A reader writes:
“From what I remember of the James Douglass book, JFK and the Unspeakable, JFK was a champion of F. That was a threat to institutions like the CIA. The CIA took his convictions so seriously they had to assassinate him. But…
according Tim Weiner in “Legacy of Ashes”, JFK had a vendetta against Fidel Castro, mostly for the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. JFK became obsessed with assassinating Castro.
This doesn’t sound like a peace lover to me. How do you reconcile the two takes on JFK?”
Fidel Castro, tormenter of empire
My short answer is “No,” with the qualification that JFK’s attitude towards Castro evolved over the course of his presidency.
When Kennedy approved the CIA plan to invade at the Bay of Pigs in early 1961, he clearly wanted to get rid of the Cuban leader at a low cost. But when the invading force was under fire and the CIA requested U.S. air support, JFK refused. He didn’t think getting rid of Castro was worth the cost of committing the United States to a shooting war.
When the CIA-trained rebels were defeated. JFK did not feel humiliated by Castro. He felt let down by the CIA, which had given him a flawed plan, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which had assured him it would succeed without air support.
Attorney General Bobby Kennedy took the Bay of Pigs defeat more personally. He did feel humiliated and became more deeply involved in Cuba policy and covert operations, including assassination. In May 1962 RFK was briefed by CIA officials who had recruited mobsters Sam Giancana and Johnny Rosselli (both under investigation by the Justice Department) to kill Castro, Kennedy made clear he did not approve of the choice of assassins but he did not object to the idea of assassination. If anybody had a vendetta against Castro, it was RFK.
William Attwood, go-between
Tim Weiner’s book is terrific but on this point I disagree with him. After the missile crisis of October 1962, Kennedy was moderating his Cold War politics and articulating a “strategy for peace” in his justly famous American University commencement address. He indicated he was open to restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba (as President Obama has now done). When the State Department recommended demanding that Castro had to break ties with the Soviet Union before the United States would talk to him, JFK said he did not want to set a condition that Castro would have to reject. That’s not the action of a man who has a vendetta.
At the same time, in June 1963, CIA began to pursue another assassination plot
against Castro. I think that Bobby Kennedy probably knew about this plot. Lisa Pease, David Talbot and other JFK authors disagree arguing that the Kennedys did not know about this plot. With limited evidence it is difficult for me to reach a definitive conclusion.
What is certain is that In September 1963, JFK and RFK authorized William Attwood, a U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, to contact Cuban officials and feel them out about the possibility of rapprochement.
In October 1963, JFK met with French editor Jean Daniel
in the White House and made an extraordinarily candid admission that the United States had abused Cuba over the years. JFK spoke knowing full well that Daniel was headed to Cuba to meet with Castro. That was not the action of a president pursuing a vendetta either.
Indeed, Daniel was talking to Castro when the word came from Dallas.