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  • >> Jim Lindsay: Imagine: Youre president of the United States. Your advisers come to

  • you with a plan to overthrow a hostile government that threatens American security. The plan

  • would solve a major problem if it worked, but you worry that it won’t. What do you

  • do?

  • I’m Jim Lindsay, and this is Lessons Learned. Our topic today is the Bay of Pigs invasion,

  • which began on April 17, 1961.

  • The road to the Bay of Pigs began two years earlier when Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba’s

  • U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Relations between the two countries quickly

  • soured. Castro denounced decades of U.S. political and economic domination of Cuba. He called

  • for revolutions throughout Latin America and he seized properties that US firms owned in

  • Cuba.

  • What especially worried Washington, though, was Castro’s growing ties to Moscow. It

  • was the height of the Cold War and the Soviet Union looked to be on the march around the

  • globe. So President Dwight Eisenhower and his advisors looked at Castro and feared that

  • the Soviets would soon have a beachhead less than 100 miles off America’s shores.

  • By March 1960, Eisenhower had had enough. He authorized a CIA plan to train Cuban exiles

  • to overthrow Castro. The plan, eventually code namedBumpy Road,” rested on the

  • premise that the attack by Cuban exiles would trigger a popular uprising in Cuba that would

  • overthrow Castro. Eisenhower had reason to be confident the plan would work. Six years

  • earlier the Central Intelligence Agency had engineered the ouster of a leftist government

  • in Guatemala.

  • Operation Bumpy Road could not be executed before Eisenhower left office. The decision

  • on whether to proceed was left to his successor, John F. Kennedy.

  • JFK had doubts about the wisdom of Operation Bumpy Road. He knew that a decision to intervene

  • overtly in Cuba would be criticized at home and especially abroad. But he also knew that

  • ousting Castro would fulfill his campaign promise of a tougher foreign policy and strengthen

  • his hand in dealing with the Soviets. And he saw real political costs to killing the

  • operation. Some of the hundreds of Cuban exiles, and probably a few U.S. government officials

  • as well, would complain to the press that he had walked away from the plan that would

  • have toppled Castro. That would have exposed JFK to damaging charges that he was soft on

  • communism.

  • So JFK gave a green light to Operation Bumpy Road. But in doing so he made two critical

  • decisions. First, because he wanted to minimize overt U.S. involvement, he severely limited

  • the U.S. air support for the mission. CIA and U.S. Air Force officials went along with

  • the restriction because they assumed he would change his mind if the operation ran into

  • trouble. Second, he chose a more remote landing site for the operation, the Bahía de Cochinosthe

  • Bay of Pigs. Unfortunately, it was a lousy spot for an amphibious landing.

  • The invasion force of 1,511 exiles, known as Brigade 2506, landed at the Bay of Pigs

  • on April 17, 1961. The operation was a disaster from the start. Castro’s army wasn’t surprised.

  • Ordinary Cubans did not rise in revolt. And JFK refused to send the U.S. military to save

  • the Cuban exiles pinned down on the beaches. On April 19, Brigade 2506 surrendered. The

  • three days of fighting had left 140 exiles dead and nearly 1,200 captured.

  • >> President John F. Kennedy: On that unhappy island, as in so many other arenas of the

  • contest for freedom, the news has grown worse instead of better. I have emphasized before

  • that this was a struggle of Cuban patriots against a Cuban dictator. While we could not

  • be expected to hide our sympathies, we made it repeatedly clear that the armed forces

  • of this country would not intervene in any way.

  • >> Jim Lindsay: The Bay of Pigs was is of the of the biggest U.S. foreign policy fiascoes

  • of the twentieth century. There were many reasons it failed besides JFK’s refusal

  • to authorize air support. The underlying premise that ordinary Cubans would come to the invasion’s

  • aid was flatly wrong. The invasion was poorly organized and managed. It also wasn’t much

  • of a secret, or a surprise to Castro. The New York Times ran two separate stories on

  • its front-page about the U.S. efforts to train a Cuban army in exile.

  • What is the lesson of the Bay of Pigs? Just this: Be prepared for failure and plan accordingly.

  • JFK had doubts about the wisdom of the CIA’s plan, and he knew that he would not order

  • a direct U.S. military intervention. So he put all of his eggs on hoping that Operation

  • Bumpy Road would work. It didn’t. Had JFK thought through the possibilities of failure

  • he might have canceled the operation or fundamentally reshaped it. As it was, he was left to lament:

  • How could I have been so stupid to let them go ahead?”

  • Presidents don’t want to find themselves asking JFK’s question about their own decisions.

  • So recognizing the potential for failureand taking steps to minimize itis a fundamental

  • challenge for all types of foreign policymaking. But it is especially important when talking

  • about decisions to use military force.

  • To take just one example, it is fine to discuss how military strikes might blunt Iran’s

  • nuclear ambitions. But that analysis is incomplete unless it also grapples with how a military

  • strike might fail, or create an entirely new problems to handle.

  • So here’s a question to consider: What steps should presidents take to make sure that they

  • are thinking through how their policies might fail rather than simply engaging in wishful

  • thinking about how they will succeed?

  • I encourage you to weigh in with your answers on my blog, The Water’s Edge. You can find

  • it at

  • I’m Jim Lindsay. Thank you for watching this installment of Lessons Learned.

>> Jim Lindsay: Imagine: Youre president of the United States. Your advisers come to

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Lessons Learned: Bay of Pigs Invasion

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    James posted on 2015/06/15
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