Nation-building, or course, is the victor's terminology. I
would not be too surprised if Hitler used a similar phrase in
defending his Vichy government after he overran France. Others
have coined alternative terms for this phenomenon, including the
hot button words of colonialism and imperialism. The three
books in this review purport to be examinations of three
celebrated instances of nation-building, Western variety: making the world safe for democracy. THE CONQUERORS describes the fierce competition and subtle geopolitical chess games played by the Allies in their relentless attacks on Nazi Germany, personalizing the story through the interacting characters of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt (Truman). THE MAIN ENEMY concerns the last decade of the CIA/KGB rivalry and the USSR's attempts at nation-building in Afghanistan, a quixotic Soviet gesture that was followed close on by the collapse of the USSR and the dissipation of the communist threat. ALL THE SHAH'S MEN tells the story of the American-inspired coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, and examines how that early effort in nation-building (driven by fear of communism's spread) still reverberates in the oil-rich Muslim states of Southwest Asia.
Beschloss, the telegenic presidential historian, uses THE CONQUERORS to demonstrate by the sheer volume of correspondence how intense were the debates and posturings that each world leader took in their attempts at Yalta, Potsdam, and in between, to come to agreement on what the post-war political geography would be. FDR and Churchill tolerated Stalin but senses he would be the next big enemy, so they also worked on their own, doing everything possible to prevent the USSR from occupying all of Germany during the Third Reich's last days, when the Allies were all sprinting to Berlin.
Bearden, primary author of THE MAIN ENEMY, comes at his subject
from a different perspective. A retired CIA
counterintelligence officer, Bearden spent a large portion of his
career playing invisible chess against his KGB counterparts with
flesh-and-blood men as the moving pieces. This culminated
with Bearden directing the CIA's mujihadeen support activities in
Afghanistan in opposition to the puppet Soviet government. His unit was the first to unleash the scabrous power of Osama bin Laden and effectively arm his mercenary band of nomads as they took on the Soviet enemy.
Kinzer hones in on one of the CIA's first triumphs, the ousting
of Mossadegh after he had nationalized Iranian oil. Because
this could not be perceived as a colonial operation, the CIA's
stalking horse was the Shah of Iran, who was installed as a local
replacement for the rule of Mossadegh. The Shah's lust for
American arms and fighter planes at the expense of his
led to the first Islamic upheaval, the Khomeini Revolution that, in weakened form, still holds sway in Iran today.
If these three very different stories have one common theme, it is that the law of unintended consequences is a sneaky critter whose vagaries cannot be adequately predicted beforehand. Could the massive expense of the Cold War have been avoided is the clashing forces of two world systems, capitalism and communism, been better reconciled right after World War II, when both allies against Nazism? Would the CIA have committed hundreds of millions to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan if the USA had known that the very guerilla forces that the CIA funded would turn their enmity our way? Would the triumph over Mossadegh have become the prototypical covert operational success story had Iranian analysts been able to foresee the resurrection of the Ayatollahs? What unintended consequence lies ahead for the USA as it force-feeds democracy to Iraq? Let us hope that historians like these authors are taking careful and detailed notes about George W. Bush's current efforts to make "them" more like "us."
Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document:
email@example.com privacy statement