Tuesday, March 27, 2007

From the Bay of Pigs to the Persian Gulf

Continuing on the theme of the hazards of ignoring history, I just came across a fascinating analysis of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. This was a failed exercise in "exporting democracy" that is now over 45 years old. In some ways the exercise may have been more beneficial, because it failed almost immediately, rather than first putting up an illusion of success. This analysis appeared a couple of years after the failure in The American Political Science Review in the context of a study of the role of power in decision-making. The authors were Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz. The actual analysis constitutes half of a footnote, since it illustrates a point they were trying to make about the nature of power. Here is what they wrote:

The abortive invasion of Cuba in April 1961 is perhaps another example of the inherent dangers in projecting our values onto a populace holding a different collection of interests. Looking at the great body of Cuban nationals who were apparently bereft both of individual freedom and personal dignity, we concluded that we need only provide the opportunity, the spark, which would ignite nationwide uprisings against the Castro regime. But hindsight has indicated how badly we misread popular feeling in Cuba.

It seems particularly appropriate to cite this text on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. I would further argue that the beneficial impact of the Bay of Pigs invasion is not only that it failed sooner rather than later but also that President Kennedy learned from his mistake. The failure of the Bay of Pigs probably had a lot to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis taking place, but the ability of Kennedy and his advisors to understand the nature of that prior failure probably had a lot to do with their taking actions to make sure that the Cuban Missile Crisis did not result in an even more disastrous failure.

Needless to say, we have not heard the neoconservatives say very much about the Kennedy administration, either when they had the catbird seat at the White House or in their great mea culpa for Vanity Fair. This should be an indication of the extent to which their ideology detached them from reality. After all, when Hegel wrote about "the end of history," he did not equate it with ignoring the historical record!

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