United States Presidents

Mini biography

Harry S. Truman | Dwight D. Eisenhower | John F. Kennedy | Lyndon B. Johnson | Richard M. Nixon | Gerald Ford | Jimmy Carter | Ronald Reagan | George Bush | Bill Clinton | George W. Bush

This is a compilation of actions by presidents of the United States, and their advisers, that affected other individuals and countries featured on this website. It covers all administrations since the end of the Second World War.

Information is presented in a time-line. The inclusion of an administration does not necessarily imply that its actions led to avoidable human deaths and suffering.


President - Harry S. Truman (Democrat)
Vice President - 1945-1949 none; 1949-1953 Alben Barkley
Secretary of State - 1945 E. R. Stettinius, Jr; 1945-1947 James F. Byrnes; 1947-1949 George C. Marshall; 1949-1953 Dean Acheson
Secretary of Defence - 1947-1949 James Forrestal; 1949-1950 Louis A. Johnson; 1950-1951 George C. Marshall; 1951-1953 Robert A. Lovett

1945 - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies from a massive cerebral haemorrhage on 12 April. Vice President Harry S. Truman is sworn in as president the same day.

On 7 May the Second World War in Europe ends when Germany surrenders unconditionally. The focus of the war now shifts to the Pacific, where Japan continues to hold out against the advancing Allies, who in this theatre of operations are led by the United States.

In June the Japanese determine to fight to the finish. Their plan for a last-stand battle against an US-led invasion is called 'Ketsu Go' (Operation Decisive). Japanese troops are massed in the south of Kyushu Island, where the invasion forces are expected to land.

On 25 July President Truman authorises the use of atomic bombs against the Japanese.

The first bomb is dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August. A second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August. The bombs kill about 120,000 people outright and fatally injure over 100,000 more. Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrenders unconditionally on 15 August 1945, ending the Second World War.


President - Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)
Vice President - Richard M. Nixon
Secretary of State - 1953-1959 John Foster Dulles; 1959-1961 Christian A. Herter
Secretary of Defence - 1953-1957 Charles E. Wilson; 1957-1959 Neil H. McElroy; 1959-1961 Thomas S. Gates

1953 - The British and US governments become increasingly alarmed by the growth of nationalism in Iran and the behaviour of Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh. Their concerns are further heightened when Mossadegh begins to work with the communist Tudeh Party. They fear that Iran will be drawn into the Soviet sphere, although Mossadegh advocates a policy of nonalignment in foreign affairs.

On 4 April the US director of central intelligence releases US$1 million which, according to a secret history of the coup written in 1954 by the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) chief coup strategist, Dr Donald N. Wilber, is to be used "in a way that would bring about the fall of Mossadegh."

"The aim was to bring to power a government which would reach an equitable oil settlement, enabling Iran to become economically sound and financially solvent, and which would vigorously prosecute the dangerously strong Communist Party," the secret history says.

On 11 July President Eisenhower approves a joint British-US plan to oust Mossadegh.

The plan has four elements - first a campaign to undermine Mossadegh's popularity and raise the spectre of a communist takeover of the government; second, Mossadegh's dismissal; third, street riots; and lastly the emergence of a new prime minister who has been hand-picked by Britain and the US.

The coup begins on 15 August. By 19 August Mossadegh and his government have fallen.

It is the CIA's first successful attempt to overthrow a foreign government. Martial law is declared in Iran, and will remain in force until the end of 1957.

Under an agreement reached between the new Iranian government headed by the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and a consortium of eight foreign oil companies, industry control of the oil companies is restored.

Iran under the shah will eventually become a one-party state with a grim human rights record.

1954 - On 8 May a conference begins in Geneva to attempt to peacefully resolve the future of Vietnam, where French and South Vietnamese forces have been battling the North Vietnamese communists for control of the country. A compromise agreement is signed on 29 July.

Vietnam will be divided at the 17th parallel. All French and South Vietnamese forces are to move south of the demarcation line. All North Vietnamese forces are to move to its north. France will quit the country completely. National elections to reunify the country under a single government are to be held in July 1956.

The agreement is endorsed by North Vietnam, France, Britain, China and the Soviet Union. The US and South Vietnam withhold approval. The country has been effectively divided into a communist North and a noncommunist South. On 24 October President Eisenhower offers South Vietnam direct economic aid.

1955 - Direct US aid to South Vietnam begins in January. US military advisers begin to arrive the following month. The South Vietnamese Government launches a campaign against communist groups inside its territory. In August it announces that it will not participate in negotiations with the North over the national elections scheduled for the following year.

1958 - The Eisenhower administration provides the Batista government in Cuba with US$1 million in military aid to support it in the war with .

1959 - The Batista government in Cuba falls to communist guerrillas led by Fidel Castro on 1 January. The US Government recognises the Castro government on 7 January. However, relations between the US and Cuba sour when the Castro government implements land reform and US industrial, commercial and agricultural interests in Cuba are nationalised.


President - John F. Kennedy (Democrat)
Vice President - Lyndon B. Johnson
Secretary of State - Dean Rusk
Secretary of Defence - Robert S. McNamara

1961 - President Kennedy decides to increase support for the embattled government of South Vietnam, providing $US65 million worth of military equipment and $US136 million in economic aid. By December 3,200 US military personnel are stationed in Vietnam. Within 12 months the number has increased to 11,200.

President Kennedy will later reverse his decision and resolve instead to disentangle the US from Vietnam. However, he is assassinated before his new program can be implemented. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, will further escalate the US involvement.

Meanwhile, the US officially breaks diplomatic relations with Cuba on 3 January and intensifies attempts to destabilise the Castro government. In the first two weeks of April there are several terrorist bomb attacks in Havana as well as bombing raids on Cuban airfields by unidentified aircraft.

On 17 April 1,300 Cuban exiles, supported by the CIA and operating from a base in Nicaragua, attempt to invade Cuba at a southern coastal area called the Bay of Pigs. After three days of fighting they are crushed by Castro's forces. In the aftermath about 20,000 Cubans are arrested and charged with counter-revolutionary activities.

1962 - The 'Cuban Missile Crisis' flares in October when the US Government discovers that the Soviet Union is setting up launch sites for long-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. After a tense 13-day standoff between President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev the missiles are removed on condition that the US withdraws its missiles stationed in Turkey and ceases its attempts to overthrow Castro.

1963 - US economic and social restrictions on Cuba are tightened. Travel to the island by US citizens is banned, as are all financial and commercial transactions.


President - Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat)
Vice President - 1963-1965 none; 1965-1969 Hubert Humphrey
Secretary of State - Dean Rusk
Secretary of Defence - 1963-1968 Robert S. McNamara; 1968-1969 Clark M. Clifford

1964 - By July the number of US military personnel in Vietnam has reached 16,000. In August President Johnson approves air strikes against North Vietnamese naval bases in retaliation for an alleged attack on two US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the north coast of Vietnam.

1965 - In February the US begins a series of air strikes known as 'Operation Rolling Thunder' against military targets in North Vietnam. The following month 3,500 US combat troops arrive in Vietnam. By the end of the year the US force numbers 180,000. The figure grows to 350,000 in the mid-1966.

On 30 September an attempt to overthrow the Government of Indonesia by pro-communist military officers is put down. A bloody crackdown on the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) follows, led by the Indonesian military and supported by military-backed militias and civilian gangs. About 500,000 are killed.

The US Embassy in Jakarta assists the military by providing lists containing thousands of names of PKI members. The US also provides the military with limited amounts of small arms, communications equipment and medical supplies.

1967 - US forces in Vietnam now number close to 500,000 and the US bombing raids have extended to within 16 km of the northern border with China. President Johnson offers to stop the bombing if North Vietnam agrees to peace talks.

North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh announces, "We will never agree to negotiate under the threat of bombing." Towards the end of the year the communists begin preparations for a general offensive in the countryside and cities of the South.

1968 - The 'Tet Offensive' begins on 31 January with simultaneous attacks by the communists on five major cities, 100 provincial and district capitals and many villages. South Vietnamese and US forces are shaken when suicide squads penetrate the heart of Saigon, attacking the presidential palace, radio station, the South Vietnam Army's joint general staff compound, Tan Son Nhut airfield and the US embassy.

While the offensive is contained in a matter of days, the balance has swung. Mounting disaffection with the US involvement in the war, particularly from the peace movement in the West, and a mounting death toll will eventually force the US into a humiliating withdrawal.

On 31 March President Johnson declares a halt to the bombing of most of North Vietnam and calls for peace talks. A request by the military for an additional 200,000 troops over the 525,000 already stationed in Vietnam is refused.

Peace talks begin in Paris on 10 May. A breakthrough appears imminent at the end October when President Johnson announces a complete halt to US bombing of the North, but hope for an end to the war is dashed when the South insists on more favourable conditions.

It is later revealed that the South had been influenced by US presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon, who had promised them a better deal if he won the upcoming election. It is also revealed that Nixon had been assisted by an insider to the peace talks, his future national security adviser and secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger.

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the US provides aid to the Khmer Rouge, a group of left-wing insurgents led by Pol Pot.

In Guatemala, apparent US support for heavy-handed tactics used by the Guatemalan army and police in a war against a communist insurgency comes under question.

In a report he presents to the US Department of State, the then deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Guatemala, Viron Vaky, expresses his concerns about the human rights situation in the country.

Vaky states, "The official squads are guilty of atrocities. Interrogations are brutal, torture is used and bodies are mutilated. ...

"In the minds of many in Latin America, and, tragically, especially in the sensitive, articulate youth, we (the US) are believed to have condoned these tactics, if not actually encouraged them. Therefore our image is being tarnished and the credibility of our claims to want a better and more just world are increasingly placed in doubt. ...

"This leads to an aspect I personally find the most disturbing of all - that we have not been honest with ourselves. We have condoned counter-terror; we may even in effect have encouraged or blessed it. We have been so obsessed with the fear of insurgency that we have rationalised away our qualms and uneasiness.

"This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as communists are being killed it is alright. Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are communists. After all hasn't man been a savage from the beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally heard these arguments from our people."


President - Richard M. Nixon (Republican)
Vice President - 1969-1973 Spiro Agnew; 1973 none; 1973-1974 Gerald Ford
Secretary of State - 1969-1973 William P. Rogers; 1973-1974 Henry A. Kissinger
Secretary of Defence - 1969-1973 Melvin R. Laird; 1973 Elliot L. Richardson; 1973 James R. Schlesinger
National Security Adviser - 1969-1973 - Henry A. Kissinger

1969 - Peace negotiations between North and South Vietnam, the US and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam begin in Paris in January but are destined to draw on for years.

In March the US begins secret bombing raids on Vietnamese communist sanctuaries and supply routes inside Cambodia (dubbed the 'Menu Series'). Authorised by President Nixon and directed by Kissinger, the raids are launched without the knowledge of the US Congress. In 14 months, 110,000 tons of bombs are dropped. When news of the raids is leaked Kissinger orders surveillance and phone tapping of suspects to uncover the source.

US bombing raids into Cambodia will continue until 1973. All told 539,129 tons of ordnance will be dropped on the country, much of it in indiscriminate B-52 carpet-bombing raids. The tonnage is about three and a half times more than that (153,000 tons) dropped on Japan during the Second World War.

Up to 600,000 Cambodians die but the raids are militarily ineffective. The CIA reports that the bombing raids are serving to increase the popularity of the Khmer Rouge insurgents among the affected Cambodian population.

1970 - In April President Nixon authorises the invasion of Cambodia by a joint US-South Vietnamese force of 30,000 troops. Tasked with destroying Vietnamese communist bases inside Cambodia, the force pushes the Vietnamese further into Cambodia but is otherwise ineffective and is forced to withdraw in June by the US Congress.

Meanwhile, the US resumes air attacks on North Vietnam. The communists attempt to maintain the pressure and again shake the South Vietnamese Government and the US when they launch the 'Easter Offensive' on 30 March 1972. The US responds by escalating the air raids.

In September, following the election of Salvador Allende as president of Chile, President Nixon orders the CIA to do all it can to prevent Allende from being inaugurated.

Allende has a long-standing association with the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti), the Soviet secret police force, and his election campaign has been heavily financed by the Soviets. Following Allende's victory, Soviet agents begin to move into Chile in force. Soviet paramilitary instructors use the country as a base for the training of insurgents from across Latin America.

Under the supervision of Kissinger, the CIA will develop the so-called 'Track II' plan to oust Allende, allocating US$10 million while formally insulating the US embassy in Chile from any involvement.

The agency attempts to bribe key Chilean legislators and funds a group of military officers plotting a coup, providing a further payment of US$35,000 following the assassination on 22 October of General Rene Schneider, the commander-in-chief of the army, who had refused to approve the coup plan.

One CIA document from October states, "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. ... It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG (US Government) and American hand be well hidden."

Kissinger says, "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."

1972 - An agreement on the terms for peace is reached between North Vietnam and the US in October. However, when South Vietnam refuses to believe that the North is sincere, the peace negotiations falter. Acting on advice from Kissinger, President Nixon orders massive night-time bombing raids on Hanoi and Haiphong to demonstrate the resolve of the US and appease the doubters in the South.

During 11 days in December the 'Christmas Bombing' campaign sees 129 B52 bombers drop 40,000 tons of ordnance in what is said to be the largest raids of their type in history. The North Vietnamese return to the negotiating table and the bombing is stopped.

Nixon visits China in February. The détente between the US and China results in the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, being blocked from travelling to the US. The US also ceases to support Tibetan guerrillas resisting Chinese occupation.

1973 - On 27 January all parties to the Vietnam War sign the 'Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam', the so-called 'Paris Accords'. The agreement is essentially the same as the one sabotaged by Nixon and Kissinger in 1968. It provides for a cease-fire and the full withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. By the end of March 1973 all the US combat troops have been withdrawn.

However, in an attempt to prop-up the US puppet government in Cambodia, halt the Khmer Rouge and destroy North Vietnamese bases, the Nixon administration secretly intensifies the bombing of Cambodia, without government authorisation, and despite having signed the peace agreement with the North Vietnamese.

Once they are convinced the US withdrawal will be permanent, the Vietnamese communists again start to move south, easily sweeping aside the now demoralised and ineffective South Vietnamese troops. The communists take Saigon on 30 April 1975, bringing the war finally to an end.

The toll of Vietnamese dead from war exceeds three million, including two million civilians, over 1.3 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops and about 224,000 South Vietnamese military personnel. The spread of the conflict into neighbouring Cambodia and Laos has resulted in the loss of another 700,000 lives and led to the rise of the genocidal dictator Pol Pot and the deaths of a further one to three million.

US deaths from the Vietnam War total 58,226 killed or missing in action. The death toll for the US allies includes 508 Australians and 38 New Zealanders.

Meanwhile in Chile, the CIA finances strikes by transport workers and shopkeepers, is implicated in the sabotage of public infrastructure, and infiltrates the government. Almost one third of the staff at the US embassy in Santiago are now on the CIA payroll.

On 23 August Allende promotes General Augusto Pinochet to commander-in-chief of the army, mistakenly believing that Pinochet can be trusted to remain neutral.

On 11 September Pinochet stages a violent coup d'état that introduces a repressive military dictatorship to Chile that will last until 1989 and result in the death or disappearance of 3,197 people between September 1973 and March 1990.

1974 - Nixon resigns as president on 9 August following his impeachment for the Watergate affair. He is replaced as president by his vice president, Gerald Ford.


President - Gerald Ford (Republican)
Vice President - 1974 none; 1974-1977 Nelson Rockefeller
Secretary of State - 1974-1977 Henry A. Kissinger
Secretary of Defence - 1974-1975 James R. Schlesinger; 1975-1977 Donald H. Rumsfeld
National Security Adviser - 1974-1975 - Henry A. Kissinger

1975 - A US Senate investigation finds that the Nixon administration backed the 1973 coup in Chile.

Meanwhile, the CIA establishes contact with Manuel Contreras, the head of the Chilean secret police. Contreras is a key player in Operation Condor, an information gathering and sharing alliance between Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay designed to eliminate Marxist terrorist activities in South America. In August Contreras travels to Washington and meets with CIA Deputy Director, General Vernon Walters. Contreras will also receive a one-off payment from the CIA.

A CIA internal inquiry into events in Chile later states, "During a period between 1974 and 1977, CIA maintained contact with Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, who later became notorious for his involvement in human rights abuses. The US Government policy community approved CIA's contact with Contreras, given his position as chief of the primary intelligence organisation in Chile, as necessary to accomplish the CIA's mission, in spite of concerns that this relationship might lay the CIA open to charges of aiding internal political repression. ...

"By April 1975, intelligence reporting showed that Contreras was the principal obstacle to a reasonable human rights policy within the junta, but an inter-agency committee directed the CIA to continue its relationship with Contreras. The US Ambassador to Chile urged Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (General Vernon) Walters to receive Contreras in Washington in the interest of maintaining good relations with Pinochet. In August 1975, with inter-agency approval, this meeting took place.

"In May and June 1975, elements within the CIA recommended establishing a paid relationship with Contreras to obtain intelligence based on his unique position and access to Pinochet. This proposal was overruled, citing the US Government policy on clandestine relations with the head of an intelligence service notorious for human rights abuses. However, given miscommunications in the timing of this exchange, a one-time payment was given to Contreras."

On the other side of the world, President Ford and Kissinger meet with Indonesian President Suharto on 6 December.

One of the topics of discussion at the meeting is the situation in East Timor, where a civil war has broken out between the left-wing Marxist Revolutionary Front for East Timor's Independence (Fretilin) and an anticommunist coalition following the withdrawal of the Portuguese colonial administration.

"I would like to speak to you, Mr President, about another problem, Timor. ... Fretilin is infected the same as is the Portuguese Army with communism ... We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto says to his visitors.

Ford replies, "We will understand and will not press you on this issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have."

Kissinger says, "You appreciate that the use of US-made arms could create problems. ... It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defence or is a foreign operation. It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly. We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return."

The next day the Indonesian Army invades East Timor. It is estimated that 60,000 East Timorese or 10% of the population are killed in the first two months of the invasion. All told, up to 250,000 of East Timor's 1975 population of about 650,000 will die as a result of the occupation and the famine that follows.

Earlier in the year President Ford and Kissinger had also blessed the attempted invasion of another former Portuguese colony, giving the go-ahead to South Africa's unsuccessful bid to invade Angola in October.

1976 - On 24 March the Argentine military, led General Jorge Rafael Videla, stage a coup d'état and seize power. A junta composed of the commanders of the army, navy and air force will rule Argentina until 10 December 1983. It will be the most repressive regime ever seen in Argentina and will be responsible for the deaths and disappearances of up to 30,000 political opponents during the so-called 'Dirty War'.

At a US State Department staff meeting held on 26 March, two days after the coup, Secretary of State Kissinger is told by William Rogers, his assistant secretary for Latin America, that "we've got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they're going to have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties. ... The point is that we ought not at this moment to rush out and embrace this new regime."

"But we shouldn't do the opposite either," Kissinger replies. "Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement from us. ... Because I do want to encourage them. I don't want to give the sense that they're harassed by the United States."

In April the US Congress approves a grant of US$50 million in military aid to the junta.

On 10 June Kissinger meets with Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral César Augusto Guzzetti in Santiago. According to a transcript of the meeting, Kissinger says, "Let me say, as a friend, that I have noticed that military governments are not always the most effective in dealing with these problems. ...

"So after a while, many people who don't understand the situation begin to oppose the military and the problem is compounded.

"The Chileans, for example, have not succeeded in getting across their initial problem and are increasingly isolated.

"You will have to make an international effort to have your problems understood. Otherwise, you, too, will come under increasing attack. If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures."

The junta interprets Kissinger's comments as a green light for their repressive tactics, and a US public relations company is hired to improve its image overseas.

Another meeting between Kissinger and Guzzetti in New York on 7 October further convinces the junta that they have Kissinger's blessing.

"Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context," Kissinger tells Guzzetti.

"The quicker you succeed the better. ... The human rights problem is a growing one. ... We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help."

Meanwhile, on 8 June, the day before he is due to address a meeting of the Organisation of American States, Kissinger tells Augusto Pinochet, "In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here. I think that the previous government was headed toward communism. We wish your government well. ...

"My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government that was going communist. ...

"As you know, Congress is now debating further restraints on aid to Chile. We are opposed.

"It is a curious time in the US. ... It is unfortunate. We have been through Vietnam and Watergate. We have to wait until the (1976) elections. We welcomed the overthrow of the communist-inclined government here. We are not out to weaken your position. ...

"I want to see our relations and friendship improve. We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende. Otherwise Chile would have followed Cuba. Then there would have been no human rights."


President - Jimmy Carter (Democrat)
Vice President - Walter Mondale
Secretary of State - 1977-1980 Cyrus R. Vance; 1980-1981 Edmund S. Muskie
Secretary of Defence - Harold Brown

1977 - The inauguration of President Carter leads to a cooling of relations between Chile and the US. Relations between the two countries will continue to decline through the administrations Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

In Central America, the Carter administration suspends military aid to Guatemala following an upsurge in death squad activity against left-wing guerrillas and Mayan peasants during the country's bloody civil war. Pressure from the Carter administration also forces the dictatorial government in Nicaragua to lift a two-year long state of siege.

1978 - In February the Carter administration suspends all military assistance to the Nicaraguan Government.

1979 - In February the Shah of Iran is overthrown in an 'Islamic Revolution' led by Shia cleric Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini. In November the US Embassy in Tehran is seized by the Iranians and its US diplomatic staff taken as hostages.

Meanwhile in Cambodia, it is reported that the Khmer Rouge are receiving military backing from China and the US. It is also reported that a former deputy director of the CIA visits Pol Pot's operational base in November 1980.

The embargo preventing the Dalai Lama from visiting the US is lifted.

1980 - War breaks out between Iraq and Iran on 22 September when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein orders his air force to bomb air bases inside Iran. At the same time, Iraqi troops march into southwestern Iran.


President - Ronald Reagan (Republican)
Vice President - George Bush
Secretary of State - 1981-1982 Alexander M. Haig, Jr; 1982-1989 George P. Shultz
Secretary of Defence - 1981-1987 Caspar W. Weinberger; 1987-1989 Frank C. Carlucci

1981 - The administration of President Reagan begins to resupply the Guatemalan Army, claiming it is the leftist groups who are perpetuating the violence of the civil war, aided and abetted by Cuba.

The US also claims that the left-wing government in Nicaragua, with assistance from Cuba and the Soviet Union, is providing arms to guerrillas in El Salvador. All US aid to the country is suspended and funding and training is provided to right-wing 'Contra' rebels operating from neighbouring Honduras.

In the Middle East, formerly frosty relations between the US and Iraq begin to thaw.

The US is still smarting from the seizure of its embassy in Tehran and the taking of American diplomats as hostages in November 1979 following the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Attempts by Iran to export the revolution to other regions in the Middle East are also of concern. Iraq is seen as a bulwark against the spread of Iran's militant Shia extremism.

1982 - President Reagan is reported as saying that Guatemalan dictator General José Efraín Ríos Montt is "a man of great personal integrity" who is "getting a bum rap on human rights."

It is later estimated that during the period of Ríos Montt's rule (March 1982 to August 1983) about 70,000 Guatemalan civilians are killed or "disappeared". During the period 1981 to 1983 about 100,000 are killed or "disappeared" and between 500,000 and 1.5 million displaced, fleeing to other regions within the country or seeking safety abroad.

Meanwhile, the US extends credits to Iraq for the purchase of American agricultural products. According to a report published in 'Newsweek' magazine on 23 September 2002, the purchases extent to a wide variety of "dual use" equipment and materials including chemical analysis equipment for the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission and numerous shipments of "bacteria/fungi/protozoa" that could be used to manufacture biological weapons, including anthrax.

Iraq's armoury also receives a boost when the country is removed from a US Government list of alleged sponsors of terrorism.

1983 - The US reinstates military training assistance to Guatemala in January, authorising the sale of US$6 million of military hardware.

US support for Iraq is enshrined in National Security Decision Directive 114 issued on 26 November. Though still classified, the directive is believed to state that the US would do whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.

The directive is issued even though Secretary of State George P. Shultz has been told by a senior State Department official on 1 November that Iraq is using chemical weapons against the Iranians.

In December the US sends a special Middle East envoy to Iraq to hold talks with Saddam Hussein. The envoy, Donald H. Rumsfeld, the future US secretary of defence under the administration of George W. Bush, is the highest-ranking American official to visit Baghdad in more than 16 years.

At their meeting on 20 December Rumsfeld tells Saddam that the US is ready to resume full diplomatic relations.

1984 - Rumsfeld returns to Baghdad for meetings with the Iraqi foreign minister on 24 March, the same day that the UN releases a report finding that Iraq is using mustard gas and the nerve agent tabun against Iranian troops.

The US State Department also acknowledges Iraq's actions, releasing a statement on 5 March saying that "available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons."

Nevertheless, full diplomatic relations between Iraq and the US are restored in November, allowing the US to provide Iraq with further aid to fight the war.

It is later reported that the US aid includes battle-planning assistance. According to a report published in 'The New York Times' on 18 August 2002, more that 60 officers of the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) secretly supplied Iraq with detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes and bomb-damage assessments. Satellite photographs of the war front were also provided by the CIA.

One former member of the program is quoted as saying the Pentagon "wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of (poisonous) gas. It was just another way of killing people - whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn't make any difference."

Link to copy of The New York Times report.

It is also later revealed that prior to his second visit to Baghdad in March, Rumsfeld had been directed by Secretary of State Shultz to reassure Iraq that the interests of the US remained "(1) preventing an Iranian victory and (2) continuing to improve bilateral relations with Iraq."

1985 - When the US Congress suspends funding to the Nicaraguan Contras in April the Reagan administration orders a total embargo on US trade with Nicaragua. The embargo has a devastating effect on the country's already tottering economy, providing indirect assistance to the Contra insurgency.

In September the US provides Iran with the first consignment of thousands of 'TOW' missiles in a secret arms for hostages deal later dubbed the 'Irangate'.

1986 - In June the US Congress votes to resume aid to the Contras. The US$100 million provided in military and nonmilitary assistance forces the Nicaraguan government to increase spending on defence, further damaging economic development.

In November it is revealed that staff in the Reagan administration attempted to circumvent the 1985 congressional ban on aid to the Contras by illegally diverting funds from weapons sales to Iran, the so-called 'Iran-Contra Affair'.

1987 - When the US Congress again withdraws aid to the Contras following the Iran-Contra Affair the war in Nicaragua dwindles to a stalemate, opening the way for a negotiated peace settlement. A temporary cease-fire agreement is signed in March 1988.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Government begins to use chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in the north of Iraq.

Despite being aware of the attacks the US does nothing to curtail its relations with the Iraqis, though the tone of the engagement does being to sour.

1988 - The Iran-Iraq war finally ends on 20 August when a cease-fire is formally declared.

When the administration hears that the regime in Chile is planning to sabotage a plebiscite that could end the rule of Augusto Pinochet, intelligence channels are used to warn the Chilean military "that implementation of such a plan would seriously damage relations with the United States and utterly destroy Chile's reputation in the world." The Reagan administration no longer supports Pinochet's authoritarian rule. The plan is not implemented and Pinochet is voted out of power.


President - George Bush (Republican)
Vice President - Dan Quayle
Secretary of State - 1989-1992 James A. Baker 3rd; 1992-1993 Lawrence S. Eagleburger
Secretary of Defence - Dick Cheney

1990 - Iraqi troops invade Kuwait on 2 August.

1991 - On 16 January the US leads a coalition of 33 world nations on an UN-sanctioned mission to liberate Kuwait. The Gulf War, also known as 'Operation Desert Storm', lasts for six-weeks and sees the Iraqi's comprehensively defeated and driven out of Kuwait.

The permanent cease-fire agreement as set out in UN Security Council Resolution 687 of 3 April requires Iraq to destroy all of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capability as well as missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometres and to allow verification by inspectors from the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Trade sanctions and an oil embargo will remain in force until the inspectors certify that all weapons of mass destruction have been identified and destroyed.


President - Bill Clinton (Democrat)
Vice President - Al Gore
Secretary of State - 1993-1996 Warren M. Christopher; 1996-2001 Madeleine Albright
Secretary of Defence 1993-1994 Les Aspin; 1994-1997 William J. Perry; 1997-2001 William S. Cohen

1994 - At the beginning of April the central African country of Rwanda descends into mayhem when the death of the nation's president in a plane crash unleashes a genocide.

In just 100 days over 500,000 Rwandan Tutsis will be killed by their Hutu countrymen. (The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda estimates "some 800,000 Rwandans were killed." Other sources estimate that between 800,000 and one million perish.) Thousands of Hutus opposed to the genocide are also killed.

Up to two million Hutu and Tutsi Rwandans flee the country and up to one million are internally displaced. By early August an estimated one-quarter of the pre-war population of Rwanda has either died or fled the country.

As the genocide unfolds world leaders, including the US, stubbornly refuse to intervene.

The Clinton administration is especially reluctant to become involved, at first advocating the withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping force already stationed in Rwanda and then delaying the deployment of reinforcements.

In an article in the September 2001 edition of 'The Atlantic Monthly', Samantha Power writes, "During the entire three months of the genocide Clinton never assembled his top policy advisers to discuss the killings. ... Rwanda was never thought to warrant its own top-level meeting. When the subject came up, it did so along with, and subordinate to, discussions of Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Whereas these crises involved US personnel and stirred some public interest, Rwanda generated no sense of urgency and could safely be avoided by Clinton at no political cost."

1998 - On 25 March President Clinton apologises for not having acted to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

"The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy," President Clinton says. "We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide. We cannot change the past. But we can and must do everything in our power to help you build a future without fear, and full of hope."

Documents obtained by the National Security Archive under freedom of information legislation later reveal that US intelligence services had informed the Clinton administration of the scale and speed of the genocide within three weeks of its commencement. The documents show that administration refused to publicly name the slaughter as genocide because to do so would have required it to intervene.



President - George W. Bush (Republican)
Vice President - Dick Cheney
Secretary of State - 2001-2005 General Colin L. Powell; 2005-2009 Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of Defence - 2001-2006 Donald H. Rumsfeld; 2006-2009 Robert M. Gates

2001 - On 11 September Islamic terrorists attack the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US.

In retaliation the US invades Afghanistan on 7 October in a multinational operation against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban Government.

On 21 November President George W. Bush tells Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld that he wants to develop a plan for war with Iraq. Bush later nominates Iraq as one of the members of an "axis of evil" that also includes Iran and North Korea.

2002 - On 12 September President Bush takes his case against Iraq to the UN Security Council, calling on the council to demand that Iraq disclose and destroy all weapons of mass destruction, end support for terrorism and cease the persecution of its population.

On 8 November the Security Council adopts a new weapons inspection resolution for Iraq (Resolution 1441). An advanced inspection team of about 30, including UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Dr Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, arrives in Baghdad on 18 November. Formal inspections begin on 27 November. In December Saddam directs his senior officials to cooperate completely with the inspectors.

2003 - On 9 January Blix and ElBaradei deliver interim assessments of their progress to the UN Security Council, saying the inspections teams have found no "smoking guns" during "ever wider sweeps" of Iraq.

In the US, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell says that "the lack of a smoking gun does not mean that there's not one there."

President Bush warns that "time is running out."

"It appears to be a rerun of a bad movie," President Bush says. "He (Saddam) is delaying. He is deceiving. He is asking for time. He's playing hide and seek with inspectors. One thing for sure is, he's not disarming."

On 18 March Bush announces that the only way war can be avoided is if Saddam and his sons leave Iraq within 48 hours. "Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing," Bush declares.

The offensive, called 'Operation Iraqi Freedom', beings on 20 March with an attempt to "decapitate" the regime through a targeted aerial bombing raid on a bunker in the south of Baghdad thought to be occupied by Saddam and other senior members of the government. However, Saddam survives the blast.

US and British ground troops enter Iraq from Kuwait and rapidly advance north to Baghdad, reaching the city's outskirts by 2 April. They encounter little opposition from Saddam's crumbling and disconsolate forces. Baghdad falls on 9 April.

On 1 May President Bush declares that major combat operations in Iraq have ended. However, violence continues and builds under the US occupation and the final death toll for the invasion is still to be tallied.

Estimates for the number killed during the first four years of the invasion range from 30,000 to over one million.

On 9 November 2006, Iraq's health minister says that based on Health Ministry and Baghdad morgue statistics an estimated 150,000 civilians had been killed since the invasion.

In January 2008, a World Health Organisation study finds that between 104,000 and 223,000 violent deaths occurred in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2006.

Official US Army documents published on the Wikileaks website in October 2010 put the death toll at 109,032 for the period January 2004 to December 2009. The toll is composed of 3,771 coalition forces, 15,196 Iraqi forces, 66,081 civilians and 23,984 enemy.

Meanwhile, the occupying forces fail to uncover any evidence to suggest that Iraq was engaged in programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix later says that Iraq probably destroyed almost all of its weapons of mass destruction in 1991, following the first Gulf War.

2004 - At the start of February Secretary of State Colin Powell concedes that Iraq may not have possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

A report released by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on 9 July finds that claims made by President Bush and his administration prior to the invasion of Iraq that Saddam's regime possessed or was developing weapons of mass destruction were based on flawed and faulty intelligence. The 500-page report also finds that claims about Saddam's ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network were similarly tenuous.

On 6 October the CIA's Iraq Survey Group finally confirms that there were no weapons on mass destruction in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion.

The Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq's WMD finds that Iraq ended its nuclear program in 1991, after the first Gulf War. Biological weapons stocks were destroyed in 1991 and 1992, and the biological weapons program was abandoned in 1995. Chemical weapons stockpiles were destroyed in 1991.

According to the 1,000-page report, Saddam's prime motivation for developing weapons of mass destruction was to arm Iraq for any future conflict with Iran. The report concludes that Saddam intended to restart the weapons programs when possible, with a focus on tactical chemical warfare, long-range missiles, and nuclear weapons.

2005 - On 13 January the Bush administration officially acknowledges that the search by the Iraq Survey Group for weapons of mass destruction has been abandoned. In the 21 months since the invasion of Iraq no weapons of mass destruction have been found nor any evidence uncovered that weapons were moved to another country.

2006 - The US Senate Intelligence Committee pours further cold water on claims that Saddam Hussein had established links with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

A report released by the committee on 8 September finds that Saddam was "distrustful of al-Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaeda for material or operational support."

It is also reported in September that a combined National Intelligence Estimate by 16 US intelligence services has concluded that the invasion of Iraq has led to an increase in global terrorism.

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