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  • Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of U.S. Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945–1990
  • Benjamin L. Alpers
Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow, eds., Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of U.S. Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945–1990. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. 227 pp. $27.00.

Dealing with Dictators consists mostly of six case studies of U.S. diplomacy and intelligence analysis: China (1945–1948), the Congo (1960–1963), Nicaragua (1977– 1979), Iran (1978–1979), the Philippines (1983–1986), and Iraq (1988–1990). All the case studies except those of China and Iran were originally produced for the Harvard Intelligence and Policy executive program for senior managers in the U.S. intelligence community. From 1986 to 2002, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) jointly ran this program, which both of the volume's editors—the late historian Ernest May and the public policy expert and future GeorgeW. Bush administration official Philip Zelikow—helped to run. In their introduction, Zelikow and May write that the volume is intended for two audiences: "students of decisionmaking" and "students of the Cold War" (p. 2). The book may ultimately be of most interest to a third audience: students of more recent U.S. [End Page 155] foreign policy. As a record of how an important group of U.S. public policy experts and foreign-policymakers has considered the challenges they face, Dealing with Dictators provides a potentially instructive look at the way the United States came to its current place in world affairs.

Dealing with Dictators serves well its first intended audience: students of decision-making. All of the studies provide excellent, detailed accounts of executive-branch policy formation. As the editors note in their conclusion, Harvard's Intelligence and Policy program assumed that its participants knew how to analyze intelligence (p. 203). The program thus focused on what happens to that analysis once it enters the policymaking process. The case studies are designed to put the reader in the position of "a character in this story" (p. 3). They thus omit "retrospective comment or analysis" (p. 3) as well as information that would not have been available to actors at the time. Instead, the case studies provide detailed narratives that focus on the competing views of different U.S. officials and the way those views affected, or failed to affect, the ultimate policy decision of the administration. Without exception, the narratives offer fascinating pictures of policymaking in different administrations, the rivalries within and between different departments and agencies, and the methods used by the intelligence community to encourage policymakers to take its analyses into regard. The authors seem most interested in considering how administrations managed—or failed to manage—to form coherent policies out of these competing views.

This approach works well in highlighting questions of decision-making, but it tends to obscure many other things that would be of interest to the book's second intended audience, students of the Cold War. For those interested more broadly in the history of the Cold War, Dealing with Dictators offers oddly incomplete accounts of the crises on which it focuses. The book puts us at the mercy of the knowledge and concerns of U.S. policymakers of the time, thus obscuring important aspects of the other countries in question and the crises in which they found themselves. The best recent work on similar topics, such as Odd Arne Westad's The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), takes full advantage of knowledge gained from Soviet and other Cold War–era overseas archives—information that is excluded here, presumably because it would not have been available at the time. While we find out much about U.S. fears regarding the USSR and Chinese Communism, the case study on China is silent about the evidence that has emerged regarding Soviet views of that country. The Iranian case spends much time on contemporary U.S. assessments of the Shah's character and of Soviet interests in the country, but it offers no retrospective evaluation of the important factors that might allow us to gauge which...


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