Saturday, March 29, 2008

President Kennedy's Foreign Policy

I cringe whenever I hear progressives ding Kennedy's foreign policy record. They do so out of an ignorance not of their own making, but of one studiously foisted upon them.

It is important to remember, especially with President John Kennedy, that history is written by the victor. Kennedy wasn't just killed once. He was killed posthumously so that all he was trying to do, and stood for, would be washed away. By making him less than who he was, his assassination would seem less necessary. By painting him as a rabid cold warrior, no one would suspect cold warriors of having killed him.

Sadly, a whole set of generations are now growing up with false history about John Kennedy (and Bobby, albeit less so). I felt the need to correct a bit of that record.

Kennedy was inaugurated three days after Lumumba was killed in the Congo. Kennedy was known to be a supporter of Lumumba, and was devastated when he learned of his assassination.

As Gerard Colby so brilliantly noted in "Thy Will Be Done":
Within a month of Kennedy's election, some of Nelson [Rockefeller]'s closest allies ... were meeting in the White House's Cabinet Room or heading key offices in the new administration. Swiftly and quietly, they began implementing many of the changes in government structure and policy that Nelson advocated.

This secret victory [for Rockefeller] was the outcome of Kennedy's inexperience. Kennedy had spent the past five years running for office. He knew politicians, but not men who could run the government of a world power.
Kennedy turned to Robert Lovett, a former Truman administration veteran. Lovett was also a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation.

So right from the start, without realizing it, Kennedy had brought the empire builders right into the top places in his administration. He'd be fighting them for the rest of his short term.

In his second full month in office, he ended support for the anti-communist dictator in Laos that the CIA-Pentagon forces had installed during Eisenhower's term. Kennedy said at a news conference that the US "strongly and unreservedly" supported a goal of a "neutral and independent Laos."

He inherited an already-in-motion operation in the Bay of Pigs when he stepped into the White House. In April, he gave a green light based strictly on the information the CIA had provided, which was that the CIA was simply supporting a native revolution, and was going to offer limited support.

That wasn't true, but Kennedy didn't know then that the CIA would deliberately mislead a president. During the mission, the CIA and Navy pressured Kennedy hard to send in the Marines, stationed offshore, in a full-scale invasion. Kennedy resisted, angering the forces hell-bent on overthrowing Castro.

When Kennedy saw the mission was not going as planned, the CIA figured he would not opt to lose, but would throw more forces at it for victory. But they guessed wrong. Kennedy took the hit, and then forced Allen Dulles, the Godfather of the CIA, from the Agency. Many in the Agency hated Kennedy from that point forward, and the feeling was mutual.

That's when Kennedy made the famous vow to splinter the CIA into 1000 pieces and scatter it to winds. He explicitly set up the Defense Intelligence Agency to corral the CIA's covert operations under strict military control. The DIA opened October 1, 1961, a move which made CIA operatives' blood boil even further.

In July of 1961, Allen Dulles and the Joint Chiefs of Staff present Kennedy with a preemptive nuclear strike plan to be launched against the USSR in late 1963, to be preceded by a period of escalating (and manufactured) events. Kennedy walks out, saying to Dean Rusk, "and they call us the human race."

In September of 1961, Khrushchev initiates a backchannel correspondence with Kennedy. He slips a letter into a newspaper carried to a Kennedy aide. Kennedy writes back. They agree to disagree on many things, but both agree keeping the forces surrounding them from launching a nuclear weapon is of paramount concern. Publicly, Khrushchev shakes a fist at Kennedy, refusing nuclear disarmament.

In October, Khrushchev escalates the Cold War by erecting the Berlin Wall.

In November of 1961, Kennedy resists pressure from the Joint Chiefs to send combat troops to Vietnam. Under intense pressure, he compromises - allows military advisors and support personnel.

Also in November, Kennedy authorizes "Operation Mongoose," which did not include plans to kill Castro. (The CIA, by their own admission in their IG report, kept the Castro plots from Kennedy.) Mongoose was designed to "help Cuba overthrow Castro" - meaning, aid them in a native revolution, the same thing Kennedy thought he was authorizing with the Bay of Pigs. But this time, he appointed an Army man, General Ed Lansdale, to keep the CIA in check. Kennedy would later say he wasted his brother in the AG position, and should have given him control over the CIA.

Also in 1961, Kennedy reaches out to Sukarno in Indonesia. His nationalism leans in a communist direction. Under the Eisenhower administration, the CIA tried to kill Sukarno. But Kennedy wanted to work with him, and to offer him not arms, but aid of a more productive kind. He appointed a team of economic advisors to study the problem.

Meanwhile, Indonesia was having a crisis in what is now called West Papua, but then called West Irian or Irian Jaya. This site contained a mountain so rich in ore it was called "Copper Mountain". The mountain is long gone, but the area is now home to the world's largest gold mine (operated by Freeport McMoRan).

The Dutch had conceded their entire former colony of Indonesia independence except this region of riches. And Sukarno wanted to keep Indonesia whole. The US, allies to both, was caught in the middle. Kennedy asked Ellsworth Bunker to broker an agreement, which led to a promise of West Irian independence. To soothe Sukarno, Kennedy issued a national security memorandum in which he included these instructions:
To seize this opportunity, will all agencies concerned please review their programs for Indonesia and assess what further measures might be useful. I have in mind the possibility of expanded civic action, military aid, and economic stabilization and development programs as well as diplomatic initiatives.
Where the Cold Warriors tried to destroy Sukarno, Kennedy tried to help him. Sukarno was particularly affected when Kennedy was killed. Separately, the Rockefellers were involved in Freeport McMoRan's predecessor, Freeport Sculpture in Indonesia, which benefited when a coup overthrew Sukarno and brought Suharto to power. (For the tangled story there - see JFK, Indonesia, CIA and Freeport Sulphur.)

Meanwhile, back in the states, on April 11, 1962, Kennedy took on the steel industry with words stronger than anything John Edwards ever said:
Simultaneous and identical actions of United States Steel and other leading steal corporations increasing steel prices by some $6 a ton constitute a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest. In this serious hour in our Nation's history when we are confronted with grave crises in Berlin and Southeast Asia, when we are devoting our energies to economic recovery and stability, when we are asking reservists to leave their homes and their families for months on end and servicemen to risk their lives--and four were killed in the last two days in Viet Nam and asking union members to hold down their wage requests at a time when restraint and sacrifice are being asked of every citizen, the American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans.
In May of 1962, Kennedy instructed McNamara to find a way out of Vietnam. McNamara turns to General Paul Harkins and orders him to "devise a plan for turning full responsibility over to South Vietnam and reducing the size of our military command, and to submit this plan at the next conference." Harkins ignores this order, but McNamara won't learn this for several months.

In July of 1962, the US becomes one of fourteen nations signing the "Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos" in Geneva. The CIA and Pentagon see this as treason, capitulation to the communists.

I could go on all night, but I won't. I'll summarize with a quote from Don Gibson's book "Battling Wall Street":
When Kennedy went against his advisors on foreign policy, it was because he rejected the idea that the US had a right to control economic and political event sin other nations. In quite sharp contrast to his strong military stand against the powerful Soviet Union, Kennedy was reluctant to employ military force against smaller and weaker nations. This reluctance was completely consistent with his comments in 1959 ... where he rejected "the pageantry of imperialism."

Chester Bowles cited the following decisions made by Kennedy against a majority of his advisors: refusing to invade Cuba during the Bay of Pigs disaster; refusing to intervene in the Dominican Republic following the assassination of Trujillo; refusing to introduce ground forces into Laos; refusing to escalate our involvement in Vietnam; backing U.N. policy in the Congo, and backing India in a dispute with China and Pakistan. In making these decisions, Kennedy was repeatedly affirming his idea of a US foreign policy against those who either shared the neo-colonialist attitudes of various economic interests in Europe and the US or viewed all interests of the Third World nations as unimportant compared to the ongoing conflict with communism.

Considering the multitude of factors involved in any significant foreign policy decision, it is reasonable to conclude that consistency across a series of such decisions indicates underlying principles.
On June 10 in the last year of his life, Kennedy spoke these words:

I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived. And that is the most important topic on earth: peace. What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.
Show me a better foreign policy than that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very nice summary, Lisa. For some time, I have felt that the only weakness of the Kennedy Administration grew from inexperience leading him to trust the wrong people. Allowing the CIA into giving the Green Light on Operation Zapata before he was really comfortable with it was the first domino, and it came so early, that he never really had a chance. (sigh)

The entire country was intoxicated on its new pre-eminence, which itself arose from a "glorious" war - perhaps the only really ethically justifiable foreign war in human history.

In that context, a trusting nation was exposed to an extreme propaganda program against Communism and the USSR that was right out of the (Newly incorporated) Nazi playbook - all it was missing was the "blame the Jews" component. The resulting hysteria permeated every level of society, and made us irrational.

It was in this environment that JFK found himself looking for qualified staffers, etc. Finding an entire White House full of qualified individuals with his insight would have been impossible, no matter where he looked. That he looked in the same place virtually all of his predecessors looked just compounded the problem a little.

As sad as I get when I think about it, I am grateful for JFK's commitment to his own judgment. Even in death, his courage to stand up to the JCS most likely saved us all, and it has continued to pay dividends well after he paid for it with his life.

He didn't die for nothing. Thank you for reminding us of that.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

I don't think people from my generation and after can really appreciate the "red scare" in effect at that time. There really was a sentiment that the USSR might conquer the world. In hindsight, this looks a bit ludicrous. But at the time, it was palpable, as you say.

Btw - I have to recommend HIGHLY James Douglass's beautifully written and incredibly well-researched book on JFK and his assassination. It's a new book called "JFK and the Unspeakable." It's one of the most literate, intelligent compositions I've ever read, and filled with both new data on the assassination and on that period of time that I have not read elsewhere. It's quite remarkable. I'll have to do a write-up at some point.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Dawn Meredith said...

Thank you Lisa. I hope that you will submit this article to some of the mainstream rags that serve only to mislead a new generation of citizens.

Real History is such a refreshing break from the spin doctors who dictate "news" both past and present.

I wonder how things would have played out had Bobby been head of the CIA. Sadly, I think the outcome would have been the same.

But as "dhsmd" states "he didn't die for nothing" and I too am grateful for the reminder.

JFK, RFK, MLK...will we ever again see such courage, compassion, conviction, intelligence? A friend just sent me an email recommending a book called "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?" (Lee Iacoca). Indeed. They have been assassinated. By those more powerful. But the truth can't be killed, as much as our media has tried.

Jim Douglas' book is my next read. I have been waiting some time for it.


4:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was excellent. Thank you for posting it.
Not long before his death, RFK said something along the lines of, "I thought I understood the world. But it turns out that I didn't know a damn thing." He was referring primarily to his brother's assassination. If RFK had been elected president he was determined to find out who and what killed his brother and he would probably have gone after MLK's real killers too. Publicly he accepted the findings of the Warren Commission but privately he vowed to nail those responsible. Unfortunately the Dark Ones found out what Bobby was up to, and the only solution to the problem was to take him out too.
I was born in 1943. I grew up listening to all this bullshit about the Soviet threat. My dad, who fought in WWII and was no lover of the either fascism or communism, would argue endlessly with my uncles and others about this false threat and how it was used to divert funds away from social programmes and into the military instead. My dad always encouraged me to look beyond the news headlines and try to find out the real story. Real History goes beyond the news headlines and attempts to find the real story. If my dad were alive today I know he would be reading your website too.
Keep up the good work. Sometimes I get down with all that is happening in the world. It's people like you who keep me sane.
May God bless you and all seekers of truth wherever they might be.

“Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” RFK

9:29 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

You guys are making me blush! Thank you for all the sane and heartfelt comments. I treasure that you care, and come here, and engage in discussion. Thank you so much!

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for making you blush.;) It's just that for years I felt very alone in my pursuit of the truth. Yes, there were people like Harold Weisberg, Sylvia Meagher and others who wrote extensively about JFK's assassination and the other assassinations of the sixties, but from my perspective here in little old Scotland they seemed so far away. And every time I tried to bring up the subject of "who killed Kennedy?" most people would say, "Oh, no. Not that again."
Now, thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can find people like you who are fighting for the truth. I can't begin to explain how comforting it is to know that I am not alone. I would still pursue the truth even if I thought I was the only person in the world who wanted to know what really happened, but it is so good to know that there are others who share my passion for the TRUTH, the whole TRUTH, and nothing but the TRUTH.
In the final analysis, the only thing that counts is the truth. Even if it makes me feel uncomfortable, I always want to know what really happened. If you settle for less than that, well, you are not fully human and you have not realised your full potential.
Lisa, I not only appreciate your brilliant mind and your courage and honesty, but the fact that you sometimes allow us to take a brief peek into your private life (I recall you writing something about someone who broke your heart) makes you one of us: we the people - the real people.
Anyway, sorry for rambling on at such length. I just had to say what I felt.
Thank you. There are more people who appreciate what you are doing than you will ever know.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...


Thanks again. I had no idea you were in Scotland. Wow! That makes your interest all the more special. I'd expect Americans to care, but it always amazes and encourages me when I find people from outside America who still think it matters who killed the Kennedys and why. Those who care about such truths are the best people in the world!

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simplemindz said:
"it is so good to know that there are others who share my passion for the TRUTH, the whole TRUTH, and nothing but the TRUTH."


PS: God Bless the Scotts. Something about that place produces great bulshit meters in a very high percentage of people - it seem like to me, anyway.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa and dhsmd,
Thank you for your kind comments. It is so good to know that there are people out there who are prepared to face up to the consequences of knowing the truth. And believe me, the consequenses are disturbing. to say the least. But I guess yoiu know that already. That's why so many people prefer the "dumbed down" version of the truth. It's easier to live with and infinitely more comforting. Only it's not. If people just realised that once you face up to it, "the truth shall set you free." However, real freedom is pretty scary. But all you have to do is quell your fears, take a deep breath and dive into the pool of truth. Once you do that, it's not only refreshing but enormously liberating.

Some quotes about patriotism I particularly like. The last one is my favourite because at first glance it sounds so banal, and yet banality sometimes masks the truth. Anyway, it makes me laugh, and humour is so important in our lives. It helps to keep us balanced. Of course, the truth does that too.

A patriot must be prepared to attack his country until it redeems itself. -- Author unknown

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. -- Edward Abbey [used in the Jim Garrison closing speech in Oliver Stone's movie JFK.

"My country, right or wrong" is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying "My mother, drunk or sober." --G. K. Chesterton

Sometimes I wonder if I'm patriotic enough. Yes, I want to kill people, but on both sides." -- Jack Handey [Deep Thoughts]

For what were all these country patriots born? To hunt, and vote, and raise the price of corn? -- George Gordon Byron [Lord Byron]

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else. -- Clarence Seward Darrow

A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works. -- Bill Vaughan

Thanks once again for your marvellous website. By the way, dhsmd, we have our own home-grown bullshitters over here too. The only saving grace is that there doesn't seem to be too many of them. Hooah!

And now I'll close with the words of a real Scotsman and true patriot, William Wallace, finally made immortal by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Mel, you are one crazy little guy but I thank you for bringing the Wallace to a world-wide audience.

After the Batle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 (Mel didn't show a bridge in his film, just a big, green field) Wallace dictated a letter to northern Germany to tell the Germans that they could again trade with Scotland. Copies were sent to Hamburg and Lubeck. The Hamburg letter is thought to have been destroyed during WWII, as was the Lubeck copy. But a few years ago the Lubeck letter was found after a thorough search of the museum's vaults.

Here is part of what Wallace said in that letter:

"Your merchants can now have safe access with their merchandise to all the ports of the Kingdom of Scotland, for, thanks be to God, the Kingdon of Scotland has now, by battle, been recovered from the power of the English."

Maybe not as stirring as "FREEDOM!" but, you know, once you obtain freedom, well, as our friends in the Mob say, "business is business."

Wallace was a real patriot. He fought not for honours, position or influence; he fought to set his fellow countrymen free. In that sense he was a Kennedy.


We know this is a true quote because it is in a letter that Walace wrote and sent to

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa,

I just saw this posted somewhere.

It's an article about Hillary Clinton's early unethicalness when she worked as a lawyer during the Watergate investigations. Well anyway there is this quote -

How could a 27-year-old House staff member do all that? She couldn’t do it by herself, but Zeifman said she was one of several individuals – including Marshall, special counsel John Doar and senior associate special counsel (and future Clinton White House Counsel) Bernard Nussbaum – who engaged in a seemingly implausible scheme to deny Richard Nixon the right to counsel during the investigation.

Why would they want to do that? Because, according to Zeifman, they feared putting Watergate break-in mastermind E. Howard Hunt on the stand to be cross-examined by counsel to the president. Hunt, Zeifman said, had the goods on nefarious activities in the Kennedy Administration that would have made Watergate look like a day at the beach – including Kennedy’s purported complicity in the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro.

Does any of this ring true to you? Just wondering.


8:25 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Hiram, that's mostly NOT true.

Yes, Hillary was one of the young staffers.

Nixon was dying to find evidence linking Kennedy assassinations. The CIA, who hated Kennedy, even admitted in their own IG report, classified until recent years, that they could not claim to have had executive authority, i.e., instructions from Kennedy, for the Castro plots. That's the part that's not true.

And no one need keep counsel from Nixon to keep him away from Hunt. Nixon himself was caught on tape in his office saying he didn't want Hunt to talk because he feared it would open "that Bay of Pigs thing" and reveal all kinds of unsavory information. He paid Hunt blackmail money to keep him quiet on SOMETHING.

But there's not even the slightest chance Nixon was trying to preserve Kennedy's reputation. He had sent Hunt on a task to destroy it, and Hunt was forging cables trying to implicate Kennedy in Diem's assassination. Hunt was caught on this, fortunately.

9:12 PM  

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