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Cold War Confusions:
Kissinger and the Eisenhower administration

Dr Henry Kissinger, a scholar at Harvard University, focused on 19th century European diplomatic history. Among fellow intellectuals at Harvard his opinions were viewed as worth consideration, and he wrote position papers as advice on foregin policy for the Eisenhower administration.

Harvard intellectuals who contributed to government made up those who were to be called "the best and brightest," the ironic title of a book on the origins of the Vietnam War by journalist David Halberstam, published in 1972 – to be called the "American War" by the Vietnamese.

During the Eisenhower administration, Kissinger saw the Soviet Union as an adversary. The Soviet Union and the US had missiles with atomic warheads aimed at each other, and they feared the intentions of one another. The virtue of the United States and evil of communism were his consistent position through what people today call the Cold War.

Kissinger had supported the Korean War – a US and UN response to North Korea having invaded South Korea. North Korea had had been a creation of the Soviet Union in a bad agreement with the US at the close of World War II, and without the support of the Soviet Union the North probably would not have invaded the South, described by the North as preventing aggression from the South and as an effort to unite Korea. Communist China joined the North Koreans against what it saw as imperialist forces approaching its border at the Yalu River. Eisenhower ended that war by negotiations during his first year in office – in 1953. Kissinger disapproved.

The historian Niall Ferguson in his biography on Kissinger writes.

In Korea in 1951, he [Kissinger] had found it "absolutely heartbreaking" to see the US-led forces fail to win a decisive victory.

Ferguson quotes Kissinger (p 417):

It started with Korea. We simply lost our nerve. Since then we've been timid and unimaginative.

Kissinger saw the US as a hegemon and that it had to "lead it allies" in containing Communism. Soviet leaders, on the other hand, Stalin included, were ideologically opposed to empire and opposed to imperialism for themselves or others, but with the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939 they began applying a brutal control over a part of Poland – which became a part of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. And in 1945, toward the end of that war, their military, fighting Germany, overran the rest of Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania and elsewhere in East Europe.

Stalin wanted to be prepared for what he thought would be another war with the capitalist powers. He saw the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany in 1941 as basically a capitalist instigation, and he believed that an inevitable capitalist failure and economic depression in maybe twenty years (1965?) would inspire an anti-Communist reaction against growing support for socialism and revolution.

(Before the war, followers of Leon Trotsky considered Stalin timid regarding international revolution.)

Stalin died in 1953 and his successors inherited his fears but like him believed that Communist revolutions to succeed couldn't be imposed but had to have mass indigenous support. Where they dominated because of their militarily, as in Poland, Hungary,Czechoslovakia, and East Germany they were looking forward patiently to working people acquiring a class consciousness that supported their kind of society.

Eisenhower's Containment Strategy

Kissinger was opposed to the Eisenhower administration's reliance on a massive nuclear retaliation as a deterrent to the Soviet Union, and he was opposed to the Eisenhower administration's peace initiatives. As an advisor he was making a name for himself. In July 1958 he explained his position to Mike Wallace of ABC News:

In practice I am afraid the American President will have to decide that [all-out war] is not worth it and it will therefore encourage the piecemeal taking over of the world by Soviet aggression.

Kissinger approved of the US engaging in small wars that would demonstrate US determination. Meanwhile the Eisenhower administration had been aggressive in pursuing what it saw as US interests in Iran and Guatemala. In 1954, the Eisenhower administration helped the British overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh in Iran. Mosaddegh was moving against British oil interests. Mosaddegh was a believer in democracy and disliked Communist Party doctrine, but he accepted political support from the Iran's Communists. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles saw Mosaddegh's overthrow as a roll-back of Communism. To Communists everywhere the overthrow of Mosaddegh was hegemonic aggression – or imperialism.

In Guatemala, the Eisenhower administration had President Jacobo Árbenz overthrown. Árbenz had sought land reform, and this had offended the United Fruit Company, based in the United States. Dulles, who was invested in the company, portrayed Arbenz as too friendly with Communists, and he saw the US intervention as saving Guatemala from Communism.

Another move by the Eisenhower administration to contain Communism came with the defeat of French colonial forces in Vietnam by Communist forces there. Counter to an international agreement at Geneva Switzerland in 1954 that would have given the Communists control of the whole of Vietnam in a couple of years, the Eisenhower administration supported the rise of an anti-Communist regime in what was supposed to be the French zone (South Vietnam) until 1956 – more aggression by the US in the eyes of many in the world.

Then in January 1969 there was the overthrew the Batista dictatorship by Fidel Castro. The Eisenhower administration tolerated Castro for awhile. Some in the administration disliked Castro's talk of neutralism regarding the Cold War, similar to their dislike of the neutralism of Nasser of Egypt and Nehru of India. Some saw Castro's rhetoric as a danger to the standing of the United States in various nations across Latin America. There were suspicions that Castro's companion, Che Guevara was a communist (Guevara had been influenced by his outrage at US policy in Guatemala.)

The Eisenhower administration disliked the increase in ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union and decided to work with anti-Castro groups inside Cuba in hope of overthrowing Castro. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to train Cuban exiles for an invasion of Cuba.

Castro saw the US as having declared economic war on Cuba. The Cuban government passed a nationalization law providing for the expropriation of foreign holdings in Cuba. Castro joined the Cold War on the side of the revolutionary powers: the Soviet Union and China. The Eisenhower administration laid plans to invade Cuba, using anticommunist Cuban exiles. This would put into play great dramas during the Kennedy administration.

PLEASE CONTINUE to "Cold War Confusions: Kissinger and the Kennedy administration."

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