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? Mistakes and Unpleasant Consequences

Some of the CIA's most noted operations occurred in the 1950s, including the suppression of the Hukbalahap insurgency in the Philippines, the 1953 overthrow of the government in Iran in cooperation with the British, and the 1954 overthrow of the government of Guatemala.[20] Using sabotage, propaganda, and paramilitary and political actions, the operations succeeded with a minimum of fuss, bloodshed, and time expended. With the advantage of hindsight, we can see that these operations left bitter seeds that would grow into difficult problems for a future generation of U.S. policymakers. Because of the apparent success of the early operations, the wrong conclusions were drawn in Washington about the nature and utility of covert operations. Those erroneous conclusions eventually led to less successful operations in Indonesia, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq as well as to the Bay of Pigs disaster.

The covert operations conducted against various regimes during the 1950s left an ineradicable impression of guilt by association, at best, in the minds of the citizens of those countries. That effect is widely recognized in the case of Iran, but perhaps nowhere was it more pronounced than in the case of the 1958 attempt to overthrow Sukarno, the leader of Indonesia. Although the undertaking was much larger in scope than the later Bay of Pigs invasion, it was so far away that it attracted little attention. The CIA trained large numbers of Indonesian dissidents and mercenaries--one estimate puts the number of trainees at 42,000--and returned them to Sumatra, where they recruited other rebels. The ensuing rebellion lasted several months before being quashed. U.S. efforts to undermine Sukarno continued, and in 1965 a strange and terrible series of events occurred in Indonesia that has never been satisfactorily explained. The usual explanation is that leftists in the government staged a coup to wrest complete control, either of the government or the army. General Suharto then staged a retaliatory coup against the left, reduced Sukarno to a figurehead, and called in massive U.S. military and civilian assistance. Subsequently, Indonesian generals began a campaign to eliminate to communist sympathizers throughout Indonesia. Estimates of the number killed ranged from a low of 30,000 to a high of 1 million. Journalist Jonathan Kwitny writes:

The U.S. presence left the United States indelibly associated with that time in the minds of Indonesians. . . . The generals created a system of direct elections, sometimes reported in the Western press as if they were real. The elections allowed Indonesians to vote only for candidates from approved parties, and only for a minority of the members of an assembly that in turn elects the president (Suharto) and vice-president. There is no meaningful democracy. And, of course, under U.S. advice General Suharto built an economy based on a much more ruthless brand of socialism than Sukarno had ever dreamed of.[21]

Such operations have produced dismal long-term results in Indonesia and elsewhere. Kwitny concludes:
More important, using force according to a standard we have used for the past nearly forty years simply hasn't given us a successful foreign policy. What it has given us is anti-aircraft batteries and concrete road barriers around the White House. Our embassies overseas and even many federal courthouses at home are designed like military fortresses. We have not produced a friendly world, or even a mostly friendly world, to do business in. We have produced enemies, in endless supply.[22]