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December 16, 2004

Jim Hoge: A Man With Exactly The Honesty Needed To Edit Foreign Affairs

In mankind's long annals of boredom, few things have been as boring as the Council on Foreign Relations. It was started in 1921 as a place for America's rich people to get together and hash out what foreign policy they wanted for the US. Being rich, they had better things to do than read books, so they often have farmed out the thinking to professor-types.

The wide spectrum of acceptable thought at CFR is illustrated by its board, which runs from former Reagan staffers on the right all the way over to Robert Rubin on the far far left. You can imagine how vigorous and fascinating CFR debates can be.

Recently there was a tiny kerfuffle at Foreign Affairs, CFR's magazine. It began with a book review of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, edited by the beautiful humans of the National Security Archive. It covers the US involvement in the overthrow of Chile's Salvador Allende in 1973.

The review was written by Kenneth Maxwell, a Latin American historian and 15-year veteran of CFR. As explained in this Nation article, Maxwell made a serious mistake: he told the truth. Maxwell wrote:

As for the coup itself, there is no doubt that the United States did all that it could to create the conditions for the failure of Allende and his government... What is truly remarkable is the effort -- the resources committed, the risks taken, and the skullduggery employed -- to bring a Latin American democracy down, and the meager efforts since to build democracy back up.

As it so often does, the truth made certain people quite unhappy -- in this case, people like Henry Kissinger and William Rogers, one of Kissinger's chief lickspittles. Rogers fired off an angry response to Foreign Affairs, filled with the kind of rickety prevarication in which Kissinger & co specialize.

Maxwell responded; then Rogers responded to his response. According to tradition at Foreign Affairs, the author of the original -- Maxwell -- would at this point get the last word.

But it was not to be. Jim Hoge, the editor of Foreign Affairs, informed Maxwell that Rogers would have the last (mendacious) word. As Maxwell convincingly demonstrates in a new article (pdf file), Hoge made this decision under fierce pressure from Kissinger, delivered via higher ups at CFR. Maxwell, clearly a guy with integrity, severed his connection with CFR and Foreign Affairs.

This is the way the world works. It's the way the world has worked ever since we developed fingers to write and brains big enough to make the fingers write lies. So there's not so much shame in what Hoge did. Sure, he's a dog on a leash held by Henry Kissinger, but lots of people are on lots of leashes. At least Hoge has received all kinds of tasty doggy treats for his loyal service. Plus, according to New York City law, when they go on walks Kissinger has to pick up his poop.

The funny part, and the reason I tell this whole dreary story, is that Hoge has vociferously lied about the pressure from Kissinger. As Hoge put it, "I didn't talk to Henry Kissinger, I didn't talk to anybody...these are editor's decisions, which I made. Period."

But that's always the way with these people. You'd think they could tell the truth, or at least maintain a decorous silence. Instead, they loudly proclaim they would never give into threats, they're the captain of their own destiny, etc., even as everyone watches their owners give their leash another hard yank.

Posted at December 16, 2004 09:50 PM | TrackBack

I worked as an opinion columnist for a small newspaper once upon a time, when my job was, basically, to produce the kind of opinions which would induce others to write the paper and thus save all sorts of money on paying writers.

As a result, I received heaps of hate mail, most of which was printed if there was space, and always the most abusive was given the lead position. While I can't claim to have enemies like Henry Kissinger, many of those who wrote in had credentials and many of them questioned everything from the value of my sources to the source that spawned me.

To this day, there are groups and organizations in the city which I live which would not let me through the door, notably the Native Council of Calgary. However...

It was my strict policy NEVER to respond to any letter. Maxwell should not have responded to Rogers. It drives these people (Rogers) crazy to have their hatred ignored, and that is the only practical course.

I think there's a fair chance that, in truth, Hoge had a reasonable justification in muzzling his writer--I only feel that he should have done it sooner. Maxwell made his point with his original article. If there was more to be said, he should have included it at that time. You, me, and everyone with a brain (ie. educated democrats) knows that the U.S. erected the Pinochet government. Maxwell did nothing useful in sharing barbs with an ex-government stooge.

Maxwell produced his work and it is there to be read. It will be read, classified and found again by upteen post-secondary students doing papers on Chile. Wasn't that enough for him?

Posted by: Alexis at December 17, 2004 10:32 AM


I see what you mean. But... William Rogers is not someone writing angry letters to the editor in Calgary. If Maxwell hadn't responded, Rogers WOULDN'T have been driven crazy, because Rogers has enough power to make sure he's not ignored. There would have been editorials in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, etc. all about the shameless lies that Maxwell wrote for Foreign Affairs, as shown by the fact Maxwell had no response. Then would come the faux-academic conferences at the Heritage Foundation bemoaning the radicalism of the Council on Foreign Relations. And finally there's the push to eliminate any assertion in history textbooks that the US contributed to the overthrow of Allende.

I guess I'm not so sanguine about the integrity of history generally. Without constantly fighting back against these people, they will rewrite everything. For instance, I bet there are some pretty startling parts of history that even you and I -- as nice, educated democrats -- are completely unaware of.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 20, 2004 04:38 AM