Kissinger's Shadow Over the Council on Foreign Relations

(The Nation, December 27, 2004)

Last year Kenneth Maxwell, a soft-spoken 63-year-old historian of Latin America, published a review of Peter Kornbluh's The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability in the November/December 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs, the influential journal of the Council on Foreign Relations. As The Nation reported in June [see Sherman, "The Maxwell Affair," June 21], Maxwell's essay enraged two former statesmen with deep connections to the council--Henry Kissinger and his longtime associate William Rogers. Indeed, Maxwell was soon confiding to close friends, "I have clearly trodden on the tail of a very nasty snake here." On May 13 Maxwell resigned from the council, where for fifteen years he had served as the chief Latin Americanist, and from Foreign Affairs, where he was the Western Hemisphere book reviewer, a perch from which he had published more than 300 reviews. What triggered Maxwell's resignation was a smoldering exchange with Rogers in Foreign Affairs--an exchange, Maxwell insists, that was abruptly curtailed after Kissinger applied direct and indirect pressure on the editor of the journal, James Hoge. "The Council's current relationship with Mr. Kissinger," Maxwell wrote in his resignation letter to Hoge, "evidently comes at the cost of suppressing debate about his actions as a public figure. This I want no part of."

Now, after months of silence about that suppressed debate, Maxwell has emerged with a 13,000-word essay about the affair, "The Case of the Missing Letter in Foreign Affairs." His treatise, which is based on e-mail correspondence and a detailed personal diary he kept throughout the controversy, has been published as a heavily footnoted working paper by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, where Maxwell is currently a senior fellow and visiting professor of history (the paper can be viewed at the center's website at [1]). "The Case of the Missing Letter" is a riveting account of a row that has generated headlines throughout Latin America; it is also an unprecedented X-ray of power politics, cronyism and hubris inside the country's pre-eminent foreign policy think tank. That Maxwell's document should carry the imprimatur of the Rockefeller Center at Harvard is an exquisite coincidence, since David Rockefeller himself was chairman of the council's board from 1970 to 1985.

Maxwell's review of Kornbluh's book, "The Other 9/11: The United States and Chile, 1973," was not a fiery polemic but a measured assessment of US intervention in Chile in the early 1970s. Leslie Gelb, who was president of the council from 1993 to 2003, told Maxwell that he read it three times and felt that, politically, it was "straight down the middle." Halfway through the piece, Maxwell criticized the Nixon-era policy-makers--primarily Kissinger--who contributed to the toppling of Chilean president Salvador Allende. "What is truly remarkable," he wrote, "is the bring a Latin American democracy down, and the meager efforts since to build democracy back up."

Kissinger, who has been affiliated with the council off and on since 1955, and Rogers, who served three terms on its board of directors, reacted swiftly to an essay that might have otherwise generated little notice on its own. Rogers, who worked with Kissinger at the State Department and is currently vice chair of Kissinger Associates, dispatched a furious letter to Foreign Affairs, which appeared in the January/February 2004 issue. "The myth that the United States toppled President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973 lives," Rogers wrote. "There smoking gun. Yet the myth persists." Rogers also endeavored to minimize Kissinger's involvement in two highly controversial matters that figure prominently in Kornbluh's book: the murder of Chilean Gen. René Schneider in 1970 and Operation Condor, a state-sponsored terror network set up by General Pinochet that from 1975 to 1977 targeted critics all over the Western Hemisphere and Europe. Among Condor's victims was Orlando Letelier, Pinochet's most prominent opponent in the United States, who was murdered, along with Ronni Moffitt, by a car bomb in Washington, DC, in 1976.

Round one of the exchange ended with a rejoinder by Maxwell in the same issue, in which he expressed incredulity at Rogers's assertions and proceeded to interrogate a very delicate matter: Kissinger's response to Operation Condor in general and the murder of Letelier in particular--a tragedy, Maxwell wrote, that might have been prevented had Kissinger maintained a less protective attitude toward General Pinochet. Closing his reply, Maxwell upped the ante and suggested "a way to clear the air" on Chile: "Some countries have established 'truth commissions' to look into such matters. In the United States, however, the record has been extracted painfully, like rotten teeth." Rogers immediately fired off a second letter, which would appear in the March/April issue, in which he accused Maxwell of "bias," denied that Kissinger bore any responsibility for Condor and ominously declared: "One would hope...that Maxwell's views are understood to be his own and not those of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he is a senior fellow." Curiously, back in December Hoge promised Rogers--and not his own book reviewer--the last word in the exchange. (Maxwell writes that in his eleven years at Foreign Affairs, not a single angry author was ever accorded the last word that was given to Rogers.)

On February 4 Maxwell delivered to James Hoge a seven-paragraph reply to Rogers's second letter--a reply that effectively rebutted Rogers's accusations and called on Kissinger himself to step forward and "clarify the record" about events in Chile. That document--"the missing letter" of Maxwell's title--never appeared in Foreign Affairs. In a June interview with The Nation, Maxwell insisted that Kissinger and Rogers pressured Hoge to shut down the exchange, but he declined to elaborate on the specific ways in which that pressure was applied: "They know how to act in these matters, and they bring heavy guns to bear."

Maxwell has now identified those "heavy guns": Peter "Pete" Peterson, chair of the council's board of directors, and Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, honorary vice chair of the council and chair and chief executive officer of the embattled American International Group (AIG), the world's largest commercial insurer, which recently agreed to pay $126 million in penalties to the US government to settle a fraud case. Peterson and Greenberg are, in Maxwell's view, a formidable pair: "Neither is a man to be crossed lightly."

"The Case of the Missing Letter" creates new difficulties for James Hoge, who in June vehemently denied that he had received direct (or indirect) pressure from Kissinger. "Mr. Hoge...denied that Mr. Kissinger had pressured him. He demanded that Mr. Maxwell produce proof of his accusation," Diana Jean Schemo wrote in the New York Times on June 16. Earlier, on June 1, Hoge had told The Nation, "I never talked to Henry Kissinger about this at all, nor has anybody else told me that Henry had a view one way or the other." A few days later Hoge told David Glenn of The Chronicle of Higher Education: "I didn't talk to Henry Kissinger, I didn't talk to anybody...these are editor's decisions, which I made. Period." However, Peterson, contradicting the editor, admitted to Glenn that he did indeed phone Hoge in December to convey Kissinger's unhappiness, but he denied that he trespassed on editorial decision-making at Foreign Affairs: "I have great respect for Hoge and for the independence of that magazine."

In late January Maxwell, seeking to insure that he would have the opportunity to rebut Rogers's second missive, left a number of messages for Hoge, who was traveling. Hoge got back to him on January 26. Writes Maxwell: "He did not want to discuss the Kissinger-Rogers matter on the phone, he said, and insisted on a personal meeting." That discussion took place on Friday, January 30, in Hoge's book-lined office overlooking East 68th Street. "We were alone and I was conscious of the fact he wanted it this way." Maxwell offers this description of the meeting:

Hoge explained he had been subjected to great pressure from Henry Kissinger. He said that "Henry will not speak to me or shake my hand." He...told me Peterson had called on Kissinger's behalf. He said he was called and "sworn at for half an hour" by [Maurice] Greenberg.... He said of Kissinger: "Henry has a very dark side," and that Kissinger had sought to interfere before in Foreign Affairs during the editorship of his predecessor William ("Bill") Hyland. He said that he did not think that the breach that resulted between Kissinger and Hyland, who were old friends, had "ever been fully repaired." Very much on his mind, it seemed to me, was how far he could go in criticizing Kissinger without having a similar breach.

By the time Maxwell resigned on May 13, "Kissinger was...speaking to Hoge again."

The leadership of the Council on Foreign Relations has long maintained that a "church-state separation" divides the council from Foreign Affairs, but Maxwell's account turns that assertion on its head. By choosing to exert his influence through two close friends and business associates--Peter Peterson and Maurice Greenberg--Kissinger, Maxwell writes, "had chosen his messengers well." Both Peterson, as chair, and Greenberg, as honorary vice chair, possess gargantuan influence at the council and maintain an active interest in its affairs. On December 18, at the council's holiday staff party, Maxwell learned from Hoge and Peterson that Greenberg, who was not present, was indignant about his review of The Pinochet File. As Maxwell confided to his diary the following morning: "[Greenberg, according to Hoge] claimed KM [Maxwell] accused HK [Kissinger] of 'killing babies'--Jim told him [Greenberg] to read piece!" Maxwell was shaken by the holiday party, for it revealed to him for the first time the full dimensions of the "firestorm Kissinger had initiated."

Maxwell has brought the full range of his scholarly abilities to bear on "The Case of the Missing Letter," and the footnotes painstakingly delineate an interlocking web of connections between Kissinger, Peterson and Greenberg. The Kissinger-Peterson relationship began in the Nixon Administration, when Peterson was international economic adviser and later Secretary of Commerce, and carried over into civilian life: The Peterson-led Blackstone Group, according to its website, maintains a "strategic alliance" with Kissinger Associates to provide "financial advisory services to corporations seeking high-level strategic advice." Kissinger, likewise, is no stranger at Greenberg's AIG: In 1987 Greenberg appointed Kissinger chairman of AIG's international advisory group, where, according to Walter Isaacson's Kissinger: A Biography, he assisted the insurance giant with lucrative business deals in Argentina, Peru, Malaysia and South Korea.

In turn, Peterson and Greenberg were excellently positioned to assist Kissinger at the Council on Foreign Relations. Both men have been exceedingly generous to the institution--contributing, Maxwell notes, "more than $34 million between them directly in personal donations and indirectly, via the privately-held Blackstone Group in the case of Peterson, and, in the case of Greenberg, via the Starr Foundation, of which he is chairman." Signs of Greenberg's largesse are evident at the council's 68th Street headquarters: there is a Greenberg Reception Room, a Greenberg Chair and a Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.

Greenberg and Peterson also have influence at Foreign Affairs magazine. Maxwell notes that both men have contributed to the endowment of the chair that Hoge holds as editor, which is named for...Peter Peterson.

On May 13 Maxwell submitted his letter of resignation to Hoge and to Richard Haass, the president of the council. The next day Hoge replied by e-mail and made this astonishing claim: "Your May 13 letter contains speculation about supposed pressures from Mr. Kissinger. As I have previously told you, Mr. Rogers is the only person involved with whom I have discussed this matter." Repeated efforts by The Nation to reach Hoge were unsuccessful: He did not return phone calls. Likewise, Kissinger, Peterson, Greenberg and Haass all declined to discuss Maxwell's allegations. Only William Rogers made himself available. Asked if Kissinger applied direct pressure on Hoge--or indirect pressure through Peterson and Greenberg--Rogers replied: "Not that I know of. I'm sure not. He would never be so tactless. I believe that he told me that he washed his hands of the whole thing."

Maxwell believes that an "official line" on the affair was soon hammered out by Hoge and Haass. At an all-staff meeting on June 15, in front of 200 people, Haass declared that the press accounts about Maxwell's departure were false; that Hoge, an "extraordinary editor," had made an "editorial judgment" to stop the exchange; and that a "church-state separation" existed between the council and Foreign Affairs. Less than an hour before the meeting, Maxwell was confidentially warned that Haass planned to address the controversy. Speaking in his own defense at the meeting, Maxwell, who left the council on July 1, told the staff, "I have had fifteen very happy years at the council. It seems obvious that I would not have resigned at this stage of my career unless I had very good reasons for doing so."

The departure of Maxwell, The Nation wrote in June, "raises questions about intellectual freedom at the council; about editorial independence at Foreign Affairs...and about Kissinger's and Rogers's influence" on the institution. Haass, who became president in 2003, has thus far neglected his responsibility to address these matters publicly. But privately he seems to possess a keen understanding of the emotionally charged issues that continue to swirl around Kissinger's Chile policy in the early 1970s. The morning after the holiday party, December 19, 2003, Maxwell ran into Haass at 8 am, when both men were arriving for work. As Maxwell soon confided to his diary: "Haass said: 'this is [an] issue that still gets under everyone's skin 30 years later!'"