Dealing with Dictators

From Belfer Center Studies in International Security

Dealing with Dictators

Dilemmas of US Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945-1990

Edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow





The United States continues to proclaim its support for democracy and its opposition to tyranny, but American presidents often have supported dictators who have allied themselves with the United States. This book illustrates the chronic dilemmas inherent in US dealings with dictators under conditions of uncertainty and moral ambiguity. Dealing with Dictators offers in-depth analysis of six cases: the United States and China, 1945-1948; UN intervention in the Congo, 1960-1965; the overthrow of the Shah of Iran; US relations with the Somoza regime in Nicaragua; the fall of Marcos in the Philippines; and US policy toward Iraq, 1988-1990. The authors' fascinating and revealing accounts shed new light on critical episodes in US foreign policy and provide a basis for understanding the dilemmas that US decision makers confronted. The chapters do not focus on whether US leaders made the "right" or "wrong" decisions, but instead seek to deepen our understanding of how uncertainty permeated the process and whether decision makers and their aides asked the right questions. This approach makes the book invaluable to scholars and students of government and history, and to readers interested in the general subject of how intelligence analysis interacts with policymaking.


$58.00 X ISBN: 9780262134590 400 pp. | 6.25 in x 9.25 in


$28.00 X ISBN: 9780262633246 400 pp. | 6.25 in x 9.25 in


Ernest R. May

Ernest R. May is Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. He is co-author, with Philip D. Zelikow, of The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Philip D. Zelikow

Philip D. Zelikow is former Director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia and is currently serving as counselor of the State Department. Zelikow recently served as the Executive Director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the "9/11 Commission." Zelikow is co-author, with Ernest R. May, of The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis.


  • Dealing with Dictators will be valuable to readers interested in American foreign policy and the contributions intelligence has made or failed to make in given cases. The explanation of the varying perspectives of the intelligence collector, analyst, and decision maker is a particularly important contribution. Today, we have the opportunity to evaluate policy decisions with the benefit of years of hindsight, but those depicted here had to advise and decide with what information they had, which was often conflicting and muddled.

    Bob Graham

    U.S. Senator, 1987–2005, Former Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and author of Intelligence Matters

  • In a riveting account, Ernest May and Philip Zelikow describe the delicate interplay between intelligence and policy deliberation that has shaped presidential decisions on how to intervene in foreign crises. The lesson of the case studies is that the intelligence community, far from being inept, often provides accurate intelligence analysis for the president and valuable covert action options that extend his diplomatic and military choices.

    John Deutch

    Former Director of Central Intelligence, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Institute Professor, MIT