One of my major goals in my 2020 book In Denial was to illustrate the difference between how deniable military actions were conducted during the Cold War and how they are being carried out in a new century.
To do that I explored both the decision making process and the practices used by the United States – the major player in covert military action in pursuit of regime change during the Cold War. That exploration led me to wrestle with the fact that while those actions – ranging from the disaster at the Bay of Pigs to the Contra fiasco and worse, the emergence of death squads across Latin American and South America (including the in the Condor nations) – were almost entirely unsuccessful (and consistently disastrous in their consequences), they were never abandoned for any length of time.
Hopefully the book casts some light on how such operations were actually reviewed and officially deconstructed. In each instance (most publicly following both the Cuba Project and the Iran-Contra scandal) commitments were made never to make such mistakes again . Presidents, agencies, military services, and Congress all periodically signed up not to repeat the mistakes, yet in reality could never step away from the temptation. It appears to be the same overwhelming temptation which in the 21st Century once again moved the United States into covert actions in both Syria and Libya.
Yet other geopolitical players in the new century have chosen a different route, openly pursuing assertions to their own particular “spheres of influence”. Those players, the Russian Federation (under Putin), China and Iran have all moved to new forms of military action, and new practices and mechanisms of “denial”. Practices which so far have proved far more effective (and less expensive) than those of the United States carried out during the Cold War. Time will tell if those practices will prove more effective, or the consequences less damaging.
In his ongoing series of conversations on my National Security and Political Assassination series of books, Chuck Ochelli hosted a conversation on this subject a couple of weeks ago, if you are interested you can listen in at the following link (this week the next session in the series will give listeners a serious change of topic – while remaining in the national security space):