President Bush’s choice of Henry Kissinger to direct a probe of FBI and CIA miscues prior to Sept 11, 2001 is both rich in irony and par for the course. Why irony? Because of the unique role played by the former Secretary of State in evoking anti-Americanism in the oil-rich Middle East and, more globally, thanks to his grand opus: the CIA-backed overthrow of Chile’s freely elected government on Sept 11, 1973. Deja vu?
The presidential ploy of appointing “blue ribbon” panels to deflect public outrage and undercut independent Congressional investigation of the intelligence establishment is not new. Thirty years ago, the conservative columnist Gary Wills reacted to Kissinger’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, despite the continuation of the War in Vietnam and the prize’s rejection by co-awardee Le Duc Tho, by dubbing him the “Nobel Bomber” recalling the B-52s ordered over Cambodia in 1970 behind Congress’s back and over Hanoi in 1972 amidst peace talks.
As US soldiers continued to die in Southeast Asia, Kissinger built his own legend shuttling across oceans forging lines of communication with China and détente with the Soviet Union.
The legend would be tarnished by defeat in Vietnam and Watergate’s toppling of his commander in chief, Richard Nixon. But Kissinger would retain his grip on foreign policy. Even while preoccupied by Indochina, he orchestrated the CIA-financed destabilization of Chile following the 1970 presidential election victory of the Socialist, Salvador Allende, and under the ensuing pressure to eliminate Allende, exerted by IT&T and other multinational corporations.
The strategy culminated on Sept 11, 1973 in a coup d’etat led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet _ during which Allende purportedly committed suicide, and after which Pinochet’s henchmen tortured and assassinated thousands.
Time and the collapse of the Cold War rationale for their brand of hardball would treat neither Kissinger nor Pinochet kindly. Pinochet was temporarily jailed not long ago in Britain on a warrant for his arrest for the murder of Spaniards in Chile, but old age will spare him more time behind bars. Kissinger is wanted for interrogation by the governments of Spain and Argentina.
The Sept 11, 1973 overthrow of Allende was only the beginning of a Latin American nightmare. Shortly after seizing power, Pinochet initiated “Operation Condor,” a transnational collaborative of military dictatorships which targeted exiled political opponents. Condor extended as far as Washington, where former Allende foreign minister Orlando Letelier and an American coworker were murdered in a car bombing executed by US-based anti-Castro Cubans.
Following their own 1976 coup d’etat, Argentine military brass waged a seven year “Dirty War” against perceived left wing opponents _ prompting the imprisonment, torture and disappearance of some 9,000 Argentines at home and, thanks to Operation Condor, abroad. Recently, declassified files show that the CIA was well aware of Condor.
Yet Washington apparently did nothing about it. The Ford administration, particularly CIA director George H. W. Bush, stonewalled FBI investigation of the Letelier murder. And while speaking with an Argentine diplomat, Henry Kissinger reportedly asked only that the dirty warriors get their job done quickly. Similarly, on a 1975 jaunt to Jakarta, according to other declassified files, Ford and Kissinger were told by Indonesia’s military dictator that they were about to invade East Timor, which had just been liberated by Portugal. Neither Ford nor Kissinger objected. Over the next twenty years 200,000 East Timorese perished while fighting Washington’s staunch ally.
More relevant to the Sept 11 inquiry he is about to oversee is Mr. Kissinger’s impact on the oil-rich Middle East. Anti-American violence during and after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution which ended the CIA-installed Shah’s 26-year dictatorship has ever since dominated formulation of regional US policy. Throughout his reign, particularly during Mr. Kissinger’s tenure, the Shah armed Iran to the teeth. Kissinger, oblivious to growing contempt for the brutal, corrupt monarch and his friends in Washington, talked the Shah into persuading OPEC to hike the price of oil. Why? Because he knew the Shah would spend the additional billions in oil profits on American-made weaponry-- not Iran’s poor, and increasingly angry and fundamentalist, majority.
Mr. Kissinger has cut down his foreign travel since Spain and Argentina expressed interest in interrogating him. However, here at home, he continues to be treated reverentially as the elder statesmen of US foreign relations, not unlike the oft-rehabilitated Richard Nixon. President Bush knows Kissinger won’t embarrass his administration. But news of Kissinger’s appointment will not sit well among latent terrorists. Hopefully, al Qaeda won’t splice his speeches into recruitment videos.
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