Kenneth Maxwell

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Kenneth Robert Maxwell (born 1941) is a British historian who specializes in Iberia and Latin America. A longtime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, for fifteen years he headed its Latin America Studies Program. His May 13, 2004 resignation from the council involved a major controversy over whether there had been a breach of the so-called "church-state separation" between the council itself and its magazine Foreign Affairs. As of December 2004, Maxwell is a Visiting Professor of History at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the university's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, where he directs the Center's Brazil Studies Program.

"The Case of the Missing Letter"[edit]

Maxwell wrote a review in Foreign Affairs' November/December 2003 of Peter Kornbluh's book The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. The review was written in his capacity as a scholar, independently of his role as an employee of the Council. Maxwell's review was, in part, critical of Henry Kissinger's relationship with the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Maxwell claims that key Council on Foreign Relations acting at Kissinger's behest put pressure on Foreign Affairs editor, James Hoge, to give the last word in a subsequent exchange about the review to William D. Rogers, a close associate of Kissinger's, rather than to Maxwell; this went against established Foreign Affairs policy.

The core subject matter of the abruptly terminated exchange was Operation Condor: the campaign of assassination and intelligence-gathering conducted jointly by the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay in the mid-1970s. Discussion turned particularly on the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC.

Maxwell had long been something of a public figure before what he refers to as "The Case of the Missing Letter... a Nixonian drama in four acts: preemption, suppression, and cover-up followed by denial" [Maxwell 2004, 1], brought him to far wider attention. Maxwell's review in Foreign Affairs' November/December 2003 of Kornbluh's The Pinochet File occasioned a letter to Foreign Affairs from Rogers; that letter and Maxwell's reply were published in the January/February 2004 issue. Maxwell characterizes Rogers' letter as a "counter review", and claims to have evidence that much of it had circulated previously to Maxwell's own review in Foreign Affairs, and that allusions to Maxwell's review were simply pasted in so that it would appear more relevant. [Maxwell 2004, 7]

Rogers wrote again, accusing Maxwell of "bias". This letter was published in the March/April 2004 issue. Contrary to all precedent a Foreign Affairs, Maxwell was not given the right to reply. He claims that "serious misrepresentations of historical fact and ad hominem accusations of bias" were thus allowed "to stand unchallenged" and that "This converted a controversy over the historical record into a suppression of free debate." [Maxwell 2004, 2]

The matter has had little further discussion in Foreign Affairs; the September/October 2004 issue contains a letter of protest signed by Harvard Professor John Coatsworth and ten other scholars of Latin America, all members of the Council on Foreign Relations; it also contains a reply from James Hoge. Characterizing Maxwell's original review as "balanced and thoughtful", they describe themselves as "dismayed by the tone and the content" of Rogers' letters and "appalled by the journal’s decision not to publish a response by Maxwell". [quoted at Maxwell, 2004, 3] Their original letter ended with the sentence, "We urge you to find an appropriate way to repair this lapse before it becomes a permanent stain on the reputation of Foreign Affairs". The magazine did not see fit to include this sentence and, in what Maxwell claims was another unprecedented decision, the "Letters to the Editor" section of the September/October 2004 issue has not been posted in the magazine’s online edition. [Maxwell, 2004, 3]

Hoge has publicly denied that any of this was due to direct or indirect pressure from Kissinger, Rogers, or their associates. Maxwell's paper "The Case of the Missing Letter..." lays out extensive evidence to that it was, indeed, due to such pressure. He cites Peter G. Peterson, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, as confirming in an interview for Chronicle of Higher Education that he communicated Kissinger's anger to Hoge. Further pressure may have been put by Maurice ("Hank") Greenberg, vice chairman emeritus of the Council's board. Maxwell sent emails in December 2004 mentioning pressure from Greenberg; this was before he was aware of Hoge's intent to give Rogers the last word. [Maxwell, 2004, 11-12] Peterson and Greenberg were both major donors to the Council; between them they were directly or indirectly responsible for $34 million in donations. Both had helped endow Hoge's chair. [Maxwell, 2004, 16]

All parties agree that Kissinger did not express his displeasure directly to Hoge; in fact, Maxwell quotes Hoge as saying in January 2004, "Henry will not speak to me or shake my hand," but that he was "called and 'sworn at for half an hour' by Greenberg". [Maxwell, 2004, 14]

After the Rogers letter was published without Maxwell being given the right of reply, Maxwell stayed several months in his job working for the Council, continuing a lengthy exchange with Hoge, hoping to be allowed a belated reply in Foreign Affairs, and arranging a new job at Harvard. His letter of resignation read, in part, "I have no personal ax to grind in this matter, but I do have a historian's obligation to the accuracy of the historical record. The Council's current relationship with Mr. Kissinger evidently comes at the cost of suppressing debate about his actions as a public figure. This I want no part of." [Maxwell, 2004, 4]

Kissinger and Chile[edit]

All of this would provide little more than a moderately interesting insight into the inner workings of an influential institution, were it not for the historical subject matter that occasioned the dispute: Kissinger's possible role in the 1970 assassination of Chilean General René Schneider and in the Chilean coup of 1973, and Kissinger's possible relationship to Operation Condor. Kornbluh is the lead researcher on Chile at the National Security Archive (NSA), a research group at George Washington University. NSA has been the leader in using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain U.S. government documents related to the U.S. role in Chile in the 1970s, and his book dealt in large part with what can be learned from these documents.

When Kornbluh's book came out, Kissinger and Rogers attempted to get Foreign Affairs to run an article by Mark Falcoff of the American Enterprise Institute minimizing Kissinger's role in the events in Chile. Foreign Affairs rejected the article. According to Maxwell, Hoge found it "too narrow a defense of Kissinger," and then asked Maxwell to write a review. (Falcoff's rejected article was subsequently published in Commentary as "Kissinger & Chile: The Myth That Will Not Die.") Maxwell points out several places in which Falcoff misquoted documents in ways favorable to Kissinger, for example changing a remark of Kissinger's, talking to Nixon on the phone about the coup, from "Well we didn't – as you know – our hand doesn’t show on this one though," to simply "We didn't do it." [Maxwell, 2004, 5]

Maxwell argues that Foreign Affairs has attempted to whitewash even the nature of the historical controversy: "In his editorial response Hoge claims that Kissinger's and Rogers' unhappiness was prompted by the 'damaging implication' in my review that 'Rogers and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had contributed to the creation of a permissive environment for political violence by the Chilean government under Augusto Pinochet.' This was not the issue at the center of the controversy. In fact, I can think of very few objective historians who would dissent from such an overall assessment." He points out that this conclusion was reached as early as the Church Committee in the 1970s and that even a "heavily hedged" 2000 report from the CIA states, "Although the CIA did not instigate the coup that ended Allende's government on 11 September 1973, it was aware of the plotting by the military, had ongoing intelligence collection relationships with some plotters and – because the CIA did not discourage the takeover and had sought to instigate a coup in 1970 – probably appeared to condone it." [Maxwell, 2004, 17]

Paramount among the specific matters at issue: Maxwell points out that U.S. policymakers were aware not only of Operation Condor in general, but in particular "...that a Chilean assassination team had been planning to enter the United States." A month before the Letelier assassination, Kissinger ordered "... that the Latin American rulers involved be informed that the 'assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad ... would create a most serious moral and political problem.'" Maxwell wrote in his review of Kornbluh's book, "This demarche was apparently not delivered: the U.S. embassy in Santiago demurred on the ground that to deliver such a strong rebuke would upset the dictator," and that on September 20, 1976, the day before Letelier and his assistant Ronni Moffitt were killed, "the State Department instructed the ambassadors 'to take no further action' with regard to the Condor scheme." [Maxwell, 2004, 18]

Rogers, in his first response, refers to "...the stern human rights warning Kissinger delivered directly to Pinochet at their only meeting... " (the meeting took place in Santiago June 8, 1976), points to "...Kissinger’s statement, made in an address to the region’s foreign ministers, that the regime's human rights violations '[had] impaired our relationship with Chile and [would] continue to do so,'" and that "Kissinger’s warning was delivered in robust fashion to the Argentine president–there are cables to prove it...–and probably to Pinochet’s underlings in Santiago," and claims that Kissinger did not send, and probably did not even see, the "take no further action" cable. [Maxwell, 2004, 18–19] [Rogers and Maxwell, 2004]. Declassified documents obtained and posted by the National Security Archive on April 10, 2010 confirm that Kissinger sent a cable to his assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs on September 16, 1976 rescinding delivery of the Condor demarche and terminating diplomatic efforts to warn the Condor military regimes against planned assassinations. These declassified documents definitively contradict Kissinger's and Roger's account and confirm that Kissinger was not only aware of the rescission of the Condor demarche but personally responsible for it.

With reference to the human rights speech, Maxwell argues in reply, that Kissinger there is clear documentary evidence that Kissinger "...personally assured Pinochet that he was giving it for U.S. domestic consumption," and quotes the notes from a meeting at which Rogers was present to validate this. He further points out that the delivery of the message to Argentina has no bearing on the matter, and that the declassified copy of the cable Rogers claims Kissinger never saw shows it addressed to "secstate washdc". He also points out that the declassified record is clear that, at the time, Rogers viewed Pinochet's Chile as "...a symbol of right-wing tyranny" and referred to the U.S.'s "strong interest in getting the GOC [Government of Chile] to pursue acceptable human rights practices" because "Like it or not, we are identified with the regime's origins and hence charged with some responsibility for its action." Maxwell writes, "Rogers' loyalty to his former boss and current business associate is commendable, but it was not reciprocated at the time, with Kissinger saying privately to Chilean foreign minister Patricio Carvajal, "the State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there are not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State." [Maxwell, 2004, 19–20] [Rogers and Maxwell, 2004]

Rogers, in his second response, tries to present Maxwell as claiming that Kissinger or the U.S. State Department gave a direct go-ahead for the Letelier assassination. Maxwell, in his further reply that Foreign Affairs refused to print, points out that he made no such claim, simply referring to the "cruel coincidence" of the timing of the assassination relative to the "take no further action" cable. He also presents a circumstantial argument as to why the cable should be seen as representing policy emanating from the highest level. [Maxwell, 2004, 21]

Maxwell summarizes by saying that his argument is simply that lives might have been saved if the State Department had steadfastly pursued its intent to have U.S. ambassadors inform the "...heads of state of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay... that the American government knew of their Condor assassination plans and condemned them wherever they might take place." [Maxwell, 2004, 24]

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