Andrew J. Bacevich: Presidents Flying Blind

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War," has just been published.]

Fifty years ago this summer, with Americans riveted by a presidential contest pitting John F. Kennedy against Richard M. Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower contemplated his departure from the White House. As he prepared to retire from public life, Ike sketched out the ideas that would inform his celebrated farewell address, presciently warning against the dangers of a military-industrial complex. Simultaneously, he was plotting ways to overthrow the Cuban government.

Eisenhower did not remain in office long enough to implement the plan that his minions hatched. Instead, he bequeathed it to JFK, who promptly and naively allowed it to proceed. We remember the ensuing debacle by the place where it occurred: the Bay of Pigs.

Although Kennedy took the fall for the bungled, CIA-engineered invasion by Cuban exiles, his predecessor deserves a share of the blame. Without Eisenhower, the Bay of Pigs would never have occurred. How could such a careful and seasoned statesman have concocted such a crackpot scheme? The apparent contradiction — wisdom and folly coexisting in a single figure — forms a recurring theme in presidential politics, one that persists today....

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