Contrast in Failure: Kennedy and Cuba, Trump and Yemen

As details emerged, it became clear that our new Commander-in-Chief had initiated a military failure. Enemy resistance had been severely underestimated. People had died. The President immediately acknowledged the disaster, labeling it what that it was.

There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.

It was a failure. Cuban refugees had been armed and trained by the United States. But Castro and the Cuban military quickly isolated and overwhelmed the small force.

The reference to defeat as an orphan was apt. Behind the scenes, agencies and individuals were speaking off the record, attempting to deflect responsibility away from themselves and their parts of government.

Later military historians put Allen Dulles, head of the CIA, at the center of the disaster. The agency had guaranteed the insurgents that the United States would send military backing to ensure victory.

At the same time, Dulles was assuring the President that no military backing would be needed, that the CIA knew for a fact that a large scale uprising of the Cuban people would be ready as soon as the invasion began.

Kennedy could have allowed reports about Allen Dulles to leak out. He could have let it be known that the military operation had been conceived and endorsed by the Eisenhower administration, members of which privately urged the new President to pick up where they had left off.

But Kennedy quietly demanded that the internal blame game stop. He issued directives that nobody put even a whisper of blame on the previous administration of Dwight Eisenhower.

He publicly targeted one, and only one, individual for all of the blame for the disaster.

I’m the responsible officer of the government … and that is quite obvious.

It is an inescapable part of human nature, I suppose. You always wish for what you once had. John F. Kennedy set a very high bar, even in failure. He admitted a major disaster and acknowledged it right away. He refused to assign blame, even when he could have been entirely truthful in doing just that.

Times are changing.

Details of the recent disaster in Yemen have come to us in official statements later contradicted as facts become known. Unexpected fire came from a heavier than anticipated force of radical fighters. A Navy Seal was killed. Civilian casualties were high. Bystanders died. Nine small children were among the dead.

The first version of the story presented by the administration was that the operation had been planned by President Obama who then left it to President Trump to carry out.

From Presidential Press Secretary Sean Spicer:

The conclusion was at that time to hold for what they called a moonless night which, by calendar, wouldn’t occur until then President-elect Trump was President Trump.

Mr. Spicer mentioned an operational meeting with a specific time and date.

Those at that specific meeting were surprised. And they were unanimous. There had been no such authorization. In fact, there had been no mention of the operation in Yemen.

There had been no authorization for any similar operation before President Trump took office. The statement that President Obama or any of his staff or anyone at any meeting or session had authorized, or even been presented with, any such military plan was simply false.

The new plan, the plan for Yemen, was presented by son-in-law Jared Kushner and advisor Steve Bannon to President Trump over dinner. The President gave the okay for the raid as he enjoyed his meal.

Military sources made clear that the disaster could have been avoided.

U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.

As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.

Reuters News Service

Despite the tragic losses, the administration insisted that the operation had been a success.

An unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential death or attacks on American soil.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer, February 1, 2017

The administration showed video of the raid. An enormous amount of captured computer equipment and data record material was shown.

The identical video was later discovered from a raid years ago. It was not connected with the failed attack at all.

It was fake.

Military analysts have gone public:

Last month’s deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Administration representatives began attacking critics. Anyone who criticized the President for the military action was dishonoring the sacrifice of the Navy Seal who died in the raid.

Anybody who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and a disservice to the life of Chief Owens.

– Sean Spicer

That sort of talk ended when it turned out that one of the unpatriotic critics the Trump administration was attacking was the father of that Navy Seal.

Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?

Bill Owens, father of Ryan Owens

Finally the President has spoken publicly about the debacle. In spite of the facts that have finally been established, he repeats the earlier assertions, the alternate facts that have been repeatedly shown to be false.

The mission was actually begun by the Obama White House. President Trump simply allowed the Obama raid to go on as planned. The raid was a great success. It was a treasure trove of actionable intelligence.

More than half a century after the loss of President Kennedy, the contrast is especially stark.

President Kennedy explained who was responsible.

I’m the responsible officer of the government.

President Trump explained who was responsible.

Well this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, uh, you know, just, they wanted to do. Ahhh, they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the Generals.

President Kennedy was unyielding, determined that nobody else share in the blame. He insisted that the path of responsibility was clear.

…and that is quite obvious.

President Trump was gracious toward those whom he identified for blame.

The generals, who were very respected. My generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe.

None-the-less, facts were facts. As Mr. Trump instructed us:

And they lost Ryan.

They lost Ryan.

He did explain his role in the tragedy.

And I was at the airport when the casket came in, the body came in, and it was a very sad with the family and it’s a great family: incredible wife and children. I met most of the family.

He is a compassionate President. He can understand resentment, misguided as that resentment is.

And, I can understand people saying that, I’d feel, you know, I’d feel, what’s worse? There’s nothing worse, there’s nothing worse.

But again, this was something they were looking at for a long time doing.

President Kennedy described the anxious temptation of some officials to divert blame, but he insisted that he alone was responsible for his decision to move forward.

Victory has a hundred fathers. Defeat is an orphan.

President Trump explained that what looked like disaster was actually victory.

According to General Mattis, it was a very successful mission.

We should not believe military officials who say otherwise.

They got tremendous amounts of information.

President Kennedy later observed, in ironic sorrow, that his popularity had gone up after the terrible defeat on the sandy shores of Cuba.

It could be that the public saw what we still see:
the public courage that we continue to associate with him today:

  • His frank acknowledgement of military disaster
  • His refusal to place public blame on those who had privately misled him
  • His firm instruction that nobody in his administration place any blame on the previous President
  • His insistence that all public responsibility for the disaster stay solely with him

For many of us who lived during those times, losing President Kennedy was a hard and bitter experience.

Well this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, uh, you know, just, they wanted to do. Ahhh, they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the Generals.

It is an experience we are forced to revisit by this season’s inescapable contrast.

And they lost Ryan.

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10 thoughts on “Contrast in Failure: Kennedy and Cuba, Trump and Yemen”

  1. Kudos to you on a very good article, Mr. Deming.

    I concur with all of your assertions and findings.

    I do note, with some sense of irony, how John Fitzgerald Kennedy as a comparatively economic and foreign policy conservative would never garner the support, let alone the nomination of this party for president in present day America. Such is the “progress” of the Democrat Party since his untimely death.

    1. Thank you, T. Paine. Valued praise from an excellent conservative advocate.

      I almost hesitate at asking the obvious:

      In what respect do you believe President Kennedy would differ from today’s mainstream Democrats.

      Would he oppose affordable healthcare?
      Voting rights?
      Nuclear arms control?

      I’ll go hide now, in trembling anticipation of an acerbic response that will make me wish I hadn’t asked.

  2. It’s inspiring how Dear Leader takes full responsibility and never passes the buck, amirite?

    Let JFK speak for himself:

    “If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal”, then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

    Now TP can translate this for us, because I’m pretty sure he understands more about what liberals think than we do. 😉

  3. TP suggests, “John Fitzgerald Kennedy as a comparatively economic and foreign policy conservative would never garner the support”.

    I seem to remember a recent Democratic nominee who voted for Bush’s war in Iraq and supported the TPP.

    But what do I know?

  4. I thought I had provided some insight as to why I thought that he was different from today’s typical Democrats when I stated that he was a “comparatively economic and foreign policy conservative.” Perhaps I needed more specificity.

    JFK was not a reflexive Keynesian always seeing the need to prime the government pump with increased spending. He understood that targeted and appropriate tax cuts would cause “a rising tide that lifts all boats”. Today he would be demonized for his “tax cuts for the rich” by our brothers and sisters on the Left.

    Further, he (perhaps more than any other president) understood the dangers of communist expansion. He was not a foreign policy appeaser and dove accordingly. This too would garner the scorn from many good folks in the Democrat party.

    Also, he understood the importance of service and work rather than supporting the low expectations of dubiously necessary entitlements. “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

    That seems to be in direct contrast with the entitlement mentality that often permeates most of the mainstream Democrat thinking today.

    Those are just a few examples. I wait with breathless anticipation for you to respond and tell me why I am unequivocally wrong, my friend.

    1. Thank you, T. Paine.

      Actually, even Maynard Keynes was not a reflexive Keynesian. He, like Kennedy, like today’s Democratic policy-makers, operated on the basis of available economic evidence. Kennedy is, in fact, considered by many economists to be the first Keynesian President.

      As to Keynesian economics itself, I do not think it means what you think it means. It has to do with money supply as economic stimulus, whether from tax cuts or spending. Deficits are a good thing during a recession. Surpluses are a good thing during rapid economic expansion. Kennedy bought into that on the basis of evidence.

      Evidence since then indicates that the Republican version of another Keynesian idea, supply-side economics, does not work as well. More than Kennedy and Keynes, the GOP strain of Keynes seeks to target the top 1% for the largest cuts on the theory that those are job producers.

      History now shows that targeting low and middle income people for tax cuts produces greater economic stimulus. That is why those groups now pay a lower tax rate than they did when President Obama inherited the Bush recession. In fact many Republicans want to target lower income groups with higher taxes.

      As to the use of the military, I don’t think President Kennedy would have objected to the Obama formulation. President Obama campaigned explicitly on opposition only to dumb wars, not to all wars. His foreign policy was consistent with that.

      Kennedy’s economic proposals included Medicare, opposed by Republican conservatives. His plans included more help to the struggling underclass. As he mentioned to one economist: “First we’ll have your tax cut, then we’ll have my expenditures program.” I suspect he would have wanted to expand on Obamacare.

      He famously offered this moral proposal for public policy: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

      Conservatives have forever embraced liberals after they are gone. Conservatives angrily opposed liberals Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy, for example. Some consider their later embrace as a sign of social progress because it signals conservative acceptance of earlier liberal principles.

      I think of it as somewhat ghoulish. Conservatives cast upon these liberal heroes their own historical inaccuracies, then embrace them on that basis. They do this only after they, and the threats they pose to conservative orthodoxy, are gone.

      US News and World Report has an interesting analysis of how that process helps conservatives hold the memory of President Kennedy. You may also be interested in the Kennedy Center’s take on President Obama and the Kennedy legacy.

      I hope that helps, T. Paine.

  5. “I seem to remember a recent Democratic nominee who voted for Bush’s war in Iraq and supported the TPP.” ~ Mr. Dubya

    This is true sir. However, HRC also was evidently for that war before she was against it. Come to think of it, she was that way with TPP too. She thought it was the gold standard until polling showed that not to be favorable for her gaining support. She changed core positions so much, from her one-time support for traditional marriage, NAFTA, Keystone pipeline, and following immigration law to the exact opposites of each, that I really don’t think Hillary should be used as the standard for any of my Democrat friends.

    There is a reason she lost, even to so horrible of a candidate as Donald J. Trump. Hillary’s only core value is the acquisition of personal power. Whatever facilitates that, she is an advocate thereof accordingly. Hillary was certainly no JFK!

  6. TP,
    There is a reason she lost, even to so horrible of a candidate as Donald J. Trump. Hillary’s only core value is the acquisition of personal power.

    Actually no. But it’s OK for Trump to value acquisition of personal power, of course.

    The precise reason she lost was electoral votes. Millions more Americans preferred her to be president. And the precipitating reasons behind her loss are numerous. Yes, Russia and Wikileaks bombarded the corporate media with one-sided illegally hacked emails. Yes, the decades long personal smears from the Right took a serious toll. e.g. Her “only core value”. No woman in history has endured so many years of politically motivated demonization. “Pizzagate” was just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, her evasiveness and email non-scandal also hurt her chances too. Yes, Comey’s last minute interference by insinuation certainly swayed many voters.

    But you may choose to believe it was the same quality that Trump shows every day. IOKIYAR after all.

  7. Dave, did you miss the part where I said, “There is a reason she lost, even to so horrible of a candidate as Donald J. Trump.” I am NOT a defender of the Republican party or Donald Trump. Please stop assuming that I am their advocate in the same way that you are of every far Left policy and candidate that comes along.

    I have excoriated Trump repeatedly on his myriads (more than two) of shortcomings and wrong doings. I will continue to call him and ever politician out when I think they are wrong and not following the constitution, as per their sworn oath. Now if only you would do the same, sir!

  8. TP,
    I will continue to call him and ever politician out when I think they are wrong

    We share this quality, even though the threshold for what constitutes a lie may vary from each perspective. And yours seems to out of step with a liberal and conservative perspective.

    Apparently you disagree with me AND the conservative National Review:

    Why Would Jeff Sessions Lie in Answer to a Question He Wasn’t Asked?

    RICH LOWRY March 2, 2017

    FRANKEN: Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

    SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have – did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.

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