Analysis & Opinions - The New Republic

A Lesson for Biden: How JFK Went Up in the Polls After the Bay of Pigs

| Aug. 24, 2021

The 1961 Cuba invasion was an epic presidential botch—and yet, Kennedy's standing improved afterward. Take note, Mr. President.

The early media assessments of Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal were as consistent as they were overheated: It was a “catastrophe,” a “disaster,” a “fiasco,” a “debacle,” a “calamity.” Not for six long decades has an overseas action by an American president generated a similar across-the-board reaction; in that case, it was the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961, authorized by John F. Kennedy soon after he took office. Carried out by U.S.-trained Cuban émigrés and aimed at overthrowing Fidel Castro’s two-year-old government, the operation bogged down immediately and never recovered. “The Perfect Failure,” Trumbull Higgins titled his book-length examination of the invasion, and he was not far off.  

“How could I have been so far off base?” Kennedy asked himself as the outcome of the operation became humiliatingly clear. “All my life I’ve known better than to depend on the experts. How could I have been so stupid, to let them go ahead?” Kennedy determined to improve from the experience, and to do things in a different way. In core respects—though not all—he did. His public standing actually improved in the aftermath of the invasion, in no small part because he took responsibility and admitted error. There are lessons here for Biden, should he choose to take them.

The Cuba plan originated under Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Since seizing power in 1959, Castro had moved steadily to break the U.S. grip on Cuban trade and, after some hesitation, signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to devise plans to overthrow the Castro government, and the agency also plotted an assassination of the Cuban leader. Castro in turn drew closer to Moscow....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Logevall, Fredrik.“A Lesson for Biden: How JFK Went Up in the Polls After the Bay of Pigs.” The New Republic, August 24, 2021.

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