The U.S. & Cuba
To the Editor:
In connection with Mark Falcoff’s article, “The Last Communist” [June], I would like to say that from 1959 to 1961, I was a young Senate aide with a portfolio that included watching the evolution of U.S. policy toward the Castro revolution in Cuba. I met with U.S. officials responsible for Cuba and had frequent opportunity to talk with both wings of the anti-Castro movement: at the beginning, the Batista crowd hoping for restoration and, later, the disillusioned idealists driven or fled into exile.
Based on that experience, I am quite inclined to agree with Mark Falcoff’s (and Georgie Anne Geyer’s) conclusion that the U.S. tried to establish friendly ties to Castro’s Cuba but that Castro never intended good relations with the U.S.
Nevertheless, I believe Mr. Falcoff is wrong about one piece of evidence he adduces. The Bay of Pigs was emphatically not an example of “remarkable restraint” by the U.S. That debacle resulted from (1) a failed transfer of responsibility from the Eisenhower administration to the Kennedy administration and (2) irresolution on the part of the Kennedy team.
Perhaps unwisely, President Eisenhower authorized preparations for the invasion, which were well under way when Kennedy took office. The Kennedy administration, unable to choose between cancelling the operation and giving it a chance to succeed by providing air cover, decided to compromise by hoping that Castro would be driven from office by a mere show of force.
In short, there were two realistic choices, and the Kennedy administration opted for a third. In my book, the name for that is not restraint but error.
Norman I. Gelman
Mark Falcoff writes:
Of course, in at least a limited sense Norman I. Gelman is right to take umbrage at my use of the word “restraint.” To invade another country, even unsuccessfully, and even changing one’s mind in midstream, is not normally the kind of conduct one associates with that concept. However, to hear the Cuban historians and publicists tell it, the entire American response to their revolution from day one was one unrestrained “genocidal” (they do not shrink from the word) attempt to strangle the infant in its cradle. Now that, of course, is simply not true. (I am gratified that Mr. Gelman, who was there, can back me up on this.)
The “restraint” I had in mind was the decision of President Kennedy not to send American troops into Cuba after the exiles (though, as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has since recalled in his memoir, A Thousand Days, the unspoken assumption around the cabinet table was, in fact, that this would be the next step if the invasion force failed to achieve its foothold and the expected popular uprising in Cuba did not take place). If we had really been the monsters the Cuban regime (and its friends and apologists abroad) still claim we were and are, we would never have allowed the exile expedition to fail, much less accepted the Castro regime as a fait accompli, as we subsequently did in the Kennedy-Khrushchev accords. If this doesn’t qualify as restraint, the word will certainly do until a better one comes along.