Monday, 24 October 2022 19:39

America’s Last President, by Monika Wiesak

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Monika Wiesak's new America’s Last President is among the most important books on the case in years. James DiEugenio reviews it for Kennedys and King.

The complete title of this new book is America’ Last President: What the World Lost When It Lost John F. Kennedy. Monika Wiesak begins her book by saying about John F. Kennedy that, after some study, “I realized that the public image of him as a careless, thoughtless, self -involved playboy obscured the depth of what he was trying to achieve and intensity of opposition he faced.” (p. iii) She then quotes Bob Dylan’s lyrics on the subject: “They killed him once, and they killed him twice.” She adds that it was not enough that Kennedy be murdered, his ideas had to perish with him.

In an unprecedented manner, she then traces Kennedy’s anti-imperialist concepts all the way back to 1939, in an unlikely place: Palestine. Even at this early date, young Kennedy writes that the press was not giving the public the whole story. He wrote that it seemed to him that, even at this time, the Zionists wanted to take over Jerusalem, make it the capital of their new country, and to also colonize Trans-Jordan. Kennedy even described what would today be termed as false flag operations: where bombs were being set off in the Jewish quarter, by the Jews, and the British would be called in to fix the damage. (p. 6)

In 1951, Kennedy visited Asia and the Middle East. He wrote that he felt it was wrong for America to support England’s oil interests in Iran, and her military interest in Suez. He also commented on the plight of the 700,000 Palestinians who were now refugees after the Nakba, and how this would not align itself with the promises of the Voice of America. (p. 8). About Indochina, he wrote that we must not sacrifice nationalism for anti-communism, since he thought the latter cause would fail.

From here, Wiesak goes to Kennedy’s famous Algeria speech of 1957. She correctly comments on it as: “…to this day, it remains one of the most potent speeches opposing imperialism ever given by a U.S. senator.” (p. 11). She then acutely adds, not only was Kennedy an anti-colonialist, he was keenly aware of the substitute for colonialism, which was imperialism:

Suspicion is aroused that when colonialism is ousted anywhere and the inevitable vacuum results, dollar control is prepared to move in, so that freedom would amount to little more than a change of masters. (p. 14)

Some of the other ideas that Senator Kennedy advocated were: no nuclear proliferation, anti-censorship and loyalty oaths, and the government should intervene in the economy actively for the public good. This opening is astutely done since she adds that these concepts would carry over into his presidency. Therefore, “The following chapters detail what happened to a world leader whose priority was the people.” (p. 21)


The book proper opens with chapters on the CIA and then the Congo. Wiesak focuses on the Bay of Pigs and the deceptions hoisted by the Agency to get Kennedy to go along with that fey excursion. She also points out his deep regrets afterward about allowing himself to be gulled: “How could I have been so stupid, to let them go ahead.” (p. 28) Kennedy literally cried alone with his wife. In fact, she uses the book posthumously published by Caroline Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, as a major and revealing source. Which is something that this reviewer thinks is rather original. I have never seen that book used as extensively, or as pointedly, as Wiesak does here. Kennedy’s widow provided some insightful perceptions into her husband’s thinking. Wiesak deserves credit for mining these hidden and concealed jewels.

In a separate chapter, she writes that presidential candidate Kennedy had sent Averill Harriman to Congo. He reported back to the senator that Patrice Lumumba, newly elected president of Congo, was a nationalist and not a communist and JFK should favor him. (p. 35). In return, Lumumba sent Kennedy a telegram on the day he was elected requesting that he oppose the secession of the state of Katanga and hoping he would cooperate with the United Nations.

As we know, Lumumba did not live to see his request fulfilled. CIA station chief Larry Devlin recommended drastic steps to eliminate Lumumba before Kennedy took office. After all, Ted Kennedy had visited Africa and urged Lumumba be released from house arrest. (p. 37)

After the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, was done away with in September of 1961, Kennedy essentially took control of UN policy in Congo. JFK ended up approving the UN military mission, code named Operation Grand Slam, which stopped the secession of Katanga in late 1962. In short order, after JFK’s assassination, Kennedy’s non-imperialist policy there was reversed by President Johnson. Instead of a democratically elected, constitutional republic, Josef Mobutu and Moise Tshombe ended up being despotic co-rulers. Mobutu lasted for about three decades. After he left, about 5.4 million Congolese perished between 1998-2007, partly as a result of two civil wars in the nineties.. (p. 42) Congo should have been a wealthy and independent republic, an example for the rest of sub -Sahara Africa. It ended up as a poverty racked failed state.

Her chapter on Congo leads up to an overview of Kennedy’s entire Africa policy in Chapter 4. In 34 months, Kennedy greeted 28 heads of state from that continent. This contrasts with President Eisenhower, who met with less than a third as many in eight years. Kennedy’s point man on Africa, G. Mennen Williams, visited every country there except the Union of South Africa; because they would not grant him a visa. (p. 47) Kennedy’s aid package was also different: he sent a larger sum, and less of it was for the military. It is interesting to note, as she does, that Kennedy was criticized for spending too much time and effort on this Third World continent, both by fellow Democrats Dean Acheson and Henry Jackson, as well as the National Review and New York Times.(p. 54). But as Jackie Kennedy said, after she wrote a note to Kwame Nkrumah of Africa, “Jack made you feel how important it was to be polite…how awfully everyone had always treated the Africans, how Eisenhower had kept an African leader waiting for 45 minutes.” (p. 47)

This policy was seriously altered by Lyndon Johnson. By 1969, Africa was getting 29% of the aid it received in 1962. (p. 56) When Kennedy was assassinated, Tommy Mboya of Kenya said the emotional impact was like a death in the family. The leaders of Africa repaid Kennedy by refusing to grant refueling rights to the Soviets during the Missile Crisis.

In Latin America Kennedy created the Alliance for Progress, which broke with tradition. Since it was going to lend money at very low, or sometimes, zero interest rates. So there would not be a constant debt expansion problem. Which could only be cured by purchasing American products. Big business did not like the program. They deemed it one step away from socialism. (p. 61) But Kennedy liked the approach, and he visited Latin America three times, and had another visit scheduled in 1964. His wife had gone with him on two of these journeys south. A Wiesak quote from the First Lady crystallizes the Alliance for Progress, and what JFK was about:

In Venezuela I went to an orphanage, and there was a picture in the paper, all the children were kissing me goodbye, and the headline was…we love Mrs. Kennedy, look, she permits herself to be kissed by these children. And that just hurt Jack so much….And he said you just don’t know the inferiority complex they have that the United States has given them. Jack believed all those things he was saying about our revolution is like yours; at last they had someone they could trust who felt about them. (pp. 63-64)

Another example of how Kennedy felt about the Alliance for Progress, from Teodoro Moscoso:

When he went around and saw the farmers, poor undernourished people who never in their life had ever had anything to their name except the clothing on their back, and assisted in handing them over the title to a piece of property, to a piece of land with a fence around it and with a house on it, he got a fantastic lift out of this. (p. 64)

Jackie Kennedy also wrote that her husband would never have recognized the military juntas in Dominican Republic in 1963 and Brazil in 1964. (p. 64). Juan Bosch, the displaced democratic leader in the Dominican Republic later said of Kennedy’s murder: “The fatal bullet did much harm to you, but greater harm to us.” (p. 66)


One of the finest aspects of America’s Last President, is Wiesak’s discussion of Kennedy’s economic program. She starts off by noting that celebrated financial journalist/author Seymour Harris wrote that, Kennedy knew more about economics than any president he covered. Since he wrote columns on the subject from 1943, and published over 30 books dating from 1930, that takes in a lot of territory.

Wiesak notes that, when Kennedy took office, the unemployment rate was 7.7 %. By 1964, it was under 5%. Under Kennedy, the Gross National Product increased by 20%, Industrial Production went up by 22 % and Personal Income increased by 15%. (p. 68) Kennedy greatly wished to stimulate growth and increase productivity. He thought this would contribute to a greater share of wealth for all, but would allow for more to be given to those suffering who were the neediest.

JFK tried to stimulate economic production by granting a tax credit for new plant and equipment; and also providing for a general tax cut. Kennedy’s tax cut would give the largest percentage of relief to the poorest third of the population and to small business. (p. 71) Kennedy also wanted to keep interest rates low and to increase defense contracts for small business. Things like the Area Redevelopment Act, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Manpower Development and Training Act, these all poured money into distressed areas that needed it the most. In this regard, Kennedy made much more surplus food available to the poor. In fact, in just two months, he doubled the number of recipients. (p. 75). What else did he do to ease the problems of the poor and not well off?

  1. Extended span of unemployment benefits
  2. Increased the minimum wage
  3. Increased by almost 30% the amount of Social Security benefits
  4. Pushed for a Medicare bill
  5. Sanctioned the VISTA program in poverty stricken areas

At his last Cabinet meeting, Kennedy uttered the word poverty seven times. The amazing thing about Kennedy’s robust economic program is this: during his administration inflation averaged just 1.7 %.

Who would be against such a successful program? Well, the denizens of Wall Street of course. Fortune magazine described Kennedy’s policies as a “master government plan.” (p. 80). One of the reasons why people like the owner of that magazine, Henry Luce, bitterly attacked Kennedy was this: he wanted to close off foreign tax havens and loopholes, “which permit and encourage industry to invest overseas.” He even advocated for a withholding tax on dividend payments, since he thought this would be more fair to wage earners and small business. (p. 82-83). Unlike what we had under the likes of Reagan, Bush and Bill Clinton, Kennedy knew where the money was located and wanted to entertain ways to make tax collection more graduated i.e. by eliminating provisions that would allow special tax preferences for wealthy individuals transferring property as gifts. . (p. 83)

In her examination of Kennedy’s economic program she does not ignore the goals of Kennedy against the Federal Reserve. Which he tried to neutralize through the appointment of James Saxon as Comptroller of Currency. (Click here for more detail.)

She also examines the now legendary Steel Crisis, where the magnates of Big Business decided to launch a frontal assault on Kennedy’s policies. One of the strategies Kennedy used to defeat his opponents was to begin giving large defense contracts to smaller steel companies, who were not part of the cartel. (p. 90) Kennedy did not think that rigging prices was the way the free market worked. Even after the price fixing case was broken, Bobby Kennedy launched a law suit which made the culprit companies pay maximum fines in 1965 for price fixing from 1955-61. (p. 91). Kennedy made more than one pithy comment on the crisis after it was over. Consider how he characterized the conflict:

…a small group of men turning against the government and the economy because the government would not surrender to them. That is the real issue. (pp. 94-95)

Later he added the following:

If to stop them saying we are anti-business, we are supposed to cease enforcing the antitrust laws, then I suppose the cause is lost. (p. 96)

Wiesak closes off this section with what is probably the best precis of Kennedy’s environmental program I have seen. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, requested that the White House help publicize Rachel Carson’s upcoming book, Silent Spring. The book had been excerpted in The New Yorker in June of 1962. Kennedy then announced he would be investigating pesticides. Kennedy did not back down when the chemical companies started attacking the book. (pp. 98-99)

As the writer specifies, this is related to Kennedy’s prior address on what he called Consumer Rights. He made this speech on March 15, 1962. Kennedy advocated for more truth in packaging laws, among other consumer rights. Today March 15th is celebrated as World Consumer Rights Day. This was all in keeping with what Kennedy saw as his primary duty, which was protecting the interests of the public. (p. 113)


Wiesak, of course, addresses Kennedy’s epochal confrontations with the Pentagon and CIA over Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia.

About the first, before taking action, Kennedy asked to speak to the American ambassador to Laos, Winthrop Brown. After this talk, where Kennedy said he wanted to hear his observations, not the State Department’s, Brown later said, “I mean, I just thought I’d been in the presence of a great man.” (p. 129)

The Pentagon wanted to send in troops to stop the Pathet Lao. Specifically, about 140,000 of them. As Max Taylor later wrote, it was President Kennedy who resisted sending in troops. (p. 131) Kennedy insisted on a neutralist solution in 1962.

In Vietnam, Kennedy sent John Kenneth Galbraith to give him a dissenting opinion from his advisors, who again, wanted to insert combat troops. Kennedy knew Galbraith would give him a radically different opinion, which he did. Kennedy then passed on that opinion to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and this was the beginning of the president’s withdrawal of all advisors, which would be begun in late 1963 and be completed in 1965. (p. 133)

Kennedy was determined to enact this plan without Pentagon interference. So he forbade any higher ups in the military to visit Saigon without being cleared by the State Department. That paved the way for NSAM 263 which began the withdrawal program with one thousand advisors to be taken out by the end of 1963. Again, LBJ did a reversal and it was not long before the OPLAN 34A program was underway. These patrols, really provocations—featuring attack speedboats accompanied by communications destroyers--paved the way for the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Which was then used as a casus belli for the USA to declare war on Hanoi. With Americans fighting the brunt of the war.

Sukarno of Indonesia liked some of the speeches Kennedy had made in the 1960 election against Richard Nixon. Sukarno had convened the first non-aligned meeting of Third World countries in Indonesia about five years previous. For this and other reasons, covert operations chief Dick Bissell and the CIA did not care for Sukarno. Bissell once said that “Lumumba and Sukarno were two of the worst people in public life I’ve ever heard of…I believed they were dangerous to the United States.” (p. 141). This is how he justified planning to eliminate such “mad dogs”.

Contrary to the CIA and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Kennedy approved of the non-aligned movement. (p. 140) And when Sukarno met with JFK in Washington in 1961, he told the president that 90% of the communist party in Indonesia, the PKI, were really nationalists. The two leaders discussed this issue of non-alignment and neutrality in the Cold War. This is something that both JFK and Dag Hammarskjold agreed upon, specifically in relation to both Congo and Indonesia. (p. 142) Wiesak now reviews the important natural resource information about West New Guinea, today called Papua. How, unknown to either Sukarno or Kennedy, that region was even richer than Katanga in precious metals and oil. In a dispute with the Dutch, who likely did know, Kennedy worked to transfer that land over to Sukarno in 1962. This is something the CIA actually had declared off limits, since they felt it would aggrandize Sukarno’s stature. (p. 144). As Wiesak notes, through the work of Greg Poulgrain, we also know that CIA Director Allen Dulles very likely did know about the enormous amount of resources in Papua.

Kennedy had planned on visiting Jakarta in 1964. He also planned on a large foreign aid package to be sent to Sukarno at the end of 1963. Both of these were eliminated by LBJ. The relations between the two countries now became much more strained and difficult. And it culminated in eventual overthrow of Sukarno, which began in late 1965. No one knows for sure how many were slaughtered in 1965 and continued into 1966; estimates range from a half million to a million killed. As Wiesak observes, there is plentiful evidence to indicate the CIA was involved in this bloody affair. (p. 148) As scholar Bradley Simpson told Oliver Stone in his interview for JFK: Destiny Betrayed, in all probability, this would not have happened if Kennedy had lived.


From here, the writer discusses two instances where Kennedy worked with Khrushchev in order to stop what could have ended up in serious conflicts, perhaps escalating into atomic warfare. The two episodes are, of course, Berlin in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. In the former, she notes how both Berlin commander Lucius Clay and General Bruce Clarke of US Army Europe, were trying to provoke a showdown over the Berlin Wall. (p. 150) The Kennedy brothers negotiated a way out of the stand off which included removing tanks at the Brandenburg gate. Kennedy told William Walton: “I am almost a peace-at-any-price president.”

This was further illustrated in October of 1962 during the Missile Crisis. Wiesak notes that Kennedy felt the Russians had installed the medium and long range missiles behind his back over the issue of Berlin. (pp. 153-54) That is, they would demand the giving up of West Berlin over negotiations for removal of the missiles from Cuba. Which is something that Kennedy would not deal over since he thought this would be the beginning of the rolling up of the Atlantic alliance. She also notes that Kennedy was taken aback when Russian foreign minister Andrei Gromyko lied to him about offensive weapons in Cuba.

At the beginning of the crisis, there were two alternatives presented to Kennedy: 1.) A surgical strike against the missile silos, and 2.) An even larger air strike followed by an invasion. But against the majority, Kennedy decided on a blockade. Kennedy stole a quip form Lincoln, saying that his one vote outnumbered all those in opposition. (p. 161) To JFK it was the alternative that had the least amount of casualties attached, and it also minimized the prospect of war, since it allowed for negotiation.

Wiesak dutifully comments on Kennedy’s discussion of the issue with the Joint Chiefs. He first said to advisor Ted Sorenson, “They all want war.” He then commented “…if we listen to them, and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them they were wrong.” (p. 159). His brother Bobby Kennedy, of course sided with the president and managed to convince Doug Dillon of Treasury to accept the blockade.

From here, the boundary lines for a negotiated solution were constructed. UN representative Adlai Stevenson suggested using the American missiles in Turkey as a bargaining chip. To which Bobby Kennedy said, this must only come at the end of negotiations. (pp. 162-63). At first, the Russians wanted a pledge that the USA would not invade Cuba. They later added they would also like the Turkish missiles removed. (Which Kennedy thought were already gone.) Under these parameters, Bobby Kennedy met with Russian ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. RFK told him that the Turkish missiles would be removed six months later. He also added this: the Joint Chiefs are spoiling for a fight. According to Dobrynin Bobby said, “If the situation continues much longer, the president is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power.” (p. 165). Make no mistake, Kennedy was losing support among his advisors, especially when Lyndon Johnson chimed in and said the USA was giving up way too much in the negotiations. (The Kennedy Tapes, by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow, p. 587). The visit to Dobrynin, with RFK’s warning, probably turned things. The next day, Nikita Khrushchev announced he was going to begin removal of the missiles. But as Wiesak writes, Kennedy was so determined to get a deal that, if Khrushchev had not sent the telex, the president was going to negotiate through U Thant at the United Nations--and this would have included the Jupiter missiles in Turkey. When it was all over, JFK told John Kenneth Galbraith that, in relation to bombing the missile silos, “I never had the slightest intention of doing so.” (p. 161)

Which was fortunate for us all. Because at a much later seminar on the subject, held in Havana in 1992, some important information was revealed. First that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the medium and long range missiles were already installed at the time of the blockade. Therefore, the maneuver had little if any strategic impact. Secondly, that there were short range tactical nuclear missiles on the island and the Soviet commanders had permission to use them if the Americans invaded. Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was on hand for this event. When he learned of this information he was so stunned he tore off his headphones and then waved his arms in disbelief. ( p. 167; see also The Armageddon Letters, by James Blight and Janet Lang, p. 279)

This directly relates to Wiesak’s section on nuclear disarmament. As author Roger Mattson wrote in his book Stealing the Bomb, no president since has been so single-minded and determined about cutting the number of atomic weapons and limiting proliferation than JFK was. Kennedy actually started a new agency for that purpose, the U. S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. In 1961, he said before the UN: “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” (Wiesak, p. 173)

Kennedy then outlined a six step process to begin a world-wide disarmament program. Marcus Raskin, who worked on nuclear studies for Kennedy, recommended a 30% cut in arms and JFK liked that idea. (p. 178) Kennedy envisioned a general and complete disarmament that would take place in stages, with no atmospheric testing. This was the background to the famous Peace Speech at American University in June of 1963. That speech was more admired in Russia and Cuba than in the USA. But it did kick start the Partial Test Ban Treaty of September, 1963. Castro liked this move so much that he said he was willing to declare Barry Goldwater his friend if it would help elect Kennedy. And JFK started planning for a visit to Moscow in his second term. (pp. 185-86)


As rich as the book is, I think its crowning jewel is Wiesak’s discussion of Kennedy’s approach to Arab-Israeli relations. In synoptic form, it is the best I have seen anywhere. Since no president since has come close to duplicating Kennedy’s policy in vision and fairness, it is important to describe it. And to also show how it was dismantled by his successors. To a point where it became unrecognizable.

One of the mainstays of Kennedy’s policy was UN Resolution 194, sometimes called the Johnson Plan. Middle East specialist Joseph Johnson had devised a plan which would settle the refugees of the Nakba. They would have the option of returning to where they lived, staying where they were at, or going elsewhere-- and the UN, meaning largely the USA, would cover the costs.

To put it mildly, Israel’s President David Ben Gurion did not like the plan. To be blunt about it, he said, “Israel will fight against this implementation down to the last man.” (Wiesak, p.189) In order to keep the Johnson Plan alive, when the Russians sent equipment to Egypt in 1962, Kennedy had to agree to sell defensive missiles to Israel. Something he was uncomfortable doing. (p. 191). In fact Johnson quit his position in the fall of 1962.

In the face of much resistance, Kennedy continued to push the plan in bilateral talks. In fact, as Wiesak notes, Kennedy supported the plan through November of 1963. Something the Arabs appreciated, but which Israeli leaders, like Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol, were disturbed by. (p. 193)

The second mainstay of Kennedy’s Middle East policy was his insistence on keeping up a relationship with the man he saw as the potential leader of a Pan Arab movement, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. This was done through a series of letters, of which no one knows the exact number exchanged. Kennedy thoroughly understood Nasser’s impressive stature in the Arab world through episodes like the Lavon Affair and the Suez Crisis. In fact, JFK spent much time and effort in the writing of his correspondence, at times redrafting it 5-6 times. Another hallmark of Kennedy’s was he really studied the history of the Middle East. Diplomats would visit with him and emerge saying, “He knows more about our problems than I do.” (p. 197) In fact, by 1963, some senators were criticizing Kennedy for being pro-Nasser. (p. 201) Coupled with this was the Kennedy brothers opposition to the American Zionist Council, RFK wanted them to register as a foreign lobby. (p. 205) As Wiesak notes, this was the beginning of the formation of AIPAC.

The third rail of Kennedy’s policy in the Middle East was his opposition to the acquisition of atomic weapons by any nation. In March of 1963, Kennedy even drafted a National Security Action Memorandum on the subject. (pp. 210-11) Kennedy was so determined to halt any such program that in April of 1963, when he happened to run into Shimon Peres, Israel’s deputy of defense at the White House, he conducted an impromptu interrogation of him on the subject. After which Kennedy commented to Charles Bartlett, “Sons of bitches lie to me constantly about their nuclear capability.”

This led to a showdown between Kennedy and David Ben Gurion. Kennedy insisted on biannual inspections of what he suspected was a nuclear weapons reactor at Dimona. Ben Gurion denied this and instead insisted on a bilateral security agreement. To Kennedy, this would have put his relationship with Nasser on the line. It was simply a non-starter. In June of 1963, after Kennedy sent him two letters saying aid to Israel would be placed in limbo if there were no inspections, Ben Gurion stepped down. After which CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton visited him at least once in Israel. (p. 217)

Needless to say, LBJ completely reversed Kennedy’s very careful policy. He ended up cutting aid to Egypt and boosting aid to Israel—supplying them with tanks and aircraft. In other words, offensive weapons. In fact, the sum of military aid Johnson gave to Israel in 1966 surpassed the cumulative sum given to the state since its establishment in 1948! (p. 204) Needless to say, this caused a breakage in US/Egypt relations. The imbalance was epitomized with the attack on the USS Liberty in 1967. George Ball of the State Department cogently commented on this episode. He said that by allowing Israel to cover up what really happened there, LBJ was telling the Israelis that nothing they did would cause America to refuse their bidding. (p. 204)

Monika Wiesak has written a remarkable and valuable book. It is the kind of volume you can send to friends and relatives for the holidays. It is the best book in its category in fourteen years, since Jim Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable.

Last modified on Saturday, 29 October 2022 22:36
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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