Kennedy delivers the famous speech in West Berlin in June 1963, five months before his assassination. [Source: 20minutos.es]
February 10, 2021
When Oliver Stone’s blockbuster film JFK premiered in 1991, it delivered a hugely embarrassing shock to academic historians, Democratic Party grandees, corporate media pundits and other respected purveyors of conventional wisdom.
That’s because, for the preceding 27 years following Kennedy’s assassination, all of them had been faithfully, if falsely, promulgating the myth that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, and that Lyndon Johnson’s murderous expansion of the Vietnam War had been a continuation of Kennedy’s policies.
Originally published at CovertAction Magazine
Stone’s film demolished that myth, establishing very clearly the existence of a conspiracy behind Kennedy’s assassination, while pointing to the fact that, by October of 1963, Kennedy had decided to try and extract America from the growing quagmire in Vietnam.
Stone’s film was based on a memoir by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison about the JFK assassination, On The Trail Of The Assassins—a book which founders of CovertAction Magazine, Bill Schaap and Ellen Ray, encouraged Garrison to write.
They subsequently published the book with their publishing house called Sheridan Square Press and handed it over to Oliver Stone to produce the film. It was just one part of the ample documentary record establishing that the foreign policy decisions of Lyndon Johnson were not a continuation of Kennedy’s policies, but rather a revitalization of the imperialist policies adopted by Allen and John Foster Dulles in the 1950s and followed by every U.S. President before and after Kennedy since the end of World War II.
The truth is, not only did Kennedy want to end America’s destructive (and self-destructive) military support for the collapsing colonial empire of France that had embroiled it in an unwinnable war in Vietnam; his speeches, correspondence and high-level meetings with emerging Third World leaders reveal his growing antipathy for colonialism, rejection of imperialism, toleration for the non-aligned movement—contrasting markedly with his predecessor—and promotion of nationalistic leaders, albeit ones that were considered to be “responsible” in their moderation.
Stone’s film created a firestorm over Kennedy’s assassination, and the question of who Kennedy really was and what he believed.
Kennedy had expanded the U.S. presence in Vietnam—increasing the number of military advisers from a few hundred to over 16,000 and commencing bombing of South Vietnam under the direction of the U.S.-created South Vietnamese Air Force.
However, his administration had resisted bombing North Vietnam (which began in August 1964) and enacted National Security Action memorandum (NSAM) 263 of October 1963, which encapsulated Kennedy’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam.
Lyndon Johnson’s NSAM 273 of November 26, 1963, by contrast, authorized planning to begin for graduated offensive operations against North Vietnam.
NSAM 273 makes apparent that Kennedy’s death was not simply a footnote to a conflict which liberal media darlings like the late David Halberstam had depicted as some kind of inevitable epic tragedy.
With the help of retired Colonel Fletcher Prouty and historian John Newman, Stone’s film shook that orthodoxy to its foundations. Newman’s 1992 book, JFK and Vietnam, explained this new thesis in extraordinary detail.
In 1997 new documents were declassified which proved that Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had made it clear to American personnel in Vietnam that they were leaving the country by 1965.
Scholars like Gordon Goldstein, David Kaiser, James Blight, and Howard Jones have since demonstrated that—although Stone, Prouty and Newman were harshly criticized by the mainstream media—they were correct about this issue.
Kennedy was planning to withdraw from Vietnam at the time of his assassination; Johnson knowingly reversed that decision quickly after ascending to the office and launched a full-scale ground invasion following the August 2, 1964, Gulf of Tonkin “incident”—in which the U.S. shelled North Vietnam in order to provoke a retaliatory attack that could be branded as an act of foreign aggression—about which Johnson lied to the public.
As Fletcher Prouty once noted, Kennedy did not have to accept defeat at the Bay of Pigs invasion. Admiral Arleigh Burke advised him to intervene with naval forces located in the Caribbean, which Kennedy refused to do. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy further resisted the advice of his military advisers to bomb the missile silos or invade Cuba.
These three instances—two in Cuba, one in Vietnam—are almost always mentioned in books about Kennedy or his assassination. Yet they are never grouped together to mark out a pattern of choice for purposes of explication.
This struck the present author as odd because, taken as a whole, they seemed to present just such a pattern, one that chose not to use direct military intervention in the Third World. Is it possible to explicate a pathway to the pattern, and to show other parallels in Kennedy’s foreign policy?
Blessed with stunning good looks and charisma, John F. Kennedy was groomed for high office by his wealthy father Joseph, who had opposed U.S. intervention in both world wars. In 1951, Congressman Kennedy decided he would run for the Senate the next year against Henry Cabot Lodge.
Interrupted by his service in World War II, Lodge had been a senator for about 16 years. Kennedy felt that, to challenge that long experience, he had to take a high-profile overseas journey to show the Massachusetts electorate that he was as knowledgeable about foreign affairs as his opponent.
So, along with his brother Robert and sister Patricia, he decided to visit the Middle East, Asia, and particularly Indochina. As he said, his purpose was “to get some first-hand knowledge, some facts to bite on, to know how these people regard us.”
When Kennedy arrived in Saigon, he first listened to the French commander General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny say that, with 250,000 troops, the French could not lose. But there was another person in Saigon that Kennedy decided to meet.
He was Edmund Gullion. Kennedy had first met Gullion at the State Department back in 1947, while getting help for a speech. In Saigon, Gullion met the young JFK at the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Majestic. There, Kennedy heard a very different message about French prospects:
In twenty years, there will be no more colonies. We’re going nowhere out here. The French have lost. If we come in here and do the same thing, we will lose too, for the same reason. There’s no will or support for this kind of war back in Paris. The home front is lost. The same thing would happen to us.
The impact of what Kennedy saw and heard altered the prevailing, hackneyed picture of the “Free World versus The Communist Menace” in the Third World. His view now became more nuanced and subtle. As biographer Herbert Parmet wrote,
Jack Kennedy was evolving into a spokesman for a more sophisticated view. He was beginning to call attention to the soft spot of the Western cause, to the frustration of a region that had long contended with colonial domination.
In other words, with Gullion’s help, Kennedy saw the French war in Indochina not as a contest between the communists and Western republicans.
He now saw it as the doomed struggle of French empire to hold on to a far-flung colony that wanted to be independent. In other words, it was really a battle between colonialism and nationalism, and America was backing the colonialists. As his brother later said, this meeting had “a very, very major” impact on his thinking.
When Kennedy returned home, almost immediately he began writing, broadcasting, and making speeches opposing further American involvement in Indochina.
This contrasted with what Vice President Richard Nixon was proposing. As his biographer Stephen Ambrose said, in 1954 Nixon proposed using atomic weapons to save the French siege at Dien Bien Phu. When President Eisenhower turned that down, Nixon proposed sending American troops into the conflict.
This conflict between Senator Kennedy on one side and Nixon, Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers—CIA Director Allen and Secretary of State John Foster—on the other, expanded and burst into the pages of the press in 1957.
On July 2, 1957, Kennedy made a speech in the Senate which, as The New York Times proclaimed, was “the most comprehensive and outspoken arraignment of Western policy toward Algeria presented by an American in public office.”
As Allan Nevins later wrote, “no speech on foreign affairs by Mr. Kennedy attracted more attention at home and abroad.” In this speech, Kennedy harshly attacked the Eisenhower administration for its support of France in its war to keep Algeria a colonial possession.
He stated that “the record of the United States in this case is, as elsewhere, a retreat from the principles of independence and anticolonialism….” He then lambasted the administration and his colleagues in the Senate with this peroration:
Yet, did we not learn in Indochina . . . that we might have served both the French and our own causes infinitely better, had we taken a more firm stand much earlier than we did? Did that tragic episode not teach us that, whether France likes it or not, admits it or not, or has our support or not, their overseas territories are sooner or later, one by one, inevitably going to break free…. With each departure a grand myth has been more and more deflated. The problem is to save the French nation, as well as free Africa.
What Kennedy was referring to—about saving the French nation—was the fact that the Algerian conflict was so divisive, so ugly, and so ingrained that an open rebellion against withdrawing had sprung up. This eventually became the Secret Army Organization (OAS). They tried to assassinate President Charles DeGaulle more than once.
Kennedy’s speech was bitterly attacked from all sides, including by Democrats like Adlai Stevenson and Dean Acheson.
British journalist Alistair Cooke insightfully summarized what Kennedy had done. By enraging an ally and attacking the administration he had made himself “the Democrat whom the President ‘must do something about.’
It is a form of running martyrdom that Senators Humphrey and Johnson may come to envy. ”By the end of the year, Kennedy was on the cover of Time. The story was entitled “Man Out Front.”
The 1958 best-selling book The Ugly American was a thinly disguised portrait of growing American involvement in Vietnam. It infatuated Kennedy so much so that he bought a hundred copies and sent one to each of his senatorial colleagues. He also paid for a large advertisement for the book in The New York Times.
That book depicted how out of touch State Department representatives were with both the politics and the peoples of the native countries in which they served. Before his campaign for the presidency, Kennedy told Harris Wofford:
The key thing for the country is a new foreign policy that will break out of the confines of the Cold War. . . . The most likely candidates are [Lyndon] Johnson or [Stuart] Symington, but if either of them is nominated we might as well elect Dulles or Acheson; it would be the same cold-war foreign policy all over again.
In that presidential election, Kennedy tried to make Africa an issue. He repeatedly attacked the Eisenhower administration’s record there, and he mentioned the continent 479 times in his 1959-60 campaign speeches. In one speech he said America had lost ground in Africa because the administration had failed to see the rising tide of nationalism there.
Once in office, and contrary to popular belief, one of the first areas of foreign policy that concerned him was the ongoing Congo crisis.
Because of his strong interest in Africa, Kennedy had been in favor of the democratically elected president of this newly freed constitutional republic, Patrice Lumumba.
But the former colonizers and Eisenhower had different designs. Belgium had left the Congo abruptly, with very little formal transition. They did this hoping that the fledgling, poor, and generally uneducated country would fall into chaos. This would then serve as a pretext for the Belgians to return to the former colony. That is what happened.
Lumumba first asked the UN and Dag Hammarskjöld to intervene. But anticipating this would occur, Belgium, and to a lesser degree France and England, arranged to have the mineral-wealthy province of Katanga secede under the leadership of their paid front-man Moïse Tshombe.
When the UN was slow to act, Lumumba made a visit to Washington searching for help. Eisenhower deliberately left for Rhode Island to avoid meeting him. Secretary of State Christian Herter was noncommittal and deferred the matter to the UN and Hammarskjöld.
He in turn left the impression that Eisenhower was working with the Secretary-General, which he was not. Left with no options, Lumumba turned to Moscow for aid. The Russians agreed to help him. That sealed his fate in the eyes of Washington.
As the Church Committee later revealed, in mid-August of 1960 on the orders of President Eisenhower, Allen Dulles initiated a series of assassination plots to kill Lumumba. On August 26th, Dulles sent an assassination order to the CIA station chief in Leopoldville. The order authorized a budget of $100,000, the equivalent of a million dollars today, to terminate Lumumba.
As John Newman describes in his book Countdown to Darkness, although the Agency tried four or five different methods to kill Lumumba—including poisoning him and sending hired killers codenamed QJ/WIN and WI/ROGUE to murder him—for one reason or another none of the plots worked.
What was eventually decided was that the CIA would help their agent, Joseph Mobutu, capture him and then transport him to Katanga. There, under the supervision of the Belgians, Lumumba was killed by firing squad. His body was then soaked in sulfuric acid. When the acid ran out, his corpse was set afire. As the late Jonathan Kwitny wrote:
…the precedent for it all, the very first coup in postcolonial African history, the very first political assassination, the very first junking of a legally constitutional democratic system, all took place in a major country, and were all instigated by the United States of America.
Lumumba was killed on January 17, 1961, just three days before Kennedy’s inauguration. There is some evidence indicating that the Agency was in haste because they feared what Kennedy would do once he was in office.
If that was the case, the assumption was correct. During his first week in office, not knowing Lumumba was dead, Kennedy ordered a complete review of Eisenhower’s Congo policy. Kennedy recalled Ambassador Clare Timberlake, and eventually replaced him with Gullion. That, in itself, was a clear signal of a sea change in policy. Timberlake had backed the Katanga secession and the arming of Tshombe.
Kennedy did not find out about the murder of Lumumba until February 13th. White House photographer Jacques Lowe was in the Oval Office when Kennedy got the news from UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. Lowe snapped this picture (below) and later said that Kennedy groaned and said, “Oh no!”
As Hammarskjöld had predicted, Kennedy’s new policy was going to meet with resistance. Domestically, this took the form of conservative Democrat Senator Thomas J. Dodd.
He began holding hearings during which he defended the Katanga “freedom fighters” and questioned how America had lost the Congo to communism.
Dodd was supplemented in the media by right-wing columnist and TV star William F. Buckley. As Jonathan Kwitny once wrote, Buckley saw “the spirit of Edmund Burke in the face of Moïse Tshombe.”
But then, on the night of September 17, 1961, something even more troubling occurred. This was the death in a plane crash of Dag Hammarskjöld. Today, after Susan Williams’ book Who Killed Hammarskjöld? and the film Cold Case Hammarskjöld, it seems to this writer fairly clear that his death was a case of sabotage and did not occur by accident. But what is important to this discussion is that Gullion cabled Kennedy to tell him that he felt it was an assassination at the time it happened.
Historically, this is important because it seems to have galvanized Kennedy into taking control of the situation himself. Kennedy now went to the UN and said that they must continue the mission Hammarskjöld had started, i.e., using a UN military force to reunite Congo, remove the mercenaries and expel Tshombe.
The administration now backed labor leader Cyrille Adoula to be the new prime minister; they employed bribery, blackmail, and threats in order to have him elected in 1961 instead of the more popular Antoine Gizenga, Lumumba’s former Deputy Prime Minister who was imprisoned on the island Bula Mbemba after he accused Adoula of treason.
Adoula was an anticommunist moderate who had ties to the U.S. through CIA-connected labor unions. When he became prime minister, Adoula declared “the Congo must not become a battlefield for the Cold War.”
Kennedy gave secret approval to new Secretary-General U Thant to expand military operations if needed to back up Adoula’s authority. He further managed to greatly decrease surreptitious funding from the Belgian/British company Union Minière to Tshombe.
On December 24, 1962, Katangese troops fired on a UN helicopter. This began a large offensive code-named Operation Grand Slam. One month later, the secession effort was over. JFK wrote congratulatory notes to all those involved. America had stood up against European imperialism in Africa.
Egypt straddled Africa and the Middle East. Its charismatic and articulate leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had refused to join the Baghdad Pact when invited by Foster Dulles. He told the Secretary of State that he could not join any anti-communist alliance that included Great Britain as a partner or silent partner since they had been the world’s greatest colonizer for decades.
If he did, he would be perceived by his followers as being a Western stooge.
This stance is what made Nasser so popular to the Arab world and also so anathema to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Nasser was a Pan-Arabist. He was also a secularist and a socialist who was opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, a militant fundamentalist group.
The Brotherhood was originally financed by the British. And many of its members were recruited from the ranks of the extreme form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, called Wahhabism. The first formal treaty between England and Saudi Arabia was signed in 1915.
Why was this a mutually beneficial relationship? And why would Britain be opposed to Nasser, to the point of also financing the Brotherhood in Egypt? The British did not want Nasser’s Pan-Arabism to spread for the same reason that the Saudis did not.
The socialist Nasser believed that the petroleum of the Middle East belonged to all Arabs and should be used for the progress of the region as a whole. Financially, Great Britain would rather deal with the individual monarchies instead of a confederacy of republics.
And the Saudi royal family certainly did not want to share their oil wealth or give up their monarchical control. In fact, when Nasser forged a confederacy with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, the Saudis successfully worked to break up the union.
John Foster Dulles too was opposed to Nasser’s Pan-Arabism. He once said that the Egyptian leader “whipped up Pan-Arabism much as Hitler whipped up Pan-Germanism as a means of promoting an expansion of his power.”
This was the same reason Israel feared Nasser: If Nasser managed to unify the Middle East, the combined might of all the nations, from many directions, could possibly overwhelm Israeli forces. Further, Nasser “was bound by the ideas of Arab unity and he felt a moral, political, and ideological obligation to the Palestinian people.”
Kennedy was puzzled by the Dulles/Eisenhower policy toward Nasser and the Middle East. He did not understand why Foster Dulles pulled out of his arrangement to help fund Nasser’s goal of the Aswan Dam across the Nile.
JFK did not support Eisenhower’s military intervention in Lebanon in 1958. As we have seen, he protested American support for the brutal French colonial war to keep the predominantly Muslim state of Algeria part of the French commonwealth. As George Ball once wrote, Kennedy believed that these kinds of policies worked in favor of the Soviets by ceding them the issues of independence, nationalism and infrastructure development.
To Kennedy, someone like Nasser provided a counterweight to the problem of Islamic fundamentalism, which was an issue he had mentioned in his 1957 Algeria speech. There, he noted the socio-political pull in the Muslim world toward “Arab feudalism and fanaticism.”
Consequently, Kennedy did not understand Eisenhower’s freeze out of Nasser after the Suez crisis of 1956. This would have been an opportune moment for a warming of relations with the wildly popular leader.
Nasser now had to turn to the Soviet Union for help in building Aswan. In 1957, the administration announced the Eisenhower Doctrine, which now allowed direct American intervention in the face of any Soviet threat. Nasser felt that this was aimed at him, and some commentators believe such was the case.
Eisenhower, Vice President Richard Nixon, and Foster Dulles all feared Nasser’s ability to control the entire Middle East. They decided to lean in the opposite direction, toward King Saud of Saudi Arabia.
The administration invited him to Washington, where he agreed to the Eisenhower Doctrine. What made this even worse is that Saudi Arabia had taken over sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood from Great Britain, and was promoting the fundamentalist, terrorist group worldwide.
Kennedy openly acknowledged that he felt all of the above were in error. In a 1959 speech, he said:
But if we can learn from the lessons of the past—if we can refrain from pressing our case so hard that the Arabs feel their neutrality and nationalism are threatened, the Middle East can become an area of strength and hope.
Nasser was already predisposed to favor Kennedy because of his criticism of France in the Algerian conflict. Kennedy began a prolific correspondence between the two leaders, eventually made up of 91 letters from 1961 to 1963.
Both men were warm, respectful and candid with each other in these letters. Kennedy had paid the highest compliment to Nasser when he appointed Dr. John Badeau as the ambassador to Egypt. The former president of the American University in Cairo, Badeau was probably the premier scholar on the history of Egypt in the U.S. who spoke fluent Arabic.
That appointment communicated how much Kennedy wanted to establish a genuine relationship with Nasser. What also turned the relationship benign was that Kennedy offered Nasser ten million dollars to prevent the ancient monuments of the Nile Valley from being overrun by flooding.
Kennedy had told his National Security Adviser, McGeorge Bundy, that he wanted to place a priority on developing a relationship with Nasser.
Therefore, he appointed Robert Komer to the National Security Council. Komer was very much in favor of courting Nasser, and though Jewish he was not at all beholden to Israel. Komer thought, like Kennedy, that the U.S. could harness Arab nationalism through the widespread appeal of Nasser.
After all, that appeal had caused Prince Talal to defect from Saudi Arabia to Egypt in 1962.
In the fall of 1961, the relationship underwent a crisis of sorts. The confederation between Syria and Egypt—the United Arab Republic—was dissolved. Kennedy went to work to cushion the blow to Egypt.
He offered even more aid to Nasser, and extended a large loan in order to soften the economic impact. He also refused to recognize the new government in Syria until Nasser did.
Kennedy continued to push the UN plan to repatriate the Palestinian refugees from the Nakba, long after David Ben-Gurion of Israel had turned it down. (See the exchange of letters between Kennedy and Nasser.)
In fact, Kennedy and Nasser were exchanging letters on the Palestinian refugee problem for many months. Kennedy essentially took this up on his own and alerted Nasser that he was pushing the issue through his Israeli ambassador in Tel Aviv.
And in an April 1963 letter to Nasser, Kennedy assured the Egyptian leader that, unlike his predecessors, he was not opposed to his renewed efforts to form a Pan-Arab union.
By 1962 everyone in the State Department was impressed by what Kennedy had achieved: He had turned a negative into a positive. But there was a problem that began to arise at this time.
There was a war breaking out in Yemen between the remnant of the preceding monarchy and a rebel force led by Colonel Abdullah al-Sallal, a young nationalist who wanted to modernize Yemen and demanded that the British get out of Aden.
Saudi Arabia funneled arms to the royalists, led by Mohammed al-Badr, the son of Imam Ahmed, who had ruled despotically from 1948 to 1962, and Nasser sent an expeditionary force totaling 70,000 men to support al-Sallal.
Great Britain and Israel both wrote to Kennedy pleading with him not to support Nasser. Oil company lobbyists, such as Kermit Roosevelt and Christian Herter Jr., who were on friendly terms with the State Department’s Middle East experts, were also trying to push Kennedy to toughen his position toward Nasser.
But Kennedy resisted his allies and declared he would back Nasser in his effort to turn Yemen into a republic.
As the war dragged on, Kennedy sent Ellsworth Bunker to negotiate a truce. The problem was that the Saudis looked at the conflict as a way to drive a wedge between JFK and Nasser, so they resisted signing any formal truce.
Kennedy was not at this time willing to give up the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia “because of the big oil investments we had there,” as Kennedy put it to Komer. There was fear that the situation in Yemen could spark a Nasserist revolt against the Saudi monarchy and threaten Aramco’s control of the Dhahran oil field.
To prevent that from happening, the JFK administration, in April 1963, dispatched eight American F-100 fighter bombers and an undetermined number of military advisers to familiarize Saudi officers with the latest techniques in aerial combat and counterinsurgency.
This frustrated Kennedy’s attempt to bring his relationship with Egypt to full fruition and soured relations with Nasser. General Curtis LeMay and other Pentagon hawks were pushing at this time for a more expanded U.S. role in the Yemen conflict which Kennedy was against.
At the end of World War II, nationalist leader Sukarno proclaimed Indonesia to be an independent nation. But when British forces began landing there after Japan’s defeat, they started to aid the Dutch in taking back their former colony.
Sukarno and his Muslim partner Mohammed Hatta now began a guerrilla war of liberation. International pressure helped convince the Netherlands to cede control of the giant archipelago to Sukarno. But the Dutch held onto what was then called West Irian.
Like Lumumba and Nasser, Sukarno was a charismatic leader, a forceful speaker, and a strong proponent of anti-colonialism. In 1955 he and Nehru of India sponsored the Bandung Conference in Indonesia.
This was the first meeting of what was called the Non-Aligned Movement. Generally, these were emerging nations on the African or Asian continent that did not wish to be pawns in the Cold War.
They wanted to be free to choose their own foreign policies and trade partners without being tarred as a Soviet or American crony.
As many have pointed out, the year the conference was called seemed to be more than just happenstance. Because in the two prior years the CIA had overthrown its first democratically elected governments: in Iran in 1953, and Guatemala in 1954. Neither deposed leader—Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala—was a communist, or aligned with the USSR.
The main goal of both was to remove foreign domination of their natural resources so they could be better utilized by the native peoples. In Guatemala this meant the American owned United Fruit Company; in Iran it was the British/American conglomerate the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.
Therefore, the Dulles brothers and President Eisenhower decided to intercede on both corporations’ behalf. For this reason, many of the leaders of these non-aligned nations openly expressed their displeasure with the diplomacy of John Foster Dulles.
By the late fifties, the PKI, Indonesia’s communist party, was one of the largest in the world. In 1957, an assassination attempt was made on Sukarno and he used it to take control of the last Dutch business holdings in the archipelago.
But the CIA, which was already funneling money to create an opposition to Sukarno, blamed it on the PKI.
The combination of these events—Sukarno’s leadership of a world neutralism position, his seizure of business interests and the growth of the PKI—all made him a target of the Dulles brothers’ continuing interest in the technique of the coup d’état.
Because in Foster Dulles’s eyes, there really was no such thing as being neutral in the Cold War. To the Secretary of State, neutrality was simply a transitional state headed toward communism. He also called it “an obsolete … immoral and shortsighted conception.”
Therefore, in 1958, the administration staged what was, at that time, the largest covert action ever attempted by the Agency. But the clandestine aspect was blown when, during the CIA-backed uprising, a pilot was shot down.
Alan Pope had Agency identification on him when he was captured. Since Pope’s bombing run had killed many civilians, Sukarno was able to use his prisoner as an exhibit to show who was really behind the attempted overthrow. This great propaganda victory was the beginning of the end of the action.
As noted throughout this essay, Kennedy disagreed with the Dulles view of neutralism. In fact, his pre-inauguration task force concluded that non-alignment should not be detrimental to American interests.
Tactically, Kennedy believed that by not accepting neutrality, the United States made the Soviets more attractive in the Third World. Therefore, when Kennedy assumed office, he began to reverse the previous administration’s policy, this time in Indonesia.
Just three months after his inauguration, Kennedy decided to invite Sukarno to Washington. He was interested in securing Pope’s release.
The new president asked CIA Director Allen Dulles for a briefing on how Pope had become a prisoner. Dulles gave him a redacted version of a CIA internal report.
But Kennedy understood what the meaning of it was. He exclaimed after reading it, “No wonder Sukarno doesn’t like us very much. He has to sit down with people who tried to overthrow his government.”
Kennedy’s interactions with Sukarno were based on securing Pope’s release—which he did—and also on improving American relations.
Kennedy commissioned a team of economists from Tufts University to develop a plan to extend economic aid to Indonesia in non-military ways.
He also arranged to have West Irian turned over from the Netherlands to Indonesia; this was called the New York Agreement. It was another reversal of the previous administration.
In deference to the Netherlands, Eisenhower had kept the resolution bottled up at the United Nations. President Kennedy entrusted the negotiations to his brother Robert and Ellsworth Bunker. Sukarno was jubilant when it was approved at the UN and signed into law.
The new president also helped arrange favorable profit-sharing between American business interests in Indonesia and the government of that country.
Kennedy now promised to visit Sukarno in the campaign year of 1964. Sukarno had drawn up plans to construct a villa for that visit.
Jacqueline Kennedy and her brother Robert co-wrote a letter to the Soviets about a week after President Kennedy’s assassination.
They warned that the quest for détente between the slain president and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev would not continue under Johnson. To continue that quest, Robert would resign as Attorney General, run for elected office and then run for the presidency himself.
But that was not all that changed. In Congo, after the fall of Katanga, Kennedy wanted the Congolese army trained by Colonel Michael Green, an expert in the area.
Green had developed a territorial plan for Leopoldville to hold the country together. The Pentagon stalled on the completion of this plan.
Meanwhile Mobutu became a favorite of the military and Fort Benning crowd [Fort Benning was the home of the U.S. Army School of the Americas and U.S. army airborne school where Mobutu asked to train].
When Kennedy met Mobutu at the White House Rose Garden in May 1963, he told him: “General, if it hadn’t been for you, the whole thing would have collapsed and the Communists would have taken over.” However, Kennedy was not committed to Mobutu as the head of state at this time.
He was also in the process of trying to convince the UN to prolong its stay in Congo by addressing the General Assembly in September of 1963.
At the time of Kennedy’s death, the so-called Simba and Kwilu rebellions erupted, which were Lumumbist in orientation.
Jonathan Kwitny described the natives who participated in these rebellions, stereotypically, as a “horde” of “barbaric rabble” made up of “starving farmers turned cutthroats who practiced black magic against any educated person, or one of foreign influence. This included being thrown off bridges in a burlap bag into the river below.”
President Johnson and the CIA used these uprisings—which were supported by Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara—to turn Congo into a Cold War cauldron.
The violence was blamed on Maoist China, as one of the primary leaders, Pierre Mulele, Lumumba’s former education minister, had been trained in guerrilla warfare there.
Kennedy’s chosen Congo leader, Cyrille Adoula, resigned after instituting economic austerity measures at U.S. government urging, which exacerbated the inequality lying at the root of the Simba revolt.
Adoula was replaced by, of all men, the former leader of Katanga, Moïse Tshombe. Without Kennedy to persuade them to stay, in the summer of 1964, the UN left. The U.S. now invited the Belgians back into the country.
Mercenaries, whom the UN force had fought to expel, were also now invited back into Congo. The mercenaries were from the white supremacist countries of Rhodesia and South Africa. The CIA also sent in Cuban exiles from the Bay of Pigs invasion to fly jet sorties against the natives.
A rebel in the eastern city of Uvira declared to a journalist,
Look, we are a people who fight for liberty with spears and clubs. You, the powerful Americans, are crushing us with bombs and planes. God will judge you, God will punish you!
With the betrayal of Kennedy’s policy and growth of another dirty war, Gullion resigned. As the American ambassador to the UN, Adlai Stevenson said America, in the one year after Kennedy’s assassination, went from being a champion of the African cause to being as reviled as the Belgians.
In the following year, 1965, Joseph Mobutu became the political strongman of Congo. He stayed in that position for more than 30 years, impoverishing his country while becoming the wealthiest man in Africa.
Misfortune bedeviled one other African country after Kennedy’s assassination: Ghana.
President Kennedy had enjoyed friendly relations with Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first post-independence leader, and promised funding for the construction of a dam on the Volta River.
Nkrumah was a socialist and Pan-Africanist who supported Lumumba. He wanted to industrialize Ghana’s economy and dreamed of creating a United States of Africa.
On February 26, 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup masterminded by CIA agent Howard Bane, whose role was subsequently exposed by CIA Angola Station Chief John Stockwell.
After the coup, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sent a delegation to Ghana that instructed the new ruling junta to end Nkrumah’s industrialization program. Ghana’s economic development was set back for the next 50 years, with Nkrumah’s overthrow representing a blow to all of Africa.
In the Middle East, President Johnson did not see the political upside in trying to be fair to Nasser. As the Egyptian leader once wrote to Kennedy, there is a very strong Jewish vote in America, but a rather weak Arab vote. Therefore, the political pressure was all one way.
But since Johnson was not the advocate for Third World struggles that Kennedy was, it made things all the worse for the Cairo Conference sponsor.
For instance, Nasser was opposed to Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War. When this opposition was voiced, Johnson cut aid to Egypt and shipped more arms to Israel. As was the case under Eisenhower, this gravitated Nasser toward the USSR.
When Badeau saw what was happening, like Gullion, he resigned. As with Eisenhower and Foster Dulles, Johnson now began to tilt further toward Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist, terror-sponsoring monarchy.
He supplied them with an air-defense system, offered them military bases, and a $100 million grant for trucks and other transport vehicles.
As Roger Mattson wrote in his book Stealing the Atom Bomb, no president in the atomic age was more opposed to nuclear proliferation than Kennedy. In an exchange of letters in May and June of 1963, Kennedy threatened to pull funding for Israel unless he was allowed to send inspectors to the nuclear reactor plant at the Dimona site.
However, when the CIA told Johnson that it appeared Israel had secretly developed an atomic device, LBJ barely reacted. During the Six Day War of 1967, although Johnson requested that Israel not strike first, they did so—after Defense Secretary Robert McNamara gave his approval.
And we all know about the infamous Liberty incident, which occurred during that war. Israeli jets attacked the USS Liberty, a National Security Agency (NSA) spy ship.
This resulted in 34 dead and 171 wounded. Johnson did not break relations with Israel, and there were no trials held over this atrocity.
After the war, because of this clear favoritism, Nasser broke relations with the United States.
When President Johnson entered the Oval Office, there was a bill for continuing aid to Indonesia ready for him to sign. Everyone in the Asia division of the State Department knew that signing the document would have been a matter of routine with Kennedy. It was for a rather small amount as part of a larger grant to be issued later. Everyone involved was surprised when Johnson balked at signing it.
But further, Johnson—again differing from Kennedy—now made sure that whatever aid did go to Sukarno was military-oriented. Also, Johnson did not follow through on Kennedy’s pledge to visit Sukarno in 1964.
As Roger Hilsman of the State Department later wrote, Johnson was making a major shift in policy: Kennedy’s attempt to channel Sukarno’s nationalism in constructive ways was being abandoned.
America was now moving toward a hard line on Indonesia. Like Gullion and Badeau before him, Hilsman resigned in 1964.
Sukarno also realized that, with Kennedy’s death, the tide had turned. In August 1964, on Indonesia’s Independence Day, he made his famous Year of Living Dangerously speech, predicting that 1965 would be fateful.
In fact, by September 1964, the CIA was planning covert action against Sukarno and enlisting possible alternatives to his leadership. They also planned on creating agitation between the communists and non-communists.
The White House was on board with this new paradigm of fracturing Sukarno’s ruling coalition. In one-year, American policy had gone from doing all that was possible to support Sukarno to now planning for a new leadership.
As Sukarno understood, 1965 was fateful. To be more accurate, it was catastrophic. Marshall Green, a long time protégé of the Dulles brothers, now became the American ambassador in Jakarta.
What happened there in the fall of 1965 has been shrouded in mystery for decades. But new work by Geoffrey Robinson, Jess Melvin, Brad Simpson, and Greg Poulgrain, have shown that the savage and comprehensive attacks on the PKI that took the lives of at least 500,000 people was planned and executed as a genocide. It was a way to remove Sukarno by not assaulting him directly.
In this writer’s opinion, the last chapter of Poulgrain’s book, JFK. vs. Allen Dulles: Battleground Indonesia, is the best explication of how this occurred and how General Suharto was at the center of the storm.
Like Mobutu in Congo, Suharto now became the new strongman in Indonesia while Sukarno was placed under house arrest.
He ruled for three decades as the people in Indonesia worked largely for foreign companies at minimal wages. Due to economic and social chaos, it all came crashing down in 1998.
In light of the changes described above, the presidency and assassination of John Kennedy needs to be reevaluated.
Kennedy to be sure was not averse to foreign meddling and at times caved in before right-wing pressure. However, his administration engaged with socialist and non-aligned leaders like Nasser and Sukarno, supported diplomatic solutions to conflict through the UN, stood up to European imperial agents, and was generally against right-wing coups and military intervention.
The deleterious events that occurred after his death are simply too much to be chalked up to coincidence. I have deliberately avoided describing specific escalations in Vietnam, and the dropping of Kennedy’s attempt at détente with Castro. Those have been dealt with at length elsewhere, such as in James Douglass’s book JFK and the Unspeakable.
What I am trying to show here is that those were not isolated examples, but part of a broader pattern of foreign policy, one that did not start after the 1962 Missile Crisis but well before.
Like the Dulles Brothers, Lyndon Johnson simply did not have the empathy or understanding for the problems of the Third World that Kennedy did, and was intent on ratcheting up Cold War conflicts and giving a green light to the most aggressive elements in the U.S. national security establishment.
The progressive leaders and peoples living in the emerging nations significantly understood what happened after Kennedy’s assassination.
In a 1964 interview with reporter Cindy Adams, Sukarno described the special home he designed for Kennedy’s visit. He then paused, began to perspire, mopped his brow and said, “Tell me, why did they kill Kennedy?”
Nasser fell into a depression and ordered Kennedy’s funeral to be broadcast four times on Cairo television. When Kwame Nkrumah was shown a copy of the Warren Report, he turned to the title page.
He then pointed to the name of Allen Dulles. He returned it to the American ambassador and simply said, “Whitewash.”
Originally published at CovertAction Magazine
 CovertAction Magazine is proud to note that Garrison’s book was first brought to the attention of Oliver Stone by Ellen Ray, one of the founders of CAM (which was then called Covert Action Quarterly). Ray had been in Havana for the 1988 Latin American Film Festival, and bumped into Stone on an elevator. Her company, Sheridan Square Press, had just published Jim Garrison’s book, and she urged Stone to read it—which he did and immediately purchased the film rights for $250,000. He used his own money to do this; he did not seek studio financing because he wanted to keep the film project secret until it was well under way since he knew it would prove extremely controversial.
 See Noam Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1993).
 Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War, rev ed. (New York: Skyhorse, 2013), 27, 28. A preliminary draft of NSAM 273 had been approved by Maxwell Taylor of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a Pentagon conference on November 20th in Honolulu but it was never seen by Kennedy.
 John Newman, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue and the Struggle for Power (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1992).
 James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (New York: Touchstone, 2010), 126.
 See James Blight, Virtual JFK: Vietnam—If Kennedy Had Lived (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), 310; Scott, The War Conspiracy.
 Arthur Schlesinger Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), 278.
 The Kennedy Tapes, by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1998), 173-88. See also Martin Sherwin, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020).
 See David Nasaw, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012).
 Richard Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 12.
 Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, 93.
 Herbert Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (New York: Dial Press, 1980), 228.
 Mahoney, JFK, 12.
 Ibid., 15-16.
 Speech by Ambrose, at Kansas State University, October 25, 1988.
 Jeffrey Lefebvre, “Kennedy’s Algeria Dilemma: Containment, Alliance Politics and the ‘Rebel Dialogue,” Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 35, 2 (April 1999), 61-82.
 John F. Kennedy, The Strategy of Peace (New York: The Popular Library, 1961), 67.
 Ibid., 70.
 Ibid., 72.
 Mahoney, JFK, 20.
 Ibid., 29-30.
 James Norwood, “Edmund Gullion, JFK and the Shaping of a Foreign Policy in Vietnam” at KennedysandKing.com, see footnote 18.
 Philip Muehlenbeck, Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy’s Courting of African Nationalist Leaders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 37.
 Ibid., 37-38.
 Jonathan Kwitny, Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World (New York: Contemporary Books, 1984), 55.
 John Newman, Countdown to Darkness: The Assassination of President Kennedy (Create Space Independent Publishers, 2017), 227.
 Ibid., 236.
 Ibid., 296.
 Kwitny, Endless Enemies, 75.
 John Morton Blum, Years of Discord, 1961-1974 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991), 23.
 Mahoney, JFK, 80.
 James DiEugenio, “Dodd and Dulles vs Kennedy in Africa,” Probe Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2.
 Kwitny, Endless Enemies, 64.
 Susan Williams, Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
 Interview with Mahoney by Oliver Stone in the forthcoming documentary JFK: Destiny Betrayed.
 William Mountz, “The Congo Crisis: A Reexamination, 1960-1965,” The Journal of the Middle East and Africa, 5, 2 (2014), 151-165; “Man in the News: Congo Caretaker Cyrille Adoula,” The New York Times, July 1, 1964, https://www.nytimes.com/1964/07/01/archives/man-in-the-news-congo-caretaker-cyrille-adoula.html
 James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba and the Garrison Case, Second Edition (New York: Skyhorse, 2012), 371-72.
 Mahoney, JFK, 156.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, 11.
 Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Unleashed Fundamentalist Islam (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005), 20.
 Ibid., 38-39.
 Ibid., 35-36.
 Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, The Cairo Documents, 205.
 Warren Bass, Support Any Friend: Kennedy’s Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 48.
 Heikal, The Cairo Documents, 27.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, xiv.
 Kennedy, The Strategy of Peace, 75.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, 13-16.
 Ibid., 15.
 Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game, 124-25.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, 124.
 Ibid., 125. See also Douglas Little, “The New Frontier on the Nile: JFK, Nasser, and Arab Nationalism,” Journal of American History, 75, 2 (September 1988), 501-527.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, 127-28.
 Little, “The New Frontier on the Nile,” 511.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, 135
 Little, “The New Frontier on the Nile,” 521
 Robert Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 10.
 DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, 32.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, 46.
 Ibid., xiv.
 DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, 33.
 See Afterword to Greg Poulgrain’s, JFK vs. Allen Dulles: Battleground Indonesia (New York: Skyhorse, 2020). Some of the non-military aid to Indonesia went to police training programs run by USAID whose purpose was to build a more professional police force and paramilitary brigade that would function as a counterweight to the army which was seen as loyal to Sukarno, in case it was decided to remove him. In Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation-Building in the American Century (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).
 Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, 379-80.
 Mahoney, JFK, 227-28.
 Quoted in David F. Schmitz, The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorship, 1965-1989 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 26.
 Kwitny, Endless Enemies, 83-85.
 Anthony Lukas, “Congolese Rebel Condemns U.S. for ‘Intervention’ in Civil War,” New York Times, 13 June 1964, 6.
 Mahoney, JFK, 231
 John Daniszewski and Ann M. Simmons. “Mobutu, Zairian Dictator for 32 Years, Dies in Exile,” Los Angeles Times, September 8, 1997.
 John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).
 Charles Quist Adade, “The Coup That Set Ghana and Africa Back Fifty Years,” Pambazuka News, March 2, 2016, https://www.pambazuka.org/governance/coup-set-ghana-and-africa-50-years-back
 Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World, 241-42.
 Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game, 142.
 Letters of May 10th and June 15th to David Ben-Gurion.
 Roger Mattson, Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel (Create Space Independent Publishers, 2016), 97.
 BBC News, June 4, 2017, report by Jeremy Bowen.
 Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World, xviii.
 Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation (New York: Doubleday 1967), 407.
 Ibid., 409.
 CIA Memorandum of September 18, 1964.
 Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. 26, 181-84.
 Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S. Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2010); Jess Melvin, The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder (London: Routledge, 2018); Poulgrain, JFK vs. Allen Dulles.
 Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, 377.
 Muehlenbeck, Betting on Africans, 228.
 Mahoney, JFK, 235.
About the author
James DiEugenio is author of Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba and the Garrison Case (New York: Skyhorse, 2nd ed. 2012) and publisher of the website Kennedysandking.com.
We suggest you also read Edward Curtin’s “Review: JFK vs Allen Dulles”.
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