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<em>Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of U.S. Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945-1990</em>

Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of U.S. Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945-1990

Book, MIT Press

February 2007

Editors: Ernest R. May, Former Faculty Affiliate, International Security Program, Philip D. Zelikow, Former Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Faculty Affiliate, International Security Program

Ordering Information for this publication

Belfer Center Studies in International Security

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security



The United States continues to proclaim its support for democracy and its opposition to tyranny, but American presidents often have supported dictators who have allied themselves with the United States. This book illustrates the chronic dilemmas inherent in U.S. dealings with dictators under conditions of uncertainty and moral ambiguity.

Dealing with Dictators offers in-depth analysis of six cases: the United States and China, 1945–1948; UN intervention in the Congo, 1960–1965; the overthrow of the Shah of Iran; U.S. relations with the Somoza regime in Nicaragua; the fall of Marcos in the Philippines; and U.S. policy toward Iraq, 1988–1990. The authors' fascinating and revealing accounts shed new light on critical episodes in U.S. foreign policy and provide a basis for understanding the dilemmas that U.S. decision-makers confronted. The chapters do not focus on whether U.S. leaders made the "right" or "wrong" decisions, but instead seek to deepen our understanding of how uncertainty permeated the process and whether decision makers and their aides asked the right questions. This approach makes the book invaluable to scholars and students of government and history, and to readers interested in the general subject of how intelligence analysis interacts with policymaking.

Ernest R. May is Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. He is co-author, with Philip D. Zelikow, of The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Philip D. Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia, where he had been Director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs, and was counselor of the State Department until early 2007.  Zelikow recently served as the Executive Director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the "9/11 Commission." Zelikow is co-author, with Ernest R. May, of The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kirsten Lundberg is a senior writer of case studies on public policy issues at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She has written on such topics as public policy and intelligence; domestic preparedness; education management; corruption; privatization; and nonprofit governance. Ms. Lundberg’s published cases include: "Credible Warnings or False Alarms? What the US Knew on September 10, 2001"; "The Anatomy of an Investigation: The Difficult Case(s) of Wen Ho Lee"; "Politics of a Covert Action: The US, the Mujahideen and the Stinger Missile"; and "Black Wednesday in Britain: the Politics of the ERM Crisis". Her cases have been widely used and published, including in the classified edition of Studies in Intelligence. Before coming to Harvard, Ms. Lundberg worked for United Press International in Moscow, Stockholm, Brussels, and London. She has contributed freelance articles to the New York Times, Boston Globe, and others.

Robert D. Johnson is Professor of History at Brooklyn College and the CUNY graduate center. His writings include Congress and the Cold War (2005); Washington, 20 January 1961 (1999); Ernest Gruening and the American Dissenting Tradition (1998); The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations (1995); and On Cultural Ground: Essays in International History (as editor, 1994). He is director of CUNY's Free Institutions Initiative and has served as a research associate for the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Project.



Praise for Dealing with Dictators:

"Dealing with Dictators will be valuable to readers interested in American foreign policy and the contributions intelligence has made or failed to make in given cases. The explanation of the varying perspectives of the intelligence collector, analyst, and decision maker is a particularly important contribution. Today, we have the opportunity to evaluate policy decisions with the benefit of years of hindsight, but those depicted here had to advise and decide with what information they had, which was often conflicting and muddled."
Bob Graham, U.S. Senator, 1987–2005, Former Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and author of Intelligence Matters

"In a riveting account, Ernest May and Philip Zelikow describe the delicate interplay between intelligence and policy deliberation that has shaped presidential decisions on how to intervene in foreign crises. The lesson of the case studies is that the intelligence community, far from being inept, often provides accurate intelligence analysis for the president and valuable covert action options that extend his diplomatic and military choices."
John Deutch, Former Director of Central Intelligence, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Institute Professor, MIT


For more information about this publication please contact the ISP Program Coordinator at 617-496-1981.

For Academic Citation:

May, Ernest R. and Philip D. Zelikow, eds. with Kirsten Lundberg and Robert D. Johnson. Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of U.S. Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945-1990. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, February 2007.

Document Length: 228 pp.

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