(This article is published in AlterNet.)
David Rockefeller died on March 20, at age 101. Most known for inheriting the exorbitant wealth of his oligarchical family, the billionaire banker was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and died with a gold one. The last estimate of Rockefeller’s wealth, calculated just a few months before his passing, put his net worth at a staggering $3.3 billion.
The former chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank certainly had no humble start, growing up in a family mansion in midtown Manhattan that was the tallest private home ever built in New York City. He went on to cultivate a career not only as an influential plutocrat, but also as a political apparatchik.
Over more than five decades, every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower met with Rockefeller, seeking his advice — and support. He was offered prominent roles in the government, including even secretary of the treasury.
Euphemistically referred to as a “philanthropist,” it is well known that Rockefeller frequented “moderate” Republican circles, and threw money in their direction. What is much less known is the influential role Rockefeller played in formulating U.S. foreign policy, not to mention his long-standing ties to the Central Intelligence Agency and other unsavory institutions.
A committed capitalist Cold Warrior from day one, Rockefeller frequented the revolving door between the corporate world, the U.S. government, and the foreign policy establishment. He heavily pushed for neoliberal, pro-corporate policies, and helped lead and create institutions that undermined and destroyed the global Left.
The Council on Foreign Relations and U.S. foreign policy
Rockefeller helped lead the most influential U.S. foreign policy think tank: the Council on Foreign Relations, an institution that, while founded in 1921, became a key vehicle for Cold War capitalist politics.
Since the end of the Cold War and the destruction of large-scale socialist movements, the Council on Foreign Relations has continued to push for neoliberal policies, and obediently justifies and sells Western wars and military intervention.
Its board is a who’s who of prominent militarists and capitalists. Rockefeller previously was a member of the board of directors of the think tank, and even served as the council’s chairman.
He has been joined by a slew of corporate elites from Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Kraft, Barclays Capital, the Gates Foundation, and beyond. Former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright — notorious for justifying the U.S.-led U.N. sanctions that led to “genocidal” destruction in Iraq and the death of more than half a million children — still plays an influential role in the council.
While advising U.S. presidents, David Rockefeller took on a few issues as topics of concern. One of such subjects was Iran: an oil-rich Middle East nation where the CIA backed a coup in 1953, toppling the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mosaddegh explicitly on behalf of international oil corporations.
Before Iran’s 1979 revolution, Rockefeller was a staunch supporter of the U.S.-backed shah, or Iranian king, and helped formulate U.S. policy on the matter. In his book on U.S. statesman John J. McCloy, journalist Kai Bird notes that Joseph V. Reed, Rockefeller’s personal assistant at Chase Manhattan, referred to Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, and McCloy as the “Triumpherate.”
Like Rockefeller, McCloy frequented the government-corporate-think tank revolving door. McCloy also had extensive ties to the Rockefellers, and like the billionaire family, Kissinger, and his foreign policy peers, McCloy was a vicious anti-communist who strongly believed in the use of military violence in the name of containment.
During World War II, McCloy served as assistant secretary of war, and played a key role in the internment of Japanese Americans. He later went on to advise every president between John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and to befriend David Rockefeller.
McCloy served as chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, where he and Rockefeller became very close. McCloy also chaired the Ford Foundation, and sat as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation multiple times. McCloy even chaired the Council on Foreign Relations — an honor that would similarly be bestowed upon Rockefeller.
Right-wing conspiracy theorists fixate on figures like Rockefeller and McCloy and organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group, characterizing them as “globalists” in a putative conspiracy to create a “one world government,” but in reality the opposite is true: Rockefeller and other billionaire plutocrats have played a key role helping Western capitalist governments and large financial institutions crush socialist and other revolutionary movements throughout the world, on behalf of fellow capitalists, multinational corporations, and their bottom lines. The so-called “New World Order” they supposedly want to establish already exists, for the most part: It is one of unchallenged corporate power, in which eight capitalists control half of global wealth, and billions of toiling workers are on the brink of death.
The CIA and Chile
A case study of just how plutocrats like Rockefeller and the U.S. government worked together to crush international socialist movements can be seen in Chile, and the CIA-backed coup there.
In his college days, Rockefeller befriended the CIA’s Dulles brothers. He also rubbed elbows with prominent CIA apparatchiks like Richard Helms, William Bundy, and Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt Jr.
Former U.S. secretary of state and national security advisor, and accused war criminal, Henry Kissinger was likewise a pal of David Rockefeller. Kissinger previously served as the director of the Special Studies Project for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
In 1970, when the Chilean people dared to democratically elect a marxist, Salvador Allende, Chase Manhattan Bank was furious — as was the U..S government. “I don’t see why we have to let a country go marxist just because its people are irresponsible,” Kissinger lamented.
David Rockefeller met and repeatedly corresponded with Kissinger before a CIA-backed coup toppled Allende on September 11, 1973 — the “first 9/11,” as Chileans know it.
“The very name of Allende was anathema to the extreme Right in Chile, to certain powerful corporations (notably ITT, Pepsi Cola and the Chase Manhattan Bank) which did business in Chile and the United States, and to the CIA,” journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote in his book The Trials of Henry Kissinger.
Donald Kendall, the President of Pepsi Cola, who had close ties to President Richard Nixon, joined top U.S. officials for a series of meetings within two weeks of Allende’s election. “After discussions with Kendall and with David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan, and with CIA director Richard Helms, Kissinger went with Helms to the Oval Office,” Hitchens noted, citing declassified documents.
Helms, Kissinger, and Nixon agreed that Chile’s democratically elected leader must be stopped. Notes from the meeting infamously read: “Not concerned risks involved. No involvement of embassy. $10,000,000 available, more if necessary. Full-time job – best men we have…. Make the economy scream. 48 hours for plan of action.”
Kissinger and Rockefeller stayed in touch on the issue. A declassified memo to Kissinger details his correspondence between the billionaire banker.
One of Allende’s earliest actions was to nationalize mines exploited by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which owed hundreds of millions of dollars to Chase Manhattan and other U.S. banks.
On August 10, 1971, Rockefeller wrote a letter to Kissinger noting that John Place, the former vice chairman of Chase Manhattan bank, had recently left to become president and CEO of the Anaconda Company. Chile’s government had nationalized the company and was not paying up, Place lamented.
Rockefeller requested that Kissinger organize a meeting in Washington with Place. “Both he and I would be grateful if you could take the time to meet with him at your convenience,” the billionaire banker said in the cozy letter — in which Rockefeller noted he was on vacation and said he wished Kissinger could join him.
A week later, the meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. He was joined by Place; William Quigley, the vice chairman of the board of the Anaconda Company; and Arnold Nachmanoff, of the National Security Council. A memo from the meeting shows that “Mr. Place and Mr. Quigley expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in Chile,” with the rise of popular socialists. Quigley called on the U.S. to send an envoy to Chile to threaten the government “that if they do not reach fair settlements [with U.S. corporations], we will make every effort to cut off their access to international credit.”
Kissinger “noted that this was a very difficult problem: we cannot buy Allende off,” the memo said. He affirmed that “there is still a chance that Allende might be overthrown,” and emphasized “that he favored a tough line.” The memo added, “Mr. Place and Mr. Quigley reiterated their approval of a tough line.”
On September 2, Kissinger sent a letter personally to Rockefeller, thanking him for his original missive and notifying him of the August 17 meeting with the Anaconda Company executives. “We will do whatever we can to help Anaconda receive fair compensation for its properties,” Kissinger noted, closing his letter with a “warm regards.”
In 1973, Allende was toppled and killed in a CIA-backed coup. His democratically elected socialist government was replaced with a U.S.-backed capitalist dictatorship under brutal despot Augusto Pinochet. The Anaconda Company was paid hundreds of millions of dollars — and tens of thousands of Chilean leftists were murdered, tortured, and disappeared.
The enormous human cost was of little concern to the U.S. empire. “Latin America is not important. Nothing important can come from the South. History has never been produced in the South,” Kissinger declared. “What happens in the South is of no importance.”
The Trilateral Commission and Neoliberal Trade Policies
In addition to his work leading the Council on Foreign Relations, David Rockefeller created other institutions that pushed for capitalist domination and neoliberal, pro-corporate policies.
The Americas Society and Council of the Americas published a statement expressing “their deepest sadness over the death of” the billionaire. Rockefeller had founded and served as honorary chairman of the Council of the Americas, a corporate-backed organization that pushed for so-called free trade policies in North and South America.
Rockefeller wrote in his memoir that, at the organization’s Forum of the Americas in Washington, D.C. in 1992, “I proposed creating a ‘Western Hemisphere free trade area’ no later than the year 2000.” The event was keynoted by President George W. Bush, but it was in fact President Bill Clinton who helped fulfill the billionaire’s dream. In 1994, the Clinton administration passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which destroyed local economies in Mexico and led to massive outsourcing, serving the interests of powerful corporations while harming workers in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada.
The International Executive Service Corps, another organization co-created by Rockefeller, sounds like it has good intentions: . But the group, which is funded by the U.S. government and has close ties to large corporations, was a Cold War capitalist project that encourages private ownership and corporate partnerships as a solution to poverty, inequality, and other systemic problems.
In addition to his leadership in the Council on Foreign Relations and the Council of the Americas, Rockefeller helped found another influential organization. In 1973, the billionaire created the Trilateral Commission, a group of staunchly anti-communist, liberal capitalists from the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
Scholar Noam Chomsky observed in 1981 that one of the most striking features of the Jimmy Carter administration was the large role played by the Trilateral Commission. “All of the top positions in the government — the office of President, Vice-President, Secretary of State, Defense and Treasury — are held by members of the Trilateral Commission, and the National Security Advisor was its director,” he wrote.
One of the body’s functions was to ensure continued U.S. hegemony over the Global South, Chomsky noted.
The Trilateral Commission’s most infamous work was a book-length report titled The Crisis of Democracy. In the document, Chomsky highlighted, the commission insisted countries need “a greater degree of moderation in democracy” to deal with the problem of an “excess of democracy.” It lamented that, in the U.S. “previously passive or unorganized groups in the population” like “blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students and women” had become “organized and mobilized in new ways to achieve what they considered to be their appropriate share of the action and of the rewards.” This destabilized the political order, which “usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups,” the report claimed.
The Crisis of Democracy was co-written by the U.S. political scientist Samuel Huntington, a powerful academic who directed and chaired departments at Harvard University, advised numerous U.S. administrations, and served on the National Security Council.
“Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” Huntington and his colleagues at the Trilateral Commission wrote. “By the mid-1960s, the sources of power in society had diversified tremendously, and this was no longer possible.” Something had to be done about this; corporate elites were loosing their grip on society.
Just a few years later, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan would usher in neoliberalism, a new wave of even less restrained capitalism — a wave Rockefeller and his billionaire friends rode to the bank.
David Rockefeller enjoyed a long career as a key figure in the U.S. ruling class, and an even longer life. Yet, despite the insistence of right-wing conspiracy theorists to the contrary, Rockefeller was not part of some “globalist” cabal. Rather, he was a billionaire plutocrat with an obscene amount of money to throw around, and he used his enormous power to work with the U.S. government and other Western capitalist countries in order to destroy socialist movements throughout the world.
In those regards, Rockefeller was quite successful. The billionaire died of natural causes while still holding on to his family’s Brobdingnagian wealth, while millions of poor people around the globe die premature deaths.