AUDREY R. KAHIN AND GEORGE McT. KAHIN, Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia (New York: New Press, 1995), 328 pp., $25.00 cloth (ISBN 1-56584-244-8).
In the 1950s, President Eisenhower used a "hidden-hand" presidency in Southeast Asia. As the Kahins observe, the Eisenhower administration relied on violence in its dealings with Third World nations, particularly in Southeast Asia, by militarizing covert action. In Burma it organized, financed, and armed 15,000 Chinese nationalist troops, a force that eventually became involved in the opium trade. In response, the Burmese government turned for assistance to the Chinese communists, and its own military decided to take control in a coup in 1962. In Cambodia, the CIA organized the Khmer Serei, an anti-Sihanouk force that failed to bring down Prince Sihanouk, and only contributed to his determination to remain neutral. In Laos, an intervention in 1960 pushed the nationalist leader Souvanna Phouma into an alliance with the Laotian communists. In Vietnam, Eisenhower ignored the terms of the 1954 Geneva agreements, installed Ngo Dinh Diem to head a government in the south instead of permitting all-Vietnam elections, and organized an "army" out of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao religious sects and the remains of the French colonial forces.
In the late 1950s, none of these hare-brained interventions had yet come to naught. Indeed, based on American and British experience in Iran, Guatemala, Malaya, and the Philippines, there was every reason to believe that militarized covert action promised to contain the communist threat in Asia at the very least and possibly even destabilize communist regimes--especially North Vietnam. There were no caution lights, then, for U.S. policy makers when they turned to Indonesia, the largest Islamic nation in the world, with the fifth largest population.
The Eisenhower administration believed that President Sukarno was heavily influenced by the communists. It was concerned about a communist push to control Southeast Asia, based on local proxies, with Indonesia and North Vietnam acting as the vise in which nations such as Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand would be squeezed. How could they prevent communist expansionism? in mid-1957, Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles believed they had found the way: disaffection with the Indonesian regime on Sumatra and Sulawesi would be used to weaken...