Inderjeet Parmar on Foundations and the Creation of the American Empire

Inderjeet Parmar, Foundations of the American CenturyThe following is an essay by Inderjeet Parmar, author of Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power. This is part 1 of the essay and we will run part 2 tomorrow:

“Switzerland Exposed,” screamed the title of a book I happened to see recently, drawing a wry smile—and a feeling of “you can’t be serious!” And that’s the usual response when people hear about my book on American philanthropic foundations, which argues that they are not so “cuddly” a bunch as their image suggests. Although they do contribute to society in positive ways, the big U.S. foundations—Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie—made fundamental contributions to America’s rise to global leadership, a global imperium sometimes more benignly promoted as the “American century.”

This includes some of the darkest chapters in American foreign policy—hubristically guiding economic-development policies that exacerbated problems in the newly independent Nigeria and played a role in its slide into civil war; sponsoring and guiding opponents of the leftist Sukharno administration in Indonesia and contributing to the bloodshed that accompanied the rise of the right-wing militarist Suharto regime; and funding and training right-wing economists as well as their centrist and even leftist opponents in Chile as it careened into the bloody military coup of 1973.

Widely perceived as major sources of America’s power of attraction—its “soft power”—the foundations’ own records, open and broadly accessible to academic researchers, show in great detail that beneath a glossy, liberal, philanthropic exterior, the Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations had a far more sinister side, a fist in the velvet glove.

As with Switzerland, when we get past the obvious images, these prove to be deeply political, ideological, and well-connected establishment organizations with links all the way up to the U.S. State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council. Ford’s President McGeorge Bundy, for example, was formerly national security adviser to presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and a Vietnam War hawk. John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s secretary of state, was a Rockefeller Foundation trustee and a Carnegie president, instrumental in overthrowing the Mossadegh administration in Iran in 1953. But this not really so surprising when we consider their founders and origins—steeped in the rise of U.S. corporate capitalism, violent antiunionism, and political corruption, particularly in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Their original founders were industrialists and manufacturers, linked to big banks and finance houses like JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan. Their boards of trustees were, and are, drawn from a relatively narrow section of society—lawyers, elite university administrators and presidents, corporate executives, media magnates, former public officials. Although globalization appears to have broadened the recruitment of trustees—there are now more women, people of color, and foreign nationals—they remain elitist, technocratic, and top-down, pro-American organizations.

In Chile, the Rockefeller Foundation, for example, consciously and deliberately joined U.S. government efforts to undermine and marginalize “dependency” theory, which animated the economic and financial policies of many South American states by holding foreign investments from the United States responsible for poverty and underdevelopment. This long-term program, later also supported by the Ford Foundation, helped fund the infamous “Chicago boys” from the private Catholic University in Santiago—Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago under the tutelage of the ultimate free trader and monetarist Milton Friedman. In the long-run, U.S. foundations, in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), built networks of power that led to General Pinochet’s coup against the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, and the execution, arrest, torture, and exile of tens of thousands of Chileans.

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