How did CIA covert operations fit into the Cold War?

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Answered by: Luke, An Expert in the 20th Century History - General Category
Under the administration of President Eisenhower the use of Covert operations, run by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles, became a prominent and often used tool in the fight against communist expansion during the Cold War.

After the conclusion of World War II, the United States and Soviet Union, allies during the war, became diametrically opposed adversaries. Deputy Chief of the U.S. mission in Moscow, George Kennan, wrote a telegram to the State Department outlining the conflict inherent between the two world systems of free market capitalism and state controlled planning that later became official policy when Kennan assumed the leadership of the State Department’s newly created Policy Planning Staff.

As the Cold War intensified and defense spending rose, Eisenhower began to worry about the strength of the U.S. economy. Eisenhower believed that if the government allocated too much money to defense, the American public’s living standard would fall due to the increasing U.S. budget deficit. Eisenhower designed his “New Look” on foreign policy to fight against communist expansion while keeping defense spending low by advocating the use of covert operations instead of full out military intervention.

The institutionalization of the Cold War caused President Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and DCI Dulles to view the world through red-tinted glasses, where in Iran, Guatemala, and Indonesia they saw communist threats to national security. Eisenhower feared communist subversion through the appropriation of nationalist sentiment in countries around the globe and feared the spread of communism under his Domino Theory; the Domino Theory hypothesized that if one country fell to communism, its neighbors would soon follow.

The communist threat these men perceived caused them to have a myopic understanding of the domestic issues at stake in each of the three countries, which resulted in miscalculations during the planning stage of each covert operation. As each covert plan went into action, the reality of continued military and public support for the regimes targeted, crumbled the carefully laid plans of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The pressure placed on the regimes by the CIA prompted Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán to make fatal mistakes that led to their downfall.

Although the foreign leaders’ own mistakes led to their downfall, the President, the Secretary of State, and the DCI held a nearsighted view that their operations succeeded making them overconfident in the capabilities of covert operations. Even with the failure of the covert operations in Indonesia, President Eisenhower, Secretary Dulles, and DCI Dulles could not see why their operations did not work as they planned all they could see was success.

The Cold War threat of communist world domination overshadowed the domestic politics in developing nations where the Eisenhower Administration perceived communist participation, causing them to intervene and obstruct the development of modern economies for the benefit of the population. President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers shared an arrogant belief in the effectiveness of covert operations to stop the spread of communism creating a notion of the infallibility of CIA-led covert operations that eventually culminated in the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Despite the failure of the Bay of Pigs, CIA covert activities continued throughout the Cold War, although at a reduced level of importance.

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