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Understanding the Bay of Pigs Invasion: A Detailed Essay Sample

The Bay of Pigs Invasion, which happened in 1961, is one of the critical moment is the Cold War history. The US attack on Cuba under Castro’s regime was a failure, which became synonymous with the Central Intelligence Agency’s incompetence in the popular discourse. While initial reports were positive about the operation outlook, the Cuban Expeditionary Force innovation lasted two days and was marred by challenges from the outset. The CIA failings, political restriction applied by the Kennedy administration, and appropriate performance of the Cuban Invasion Brigade contributed to such situation. The failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion was one of the most infamous defeats and diplomatic catastrophes that completely excluded the possibility of an adequate solution of the conflict with Cuba. On the contrary, it empowered the Soviet Union to increase impact on the Western Hemisphere and served as a contributing factor to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the next year. Therefore, the US invasion of the Bay of Pigs was a great failure in the American history due to the structural and organizational mistakes made by President Kennedy, CIA and the Cabinet.

Events Course: The Prelude to the Invasion

In 1959, Cuban Revolution led by Castro managed to overthrow the US-supported president Batista and set the socialist state in Cuba. In 1961, the world lived in the conditions of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was trying to increase its impact in Africa. At the same time, Communists put efforts to set a stronghold in Southeast Asia and in the Western Hemisphere. At the same time, Cuban Revolution of Castro was actively moving to the left. Most of Americans felt the Communist state formation in the Caribbean that posed a security threat to the US (Falcon, 1981). The US alternatives in Cuba became limited as anti-Americanism was developing at the center of the social revolution led by Castro. This was an indication that Cuba revolution, particularly the Castro government, was aimed at establishing Communism in the voting structure and foreign relations. Moreover, it appeared that Cuba was considering the US as the main enemy. Castro was an astute and charismatic politician who had a great popularity among working-class Latin Americans (Falcon, 1981). He was able to persuade numerous followers that any connections between Communism and the revolution were only a US propaganda that used to relate all Latin reformers with Communists.

Despite what looked like open conformation and provocation attempts, the administration of Eisenhower decided to set the course of moderation in public. In 1960, Eisenhower issued a statement outlining the policy that he had no intention to follow (Falcon, 1981). The main points involved the US reiteration of own commitment to the treaty obligations of non-intervention. Although the Cuban territory was used as the starting point to set illegal actions in other states, the US would not allow the use of its territory as a place for any actions against Cuba (Falcon, 1981). Additionally, the document expressed concern at the unsubstantiated accusation of the Cuban authorities directed at the US and admitted the sovereign right of Cuba under international law and declaration that the US had the right to protect their citizens’ rights in Cuba. In private settings, Eisenhower and his advisors discussed different alternatives to dispose of Castro. Such guise under which the public policy was undertaken continued for a few weeks. The President wanted to finish his rule in peaceful conditions. Nonetheless, such desire was impossible due to upcoming events. The election year in the US led to the increased attention of the electorate to Cuba and the Communist expansion.

Greater integration of the Soviet Union in Cuba provoked hostilities. Any pretense of peaceful relations between the US and Castro was impossible. The covert development and further implementation of the operation to defeat Castro began at that moment. By that time, the President had issued an order to resolve the challenge with Cuba to the CIA (Falcon, 1981). Specifically, fearing the increasing presence of the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism in 1960, Eisenhower received the assistance of the CIA to start a covert anti-Castro operation (Jones, 2008). The President authorized the CIA director Dulles to apply the program to develop, train and equip the guerrilla force to overthrow the Castro government. Such program had several parts such as “”creation of a ‘responsible and unified’ Cuban government in exile;” (2) “a powerful propaganda offensive;” (3) “a covert intelligence and action organization in Cuba that would be responsive to the government in exile;” and (4) “a paramilitary force outside of Cuba for future guerilla action”” (Falcon, 1981). The decision to use the CIA as the main agency in managing potential foreign policy initiatives was in keeping the propensity of the administration toward lower costs and covert diplomatic attempts. Eisenhower’s approach against the overt military force use as a solution to reach political aims had an impetus for the military plan. To manage suitable probability for the planned success, the institutional momentum was developed by the CIA operating in vacuum that would require closer scrutiny and state outlined by the decision-maker (Falcon, 1981). The decision of the President was not political but governed by his desire to provide a workable solution to the Cuba dilemma without committing the US troops or enabling the adversary influence the world opinion.

By the summer of the same year, the increasing dissatisfaction emerged in relation to the original plans that were focused on small guerrilla groups that involved two or three men infiltrating Cuba, and by the fall, a radical change happened in the concept, moving the focus to the paramilitary operations. The President approved continuation of the plan’s development but decided to let his successor make the final decision on the operation. The next President, Kennedy, had to manage the anti-Castro project of the CIA (Jones, 2008). After the inauguration, the CIA presented development to the President and other high ranking civilian officials in 1961, when Kennedy stated his approval for the further development of the project (Jones, 2008). Later, due to political consideration, the original Trinidad Plan was changed, and several alternatives were provided to the CIA. From March 13 to March 15 1962 the CIA shaped three preliminary concepts involving the Zapata Plan, which was approved (Jones, 2008). The operation started on April 15 1961 with three air strikes against Cuban airfields. Nonetheless, diversionary forces did not manage to land in Cuba. Kennedy ordered to cancel the additional D-Day air strike against Cuban military airfield and other targets without warning. After the landing started, the Houston and Rio Escondido freighters were lost to the Castro air force, which led to the destruction of a great amount of supplies (Jones, 2008). After the challenges due to the loss of freighters and failure to isolate the beachhead, the operation collapsed and raised questions about the defeat of the US invasion.

Preparatory Phase Problems: Where It All Began to Falter

The common assessment of the Pfeiffer’s investigation and the Cuban Study Group was that the US government executive branch was not prepared from the organizational perspective to provide the paramilitary operation of such level. The bodies responsible for the military and paramilitary aspects of the plan were restricted by the political considerations of the Cabinet. Hence, without a specific framework to follow, frequently fluctuating circumstances had a significant negative influence on the preparatory process (Pfeiffer, 1984). The plans of Kennedy were grounded not on the assessment of the chance of success but on political considerations. The President and the staff should have developed a clear policy or canceled the whole operation. The project had a poor organization, and there were no people except for Kennedy who had the authority to coordinate the participating agencies (Pfeiffer, 1984). The shift to the Zapata Plan was a significant pitfall from the outcomes perspective. Due to the Cabinet refusal, a new plan had to be developed that diverted efforts from the improvement of the already set strategy. As a result, the new plan was less refined as it was developed hastily and thus was less likely to succeed in comparison to the original plan (Cuban Study Group, 1961b). It was chosen as the best option from three alternatives. Due to the lack of time, some critical information pieces were not considered in relation to the Zapata area (Pfeiffer, 1984). The Castro regime controlled the region. Hence, the Communist government promoted its fast development. In the end, the local population was in favor of Fidel Castro, which made guerrilla activities and uprisings on that territory highly challenging.

As the Trinidad Plan dismissal and the Zapata Plan selection was the preference of the Kennedy administration, the CIA culpability lies in other areas. The CIA was criticized for not expressing their opinion with a greater force of clarity. It should have dedicated more efforts to persuading the administration to approve the original plan (Hawkins, 1961). Nonetheless, some challenges with the CIA communication were reported in the preparatory phases of the operation as agency had too many privileges. The position that Kennedy and the Cabinet had insufficient knowledge about the operation is wrong. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and CIA that bore responsibility for the mission took active part in all operation stages. Hence, the President administration had enough information about the operation details (Cuban Study Group, 1961b). Hence, the CIA communication was not impeccable; however, it must be indicated that such challenges were mostly inconsequential in relation to the eventual failure of the operation.

The recurring theme during the operation was the substandard performance of Cuban bridge troops that raised doubts about their selection and training. The initial recruitment process was organized by the Cuban exile organizations under the CIA control, and there were different challenges with the procedure. The recruitment was organized in the quasi-covert way that was recognized by the Castro regime (Hawkins, 1961). Moreover, the exile leaders were misused and served as puppets during the operation (Hawkins, 1961). Moreover, they had language difficulties due to the lack of Spanish-speaking people in the CIA. Initial reports from the training centers were positive, implying the mistake in the fighters’ assessment, as their performance was substandard in case of adversity (Cuban Study Group, 1961b). The non-attribution governmental policy was a clear directive that could not be negotiated despite its present denial. The training in Nicaragua and Guatemala was well-known in Latin America, and the Cuban government was aware of the situation. Initial reports informed that the odds were against a surprise attack. Such information was true because Castro and his forces were aware of the day of attack. However, they did not know location. As the US involvement became clear, the Cabinet should have considered the options of the military plan (Pfeiffer, 1984). While risking the repercussions in the UN and the intervention of the Soviet Union, the ability to use the US Armed Forces have provided better opportunities for the operational success and removal of Castro regime.

Kennedy was not ready to perform such a huge task at the beginning of his presidency. He had to manage the project gained from Eisenhower administration, and it was not his concept. Hence, he was not able to resolve the situation perfectly in the political environment at that time. After the inauguration, the President was pressured by the CIA and Nicaragua and Guatemala government to reach the decision about the Cuban Brigade and consider political ramification, which forced him to carry out projects that he had no desire to pursue (Cuban Study Group, 1961b). Moreover, Kennedy was wrong in not voicing his opinion explicitly. With the change of the administration, the operation was in flux and the situation demanded project cancelation or the clearest statement of the policy. However, none of these options was considered. As a consequence, the lack of understanding of the situation by Kennedy and his reluctance to follow the already restricted plan provoked the order to cancel air strikes.

The Cabinet’s approach can be explained by the “groupthink” psychological concept. Coined by Janis, this notion means the group dynamic phenomenon in which mental effectiveness and reality testing are inhibited due to the pressure to gain unanimity. It is prevalent among high-prestige members and policy groups and can have excessive levels in case the group members value the group and its balanced functioning more than other consideration. There are several points suggesting that such tendency occurred in the Cabinet during the operation (Rasenberger, 2011). The meeting was organized in the environment of assumed consensus, and no person opposed it. The repeated suggestions of the CIA and Joint Chiefs of State were not considered, including their insistence that none of three alternatives to the Trinidad Plan would succeed as the original. Moreover, the US government also failed to realize the consequences of the cancellation of air strikes, refusing to consider the arguments of the personnel responsible for the operation despite different warnings about the Cuban air force capabilities. The Secretary of Defense ignored, misplaced or lost two Joint Chiefs of Staff documents that contained critical information related to the operation, which could have contributed to the lack of knowledge and misconceptions of the President (Rasenberger, 2011). Kennedy admitted that he was not aware of the opposition to the operation from within the Cabinet, which means that the administration did not have a full understanding and knowledge of all potential failures of the mission (Cuban Study Group, 1961b). Hence, according to the information showing the Cabinet dynamics, it is possible to state that the understanding and awareness of the operation was hindered by the groupthink phenomenon, which enabled Kennedy and his administration to reach decisions without external critique.

Invasion Problems: Key Hurdles and Failures

The operation involves many issues. The most critical decision related to the operation was the cancellation of air strikes. It was stated in the initial report of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the mission had a chance to succeed. Therefore, it is difficult to realize the rationale behind the Cabinet decision. Castro commented that the US had a great plan and could have succeeded if the invaders had a good air cover. While the CIA task force did not give the permission to reconsider decision to forgo the attack to Kennedy directly, the critical importance of the air strikes was communicated to the Secretary of State Rusk. The airborne assault issue was discussed previously with the Cabinet in different documents and occasions.

Hence, due to the attack failure, the invasion could not produce the surprise effect on the enemy as the attack date became known. Due to alarming Castro forces, the troops had to unload on the Blue Beach because they were unable to reach the original destination (Cuban Study Group, 1961a). Additionally, there were challenges with radio equipment because it was wet during the landing, and communication had to be performed through messengers that slowed the information flow between the battalions and the Brigade Commander. The last attempt to salvage the situation related to the airspace control began on the night after the D-Day with the bombing of San A notion de Los Banos airfield (Cuban Study Group, 1961a). However, the operation failed due to unfavorable weather conditions.

The second great failure was the loss of the Houston and Rio Escondido fighters. They lost a great number of supplies. Moreover, the Fifth Battalion rejected to join the fight after the refusal of Houston (Cuban Study Group, 1961b). Although such loses adversely affected the invader’s efforts, it was found that the claims of the Cuban Study Group about the ammunition shortage were not legitimate. Specifically, Cuban publications sowed pictures of captured ammunition and arms. Hence, the Cuban Expeditionary Force substandard conduct was the overarching aspect (Cuban Study Group, 1961b). Due to the non-attribution policy, the US personnel were prohibited from coming to the combat area. Although the US involvement was not likely to happen, the mission would have greater chances of success in case of a higher level of performance of more disciplined and well-trained American troops.

Aftermath of the Invasion: A Mixture of Predictability and Surprise

The Bay of Pigs consequences were partly predictable, but still surprising. Apart from increasing support for Castro around Latin America and Cuba, the Bay of Pigs led to the round-up of numerous suspects by the Cuban authorities, execution and trial of around twenty participants, involving four American citizens, and an offense committed under Batista. The captured Brigade members were released to the US in return for privately funded 53 million dollars’ worth of food and medicine (Murgado, 2009). Paradoxically, Kennedy emerged with some credit, publicly taking the responsibility for the failed operation started by the predecessor but altered by him. The CIA was blamed for poor planning, faulty intelligence, and over-optimism. In private settings, CIA blamed Kennedy for cancelling the air strikes and abandoning the Brigade 2506 (Dunne, 2011). In the future, the President placed own trust in counterinsurgency special forces to wage the war against the Third World nationalism and international communism, and these two sides were represented as synonymous. In response to the situation, Kennedy intensified the assassination attempts against Castro in the Operation Mongoose, while broadcasting the option of outright US support for the future innovation and provisional recognition of the anti-Castro government, which was the political aim of Zapata. By the end of the year, Castro adapted Marxism-Leninism and set the official Cuban Communist Party that applied to the conditions in Cuba (CIA, 2016). They came close to accepting the Soviet Union offer of nuclear missiles to manage US attacks. The scent was set for the global confrontation instead of hemispheric proportions. The event was named the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Kennedy advisers argued that the debacle had been caused by slowing the President’s desire for greater involvement in what became known as the Vietnam War. Assisting to reach a more detached approach to policy proposals and evaluate predictions and claims of rival bureaucracies, Kennedy reconstituted the Board of Consultation on Foreign Intelligence Activities, which was renamed the Foreign Advisory Board. Such nod to the processor can inhibit “group thinks” (Dunne, 2011). The striking aspect of Zapata planning was the reluctance of senior officials. The only leading person who challenged the implementation of this plan was Senator Fulbright. Persuading Kennedy not to push Cuba even further in partnership with the Soviet Union, he stated that the regime of Castro was the thorn in the flash but not the dagger in the heart. To draw a more formal lesson from the event, Kennedy instituted two main inquiries. One of them was led by the Army Chief of Staff General Taylor, while the other one was led by Kirkpatrick of the Agency. Both inquiries proved bureaucratic aspects and blamed each other (Dunne, 2011). The military criticized civilians for political factors’ prioritization such as the start of the invasion, which was too big for secrecy and too small for success, the US electoral influence on disaffected Cuban exiles, and plausible deniability. Civilians outside the CIA mentioned the difficulty of halting the plan approved by the previous president with great military credentials. Gathering both actions was the fear of being perceived as soft on communism. The fear resulted in what can be called Kennedy’s own “corollary” to the Monro Doctrine in order to match Roosevelt Doctrine of 1905 (Dunne, 2011). Communism would not be permitted in the Western hemisphere.

Among the many legacies that shaped the presidency of Kennedy was the realization that conventional military abilities had a critical role to play in the world during the Cold War. In contrast to his predecessors, Kennedy realized that the demands to the Soviet Union and Communism could be performed without resorting to a nuclear war (Dunne, 2011). The failure of the strategy led to the subsequent introduction of the US combat forces into Southeast Asia. The definitive achievement of Kennedy’s doctrine was in preventing the nuclear war when the events led to the inevitability of such confrontation.

An Overview of the Operation’s Mistakes and Restrictions

Overall, the Bay of Pigs invasion had both operational mistakes and political restrictions. The cancelation of air strikes eliminated one of the most critical plan elements. The efficient control of beachhead would have provided troops with the possibility to establish the provisional government and provoke an uprising or weaken the regime of Castro on the island. The original Trinidad plan promised more chances of success. Nonetheless, Zapata also could have contributed the fall of the Cuban Communist regime. The operation represented the lack of a clear policy statement from the Cabinet after the Eisenhower administration, and no one had any authority to coordinate different participating agencies. The CIA had done several mistakes during the preparatory phase. They were mostly connected with selecting, recruiting, and training of the Cuban brigade. While it is still unclear how the assault forces would have acted if the plan was completely enacted, the Cuban Expeditionary Force discipline was poor. The President and the Cabinet faced an urgent situation, which the inexperienced administration failed to manage thus allowed their decisions to be impacted by the groupthink tendency. The plan could have become successful, but the cancelation of the air strikes ordered by the President provoked a chain of events that led to the immediate beachhead collapse. Despite the popular invasion interpretation, the CIA provoked criticism of the debacle. Thus, the political decision and hesitancy of the Cabinet were responsible for the failure as well. The CIA’s most critical shortcoming was in the training and selection process. However, apart from the failure to provide a detailed description of the consequences of the possible defeat, their other mistakes were quite minor or they cannot be appropriately evaluated due to the partial execution of the Zapata Plan. Therefore, to the cancellation of the air strikes can be identified as the critical mistake that led to the failure of the whole plan. The most crucial error was that the Kennedy administration was not committed to the operation to the full extent and only approved half measure, while a different approach would have enabled overthrowing Castro in 1961, placing the US-Cuba relation on a different trajectory in the further decades.

Research Notes: Analyzing the Consequences and Lessons Learned from the Invasion

The US invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 is one of the main catastrophes in the US foreign policy for numerous reasons. For Kennedy it was a crisis on the early stage of his presidency, which had critical and far-reaching consequences for his further rule. The primarily CIA-directed operation exiled Cuban forces acting under the US command to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro, which had adverse outcomes due to the lack of adequate preparation and poor planning (Rasenberger, 2011). The invention idea occurred during the Eisenhower administration time in 1959. It was forwarded to the CIA and the National Security Council. Eisenhower secretly endorsed the Castro elimination and approved the covert action program against the Castro regime in 1960 under the name Operation Pluto (Jones, 2008). After the inauguration of Kennedy in 1961, the invasion plans were strictly entrenched in the government, mostly pushed by the CIS and the plan inherited from the previous president, which was eventually renamed Operation Zapata (Pfeiffer, 1984). Overall, the US invasion in Cuba and its failure proves that it was to a great extent a result of insufficient readiness of Kennedy and his administration to manage such a global challenge.

This research plays a critical role because the recognition of the importance of considering previous historical experience and application of analogical reasoning can facilitate the effective policy-making process nowadays. When political actors experience a foreign policy crisis, they apply past experience and refer to history to outline their own decisions. The research related to the invasion at the Bay of Pigs plays a great role in analyzing the possible pitfalls that can be faced by political actors. This event is significant because it might have led to the Cuban missile crisis. There were numerous attempts to explain the decisions made by Kennedy, while there is a need to place responsibility not only to the President but on all sides engaged in the process. Such research will contribute to the existing literature and studies by providing an analysis of the failures performed by all parties who conducted the operation.

The paper aims to analyze the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion through the analysis of historical and academic sources. It analyzes the types of errors during the preparation and enacting of the operation. Moreover, there is a need to analyze the role of all parties involved in the operation, such as the President, the Cabinet, and the CIA. Additionally, the paper provides an in-depth research on the reasons of failure and examines the consequences of the events. The research has a clear structure, starting with the description of the course of events. It begins with the explanation of the conflict between the US and Cuba and the role of the Soviet Union and Communism in it. After that, the research is devoted to the failures and mistakes which occurred during the preparation and innovation phase itself. Then, the paper provides description of the aftermath of the US failure to invade Cuba. These parts assist in representing a clear and coherent information flow to explain the reasons behind the failure of the US government to manage the regime of Castro. To support the argument with effective and strong evidence, academic and primary sources are applied. In particular, documents and reports conducted by the CIA are included in the paper. Additionally, the document provided by the Cuban Study Group assists in providing strong evidence and supporting the main idea of the research.

📎 References:

1. Cuban Study Group. (1961a). Memorandum No. 1 from the Cuban Study Group to president Kennedy – Narrative of the anti-Castro Cuban operation Zapata. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State.
2. Cuban Study Group. (1961b). Memorandum No. 2 from the Cuban Study Group to President Kennedy – Immediate causes of failure of the operation Zapata. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, 13 June 1961.
3. Dunne, M. (2011). Perfect failure: The USA, Cuba and the Bay of Pigs, 1961. The Political Quarterly, 82(3), 448–458.
4. Falcon, M. E. (1981). Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile crisis: Presidential decision-making and its effect on military employment during the Kennedy administration. Kansas: US Naval Academy.
5. Hawkins, J. (1961). Record of paramilitary action against the Castro government of Cuba 17 March 1960 – May 1961. Washington, D.C.: National Security Archive.
6. Jones, H. (2008). The Bay of Pigs. New York: Oxford University Press.
7. Pfeiffer, J. B. (1984). The Taylor Committee investigation of the Bay of Pigs. Langley: Central Intelligence Agency Library.
8. Murgado, A. (2009). The Bay of Pigs Invasion: A case study in foreign policy decision-making. Retrieved from Stars Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
9. Rasenberger, J. (2011). The brilliant disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s doomed invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. New York: Scribner.

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