Branco. After that meeting, he was being driven back to his hotel when he saw some of the crowd being struck by soldiers trying to keep them away from his car. He jumped out of the car and shouted, “Down with the government! On to the palace!” (John R., Bohrer, The Revolution of Robert Kennedy, p. 245)

McCloy was doing his mission for Rockefeller while he was serving on the Warren Commission, the official inquiry—some would call it the official cover up—of President Kennedy’s assassination. That subject greatly interested Goulart when McCloy visited him. (Bird, p. 552) In 1968, Lincoln Gordon was on the nominating committee for the Ramsey Clark panel. He helped pick the doctors who reevaluated the medical evidence in the JFK case. By reviewing the autopsy photos and x-rays, the panel radically altered the original autopsy findings. But, even at that, it still decided that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. (Lisa Pease, “The Formation of the Clark Panel”, Probe Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 1) Bevins is oblivious to these two rather disturbing ironies.

VIII

We conclude with what is supposed to be the heart of The Jakarta Method. That is the author’s discussion of the 1965 coup that resulted in the house arrest of President Sukarno and the rise to power of General Suharto. At the start, Bevins makes the following statement: “Indonesia was one place where Lyndon Johnson took a different approach from his successor [sic].” The idea that Indonesia was the one place where Kennedy and Johnson differed is ludicrous. Several scholars have proven that, as Johnson was freezing out Sukarno in 1964–65, he was also getting ready to reverse Kennedy’s policy in Vietnam. He was going to do what President Kennedy would likely never have done: insert thousands upon thousands of American combat troops to fight the war for Saigon. Johnson also appointed Thomas Mann as his czar over Latin America, and Mann would begin to cut back on the Alliance for Progress. (Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, pp. 156–60) LBJ also swung strongly against Nasser and toward Israel in the Middle East. (Robert Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World, pp. 245–47) Further, Kennedy was thinking about returning Mossadegh to power in Iran. (Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game, pp. 224–25)

Bevins also underplays both the speed and completeness of this alteration. Roger Hilsman, an Asian specialist under Kennedy, noted that everyone was taken aback when Johnson refused to sign continuing aid to Indonesia, since they knew it would have been a matter of routine with Kennedy. Beyond that, Johnson made sure that whatever aid America was sending went to the military. (Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 407)

A problem with Sukarno in 1964 was the confrontation with the British over the creation of Malaysia. Bobby Kennedy was sent by Johnson to try and get a cease fire there, which he did. But RFK was surprised that he only had one meeting with Johnson over this issue. Bobby later felt “he had been used as a decoration to paste the Kennedy name over the politics of another man.” (Hilsman, p. 409)

When Johnson called off the visit to Jakarta that Kennedy had scheduled for 1964, everyone realized the obvious. As Hilsman wrote:

The United States, in fact, had made a major shift in its policy. It had abandoned its effort to steer the new nationalism of Indonesia into constructive channels, and moved to a hard line in support of the British effort to isolate Indonesia politically and contain it militarily. (ibid)

Bevins’ underplaying of the shift toward Indonesia is strange since he greatly appreciates what Bradley Simpson has done in this field. Simpson clearly states in his book, Economists with Guns, that there is no question that Johnson immediately reversed Kennedy’s policy. He repeated this on camera in an interview with Oliver Stone for the director’s upcoming documentary, JFK: Destiny Betrayed.

Once LBJ signaled the change, the dam broke. Howard Jones, a moderate, was replaced as ambassador by Marshall Green, a hardliner. (Bevins, p. 126) As Simpson is at pains to elucidate in his book, the CIA and the State Department now began to do what they could to undermine Sukarno and search for an alternative. This traffic was especially marked in the late summer and fall of 1964. Then, in December of 1964, there were reports in intelligence circles that Indonesia would fall amid a premature leftist coup. That would provide the opportunity for the army to crush the PKI and make Sukarno a prisoner of their goodwill. (Lisa Pease, “JFK, Indonesia, CIA and Freeport Sulphur”, Probe Magazine, June/July 1996)

But someone else also seemed to know what was coming. That was the board members and owners of a company called Freeport Sulphur, later Freeport McMoran. As Lisa Pease noted in her milestone article, there were reports that Freeport had made large mining plans as early as April 1965, when Sukarno was threatening to nationalize American industries. Then, just one month after the first outbreaks of the September 30th Movement, Langbourne Williams of Freeport called Forbes Wilson. a chief engineer for the company. He asked him if he had the time to work on Freeport’s project in West Irian. (Click here for more information) As Pease points out, this is quite notable. Since, at that time, no one could possibly determine what the outcome of the huge upheaval taking place was going to be. But as both Pease and author Greg Poulgrain have shown, Freeport had tens of billions of dollars riding on the outcome. And Gus Long, another director of Freeport, was sitting on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under Johnson. It was his reward for supporting LBJ in 1964. That board advised, reviewed and recommended intelligence operations.

As far as I could detect, Bevins spends all of two sentences on Freeport. (pp. 152–3) By doing so, he underplays the role of the Power Elite in this the Indonesian atrocity. To be specific, and as Pease points out, Freeport was a Rockefeller controlled company. Therefore, this reveals Johnson’s closeness to that clan, but also his overall friendliness with big business, which is what Bobby Kennedy warned the USSR about in his and Jackie Kennedy’s secret letter to the Kremlin in late November of 1963. They said that the détente President Kennedy was working on would be put on hold for this precise reason. (David Talbot, Brothers, pp. 29–34). This pattern is also notable in Vietnam and in Johnson’s weakening of the Alliance for Progress.

Bevins does not make any clear statement as to what really happened with the abduction and killing of the generals by the September 30th Movement, which triggered the horrible reaction by the army against the PKI. Bevins outlines three theories as to what the plan may have been. (pp. 130–31) In this reviewer’s opinion, Greg Poulgrain’s solution, outlined in his new book, is the best explication we have yet.

Finally, I must say that the book’s title indulges in a bit of poetic license. The concept of the American government assembling names of people in the Third World for elimination purposes actually began in Guatemala in 1954. (Larry Hancock, Nexus, p. 19) And Bevins is not the first to show that the threat of this kind of extermination was used later in Chile. Don Freed and Fred Landis pointed it out way back in 1980. (Death in Washington, p. 93)

As I said at the outset, this book had a quite ambitious aim. For the reasons stated throughout, it does not achieve it. America’s Cold War reaction was not a monolithic type movement. It was impacted by the death of Roosevelt, which gave an opening to the messianic fear mongering of Kennan and Nitze. That, in turn, impacted Truman in a way it would not have Roosevelt. Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers made this all the worse since they combined the ideological imbalance with an allegiance to the Eastern Establishment and its monetary agenda. If we view Kennedy objectively—which he does not—he was trying to move back to Roosevelt. Kennedy was not in the grasp of the Power Elite as the previous administration was, e.g. Kennedy never joined the Council on Foreign Relations; the Dulles brothers almost ran that group.

Bevins was too beholden to his journalistic roots and his MSM background. Like journalist David Halberstam and his useless relic about Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest, he built a narrative first. He then fitted his ordained facts into that narrative. Historians, at least good ones, don’t settle for that.

Last modified on Saturday, 28 November 2020 18:11
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 The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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