United States Presidents

Background

This is a compilation of actions by presidents of the United States, and their advisers, that contributed to serious injustices and large-scale loss of human life in the 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.

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

1945-1953

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.

The Second World War in Europe ends on 7 May when Germany surrenders unconditionally. The focus of the war now shifts to the Pacific, where Japan continues to hold out against the advancing Allied forces.

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 injures over 100,000 more. Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrenders unconditionally on 15 August 1945, ending the Second World War.

1953-1961

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 Mohammed 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 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".

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. Fourth, 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 remains in force until the end of 1957.

Under the new government headed by the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran becomes 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.

1961-1963

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 later reverses his decision and resolves instead to disentangle the US from Vietnam. However, he is assassinated before his new program can be implemented. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, further escalates the US involvement.

1963-1969

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 during 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. While the offensive is contained in a matter of days, the balance has swung.

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 for president. 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."

1969-1974

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 continue until 1973. All told 539,129 tons of ordnance are 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 troops push the Vietnamese further into Cambodia but are otherwise ineffective and are 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 Henry Kissinger, the CIA develops 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.

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 is 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 Chilean President Salvador 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 lasts until 1989 and results 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.

1974-1977

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.

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."

On 6 December President Ford and Kissinger meet with Indonesian President Suharto.

One of the topics of discussion at the meeting is the situation in Timor-Leste (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. East Timor is a former Portuguese colony that shares a common border with Indonesian West Timor.

"I would like to speak to you, Mr President, about another problem, Timor," Suharto says to his visitors. "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."

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 die as a result of the occupation and the famine that follows.

1976 - On 24 March the Argentine military, led by 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 rules Argentina until 10 December 1983. It is the most repressive regime ever seen in Argentina and is responsible for the death and disappearance 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.

1977-1981

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 continue to decline through the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Military aid to Guatemala is suspended 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 government in Nicaragua to lift a two-year long state of siege. All military assistance to the Nicaraguan Government is suspended in February 1978.

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.

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.

1981-1989

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 Reagan administration begins to resupply the Guatemalan Army, claiming leftist groups are perpetuating the the civil war.

The US also claims the new left-wing administration in Nicaragua 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. Iraq is removed from a US Government list of alleged sponsors of terrorism, and credit is provided to allow Iraq to purchase 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.

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. 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". Between 500,000 and 1.5 million are displaced, fleeing to other regions within the country or seeking safety abroad.

1983 - In January the Reagan administration lifts the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorises the sale of US$6 million of military hardware suitable for counterinsurgency operations.

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.

1984 - The US State Department releases a statement on 5 March saying that "available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons". On 24 March the UN releases a report finding that Iraq is using mustard gas and the nerve agent tabun against Iranian troops.

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 tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes, bomb-damage assessments and detailed information on Iranian deployments. 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.

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 teetering 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 stalls, 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.

1989-1993

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 Iraqis 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.

1993-2001

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 a genocide erupts in the central African country of Rwanda when the nation's president dies in a plane crash.

In just 100 days over 500,000 Rwandan Tutsis are 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 about one-quarter of Rwanda's population has either died or fled.

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 the administration refused to publicly name the slaughter as genocide because to do so would have required it to intervene.

Postscript

2001-2009

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.

2002 - President Bush takes his case against Iraq to the UN Security Council on 12 September, 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.

UN weapons inspection teams are sent to Iraq but find no "smoking guns" during "ever wider sweeps" of Iraq.

US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell responds 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 Hussein) 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."

2003 - 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. 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. Estimates for the number killed during and since the invasion range from 30,000 to over one million. The actual figure is most likely between 100,000 and 300,000.

The occupying forces do not find any evidence to suggest that Iraq was engaged in programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. The UN's chief weapons inspector later says that Iraq probably destroyed almost all of its weapons of mass destruction in 1991, following the first Gulf War.

The invasion and occupation destabilises Iraq and the surrounding region for years to come. It contributes to rise of Islamic extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the spread of global terrorism.

Comment

It is argued that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the Second World War to a quick conclusion and thus saved many thousands of lives. How many lives were saved? It is a "what if" answer we will never know. There are many other "what ifs" that could be asked about the foreign policy of the United States.

What if the Eisenhower administration hadn't engineered the ousting of the democratically elected Mossadegh Government in Iran? Perhaps there may never have been an Islamic Revolution in the country and the Middle East today would be a much more peaceful place.

What if the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations hadn't committed the US to the Vietnam War and then extended that commitment? Perhaps millions of lives could have been saved.

What if the Nixon administration hadn't extended the Vietnam War to neighbouring Cambodia? Perhaps Pol Pot may never have risen to power and millions more lives could have been spared.

What if the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations hadn't provided tacit and financial support to military regimes in South America? Perhaps many more lives could have been saved.

What if the Clinton administration had intervened in Rwanda? Perhaps a genocide could have been stopped?

What if the George W. Bush administration had never invaded Iraq? Perhaps Iraq would not have become the mess it is today. Perhaps ISIS may never have risen from the wreckage. Perhaps Islamic terrorism may not have become a global scourge.

What if United States administrations just looked, and thought deeply, and then looked again before they leaped into foreign policy decisions on countries and regions they barely understand? What if?

More information

General

Argentina

Chile

Guatemala

Indonesia

Iraq

Iran

Japan

Nicaragua

Rwanda

Vietnam