The Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited

Stephen Hayward, writing at Powerline in “Reckoning with JFK,” says:

JFK’s supposed “cool handling” of the missile crisis is probably the greatest enduring myth of JFK’s presidency.  Yes, it was good that we avoided World War III, but aside from that just about every common judgment about the missile crisis is wrong.  It was both a political and military defeatfor the United States, but the great Kennedy spin machine managed from the first moments to convey the exact opposite impression.  And the whole matter arose precisely because the Soviet Union perceived JFK’s weakness.

This fact was not generally recognized because key concessions from Kennedy were kept secret from the American people and even from most of Kennedy’s top advisers at the time.  Kennedy secretly agreed to withdraw American missiles from Greece and Turkey, something he had publicly stated he would not do when the Soviets demanded it.  (When this concession leaked out years later, it was said the missiles were “obsolete” and unimportant, though the Soviets did not share this view.)  The biggest public concession was Kennedy’s pledge that the U.S. would cease attempting to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba.

Hayward’s assessment squares with my own, which I have given in various posts:

The botched [Bay of Pigs] invasion pushed Castro closer to the USSR, which led to the Cuban missile crisis.

JFK’s inner circle was unwilling to believe that Soviet missile facilities were enroute to Cuba, and therefore unable to act before the facilities were installed. JFK’s subsequent unwillingness to attack the missile facilities made it plain to Kruschev that the the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961) would not fall and that the U.S. would not risk armed confrontation with the USSR (conventional or nuclear) for the sake of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain. Thus the costly and tension-ridden Cold War persisted for almost another three decades. (“Whose Incompetence Do You Trust?“)

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I should add that Kennedy’s willingness to withdraw missiles from Turkey — a key element of the settlement with the USSR — played into Nikita Krushchev‘s hands, further emboldening the Soviet regime. (“Presidential Legacies“)

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JFK succeeded Eisenhower before the [Bay of Pigs] invasion took place, in April 1961. JFK approved changes in the invasion plan that resulted in the failure of the invasion. The most important change was to discontinue air support for the invading forces. The exiles were defeated, and Castro has remained firmly in control of Cuba.

The failed invasion caused Castro to turn to the USSR for military and economic assistance. In exchange for that assistance, Castro agreed to allow the USSR to install medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. That led to the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Many historians give Kennedy credit for resolving the crisis and avoiding a nuclear war with the USSR. The Russians withdrew their missiles from Cuba, but JFK had to agree to withdraw American missiles from bases in Turkey. (“The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History since 1900“)

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The Cold War had some “hot” moments and points of high drama. Perhaps the most notable of them was the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which was not the great victory proclaimed by the Kennedy administration and its political and academic sycophants… That the U.S. won the Cold War because the USSR’s essential bankruptcy was exposed by Ronald Reagan’s defense buildup is a fact that only left-wingers and dupes will deny. They continue to betray their doomed love of communism by praising the hapless Mikhail Gorbachev for doing the only thing he could do in the face of U.S. superiority: surrender and sunder the Soviet empire. America’s Cold War victory owes nothing to LBJ (who wasted blood and treasure in Vietnam), Richard Nixon (who would have sold his mother for 30 pieces of silver), or Jimmy Carter (whose love for anti-American regimes and rebels knows no bounds). (“Rating America’s Wars“)

I could not resist including the part after the ellipses in the quotation from “Rating America’s Wars.” Since the end of Eisenhower’s presidency on January 20, 1961, the United States has had only two presidents worthy of the title “commander-in-chief”: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Related posts: Go to “Favorite Posts” and click on “XIV. War and Peace.”