- Exchange: Debating U.S. Involvement in Chile in the 1970s
Letter from Lubna Qureshi
I am writing in response to Kristian Gustafson’s review of my book Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: U.S. Involvement in the 1973 Coup in Chile (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008), published in the Summer 2010 issue of the JCWS.
Obviously, reviewers should feel free either to praise or to condemn my work, and I deserve no say in how a review is couched. I do, however, have the right to comment on a review after its publication.
Gustafson describes my work as “ideologically motivated” and “a blinkered and tendentious assault on [Richard] Nixon and [Henry] Kissinger.” If I did not hold strong views about Nixon’s and Kissinger’s brutal manipulation of the Chilean political process, I never would have pursued my research. I have concluded that their covert opposition to President Salvador Allende was unwarranted and depraved, and I have supported my position with evidence. Not only have I made thorough use of recently declassified U.S. documents, I have also listened to the Nixon tapes, which Gustafson apparently has not.
Perhaps we should turn to Gustafson’s own comment that Allende’s socialist experiment “was a threat to the Western way of life” because it took an “electoral and democratic form.” I thought that democratic elections were a key component of our cherished Western way of life. According to Gustafson’s argument, Fidel Castro’s violent revolution produced less of a destabilizing effect on the international order, but this leaves me very confused. Does Gustafson support violence as a solution to political conflicts? If Gustafson regrets that Allende came to power peacefully and democratically rather than otherwise, does he admire the savagery of General Augusto Pinochet’s accession and rule? Bearing in mind historian Peter Novick’s own observation that [End Page 114] true objectivity is a scholarly impossibility, I suspect that Gustafson has his own ideological motivations.
One of Gustafson’s chief complaints is that I did not extensively discuss his work or the work of others who disagree with me on the subject. I cite their books in my introduction so that interested readers may consult them, and I do challenge the substance of their arguments throughout my book. If I do not cite rival authors more than I do, this is only because they have essentially repeated the tired old defenses made by Nixon and Kissinger about the coup, even as the former president and secretary of state paradoxically denied any involvement in it.
Reply by Kristian Gustafson
Lubna Qureshi takes umbrage at my negative review of her book. So she might: it was a harsh review, and justifiably so. As she notes, I have written my own book on the same topic—I said so quite clearly in the third paragraph of my review—and perhaps, as she claims, I do sit at a different point on the political spectrum. Perhaps the JCWS wished to spark this precise debate by asking me to write a review of her book, knowing full well that my own arguments are different. Be that as it may, the cards are on the table, and my review is not ad hominem. My critiques hit at her book’s lack of originality and the wide holes in her argumentation.
However, my biggest criticism of Qureshi’s work is not her assault on Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon—two men whose foreign policy toward Latin America and elsewhere was ill-considered, and who treated many states as expendable pawns in the Cold War game. My own work notes their poor decision-making and pernicious management of the Chile file. Rather, I am confounded by the bizarrely exceptionalist view Qureshi takes of U.S. importance in Chilean politics. Far from supporting the Chileans, her work seems to ignore any agency the Chileans and their politicians might have had in their own political lives. In Qureshi’s conception, all would have been right in Chile were it not for these two dastardly men in Washington, DC. What of Salvador Allende’s amateurish and disastrous fiscal policy? What of the deep, vicious fights within...