Peter Peterson, a secretary of commerce during the Nixon administration, is the council's chair, as well as chairman of the Blackstone Group, a global investment firm. According to Blackstone's Web site, it has a strategic alliance with Kissinger Associates. (Another Kissinger firm is called Kissinger McClarty Associates.)
And Maurice Greenberg, honorary vice chair of the council, is also a Kissinger business associate. Greenberg is chairman of American International Group, the huge insurance and financial firm that owns a stake in Blackstone. Kissinger leads AIG's international advisory board, Greenberg's spokesman said in an e-mail.
Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet shaking hands with Henry Kissinger in 1976. Questions linger about the U.S. role in the Pinochet-led coup.
With hefty ambitions and huge egos among the council's 4,000 members, it is inevitable that disputes arise, albeit handled quietly, diplomatically.
"Interestingly, it's usually about history and how the history books will read," says Gelb, a former assistant secretary of state and New York Times columnist.
A New Assignment
In his spacious third-floor office within the council's ornate digs, packed with his thousands of books and his pair of Fernando Botero watercolors of a prototypical Latino caudillo, Maxwell pored over a new book: "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability." The book's release in 2003 marked the 30th anniversary of the overthrow and death of Chilean President Salvador Allende.
Maxwell's editor at Foreign Affairs, James F. Hoge Jr., had asked him to review it.
Being a book reviewer for Foreign Affairs was but one of Maxwell's hats. Another was serving as a senior fellow for the council. A Cambridge- and Princeton-educated historian who is a Brit turned naturalized U.S. citizen, Maxwell is recognized as a virtual guru in his field.
"He's a towering figure in the field of Latin American history and politics," says John Coatsworth, director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard, where Maxwell is now a visiting scholar.
The latest of Maxwell's five well-received books (not including the many others he's edited) is 2003's "Naked Tropics: Essays on Empire and Other Rogues," which ranges from the history of chocolate to the Amazon to the slave trade.
An intellectually fastidious scholar with a sharp pen and quick wit, Maxwell was somewhat different from others at the council: He had never served in anyone's government and had no intention of doing so. His is the world of ideas, of historic trends, the power of pure scholarship -- in his case, the esoteric details of Latin American and Iberian history, especially colonial Brazil and its Portuguese rulers.
At the council, he organized seminars on Latin America. He researched books. He wrote articles and reviews. But he did not expect his review of "The Pinochet File" to spark the bitter rhetorical skirmishes to come.
Pages of History
Though 30 years had passed, Chile was "still a lively subject," Hoge said in a recent interview. "On the hard facts of the matter, what exactly was the role the U.S. played [in Chile] is, I think, still open to question." These were the issues that Hoge expected Maxwell would address in his review.
"The Pinochet File" is some 600 pages, a thick collection of declassified U.S. cables and reports compiled by Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive, a small nonprofit research library housed at George Washington University.
The book, Kornbluh writes, is about "the denouement of democracy and the rise of dictatorship in Chile," and presents "the ultimate case study of morality -- or lack of it -- in the making of U.S. foreign policy."
It deals in great detail with the level of U.S. foreknowledge of, or involvement in, three pivotal events: the 1970 assassination of Gen. Rene Schneider, chief of the Chilean armed forces; the 1973 coup in which Allende died (whether from suicide or murder remains contested) and Pinochet was installed in his place; and the South American murder conspiracy known as Operation Condor, in which the dictators of the continent's "southern cone" helped each other bump off their enemies. Prominent among Condor's victims was the exiled Chilean defense and foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, who was slain in a 1976 car bombing on Sheridan Circle, in the middle of the U.S. capital.
Kissinger was the White House national security adviser under President Nixon, as well as his secretary of state, a post he also held under President Ford. He was closely involved with U.S. maneuvering in Chile, making "The Pinochet File" very much a portrait of his statecraft and a condemnation of it.
Countdown to a Coup
Drawing on the evidence of Kornbluh's book, Maxwell wrote in the November/December 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs that the United States "knew about, approved of, and had even assisted in planning" the kidnapping of Schneider.
The United States had wanted to foment a coup that would prevent Allende, elected with a plurality of the vote, from assuming the presidency. Allende was a socialist and, in the Cold War paradigm, that made him a threat.
But Schneider would not support military intervention. So other Chilean military officials plotted, with CIA encouragement, to kidnap him. A week before it was to happen, though, Kissinger decided the plan would not work. He "turned it off," as he told Nixon. The Chilean plotters went ahead anyway. And Schneider was killed.
Maxwell recounts all this in his review, which tracks closely with the 1975 report of the Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly known as the Church Committee, after its chair, Frank Church, the late Democratic senator from Idaho.
The committee noted that the plan was ordered directly by Nixon and that Kissinger was among but a few officials aware of it. (A lawsuit filed in 2001 against Kissinger and the U.S. government by Schneider's family is pending in a federal appeals court.)
Maxwell's rendering of the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that finally did take down Allende also tracks the Church Committee findings: The United States was aware of a coup plan, had encouraged a coup and created a climate for it. The coup was "exactly what Kissinger's boss wanted," Maxwell wrote of Nixon, though he added that there was no direct U.S. involvement in the actual attack on Allende's forces.