Last November Foreign Affairs, the prestigious journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, published a review of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, a new book by Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project. Written by the council’s chief Latin America expert, Kenneth Maxwell, the review upset two former statesmen who figure prominently in the book and who also happen to be influential actors at the council: Henry Kissinger and his longtime associate William Rogers. In May, after an acrimonious exchange between Rogers and Maxwell in Foreign Affairs–an exchange that Maxwell insists was abruptly curtailed as a result of pressure from Kissinger and Rogers–Maxwell resigned in protest from the council. His departure raises questions about intellectual freedom at the council; about editorial independence at Foreign Affairs, where Maxwell spent eleven years as Western Hemisphere book reviewer; and about Kissinger’s and Rogers’s influence on the nation’s pre-eminent foreign policy think tank.
Maxwell’s review, “The Other 9/11: The United States and Chile, 1973,” was not a slashing polemic but a measured essay on American intervention in Chile in the 1970s. Maxwell expressed certain reservations about The Pinochet File, yet acknowledged that Kornbluh had assembled a dossier that “significantly amplifies” our historical knowledge of the campaign against President Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by a military coup on September 11, 1973. Halfway through the essay, the reviewer directed his ire at the Nixon-era policy-makers–Kissinger chiefly among them–who contributed to Allende’s demise: “What is truly remarkable,” Maxwell noted, “is the effort–the resources committed, the risks taken, and the skullduggery employed–to bring a Latin American democracy down, and the meager efforts since to build democracy back up. Left to their own devices, the Chileans might just have found the good sense to resolve their own deep-seated problems. Allende might have fallen by his own weight, victim of his own incompetence, and not become a tragic martyr to a lost cause.”
Maxwell’s essay prompted a smoldering letter to the editor from Rogers, who worked under Kissinger at the State Department from 1974 to 1977 and is currently vice chair of Kissinger Associates. “The myth that the United States toppled President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973 lives,” Rogers proclaimed in the January/February issue. “There is…no smoking gun. Yet the myth persists. It is lovingly nurtured by the Latin American left and refreshed from time to time by contributions to the literature like Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File and Kenneth Maxwell’s review of that book.”
Allende’s fall, Rogers declared, was the result of “his disastrous economic policies, his attack on Chile’s democratic institutions [and] the wave of popular resentment that swept the Chilean military to power.” Rogers hastened to minimize US involvement in two highly controversial matters, both of which figure prominently in The Pinochet File: the murder of Chilean Gen. René Schneider in 1970 and Operation Condor, a state-sponsored terror network set up by Pinochet that from 1975 to 1977 targeted critics all over the Western Hemisphere and Europe. Among them was Orlando Letelier, Pinochet’s most prominent opponent in the United States, who was murdered, along with American Ronni Moffitt, by a car bomb in Washington, DC, in 1976.
Round one of the Maxwell-Rogers exchange concluded with a rejoinder by Maxwell in the same issue. “William Rogers overreaches,” Maxwell wrote. “To claim that the United States was not actively involved in promoting Allende’s downfall in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary verges on incredulity.” Maxwell went on to address a very delicate matter–Kissinger’s and Rogers’s knowledge of Operation Condor. Maxwell (following Kornbluh) insisted that the murder of Orlando Letelier, in particular, was “a tragedy that might have been prevented,” since “other assassinations of opposition figures planned by Condor in Europe were in fact prevented because the United States tipped off the governments in question (France and Portugal) in advance.” Closing his reply, Maxwell upped the ante: “Some countries,” he wrote, “have established ‘truth commissions’ to look into such matters. In the United States, however, the record has been extracted painfully, like rotten teeth.”