Subject LESSONS FROM THE BAY OF PIGS Written 605 am Apr 15, 1991 by slandau in cdpreg.cuba

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Subject: LESSONS FROM THE BAY OF PIGS ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Written: 6:05 am Apr 15, 1991 by slandau in cdp:reg.cuba LESSONS FROM THE BAY OF PIGS By Saul Landau On April 17, the thirtieth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, there will be victory celebrations in Havana. For Cuba, the three day war consolidated Castro's power. In Washington, the redolence of resentment still reeks in the offices where policy is made. U.S. officials tend to behave toward Cuba like the legendary Bourbon kings of France, capable neither of learning nor forget- ting. Instead of pondering the consequences of the Bay of Pigs failure, the policy elite devises new ways "to tighten the screw on Cuba." Indeed, sour grapes seems fertilize the imagination of old CIA covert operators. For them April remains "the cruelest month." In the ides of April 1961 an apprehensive John F. Kennedy authorized the CIA to dispatch 1,500 anti-Castro Cuban exiles, trained and paid by the Agency, to invade Cuba to topple the revolution and reinstate a pro US government. Before agreeing to the adventure, however, Kennedy grew un- easy over the CIA's hubris. The plan, hatched during the preced- ing Eisenhower Administration, called for U.S. fighters to estab- lish air supremacy by destroying Cuban war planes on the ground. The exile landing would then occur at several beaches on the south coast of Cuba, at the Bay of Pigs. One unit would seize the high ground on the road leading north, to Havana; the other would capture command of the eastern route. With that small piece of territory secured, and a popular uprising, organized by CIA agents inside Cuba, taking place throughout the island, the in- vading forces would declare themselves the legitimate government of Cuba. According to this scenario, Kennedy would recognize the CIA's Cubans as the government of free Cuba and immediately offer U.S. military support. Exile units would then mop up, with U.S. help. The CIA assumed that the majority of Cubans loathed the rev- olution and would welcome the "liberating" exile force. Kennedy didn't like the plan. It would create the image of his Adminis- tration as an aggressive bully, only three months after his in- auguration. So he removed U.S. air support and prohibited U.S. troops to land in Cuba, features that the exiles and CIA offi- cials in retrospect felt were decisive. The CIA bombed the Cuban air force. But Castro had hidden most of his planes, so CIA pilots hit ones made of papier mache. Once aloft, Castro's pilots shot down the CIA planes and sank the CIA supply ship. U.S. navy and air force officers watched in hor- rified impotence. In 72 hours, Castro's troops overran the better-equipped and trained invaders. Instead of converting the events of those fateful April days into prudent lessons, the national security elite used them as foundation to build a permanent grudge, from which it concocts U.S.-Cuba policy. In light of U.S. military success in the Per- sian Gulf, some of the Castro resenters feel the time is propitious finally to punish the man who humiliated the United States three decades ago. One former CIA official, who would not allow his name to be used, suggested a preemptive strike against Cuba. In an April 1, Washington Post column Jeane Kirkpatrick picked up on this sentiment. She contends that Castro is close to achieving weapons grade plutonium -- and implies that he would not hesitate to use it to bomb or blackmail the United States. The former UN Ambassador also surmises that since a defect- ing Cuban pilot in March arrived in Florida with his Soviet made MIG, undetected by US radar, that Castro might see such vul- nerable spots in U.S. defenses as an opportunity to bomb a Flor- ida nuclear power plant to create a Chernobyl style disaster. Ms. Kirkpatrick admits that Cuba will not have any nuclear potential for at least two years, but does not explain why Castro would at- tack Florida and thus assure the extermination of his revolution. Lack of research or common sense, however, are often unre- lated to success in making policy. Ten years ago Ms. Kirkpatrick declared that "totalitarian dictatorships" are unchangeable and "Central America is the most important place in the world." Those absurd notions became centerpieces of Reagan strategy. What is missing on the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs is clear assessment: the operation didn't just fail; it injured the social fabric of the country. The CIA recruited thousands of people whom it trained in sophisticated violence. When most of the Cuban exile agents were laid off in the mid 1960s, some con- tinued to practice the dubious skills they had acquired and be- came international drug dealers and terrorists. One is serving time for his part in assassinating former Chilean Chancellor Or- lando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt in Wash- ington, in 1976. Some in the policy circle never quite recovered from the dramatic defeat at the hands of a fledgling communist island. But the episode has not provoked prudent questions from policy makers, about the consequences of military actions. Even with the knowledge of the blood bath that followed the war in Iraq there is no red light in the policy offices flashing: "Beware the com- pulsion to intervene again, -- against Cuba or anywhere else." Saul Landau is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. 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