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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Anti-Semitism, Fine Tuning, FBI, Trump Taxes, Wealthy Cuts

  • Our President finally, awkwardly, speaks out against anti-Semitism and the surge in anti-Jewish vandalism here in St. Louis and elsewhere. At The Swash Zone, (O)CT(O)PUS considers the grudging, belated acknowledgement and is unimpressed.
  • The case for a strong, everlasting Israel is compelling. We just need to look to a brutal history of ethnic and religious oppression. T. Paine, at Saving Common Sense, could easily make that case, but relies instead on rhetorical slight of hand and anti-Palestinian shortcuts.
    It seems that Palestinians in the area have no legitimate grievances. Those who were displaced by the establishment of modern-day Israel, and their descendants, are not really Palestinians because there exist so many Palestinians who live in other areas. Palestine is a region, not a country, therefore, Palestine should be a region, not a country.
    T. Paine is an important, very busy, individual. When he finds the time, we can look forward to a more coherent case.
  • Jack Jodell at The Saturday Afternoon Post finds President Trump’s boast of an administration running as a fine-tuned machine to be humorous in a macabre sort of way.
  • Jon Perr at PERRspectives explains the connection between the Trump tax return cover up and the strange math advanced by Republicans planning more tax cuts for the fabulously wealthy.
  • Max’s Dad is on another creative rant, this time about Trumpian RussiaGate.
  • Last Of The Millenniums is impressed by the White House attempts, and the FBI’s rejection of those attempts, to interfere with current investigations into Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the Presidential campaign. Covering up is not supposed to be so obvious.
  • Dave Dubya analyzes the escalating attacks against mainstream press by the prickly new national administration and finds a longer term pattern.
  • The Onion, offers a ticktock account of Donald Trump’s relationship with the Press from 47,891 BC to now.
  • We have made it through another Week in Alternative Facts. Jonathan Chait explains how administrative aides are using fake news as a sedative to pull our President back from the more dangerous of his maniacal moods. Visits to the parallel universe soothe his troubled soul.
  • Jonathan Bernstein explains how and why Donald Trump can become a greater danger to democracy as the administration weakens.
  • Vixen Strangely at Strangely Blogged, catalogs the mystery of creepy, shifting, conservative reaction to Milo Yiannopoulos.
  • In The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser, former pastor and current atheist Bruce asks his evangelical readers to count through all the evil sins they and those they know were led into by the newest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
  • Oh my living God NO. PZ Myers, reports on a horrible sort of Super Glue substitute for tampons in a product semi-invented by a maniac.
  • For Vincent at A Wayfarer’s Notes and a correspondent, separate visits to Walmart become spiritually mystical experiences.

The Trump Cheat Sheet – Losing Heads or Tails

Heads I win, tails you lose.

It would be a neat trick in any enterprise. If you only have to count income and not expenses, your balance sheets will look pretty good.

You want to get a loan? You tell the bank about all the income generated. Doesn’t much matter what the level is. The income/expense ratio will be out of this world.

“Income looks okay,” says the smiling bank analyst. “What is the level of expense?”

“No expenses,” you say.

“No expenses?”


If you can do the reverse, your taxes will be easy to pay. Report all your expenses, and tell them there was no income.

“No income?”


So no taxes. Wow.

Just try it.

If the bank is run by insane people, they might believe what you say and give you a loan. The government tax agent might laugh for a second or two before the friendly authorities put on the cuffs. There might be a brief tussle with the bank when they want their money back. But the government will win that one, they always do.

Counting only one side of the spreadsheet? Doesn’t quite work that way in the real world. But they’re about to try just that in the strange Schrödinger world of conservative bookkeeping.

Globalization is an uncontrollable force, in many respects. Your cell phone, your flat screen television, probably your computer would all be impossible without international trade. Even your automobile runs on trade. It may be proudly assembled in America, but important parts are made elsewhere.

Most of that is okay with the Trump administration. Has to be. For all the talk about jobs being exported, they won’t worry about trade with Canada, Europe, Russia, and much of Asia. Why other countries are targeted is open for discussion.

Costing us as much as $60 billion dollars a year with Mexico alone in trade deficits.

President Donald Trump, January 26, 2017

Mr. Trump and his top advisors do have a fixation on Mexico, Mexicans, and those Americans who have any Mexican ancestry. The alt right is a euphemism for something on the dark side of the force.

Countries whose citizens have been responsible for death from terrorism in the United States have many things in common. One important thing is that none, none at all, zero, are on Mr. Trump’s list of immigrants to be banned from entry.

The exactitude with which Trump business interests seem to overlay new definitions of national interest includes, but extends beyond, immigration.

Fact is, a substantial part of trade flowing in and out of the United States is layover and service work. “Value added,” they call it. Kind of like the storage facilities you see along the highway, except with a service department in the back. Trade everywhere has always involved safe harbors, even in ancient times. That’s why stopovers on trade routes were the parts of geography where wealth accumulated.

So, much of the American economy involves trade between other countries, with the United States as middleman. The US provides established pathways, infrastructure for travel and storage, and the technology to add value.

Still, a disproportionate amount of that value-added, in-and-out, sort of trade originates in countries toward which Trump and company have a transparent hostility.

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

Donald Trump, June 16, 2015

It is not simply undocumented workers who are to be hated. Illegal immigration doesn’t happen because of those fleeing violence or those obeying the eternal desire for a better life of economic opportunity. It is because those who remain in those countries have chosen their worst to send, actually send, to us.

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.

June 16, 2015

So the ongoing Trump campaign to eliminate commerce with select countries is justified by the two types of trade: the criminals Mr. Trump informs us are being sent to us by those countries, and the goods and services they are transporting to us in exchange for jobs that rightfully belong here.

But ethnic justification goes only so far. Something has to be done about the economic argument. A lot of trade creates jobs in the United States. The data that measures that is produced by the very government the Trump administration has taken over.

So a new way of calculating trade balance is being considered.

The way it would work is simple. When Mexico produces goods to send to Canada or Europe or pretty much anywhere, and sends it through the United States, the new slight of hand would apply. The imports into the United States would be counted. When they are then exported out of the United States, to their final destination, they would not be counted.

Coming in, they count. Going out, they don’t count.

So the trade deficit with Mexico would suddenly look like it doubled overnight. If it looks scary enough, the administration can tax, inhibit, or prohibit the re-exports, and also other sorts of trade.

It all might actually cost jobs, but jobs don’t seem to be the real aim, except for presentation to the base. The motivation seems to be to hurt countries Trump and his alt right advisors don’t like for ideological and ethnic reasons.

Whatever the reasons for the hostility, changing the calculation is a hidden way of cooking the books. They propose to take a large amount of the import and re-export trade with Mexico and only count one side of the ledger.

If you and I cook the books that way, we’ll get into some serious trouble.

But, the new administration is bringing in new methods of accountability.

It’s heads they win, tails everyone else loses.

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