Monday, 15 February 1999 22:16

Dodd and Dulles vs. Kennedy in Africa

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The following is not polemics. It is actually history. It tells the truth about an important event. But as it does so, it reveals the true character of the men who helped mold it: Eisenhower, Allen Dulles, Lumumba, Thomas Dodd, Joseph Mobutu, Hammarskjold, Moise Tshombe, Cyrille Adoula, Johnson and, primarily, JFK – writes Jim DiEugenio.


The following essay by Jim DiEugenio appeared in the January-February 1999 issue of Probe (Vol. 6 No. 2).  It is largely based on a much and sorrowfully overlooked book by Richard Mahoney entitled JFK: Ordeal in Africa. That book contains probably the best look at President Kennedy’s views of foreign policy, especially in the Third World. It concentrates on the Congo crisis of the late fifties and early sixties, following it from Eisenhower, to Kennedy, to Johnson. Mahoney really did use the declassified record, as he visited the Kennedy library for weeks to attain documents to fill in the record. In examining this record, there can be no doubt about the facts, the actions, and the conclusions. In relation to his predecessor, and his successor, Kennedy was not a Cold Warrior, and he did not buy the Domino Theory. And he was in conflict with those who did, hence the title of the essay.

But this essay, and Mahoney's book, go beyond just the Congo crisis and Kennedy's sympathy for Lumumba. It explains why he held those beliefs about the Third World, and why they extended to Vietnam. As Mahoney notes, Kennedy was in Saigon when the French colonial empire there was crumbling. And it is there where he met Edmund Gullion, the man who would be his teacher on the subject of European colonialism. After learning his lessons, Kennedy returned home, where he tried to break the logjam of anti-communist boilerplate in the debate between the Dean Acheson Democrats and John Foster Dulles Republicans. His 1957 speech on the floor of the Senate about Algeria is still thrilling to read today--but it was a bombshell at the time. It is that speech we have to keep in mind in explaining the things he did not do as president: no Navy forces at the Bay of Pigs, no invasion during the Missile Crisis, and no combat troops into Vietnam. By the end of this essay we then see why Kennedy had those ingrained sympathies. In his revealing conversation with Nehru, we see that he never forgot where he came from i.e. Ireland had been subjugated by Britain for 800 years.

The following is not polemics. It is actually history. It tells the truth about an important event. But as it does so, it reveals the true character of the men who helped mold it: Eisenhower, Allen Dulles, Lumumba, Thomas Dodd, Joseph Mobutu, Hammarskjold, Moise Tshombe, Cyrille Adoula, Johnson and, primarily, JFK. In doing that, it becomes larger than its subject, as it magnifies the moment and the people molding it. It therefore elucidates a complex episode, and by doing so, it empowers the reader with real information. Which is what good history usually does.

"In assessing the central character ...
Gibbon's description of the Byzantine general
Belisarius may suggest a comparison:
'His imperfections flowed from the contagion of the times;
his virtues were his own.'"
Richard Mahoney on President Kennedy

As Probe has noted elsewhere (especially in last year's discussion of Sy Hersh's anti-Kennedy screed, The Dark Side of Camelot), a clear strategy of those who wish to smother any search for the truth about President Kennedy's assassination is to distort and deny his achievements in office. Hersh and his ilk have toiled to distort who Kennedy really was, where he was going, what the world would have been like if he had lived, and who and what he represented. As with the assassination, the goal of these people is to distort, exaggerate, and sometimes just outright fabricate in order to obfuscate specific Kennedy tactics, strategies, and outcomes.

This blackening of the record – disguised as historical revisionism – has been practiced on the left, but it is especially prevalent on the right. Political spy and propagandist Lucianna Goldberg – such a prominent figure in the current Clinton sex scandal – was tutored early on by the godfather of the anti-Kennedy books, that triple-distilled rightwinger and CIA crony Victor Lasky. In fact, at the time of Kennedy's death, Lasky's negative biography of Kennedy was on the best-seller lists. Lately, Christopher Matthews seemed to be the designated hitter on some of these issues (see the article on page 26). Curiously, his detractors ignore Kennedy's efforts in a part of the world far from America, where Kennedy's character, who and what he stood for, and how the world may have been different had he lived are clearly revealed. But to understand what Kennedy was promoting in Africa, we must first explore his activities a decade earlier.

The Self-Education of John F. Kennedy

During Kennedy's six years in the House, 1947-1952, he concentrated on domestic affairs, bread and butter issues that helped his middle class Massachusetts constituents. As Henry Gonzalez noted in his blurb for Donald Gibson's Battling Wall Street, he met Kennedy at a housing conference in 1951 and got the impression that young Kennedy was genuinely interested in the role that government could play in helping most Americans. But when Kennedy, his father, and his advisers decided to run for the upper house in 1952, they knew that young Jack would have to educate himself in the field of foreign affairs and gain a higher cosmopolitan profile. After all, he was running against that effete, urbane, Boston Brahmin Henry Cabot Lodge. So Kennedy decided to take two seven-week-long trips. The first was to Europe. The second was a little unusual in that his itinerary consisted of places like the Middle East, India, and Indochina. (While in India, he made the acquaintance of Prime Minister Nehru who would end up being a lifelong friend and adviser.)

Another unusual thing about the second trip was his schedule after he got to his stops. In Saigon, he ditched his French military guides and sought out the names of the best reporters and State Department officials so he would not get the standard boilerplate on the French colonial predicament in Indochina. After finding these sources, he would show up at their homes and apartments unannounced. His hosts were often surprised that such a youthful looking young man could be a congressman. Kennedy would then pick their minds at length as to the true political conditions in that country.

If there is a real turning point in Kennedy's political career it is this trip. There is little doubt that what he saw and learned deeply affected and altered his world view and he expressed his developing new ideas in a speech he made upon his return on November 14, 1951. Speaking of French Indochina he said: "This is an area of human conflict between civilizations striving to be born and those desperately trying to retain what they have held for so long." He later added that "the fires of nationalism so long dormant have been kindled and are now ablaze....Here colonialism is not a topic for tea-talk discussion; it is the daily fare of millions of men." He then criticized the U. S. State Department for its laid back and lackadaisical approach to this problem:

One finds too many of our representatives toadying to the shorter aims of other Western nations with no eagerness to understand the real hopes and desires of the people to which they are accredited.

The basic idea that Kennedy brought back from this trip was that, in the Third World, the colonial or imperial powers were bound to lose in the long run since the force of nationalism in those nascent countries was so powerful, so volcanic, that no extended empire could contain it indefinitely. This did not mean that Kennedy would back any revolutionary force fighting an imperial power. Although he understood the appeal of communism to the revolutionaries, he was against it. He wanted to establish relations and cooperate with leaders of the developing world who wished to find a "third way," one that was neither Marxist nor necessarily pro-Western. He was trying to evolve a policy that considered the particular history and circumstances of the nations now trying to break the shackles of poverty and ignorance inflicted upon them by the attachments of empire. Kennedy understood and sympathized with the temperaments of those leaders of the Third World who wished to be nonaligned with either the Russians or the Americans and this explains his relationships with men like Nehru and Sukarno of Indonesia. So, for Kennedy, Nixon's opposition toward Ho Chi Minh's upcoming victory over the French in Vietnam was not so much a matter of Cold War ideology, but one of cool and measured pragmatism. As he stated in 1953, the year before the French fell:

The war would never be successful ... unless large numbers of the people of Vietnam were won over from their sullen neutrality and open hostility. This could never be done ... unless they were assured beyond doubt that complete independence would be theirs at the conclusion of the war.

To say the least, this is not what the Dulles brothers John Foster and Allen had in mind. Once the French empire fell, they tried to urge upon Eisenhower an overt American intervention in the area. When Eisenhower said no, Allen Dulles sent in a massive CIA covert operation headed by Air Force officer Edward Lansdale. In other words, the French form of foreign domination was replaced by the American version.

Kennedy and Africa

Needless to say, the Eisenhower-Nixon-Dulles decision on Indochina had an epochal ring that can be heard down to the present day. But there was another developing area of the world where Kennedy differed with these men. In fact it is in the news today because it still suffers from the parallel pattern of both Indochina and Indonesia, i.e. European colonialism followed by American intervention. In 1997, after years of attempted rebellion, Laurent Kabila finally ousted longtime dictator Joseph Mobutu in the huge African state of Congo. But Kabila's government has proven quite weak and this year, other African states have had to come to his aid to prop him up. In late November, the new warring factions in that state tentatively agreed to a cease-fire in Paris brokered by both France and the United Nations. The agreement is to be formally signed in late December. If not, this second war in two years may continue. As commentators Nelson Kasfir and Scott Straus wrote in the Los Angeles Times of October 19th,

What Congo so desperately needs and never has enjoyed is a democratic assembly, one that can establish a constitution that will allow the country's next president to enjoy sufficient legitimacy to get started on a long overdue development agenda.

There was a Congolese leader who once could have united the factions inside that country and who wanted to develop its immense internal resources for the Congolese themselves: Patrice Lumumba. As with Achmed Sukarno of Indonesia, Lumumba is not talked about very much today. At the time, he was viewed as such a threat that the Central Intelligence Agency, on the orders of Allen Dulles, planned his assassination. Lumumba was killed just before President Kennedy was inaugurated.

Yet, in the media commentaries on the current crisis, the epochal changes before and after Kennedy's presidency that took place in the Congo are not mentioned. As with Indonesia, few commentators seem cognizant of the breaks in policy there that paved the way for three decades of dictatorship and the current chaos. One thing nobody has noted was that Mobutu came to absolute power after Kennedy's death in a policy decision made by the Johnson administration. This decision directly contradicted what Kennedy had been doing while in office. Kennedy's Congo effort was a major preoccupation of his presidency in which many of his evolving ideas that originated in 1951 were put to the test and dramatized in a complex, whirring cauldron. The cauldron featured Third World nationalism, the inevitable pull of Marxism, Kennedy's sympathy for nonaligned leaders, his antipathy for European colonialism, and the domestic opposition to his policies both inside the government and without. This time the domestic opposition was at least partly represented by Senator Thomas Dodd and CIA Director Allen Dulles. This tortured three-year saga features intrigue, power politics, poetic idealism, a magnetic African revolutionary leader, and murder for political reasons. How did it all begin?

Kennedy Defines Himself

In 1956, the Democrats, always sensitive to the charge of being "soft on communism", did very little to attack the Eisenhower-Nixon-Dulles foreign policy line. When they did, it was with someone like Dean Acheson who, at times, tried to out-Dulles John Foster Dulles. Kennedy was disturbed by this opportunistic crowd-pleasing boilerplate. To him it did not relate to the reality he had seen and heard firsthand in 1951. For him, the nationalistic yearning for independence was not to be so quickly linked to the "international Communist conspiracy." Kennedy attempted to make some speeches for Adlai Stevenson in his race for the presidency that year. In them he attempted to attack the Manichean world view of the Republican administration, i.e. that either a nation was allied with America or she was leaning toward the Communist camp:

the Afro-Asian revolution of nationalism, the revolt against colonialism, the determination of people to control their national destinies....In my opinion, the tragic failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations since World War II to comprehend the nature of this revolution, and its potentialities for good and evil, has reaped a bitter harvest today – and it is by rights and by necessity a major foreign policy campaign issue that has nothing to do with anti-communism. (Speech in Los Angeles 9/21/56)

This was too much even for the liberal Stevenson. According to author Richard Mahoney, "Stevenson's office specifically requested that the senator make no more foreign policy statements in any way associated with the campaign." (JFK: Ordeal in Africa p. 18)

Kennedy objected to the "for us or against us" attitude that, in Africa, had pushed Egypt's Gamel Abdul Nasser into the arms of the Russians. He also objected to the self-righteousness with which people like Dulles and Nixon expressed this policy. John Foster Dulles' string of bromides on the subject e.g. "godless Communism", and the "Soviet master plan", met with this response from Senator Kennedy: "Public thinking is still being bullied by slogans which are either false in context or irrelevant to the new phase of competitive coexistence in which we live." (Mahoney p. 18)

Kennedy on Algeria

Kennedy bided his time for the most fortuitous moment to make a major oratorical broadside against both political parties' orthodoxies on the subject of Third World nationalism. He found that opportunity with France's colonial crisis of the late 1950's: the struggle of the African colony of Algeria to be set free. By 1957, the French had a military force of 500,000 men in Algeria committed to putting down this ferocious rebellion. The war degenerated at times into torture, atrocities, and unmitigated horror, which when exposed, split the French nation in two. It eventually caused the fall of the French government and the rise to power of Charles De Gaulle.

On July 2, 1957, Senator Kennedy rose to speak in the Senate chamber and delivered what the New York Times was to call "the most comprehensive and outspoken arraignment of Western policy toward Algeria yet presented by an American in public office." (7/3/57) As historian Allan Nevins wrote later, "No speech on foreign affairs by Mr. Kennedy attracted more attention at home and abroad." (The Strategy of Peace, p. 67) It was the mature fruition of all the ideas that Kennedy had been collecting and refining since his 1951 trip into the nooks and corners of Saigon. It was passionate yet sophisticated, hard-hitting but controlled, idealistic yet, in a fresh and unique way, also pragmatic. Kennedy assailed the administration, especially Nixon and Dulles, for not urging France into a non-military solution to the bloody crisis. He even offered some diplomatic alternatives. He attacked both the United States and France for not seeing in Algeria a reprise of the 1954 Indochina crisis:

Yet, did we not learn in Indochina ... that we might have served both the French and our own causes infinitely better had we taken a more firm stand much earlier than we did? Did that tragic episode not teach us that, whether France likes it or not, admits it or not, or has our support or not, their overseas territories are sooner or later, one by one, inevitably going to break free and look with suspicion on the Western nations who impeded their steps to independence. (Ibid p. 72)

The speech ignited howls of protest, especially from its targets, i.e. Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, Acheson, and Nixon. The latter called it "a brashly political" move to embarrass the administration. He further added that, "Ike and his staff held a full-fledged policy meeting to pool their thinking on the whys underlying Kennedy's damaging fishing in troubled waters." (Los Angeles Herald-Express 7/5/57) Mahoney noted that, of the 138 editorials clipped by Kennedy's office, 90 opposed the speech. (p. 21) Again, Stevenson was one of Kennedy's critics. Jackie Kennedy was so angry with Acheson's disparaging remarks about the speech that she berated him in public while they were both waiting for a train at New York's Penn Central.

But abroad the reaction was different. Newspapers in England and, surprisingly, in France realized what the narrowly constricted foreign policy establishment did not: Kennedy knew what he was talking about. The speech was a mature, comprehensive, and penetrating analysis of a painful and complicated topic. As one French commentator wrote at the time:

Strangely enough, as a Frenchman I feel that, on the whole, Mr. Kennedy is more to be commended than blamed for his forthright, frank and provocative speech.... The most striking point of the speech ... is the important documentation it revealed and his thorough knowledge of the French milieu.

As a result, Kennedy now became the man to see in Washington for incoming African dignitaries. More than one commented that they were thrilled reading the speech and noted the impact it had on young African intellectuals studying abroad at the time. The Algerian guerrillas hiding in the hills were amazed at its breadth of understanding. On election night of 1960 they listened to their wireless radios and were alternately depressed and elated as Nixon and Kennedy traded the lead.

Ike and the Congo

Once in office, Kennedy had very little time to prepare for his first African crisis. It had been developing during the latter stages of the Eisenhower administration and like Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba it was a mess at the time Kennedy inherited it. With John Foster Dulles dead and Eisenhower embittered over the U-2 incident and what it had done for his hopes for dÈtente, Allen Dulles and, to a lesser extent, Nixon had an increasingly stronger pull over National Security Council meetings. This was even more true about subject areas which Eisenhower had little interest in or knowledge about.

In June of 1960, Belgium had made a deliberately abrupt withdrawal from the Congo. The idea was that the harder the shock of colonial disengagement, the easier it would be to establish an informal yet de facto control afterward. Before leaving, one Belgian commander had written on a chalkboard:

Before Independence = After Independence

As hoped for, the heady rush of freedom proved too much for the new Congolese army. They attacked the Europeans left behind and pillaged their property. The Belgians used this as a pretext to drop paratroops into the country. In response, the democratically elected premier, Patrice Lumumba and President Joseph Kasavubu asked United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold for help. At his request, the United Nations asked Belgium to leave and voted to send a peacekeeping mission to the Congo.

At this point, the Belgians made a crucial and insidious move. Realizing Hammarskjold would back the newly elected government against the foreign invaders, Belgium began to financially and militarily abet the secession of the Congo's richest province, Katanga, in the southeast corner of the state. There was a primitive tribal rivalry that served as a figleaf for this split. But the real reason the Belgians promoted the break was the immense mineral wealth in Katanga. They found a native leader who would support them and they decided to pay Moise Tshombe a multimillion dollar monthly bounty to head the secessionist rebellion. As Jonathan Kwitny has noted, some of the major media e.g. Time and the New York Times actually backed the Belgians in this act. Yet, as Kwitny also notes:

Western industrial interests had been egging Tshombe on toward succession, hoping to guarantee continued Western ownership of the mines. They promised to supply mercenaries to defend the province against whatever ragtag army Lumumba might assemble to reclaim it. (Endless Enemies, p. 55)

In spite of the Belgian plotting and Tshombe's opportunistic betrayal, Allen Dulles blamed Lumumba for the impending chaos. His familiar plaint to the National Security Council was that Lumumba had now enlisted in the Communist cause. This, even though the American embassy in Leopoldville cabled Washington that the Belgian troops were the real root of the problem. The embassy further stated that if the UN did not get the Belgians out, the Congo would turn to someone who would: the Russians. Further, as Kwitny and others have noted, Lumumba was not a Communist:

Looking at the outsiders whom Lumumba chose to consult in times of trouble, it seems clear that his main socialist influence in terms of ideas ... wasn't from Eastern Europe at all, but from the more left-leaning of the new African heads of state, particularly, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. (p. 53)

As Mahoney makes clear in his study, Nkrumah was a favorite of Kennedy's who the new president backed his entire time in office.

Eisenhower Turns on Lumumba

At this inopportune moment, July of 1960, Lumumba visited Washington for three days. Eisenhower deliberately avoided him by escaping to Rhode Island. Lumumba asked both Secretary of State Christian Herter and his assistant Douglas Dillon for help in kicking out the Belgians. The response was purposefully noncommittal. Meanwhile, the Soviets helped Lumumba by flying in food and medical supplies. Rebuffed by Washington, Lumumba then asked the Russians for planes, pilots, and technicians to use against Katanga. This was a major step in sealing his fate in the eyes of Allen Dulles. Larry Devlin, the CIA station chief in Leopoldville (then the capital of the Congo), wired CIA headquarters that the Congo was now experiencing "a classic Communist effort" to subjugate the government. Within 24 hours, Dulles, apparently with Eisenhower's approval, set in motion a series of assassination plots that would eventually result in Lumumba's death. Ironically, on the day the plots originated, Lumumba made the following radio address to his citizens:

We know that the US understands us and we are pleased to see the US position in bringing about international peace.... If the Congolese place their confidence in the US, which is a good friend, they will find themselves rewarded. (Mahoney, p. 44)

What the unsuspecting Lumumba did not know was that Eisenhower's advisers had already made up their mind about him. As Douglas Dillon told the Church Committee, the National Security Council believed that Lumumba was a "very difficult, if not impossible person to deal with, and was dangerous to the peace and safety of the world." (Kwitny, p. 57) Imagine, the newly elected premier of an undeveloped nation whose army could not even stop an internal secession was now threatening the safety of the world. But, to reiterate, there is little evidence of Lumumba even being a Communist. As Kwitny notes, "all through his brief career ... he had publicly pledged to respect private property and even foreign investment" (p. 72). (Kwitny also could have noted that Dillon was hardly an unbiased source. As revealed in the book Thy Will be Done, Dillon was a co-investor with his friend Nelson Rockefeller in properties inside the Belgian Congo and therefore had an interest in it remaining a puppet state.)

Lumumba wanted the UN to invade Katanga. Hammarskjold refused. At this point Lumumba made his final, fatal error in the eyes of the Eisenhower establishment. He invited the Russians into the Congo so they could expel the Belgians from Katanga. Simultaneously, the Belgians began to work on Kasavubu to split him off from, and therefore isolate, Lumumba. The CIA now begin to go at Lumumba full bore. The CIA station, led by Devlin, began to supersede the State Department policy-making apparatus. Allen Dulles began to funnel large amounts of money to Devlin in a mad rush to covertly get rid of Lumumba. At the same time, Devlin began to work with the Belgians by recruiting and paying off possible rivals to Lumumba i.e. Kasavubu and Joseph Mobutu. This tactic proved successful. On September 5, 1960 Devlin got Kasavubu to dismiss Lumumba as premier. But the dynamic and resourceful Lumumba got the legislative branch of government to reinstate him. When it appeared Lumumba would reassert himself, Dulles redoubled his efforts to have him liquidated. (The story of these plots, with new document releases plus the questions surrounding the mysterious death of Hammarskjold will be related in the second part of this article.)

With a split in the government, Hammarskjold was in a difficult position. He decided to call a special session of the UN to discuss the matter. At around this time, presidential candidate Kennedy wired foreign policy insider Averill Harriman a query asking him if Harriman felt Kennedy should openly back Lumumba. Harriman advised him not to. Since he felt that there was little the US could do unilaterally, he told the candidate to just stay behind the United Nations. (Interestingly, Harriman would later switch sides and back Tshombe and Katanga's secession.) Kennedy, whose sympathies were with Lumumba, took the advice and backed an undecided UN. In public, Eisenhower backed Hammarskjold, but secretly the CIA had united with the Belgians to topple Lumumba's government, eliminate Lumumba, and break off Katanga. Lumumba's chief African ally, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, made a speech at the UN in September of 1960 attacking Western policy in the Congo. Kennedy now made references in his speeches to Nkrumah which – not so subtly – underlined his split with Eisenhower over the Congo.

The Death of Lumumba

As of late 1960, the situation in the Congo was a chaotic flux. Hammarskjold's deputy on the scene, Rajeshwar Dayal of India, refused to recognize the Kasavubu-Mobutu regime. Dayal went further and decided to protect Lumumba and his second in command, Antoine Gizenga, from arrest warrants made out for them by this new government. The American ambassador on the scene, Clare Timberlake, was now openly supporting the pretenders, Kasavubu and Mobutu. His cables to Washington refer to Lumumba as a Communist with ties to Moscow. With Timberlake's sympathies now clear, and the Belgians pumping in more war supplies to Katanga, Lumumba's followers decided to set up their own separatist state in the northwest Congo, the province of Orientale with a capital at Stanleyville.

In November of 1960, Dayal rejected the Kasavubu-Mobutu government and blamed them for playing a role in murder plots against Lumumba. Following this declaration – and exposure of covert action – the US openly broke with Hammarskjold on Congo policy. The State Department issued a press release stating (incredibly) that it had "every confidence in the good faith of Belgium." (Mahoney, p. 55) The White House further warned the UN that if Hammarskjold tried any compromise that would restore Lumumba to power, the U. S. would make "drastic revision" of its Congo policy. As Kwitny notes, this clearly implied that the US would take unilateral military action to stop a return to power by Lumumba.

Dayal had tried to save Lumumba's life against Devlin's plots by placing him under house arrest, surrounded by UN troops in Leopoldville. On November 27th, Lumumba tried to flee Congo territory and escape to his followers in Stanleyville. Devlin, working with the Belgians, blocked his escape routes. He was captured on December 1st and returned to Leopoldville. (There is a famous film of this return featuring Lumumba bloody and beaten inside a cage, being hoisted by a crane, which Timberlake tried to suppress at the time.) Enraged, Lumumba's followers in Stanleyville started a civil war by invading nearby Kivu province and arresting the governor who had been allied with the Leopoldville government.

At this juncture, with his followers waging civil war, the Congolese government not recognized by the UN, and Lumumba still alive, the possibility existed that he could return to power. On January 17th, Lumumba was shipped to Kasai province which was under the control of Albert Kalonji, a hated enemy of Lumumba. There he was killed, reportedly on orders of Katangese authorities, probably Tshombe, but surely with the help of the CIA. As author John Morton Blum writes in his Years of Discord, the CIA cable traffic suggests that Dulles and Devlin feared what Kennedy would do if he took office before Lumumba was gone (p. 23). Kwitny also notes that the new regime may have suspected Kennedy would be less partial to them than Eisenhower was (p. 69). He further notes that Kasavubu tried a last minute deal to get Lumumba to take a subordinate role in the government. Lumumba refused. He was then killed three days before JFK's inauguration.

Although he was murdered on January 17th, the news of his death did not reach Washington until February 13, 1961.

Kennedy's new Policy

Unaware of Lumumba's death, Kennedy requested a full-scale policy review on the Congo his first week in office. Kennedy had made an oblique reference to the Congo situation in his inaugural address. He had called the UN, "our last best hope" and pledged to support "its shield of the new and the weak". Once in office he made clear and forceful those vague insinuations. On his own, and behind the scenes, he relayed the Russians a message that he was ready to negotiate a truce in the Congo. Ambassador Timberlake got wind of this and other JFK moves and he phoned Allen Dulles and Pentagon Chief Lyman Lemnitzer to alert them that Kennedy was breaking with Eisenhower's policy. Timberlake called this switch a "sell-out" to the Russians. Upon hearing of the new policy formation, Hammarskjold told Dayal that he should expect in short order an organized backlash to oppose Kennedy.

On February 2nd, Kennedy approved a new Congo policy which was pretty much a brisk departure from the previous administration. The new policy consisted of close cooperation with the UN to bring all opposing armies, including the Belgians, under control. In addition, the recommendation was to have the country neutralized and not subject to any East-West competition. Thirdly, all political prisoners should be freed. (Not knowing Lumumba was dead, this recommendation was aimed at him without naming him specifically.) Fourth, the secession of Katanga should be opposed. To further dramatize his split with Eisenhower and Nixon, Kennedy invited Lumumba's staunch friend Nkrumah to Washington for an official visit. Even further, when Nehru of India asked Kennedy to promise to commit US forces to the UN military effort and to use diplomatic pressure to expel the Belgians, Kennedy agreed. But although his policies were an improvement, Kennedy made a tactical error in keeping Timberlake in place.

The Republican Timberlake now teamed with Devlin and both ignored the new administration's diplomatic thrust. They continued their efforts to back the increasingly rightwing Kasavubu-Mobutu government with Devlin also helping Tshombe in Katanga. When Congo government troops fired on the newly strengthened and JFK-backed UN forces, Timberlake stepped over the line. In early March of 1961 he ordered a US naval task force to float up the Congo River. This military deployment, with its accompanying threat of American intervention, was not authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, let alone Kennedy. Coupled with this was another unauthorized act by Devlin. The CIA, through a friendly "cut-out" corporation, flew three French jet trainers into Katanga. Kennedy was enraged when he heard of these acts. He apologized to Nkrumah and recalled Timberlake. He then issued a written warning that the prime American authority in countries abroad was the ambassador. This included authority over the CIA station.

Enter Thomas Dodd

At this point, another figure emerged in opposition to Kennedy and his Congo policy. Clearly, Kennedy's new Congo policy had been a break from Eisenhower's. It ran contra to the covert policy that Dulles and Devlin had fashioned. To replace the Eisenhower-Nixon political line, the Belgian government, through the offices of public relations man Michael Struelens, created a new political counterweight to Kennedy. He was Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut. As Mahoney notes, Dodd began to schedule hearings in the senate on the "loss" of the Congo to communism, a preposterous notion considering who was really running the Congo in 1961. Dodd also wrote to Kennedy's United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson that the State Department's "blind ambition" to back the UN in Katanga could only end in tragedy. He then released the letter to the press before Stevenson ever got it.

One of the allies that Dodd had in his defense of the Katanga "freedom fighters", was the urbane, supposedly independent journalist William F. Buckley. As Kwitny wittily notes, Buckley saw the spirit of Edmund Burke in the face of Moise Tshombe. Dodd was a not infrequent guest on Buckley's television show which was then syndicated by Metromedia. Buckley's supposed "independence" was brought into question two decades ago by the exposure of his employment by the CIA. But newly declassified documents by the Assassination Records Review Board go even further in this regard. When House Select Committee investigator Dan Hardway was going through Howard Hunt's Office of Security file, he discovered an interesting vein of documents concerning Buckley. First, Buckley was not a CIA "agent" per se. He was actually a CIA officer who was stationed for at least a part of his term in Mexico City. Second, and dependent on Buckley's fictional "agent" status, it appears that both Hunt and Buckley tried to disguise Buckley's real status to make it appear that Buckley worked for and under Hunt when it now appears that both men were actually upper level types. Third, when Buckley "left" the Agency to start the rightwing journal National Review, his professional relationship with propaganda expert Hunt continued. These documents reveal that some reviews and articles for that journal were actually written by Hunt, e. g. a review of the book The Invisible Government.

In other words, the CIA was using Buckley's journal as a propaganda outlet. This does much to explain that journal's, and Buckley's, stand on many controversial issues, including the Congo crisis and the Kennedy assassination. It also helps to explain the Republican William F. Buckley allying himself with Democrat Tom Dodd in defending the Katanga "freedom-fighters."

The Death of Hammarskjold

In September of 1961, while trying to find a way to reintegrate Katanga into the Congo, Hammarskjold was killed in a suspicious plane accident (to be discussed in part two of this article). At this point, with Hammarskjold gone, Timberlake recalled, and Dodd carrying the propaganda battle to him, Kennedy made a significant choice for his new ambassador to replace Timberlake in the Congo. He chose Edmund Gullion for the job. As Mahoney writes:

Kennedy's selection of Edmund Gullion as ambassador was of singular consequence to Congo policy. In the President's view, Gullion was sans pareil among his Third World ambassadors – his best and brightest. There was no ambassador in the New Frontier whose access to the Oval Office was more secure than his. (p. 108)

Gullion had been one of Kennedy's early tutors on foreign policy issues and the pair had actually first met in 1948. Later, Gullion was one of the State Department officials Kennedy sought out in his 1951 visit to Saigon. He had been important in convincing Kennedy that the French position in Vietnam was a hopeless one. In 1954, when Kennedy began attacking the Eisenhower administration's policy in Indochina, he had drawn on Gullion as a source. The White House retaliated by pulling Gullion off the Vietnam desk. As Mahoney states about the importance of Gullion's appointment by Kennedy:

In a very real sense, the Congo became a testing ground of the views shared by Kennedy and Gullion on the purpose of American power in the Third World.… Both Kennedy and Gullion believed that the United States had to have a larger purpose in the Third World than the containment of communism. If the US did not, it would fall into the trap of resisting change.... By resisting change, the US would concede the strategic advantage to the Soviet Union. (p. 108)

What Gullion and Kennedy tried to do in the Congo was to neutralize the appeal of the extremes i.e. fascism and communism, and attempt to forge a left-right ranging coalition around a broad center. This policy, and Kennedy's reluctance to let Katanga break away, was not popular with traditional American allies. When British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan questioned Kennedy's intransigence on Katanga, Kennedy wrote back:

In our own national history, our experience with non-federalism and federalism demonstrates that if a compact of government is to endure, it must provide the central authority with at least the power to tax, and the exclusive power to raise armies, We could not argue with the Congolese to the contrary. (Ibid. p. 109)

This precarious situation, with both domestic and foreign opposition mounting against him, seemed to galvanize the usually cool and flexible Kennedy. He went to New York to pay tribute to Hammarskjold's memory. He then moved to supplement Gullion inside the White House. George Ball was appointed as special adviser on the Congo. Even in 1961, Ball had a reputation as a maverick who was strongly opposed to US intervention in Vietnam. Ball agreed with Kennedy and Gullion that a political center had to be found in the Congo. The administration concentrated their efforts on the appointment of Cyrille Adoula as the new premier. Adoula was a moderate labor leader who, unfortunately, had little of the dynamism and charisma of Lumumba. By the end of 1961 he had moved into the premier's residence in Leopoldville.

But there was one difference between Ball and Gullion on American Congo policy post-Hammarskjold. Ball seemed willing to compromise on the issue of Katanga's autonomy; perhaps even willing to negotiate it away for a withdrawal of all mercenary forces from the Congo. But it seems that Kennedy's visit to New York for Hammarskjold's wake at the UN stiffened his resolve on this issue. Before the General Assembly, Kennedy had stated: "Let us here resolve that Dag Hammarskjold did not live or die in vain." He then backed this up by allowing Stevenson to vote for a UN resolution allowing the use of force to deport the mercenaries and advisory personnel out of Katanga.

Dodd in Katanga

One week after the November 24, 1961 UN resolution, Senator Dodd was in Katanga. Moise Tshombe had already labeled the resolution an act of war and had announced he would fight the deployment of the UN force. Dodd was at Tshombe's side when he toured the main mining centers of Katanga attempting to drum up support for the anticipated conflict. Dodd later did all he could to intimidate Kennedy into withdrawing U. S. support for the mission by telling him that Tshombe's tour had elicited a "tremendous" popular response amid "delirious throngs" of both blacks and whites.

While in Katanga, a curious event occurred in the presence of Thomas Dodd. Dodd was being feted at a private home in Elizabethville when Katangese paratroopers broke into the house. They took hostage two UN representatives, Brian Urquhart and George Ivan Smith. A State Department employee, Lewis Hoffacker, bravely attempted to stop the kidnapping and managed to get Smith away from his abductors. But he couldn't get Urquhart away. Under heavy threats from the UN military commander, Colonel S. S. Maitro, Urquhart was released shortly afterwards, albeit in badly beaten condition. The event is curious because it poses some lingering questions: 1) How did the paratroopers know about the location of the private party? 2) Dodd was not molested. Were the soldiers advised not to touch him? 3) Unlike Hoffacker, it does not appear that Dodd used his influence to intervene in the abduction. If so, why not?

Whatever the odd circumstances surrounding this event, and whatever Dodd's actions in it were, it proved to be the causus belli in the war for Katanga. Shortly afterwards, Katangese tanks blockaded the road from the UN headquarters to the airport. The UN troops attacked the roadblocks and heavy fighting now broke out. Supplemented by U. S. transport planes, the UN effort was logistically sound. So the Katangese had to resort to terrorist tactics to stay even. They used civilian homes, churches, and even hospitals to direct fire at UN troops. The troops had no alternative except to shell these targets. Kennedy and the UN began to take a lot of criticism for the civilian casualties. But when the new Secretary General, U Thant, began to waiver ever so slightly, Kennedy gave him the green light to expand the war without consulting with the other Western allies who were not directly involved with the military effort. When Secretary of State Dean Rusk relayed the allies' complaints over the expansion of the war, Kennedy replied that "some of our friends should use their influence on Tshombe." (Mahoney p. 117) He further told Rusk that there would be no consideration of a cease-fire until Tshombe agreed to talk to Adoula.

The Propaganda War over Katanga

Once the shooting started in earnest, the propaganda war also began to heat up. A full page ad appeared in the New York Times. It compared Katanga to the Soviet client state of Hungary in its 1956 crisis. One of the signers for the ad was Buckley's young conservative group, the Young Americans for Freedom. Time magazine placed Tshombe on its cover. Kennedy fought back by getting Eisenhower to issue a statement in support of his policies. He also sent an emissary to break up any attempted alliance between Dodd and southern senator Richard Russell of Georgia. When the same State Department officer tried to get in contact with Nixon, the former vice-president told him not to waste his time.

In December of 1961, Tshombe sent word to Kennedy that he wanted to negotiate. Tshombe was in a weak position as fighter jets were strafing his palace. Kennedy sent Gullion and former UN official Ralph Bunche to mediate the talks. The session did not go well. Tshombe, in the middle of the talks wished to leave to consult with other dignitaries from his government. Gullion would not allow it but he did get Tshombe to recognize the Congo's constitution and place his soldiers under Kasavubu's authority. He would then be allowed to run for the Congolese parliament. This would have been enough for Ball to agree to a cease-fire. But immediately upon his return to Katanga, Tshombe denounced the bargain and the violence was renewed.

Tshombe's ploy almost worked. Adoula's leftist followers lost faith in him and began to leave for Stanleyville. Britain and France defected from the mission. Congress did not want to refinance the UN effort to put down the revolt. Even Ball advised Kennedy to cut his losses and leave. It appears that it was Gullion who decided to press on in the effort to break Katanga and it seems it was his advice, and his special relationship with Kennedy, that kept the president from losing faith.

Kennedy's Economic Warfare

In 1962, Kennedy decided to hit Tshombe where it hurt. A joint British-Belgian company named Union Miniere had been bankrolling the Katangan war effort in return for mineral rights there. Kennedy, through some British contacts now attempted to get the company to stop paying those fees to Tshombe. Union Miniere refused. They replied that they had billions wrapped up in Katanga and could not afford to risk the loss. Kennedy now went through the American ambassador in England to the Belgian representatives of the company. He told them that unless a good part of the stipend to Katanga was curtailed, he would unleash a terrific attack on Katanga and then give all of Union Miniere over to Adoula when the Congo was reunified. This did the trick. The revenues going to Tshombe were significantly curtailed. The cutback came at an important time since Tshombe had already run up a multimillion dollar debt in resisting the UN effort.

To counter these moves, Dodd forged an alliance with Senator Barry Goldwater, the ultraconservative senator from Arizona. Their clear message to Tshombe was that he should hold out until the 1964 presidential election in which Goldwater had already expressed an interest in running. Kennedy countered by bringing Adoula to both New York and Washington. In his speech at the United Nations, Adoula paid tribute to "our national hero Patrice Lumumba" and also criticized Belgium. (Mahoney, p. 134) At his visit to the White House, Adoula pointed to a portrait of Andrew Jackson and told Kennedy how much he admired Old Hickory. Remembering his history, and clearly referring to Tshombe and Katanga, Kennedy made a toast to Adoula quoting Jackson's famous reply to secessionist John Calhoun, "Our federal union; it must be preserved." Two months after the visit, Kennedy wrote a letter to Adoula:

These three months have been trying for us. I am searching for an agreement to end the armaments race and you are searching for an agreement to reunite your country.... You may be assured that we will spare no effort in bringing about this end. (Ibid p. 135)

The supporters of Tshombe needed to retaliate for the success of the Adoula visit. Tshombe's press agent, Michel Struelens arranged for him to appear on a segment of Meet the Press, a rally at Madison Square Garden, and a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Dodd invited Tshombe to testify before his subcommittee. In the face of all this advance fanfare, Kennedy made it clear that he was considering not granting Tshombe a visa into the country. Gullion and Stevenson argued that it was not a legal necessity since Tshombe was not a real representative of the Congolese government. Kennedy's legal adviser, Abram Chayes argued against the denial. In the end, Kennedy again sided with Gullion and denied the visa. Again, Kennedy took a barrage of criticism for this maneuver. His father's old friend, Arthur Krock, accused the administration of evasion and of denying Tshombe his right to be heard. The John Birch Society now formally entered on Katanga's side. Even Herbert Hoover lent his name to pro-Katanga statements.

The Last Round

Denied access to the US, Tshombe now set about rearming his military. Kennedy decided to push for economic sanctions followed by a blockade. But Kennedy tried one last time to open negotiations with Tshombe. But by October of 1962 these had proved futile. Moreover, Adoula misinterpreted Kennedy's negotiation attempt as backing out on his commitment to the Congo. Adoula now turned to the UN and the Russians in hopes of one last knockout blow against Tshombe. On November 2, 1962 the first clashes began. Gullion worked overtime to get Adoula to stop courting the Russians. Kennedy then wrote to Rusk and Ball that he wanted both men to come to a conclusion on what the American role should be in the renewed hostilities. Finally, Ball decided on the use of force, even if it meant the direct use of American air power.

On December 24, 1962 Katangese forces fired on a UN helicopter and outpost. The UN now moved with a combined land and air strike code-named Operation Grand Slam. By December 29th, Elisabethville, the capital of Katanga was under heavy siege. By the second week of January, the UN advance was proceeding on all fronts. By January 22nd, Katanga's secession effort was over. As Stevenson said later, it was the UN's finest hour. Kennedy wrote congratulatory notes to all those involved. To George McGhee, special State Department emissary on the Congo, Kennedy wrote that the task had been "extraordinarily difficult" but now they were entitled to "a little sense of pride." (Mahoney p. 156)

The Congo: 1963

A few months after Katanga had capitulated and Tshombe had fled to Rhodesia, the UN, because of the huge expense of the expedition, was ready to withdraw. Kennedy urged U Thant to keep the force in the Congo; he even offered to finance part of the mission if it was held over. But the UN wanted its forces out, even though it looked like Adoula's position was weakening and the Congolese army itself was not stable or reliable. Kennedy had a difficult choice: he could quit the Congo along with the UN, or the US could try to stay and assume some responsibility for the mess it was at least partly responsible for. Kennedy chose to stay. But not before he did all he could to try to keep the UN there longer. This even included going to the UN himself on September 20, 1963 to address the General Assembly on this very subject:

a project undertaken in the excitement of crisis begins to lose its appeal as the problems drag on and the bills pile up.... I believe that this Assembly should do whatever is necessary to preserve the gains already made and to protect the new nation in its struggle for progress. Let us complete what we have started.

The personal appearance and the speech were enough to turn the UN around. The body voted to keep the peacekeeping mission in place another year. Adoula wired Kennedy his sincere gratitude.

But in October and November things began to collapse. President Kasavubu decided to disband Parliament and this ignited an already simmering leftist rebellion. Gizenga's followers called for strikes and army mutinies. They tried to assassinate Mobutu. Kennedy followed the new crisis and wanted a retraining of the Congolese army in order to avert a new civil war. But there was a difference between what Kennedy wanted and what the Pentagon delivered. By October of 1963, Mobutu had already become a favorite of the Fort Benning crowd in the Army, the group that would eventually charter at that military site the School of the Americas, an institution that would spawn a whole generation of rightwing Third World dictators. Kennedy had wanted the retraining carried out by Colonel Michael Greene, an African expert who wanted the retraining to be implemented not just by the US but by five other western countries. Kennedy also agreed with U Thant that there should be African representation in the leadership of that program. Yet Mobutu, with the backing of his Pentagon allies, including Army Chief Earle Wheeler, managed to resist both of these White House wishes. In November, Kennedy ordered a progress report on the retraining issue. The Pentagon had done little and blamed the paltry effort on the UN.

1964: LBJ reverses Kennedy's policies

In 1964, the leftist rebellion picked up strength and began taking whole provinces. President Johnson and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy decided that a weakened Adoula had to be strengthened with a show of American help. The CIA sent Cuban exile pilots to fly sorties against the rebels. When the UN finally withdrew, the US now became an ally of Belgium and intervened with arms, airplanes and advisors. Incredibly, as Jonathan Kwitny notes, Mobutu now invited Tshombe back into the Congo government (p. 79). Further, Tshombe now blamed the revolts on China! To quote Kwitny:

In a move suspiciously reminiscent of a standard US intelligence agency ploy, Tshombe produced what he said were some captured military documents, and a Chinese defector who announced that China was attempting to take over the Congo as part of a plot to conquer all of Africa. (p. 79)

With this, the Mobutu-Tshombe alliance now lost all semblance of a Gullion-Kennedy styled moderate coalition. Now, rightwing South Africans and Rhodesians were allowed to join the Congolese army in the war on the "Chinese-inspired left". Further, as Kwitny also notes, this dramatic reversal was done under the auspices of the United States. The UN had now been dropped as a stabilizing, multilateral force. This meant, of course, that the tilt to the right would now go unabated. By 1965, the new American and Belgian supplemented force had put down the major part of the rebellion. General Mobutu then got rid of President Kasavubu. (Adoula had already been replaced by Tshombe.) In 1966, Mobutu installed himself as military dictator. The rest is a familiar story. Mobutu, like Suharto in Indonesia, allowed his country to be opened up to loads of outside investment. The riches of the Congo, like those of Indonesia, were mined by huge western corporations, whose owners and officers grew wealthy while Mobutu's subjects were mired in abject poverty. As with the economy, Mobutu stifled political dissent as well. And, like Suharto, Mobutu grew into one of the richest men in the world. His holdings in Belgian real estate alone topped one hundred million dollars (Kwitny p. 87). Just one Swiss bank account was worth $143 million. And like Suharto, Mobutu fell after three decades of a corrupt dictatorship, leaving most of his citizenry in an anarchic, post-colonial state similar to where they had been at the beginning of his reign.

The policies before and after Kennedy's in this tale help explain much about the chaos and confusion going on in Congo today. It's a story you won't read in many papers or see on television. In itself, the events which occurred there from 1959 to 1966 form a milestone. As Kwitny writes:

The democratic experiment had no example in Africa, and badly needed one. So perhaps the sorriest, and the most unnecessary, blight on the record of this new era, is that the precedent for it all, the very first coup in post-colonial African history, the very first political assassination, and the very first junking of a legally constituted democratic system, all took place in a major country, and were all instigated by the United States of America. (p. 75)

Whatever Kennedy's failures as a tactician, whatever his equivocations were on taking quick and decisive action, he realized that nationalism would have to have its place in American foreign policy. As Mahoney concludes, Kennedy did what no other president before or after him had done. He established "a common ground between African ideals and American self-interest in the midst of the Cold War." (p. 248) As Kwitny notes, this was the basis of Lumumba's (undying) appeal:

Lumumba is a hero to Africans not because he promoted socialism, which he didn't, but because he resisted foreign intervention. He stood up to outsiders, if only by getting himself killed. Most Africans ... would say that the principal outsider he stood up to was the United States. (p. 72)

Mahoney relates an anecdote which helps explain why Kennedy understood the appeal of Lumumba. It has little to do with his 1951 trip to Saigon, although it may help explain why he sought out the people he did while he was there. The vignette illuminates a lot about the Kennedy mystery, i.e. why the son of a multimillionaire ended up being on the side of African black nationalism abroad and integration at home. In January of 1962, in the midst of the Congo crisis, Kennedy was talking to Nehru of India when, presumably, the great Indian leader was lecturing him on the subject of colonialism. Kennedy replied:

I grew up in a community where the people were hardly a generation away from colonial rule. And I can claim the company of many historians in saying that the colonialism to which my immediate ancestors were subject was more sterile, oppressive and even cruel than that of India.

Kennedy, of course, was referring to the conquest and subjugation of Ireland by the British. A colonization that has now lasted for 800 years. Clearly, Kennedy never forgot where his family came from.

It is also clear that in his brief intervention in the politics of the newly liberated continent of Africa, its new progressive leaders realized Kennedy's sensitivity to their painful and precarious position. They also seem to have realized what Kennedy the politician was up against, and what may have caused his death.

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana – a clear leftist who Kennedy had backed against heavy odds and who was perhaps the greatest of that period's African leaders – was overcome with sadness upon hearing of the young American president's death. In a speech at that time, he told his citizens that Africa would forever remember Kennedy's great sensitivity to that continent's special problems. (Mahoney, p. 235) Later, when the American ambassador handed Nkrumah a copy of the Warren Report, he thumbed through it and pointed to the name of Allen Dulles as a member of the Warren Commission. He handed it back abruptly, muttering simply, "Whitewash."

In part two, Lisa Pease explores the covert action underlying the plots against Lumumba and new evidence which has surfaced regarding the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 17:51
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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