On January 17, 1961, at the end of his second term in office, President Dwight Eisenhower tried to pull back the reins on U.S. military intervention in other countries with his warning about the military industrial complex. But he did not apply that same restraint to covert CIA interventions in other countries — covert interventions that he worked very hard to protect and keep secret from Congress and the public.
In 1956, when Senator Mike Mansfield proposed that the CIA should keep Congress informed of its activities, Eisenhower knew that the CIA would be in big trouble if Congress learned its deepest secrets. So, he decreed that Mansfield’s “bill would be passed over my dead body.” According to journalist and CIA expert Stephen Kinzer, Eisenhower then “pressed Senate leaders to do whatever necessary to ensure that it did not pass.” It didn’t.
During the initial stages of the Cold War, the Western nations—those aligned with the United States -- confronted the Eastern bloc —those aligned with the USSR. The mostly non-aligned nations of what came to be known as the Third World were left pretty much alone as long as they kept the Communists sufficiently in check: a tolerance that was known as the “Jakarta Axiom” after its Indonesian paradigm.
In 1953, that policy changed. Washington decided that merely keeping Communism in check was no longer a credential for tolerance. Third World countries had to specifically align with the United States. In The Jakarta Method, Vincent Blevins explains that “the new rule…was that neutral governments were potential enemies, and Washington could decide if and when an independent Third World nation was insufficiently anticommunist.” With that, the age of the CIA coup began. It was Eisenhower who made that decision.
The first country to be tried and condemned under the Eisenhower doctrine was Iran: a decision whose reverberations are still being felt today. But Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, didn’t fall because he was Communist. While British and American officials publicly played up the Communist threat, according to Ervand Abrahamian, a leading expert on the 1953 coup d’etat, privately, they knew better. The American State Department and the British Foreign Office agreed that there was "no element of Russian incitation" and that Iran should "not be seen primarily as part of the immediate short-term ‘cold war’ problem." The CIA assessed that Mosaddeq’s government "has the capability to take effective repressive action to check … Tudeh [the Communist Party] agitations….The Tudeh will not be able to gain control of the government."
The problem in Iran was not communism, but neutralism and nationalism. In 1951, Mosaddeq was carried into power on a wave of nationalism that had made up its mind to rescue Iran’s oil from Britain so that the people of Iran, and not the stockholders of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, could benefit from its profits. Mosaddeq immediately moved to nationalize Iran’s oil, and, in April 1951, the Iranian parliament approved the nationalization bill. Mosaddeq was elected prime minister and signed the bill into law the following month.
That was too much for the British. They clamped a crushing embargo on Iran and sent warships to enforce it. Not enough to pressure the people of Iran to overthrow the popular Mosaddeq — the State Department placed his support at 95-98 percent — the British tried instead. But they failed. And when Mosaddeq responded by shuttering the British embassy in Tehran and expelling its diplomats, Britain’s spies were flushed out with them. England had no one left in Iran to overthrow Mosaddeq.
So, they looked to America. Though President Truman had considered ousting Mosaddeq, according to Abrahamian, it didn’t ultimately happen until the Eisenhower administration.
On July 11, 1953, Eisenhower gave presidential approval for Operation Ajax, the very first CIA coup, and Mosaddeq was removed from power. That coup would start a historical tidal wave that led to the suffering of the people of Iran under the dictatorship of the Shah, the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the American Embassy hostage-taking before crashing on the shores of today and the current standoff over the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement.
Not only across the sea, but in America’s backyard, some of today’s troubles trace back to Eisenhower. As Eisenhower delivered the first CIA coup in Iran, so he delivered the first CIA coups in Latin America. And as seen in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Haiti and other Latin American and Caribbean Basin countries, the effects of that foreign policy orientation are still being felt today.
Like Mosaddeq in Iran, Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala wanted his own people to benefit from their own country’s wealth. He took on United Fruit, which owned about 20 percent of the land in his country and redistributed it. He also regulated major U.S. companies in Guatemala. In 1954, Eisenhower ordered the CIA to overthrow Arbenz, and, in late June that year, it succeeded.
The Latin American or Caribbean country most in the news today is Cuba. Hostile U.S. policy toward Cuba is usually traced back to the Kennedy administration. But in all of the three most important ways, those policies were born during the Eisenhower years.
The U.S. embargo on Cuba went into full lockdown by order of Kennedy in February 1962. But the doors began to close already in September 1960 when Eisenhower banned all exports to Cuba except food and medicine. So, the embargo, the lingering heart of the bad relationship, traces back to Eisenhower.
So does the Bay of Pigs. Though, again, usually attributed to Kennedy, it was in May 1960 that Eisenhower approved a covert action on Castro. By October 1959, Eisenhower had “approved measures,” according to CIA expert John Prados, that led to “a secret war.” It was Eisenhower, and not Kennedy, who authorized the plan for the invasion of Cuba that would mature into The Bay of Pigs. “There can be no doubt the revised CIA plan amounted to an invasion,” according to Prados. “Dwight D. Eisenhower, not John F. Kennedy, holds the responsibility there.” The CIA plan to invade Cuba is dated December 6, 1960. Kennedy would be inaugurated forty-five days later.
Like the embargo and the Bay of Pigs, the original signature on the plan to assassinate Castro is, not Kennedy’s, but Eisenhower’s. In the summer of 1959, William LeoGrande and Peter Kornblum explain in their book, Back Channel to Cuba, “key officials in the Eisenhower administration reached….a clear determination to bring about Castro’s demise.” The decision was cast for regime change in Cuba before Eisenhower left office. By October, secret, but official, U.S. policy was to overthrow Castro by the end of 1960. On November 5, according to LeoGrande and Kornblum, that plan was approved by Eisenhower. On December 11, 1959, according to CIA expert Tim Weiner, Allen Dulles, Eisenhower’s CIA director, gave the go-ahead for Castro’s “elimination.” Dulles changed “elimination” to “removal from Cuba.” Stephen Kinzer reports that on May 13, 1960, after being briefed by Dulles, Eisenhower ordered Castro “sawed off.”
These actions of Eisenhower sowed the seeds for the embargo and regime change policies that still bedevil U.S. relations with Cuba today.
While Eisenhower did pull in the reins on American military intervention in other countries, he also built up and gave free rein to covert CIA operations — there would be 170 of them during his two terms — that intervened in other countries and that resonate 61 years after he delivered his famous farewell address and his warning about the potential excesses of the military industrial complex.
Ukraine would consider inviting Russian officials to a peace summit to discuss Kyiv’s proposal for a negotiated end to the war, according to Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff.
“There can be a situation in which we together invite representatives of the Russian Federation, where they will be presented with the plan in case whoever is representing the aggressor country at that time will want to genuinely end this war and return to a just peace,” Yermak said over the weekend, noting that one more round of talks without Russia will first be held in Switzerland.
The comment represents a subtle shift in Ukrainian messaging about talks. Kyiv has long argued that it would never negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, yet there is no reason to believe Putin will leave power any time soon. That realization — along with Ukraine’s increasingly perilous position on the battlefield — may have helped force Kyiv to reconsider its hard line on talking with the widely reviled Russian leader.
Zelensky hinted at a potential mediator for talks following a visit this week to Saudi Arabia. The leader “noted in particular Saudi Arabia’s strivings to help in restoring a just peace in Ukraine,” according to a statement from Ukrainian officials. “Saudi Arabia’s leadership can help find a just solution.”
Russia, for its part, has signaled that it is open to peace talks of some sort, though both Kyiv and Moscow insist that any negotiations would have to be conducted on their terms. The gaps between the negotiating positions of the two countries remain substantial, with each laying claim to roughly 18% of the territory that made up pre-2014 Ukraine.
Ukraine’s shift is a sign of just how dire the situation is becoming for its armed forces, which recently made a hasty retreat from Avdiivka, a small but strategically important town near Donetsk. After months of wrangling, the U.S. Congress has still not approved new military aid for Ukraine, and Kyiv now says its troops are having to ration ammunition as their stockpiles dwindle.
Zelensky said Sunday that he expects Russia to mount a new offensive as soon as late May. It’s unclear whether Ukrainian troops are prepared to stop such a move.
Even the Black Sea corridor — a narrow strip of the waterway through which Ukraine exports much of its grain — could be under threat. “I think the route will be closed...because to defend it, it's also about some ammunition, some air defense, and some other systems” that are now in short supply, said Zelensky.
As storm clouds gather, it’s time to push for peace talks before Russia regains the upper hand, argue Anatol Lieven and George Beebe of the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.
“Complete victory for Ukraine is now an obvious impossibility,” Lieven and Beebe wrote this week. “Any end to the fighting will therefore end in some form of compromise, and the longer we wait, the worse the terms of that compromise will be for Ukraine, and the greater the dangers will be for our countries and the world.”
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
— Hungary finally signed off on Sweden’s bid to join NATO after the Swedish prime minister met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, according to Deutsche Welle. What did Orban get for all the foot dragging? Apparently just four Swedish fighter jets of the same model that it has been purchasing for years. The prime minister blamed his party for the slow-rolling, saying in a radio interview prior to the parliamentary vote that he had persuaded his partisans to drop their opposition to Sweden’s accession.
— French President Emmanuel Macron sent allies scrambling Tuesday when he floated the idea of sending NATO troops to Ukraine, according to the BBC. Leaders from Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, and other NATO states quickly swatted down the idea that the alliance (or any individual members thereof) would consider joining the war directly. Russia said direct conflict with NATO would be an “inevitability” if the bloc sent troops into Ukraine.
— On Wednesday, Zelensky attended a summit in Albania aimed at bolstering Balkan support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, according to AP News. The Ukrainian leader said all states in the region are “worthy” of becoming members of NATO and the European Union, which “have provided Europe with the longest and most reliable era of security and economic development.”
— Western officials were in talks with the Kremlin for a prisoner swap involving Russian dissident Alexei Navalny prior to his death in a Russian prison camp in February, though no formal offer had yet been made, according to Politico. This account contrasts with the one given by Navalny’s allies, who claimed that Putin had killed the opposition leader in order to sabotage discussions that were nearing a deal. Navalny’s sudden death has led to speculation about whether Russian officials may have assassinated him, though no proof has yet surfaced to back up this claim. There is, however, little doubt that the broader deterioration of the dissident’s health was related to the harsh conditions he was held under.
U.S. State Department news:
In a Tuesday press conference, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the situation on the frontlines in Ukraine is “extremely serious.” “We have seen Ukrainian frontline troops who don’t have the ammo they need to repel Russian aggression. They’re still fighting bravely. They’re still fighting courageously,” Miller said. “They still have armor and weapons and ammunition they can use, but they’re having to ration it now because the United States Congress has failed to act.”
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Janet Yellen, United States Secretary of the Treasury. (Reuters)
On Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen strongly endorsed efforts to tap frozen Russian central bank assets in order to continue to fund Ukraine.
“There is a strong international law, economic and moral case for moving forward,” with giving the assets, which were frozen by international sanctions following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, to Kyiv, she said to reporters before a G7 meeting in San Paulo.
Furthermore on Wednesday, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby urged the use of these assets to assist the Ukrainian military.
This adds momentum to increasing efforts on Capitol Hill to monetize the frozen assets to assist the beleaguered country, including through the “REPO Act,” a U.S. Senate bill which was criticized by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a recent article here in Responsible Statecraft. As Paul pointed out, spending these assets would violate international law and norms by the outright seizure of sovereign Russian assets.
In the long term, this will do even more to undermine global faith in the U.S.-led and Western-centric international financial system. Doubts about the system and pressures to find an alternative are already heightened due to the freezing of Russian overseas financial holdings in the first place, as well as the frequent use of unilateral sanctions by the U.S. to impose its will and values on other countries.
The amount of money involved here is considerable. Over $300 billion in Russian assets was frozen, mostly held in European banks. For comparison, that’s about the same amount as the entirety of Western aid committed from all sources to Ukraine since the beginning of the war in 2022 — around $310 billion, including the recent $54 billion in 4-year assistance just approved by the EU.
Thus, converting all of the Russian assets to assistance for Ukraine could in theory fully finance a continuing war in Ukraine for years to come. As political support for open-ended Ukraine aid wanes in both the U.S. and Europe, large-scale use of this financing method also holds the promise of an administrative end-run around the political system.
But there are also considerable potential downsides, particularly in Europe. European financial institutions hold the overwhelming majority of frozen Russian assets, and any form of confiscation could be a major blow to confidence in these entities. In addition, European corporations have significant assets stranded in Russia which Moscow could seize in retaliation for the confiscation of its foreign assets.
Another major issue is that using assets to finance an ongoing conflict will forfeit their use as leverage in any peace settlement, and the rebuilding of Ukraine. The World Bank now estimates post-war rebuilding costs for Ukraine of nearly $500 billion. If the West can offer a compromise to Russia in which frozen assets are used to pay part of these costs, rather than demanding new Russian financing for massive reparations, this could be an important incentive for negotiations.
In contrast, monetizing the assets outside of a peace process could signal that the West intends to continue the conflict indefinitely.
In combination with aggressive new U.S. sanctions announced last week on Russia and on third party countries that continue to deal with Russia, the new push for confiscation of Russian assets is more evidence that the U.S. and EU intend to intensify the conflict with Moscow using administrative mechanisms that won’t rely on support from the political system or the people within them.
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Activist Layla Elabed speaks during an uncommitted vote election night gathering as Democrats and Republicans hold their Michigan presidential primary election, in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S. February 27, 2024. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
A protest vote in Michigan against President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza dramatically exceeded expectations Tuesday, highlighting the possibility that his stance on the conflict could cost him the presidency in November.
More than 100,000 Michiganders voted “uncommitted” in yesterday’s presidential primary, earning 13.3% of the tally with most votes counted and blasting past organizers’ goal of 10,000 protest votes. Biden won the primary handily with 81% of the total tally.
The results suggest that Biden could lose Michigan in this year’s election if he continues to back Israel’s campaign to the hilt. In 2020, he won the state by 150,000 votes while polls predicted he would win by a much larger margin. This year, early polls show a slight lead for Trump in the battleground state, which he won in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes.
“The war on Gaza is a deep moral issue and the lack of attention and empathy for this perspective from the administration is breaking apart the fragile coalition we built to elect Joe Biden in 2020,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a progressive leader who has called for a ceasefire in Gaza, as votes came in last night.
Biden still has “a little bit of time to change this dynamic,” Jayapal told CNN, but “it has to be a dramatic policy and rhetorical shift from the president on this issue and a new strategy to rebuild a real partnership with progressives in multiple communities who are absolutely key to winning the election.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, a prominent Biden ally, told Semafor the vote is a “wake-up call” for the White House on Gaza.
The “uncommitted” option won outright in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb with a famously large Arab American population. The protest vote also gained notable traction in college towns, signaling Biden’s weakness among young voters across the country. “Uncommitted” received at least 8% of votes in every county in Michigan with more than 95% of votes tallied.
The uncommitted campaign drew backing from prominent Democrats in Michigan, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, who is the majority leader in the Michigan House. Former Reps. Andy Levin and Beto O’Rourke, who served as a representative from Texas, also lent their support to the effort.
“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations,” said Listen to Michigan, the organization behind the campaign, in a statement last night. “Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom [...] voted for Biden in 2020, are uncommitted to his re-election due to the war in Gaza.”
Biden did not make reference to the uncommitted movement in his victory speech, but reports indicate that his campaign is spooked by the effort. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, White House officials met with Arab and Muslim leaders in Michigan to try to assuage their concerns about the war, which has left about 30,000 Palestinians dead and many more injured. (More than 1,100 Israelis died during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks last year.)
The president argues that his support for Israel has made it possible for him to guide the direction of the war to the extent possible, though his critics note that, despite some symbolic and rhetorical moves, he has stopped far short of holding back U.S. weapons or supporting multilateral efforts to demand a ceasefire.
Campaigners now hope the “uncommitted” effort will spread to other states. Minnesota, which will hold its primaries next week, is an early target.
“If you think this will stop with Michigan you are either the president or paid to flatter him,” said Alex Sammon, a politics writer at Slate.
Meanwhile in the Republican primary, former President Donald Trump fended off a challenge from former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. With 94% of votes in, Trump came away with 68% of the vote, while Haley scored around 27%.