News & Politics

The Brilliant Disaster

Jim Rasenberger lays out the reasons John F. Kennedy may be to blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

On paper, the plan looked good: Under cover of American antiaircraft fire from planes, a battalion of CIA-trained Cuban exiles would storm Cuba’s shore on an April night in 1961 and foment a popular uprising that would result in the ouster of Communist leader Fidel Castro. In practice, the Bay of Pigs invasion, marred by tactical mishaps and miscalculations, ended up cutting the deepest chinks in the CIA’s reputation since the agency’s founding after World War II.

In The Brilliant Disaster, a vivid and fleet-footed account of the fiasco, Washington native Jim Rasenberger lifts a modicum of blame from Allen Dulles’s CIA and places it on the shoulders of President John F. Kennedy, whose lowballing of Castro’s defenses, paired with a well-intentioned unwillingness to involve US forces, sabotaged the invasion.

Yet even in Kennedy’s failures, Rasenberger catches glimmers of a silver lining: “Perhaps John Kennedy failed to understand the risks of the operation because he did not want to understand them. Canceling the operation would have exposed him to enormous political risks. At the same time, approving the use of military force to bail it out would have exposed him and the country to unacceptable diplomatic risks, and possibly worse.”

This review appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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