American leaders might be forgiven for intervening in countries about which they were so ignorant. What is harder to justify is their refusal to listen to their own intelligence agents. Chiefs of the CIA stations in Tehran, Guatemala City, Saigon, and Santiago explicitly warned against staging these coups. Officials in Washington paid no heed. They rejected or ignored all intelligence reports that contradicted what they instinctively believed.
Americans who think about and make foreign policy grasp the nature of alliances, big-power rivalries, and wars of conquest. The passionate desire of people in poor countries to assert control over their natural resources, which pushed them into conflict with the United States during the Cold War, lay completely outside the experience of most American leaders. Henry Kissinger spoke for them, eloquently as always, after Chilean foreign minister Gabriel Valdes accused him of knowing nothing about the Southern Hemisphere.
No, and I don't care, Kissinger replied. Nothing important can come from the south. History has never been produced in the south. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the south is of no importance.
This attitude made it easy for American statesmen to misunderstand why nationalist movements arose in the developing world.