July 25, 2007

Schlesinger to Kennedy: Chill Out, Dude! Part 3 (of 4)

In the memo of April 10, 1961 (“Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume X, Cuba, 1961-1963” Doc No. 86, Page 196) Arthur Schlesinger, Special Assistant to the President, offers John Fitzgerald Kennedy tips on lying: “When lies must be told, they should be told by subordinate officials. At no point should the President be asked to lend himself to the cover operation. For this reason, there seems to be merit in Secretary Rusk’s suggestion that someone other than the President make the final decision and to do so in his absence—someone whose head can later be placed on the block if things go terribly wrong.” [This principle is still applicable in the 21st Century, but Schlesinger ignores the fact that the sacrificial lamb can later be granted a presidential pardon.]

The memo provides sample “prepped answers” to potential media questions. But why not just blame the CIA? “We will have to be prepared to show” he wrote, “that the alleged CIA personnel were errant idealists or soldiers-of-fortune working on their own.”

After the embarrassment at Bay of Pigs, the CIA absorbed much of the blame. (Forty-some years later, they again took the blame for a different President’s decision to go to war.)

Upon returning home (on May 3, 1961) from a two-week trip to Western Europe, Schlesinger wrote Kennedy another memo about “Reactions to Cuba in Western Europe.” What he found was “a hunger for a rational explanation of the Cuban operation.” He said that “the available stories had left most people baffled and incredulous.”

Over the long term, he said, “I think we have suffered a serious but by no means fatal loss of confidence in our intelligence and responsibility. This can be easily recouped if we seem to return to more intelligent and responsible ways in the future.” [This reminds me of the “clearer heads will prevail” comment in the film Thirteen Days. Schlesinger seems to be pointing out that this is the time for clearer heads.]

The invasion, he sums up, “is greatly feared as forecasting future directions of U.S. policy.”

That fear was prophetic. The first thing the Kennedy administration did after Bay of Pigs was to implement Operation Mongoose, with Bobby Kennedy as designated bulldog in charge. This is where the wacky assassination schemes rose to a new level [although many sound like rejects from Warner Brothers Studios’ series of adventure shorts starring the Road Runner & the silent and inward Wyle E. Coyote].

The question remains, would the Cubans have felt the need for Soviet missiles had Operation Mongoose not been implemented? In an interview that ran in the Miami Herald on October 20, 2002, Schlesinger referred to the operation as “silly and stupid,” giving the Cuban government “a legitimate fear of an American Invasion.”



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