RECENT HISTORY OF THE U.S.A.: FORGOTTEN LESSONS
By Alan Caruba
The Bay of Pigs invasion, which occurred April 15-19, 1962, failed because then- U.S. President John F. Kennedy lost his nerve and denied the air cover needed to protect the invading forces of CIA-trained Cuban freedom fighters. Earlier, the original point of invasion had been moved to the Bay of Pigs, sixty miles away from Havana, giving Castro’s forces tactical advantage. Mostly, though, the intelligence that underwrote the fiasco was just wrong.
For generations raised on Hollywood films and television programs in which American spies and military heroes triumph over evil, the distance between that popular fiction and the reality of how America has applied its power militarily and through the tradecraft of spying has been perceived by Americans as a string of defeats. We shall never know how many plots against our nation have been thwarted because it is the nature of espionage that they are rarely, if ever, revealed.
Sometimes, though, it seems as if no lessons were ever learned or ever applied from the Bay of Pigs, the Watergate break-in, and the subsequent long nightmare of the Vietnam War. The generals we trained for military leadership often proved too timid to resist the hubris of political leaders, and those that did resist sometimes found their careers ended abruptly. This was not lost on those who replaced them.
What had begun as the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, a daring and innovative group composed mainly of the sons of America’s elite, graduates of Yale and Princeton, born to patriotism as they were born to privilege, would at war’s end be disbanded and then reincarnated as the Central Intelligence Agency. In time, the CIA, despite its many successes fighting the spread of Soviet Communism, would reportedly evolve into just another politicized bureaucracy.
The more that ethos took over, the less effective the Agency, often called “The Company,” became. By the time George W. Bush was in the Oval Office (his father had briefly served as the Agency’s Director), the CIA was not led by someone with field experience in intelligence, but rather a seasoned political operator, George Tenet, who now denies having told the President that the invasion, removal of Saddam Hussein, and the democratization of Iraq would be “a slam dunk.” In his new book, he concedes the CIA analysis was wrong.
“The echoes of the Bay of Pigs have resonated in our international policy ever since,” writes E. Howard Hunt, a former member of the OSS who served over twenty years as a CIA operative. He was a legend within the Agency by the time he retired and he would be involved in the Watergate scandal to the extent that his name would forever be linked to it. He had been drawn into the totally paranoid world of Richard Nixon’s White House and his judgment deserted him.
I know this because I recently read his excellent autobiography, American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate & Beyond, written with Greg Aunapu, and with a foreword by his longtime friend and Conservative legend, William F. Buckley, Jr. I know it, too, because I can recall living through the aftermath of that abortive break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters on June 17, 1972. It brought down all the key players around Nixon and it forced the only resignation by a President in the long history of this nation.
It besmirched the Oval Office in ways that even the sexual dalliances and mass pardons by Bill Clinton could not. A generation or more of Americans learned to no longer trust the judgment and integrity of our Presidents, a bitter lesson learned, with an impact on American political culture that lingers to this day. Though the Nixon Presidency and the Watergate break-in dealt the final blow, Lyndon B. Johnson had set in motion the presidential deligitimization process while he was in the Oval Office.
As Hunt writes, “Watergate set off a blood feud between Democrats and Republicans that may continue for generations,” adding, “Americans now suffer from political fatigue, lacking faith in the leadership of both parties.”
“And we never seem to learn,” writes Hunt.
As the American philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The hubris of Richard Nixon found renewed life in George W. Bush. The sexual appetites and lack of judgment of John F. Kennedy found renewed life in Bill Clinton. No one has quite matched the flat-out stupidity of Jimmy Carter, whose failure to support an Iranian ally in 1979 set in motion the Islamic Revolution that threatens the Middle East and the world today, but few recall that it was the revulsion against the excesses of Watergate that had propelled a little-known former Governor of Georgia into the Oval Office.
If our leaders cannot learn these lessons, where are we headed?
American Government & the U.S. Presidency:
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The American Political System:
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How America Goes to War:
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
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U.S. Intelligence & America's National Security
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Counterterrorism & U.S. National Security
U.S. National Security Strategy
Alan Caruba is a veteran business and science writer, a Public Relations Counselor, and Founder of the National Anxiety Center, a clearinghouse for information about media-driven scare campaigns. Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs," posted on the Internet website of the National Anxiety Center, which is located at www.anxietycenter.com.
Caruba’s new book, Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy, has been published by Merril Press.
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