JFK life

1963 JFK signs Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Visit in Berlin
Quelle: Bundesarchiv,
B 145 Bild-F015843-0016 /
Schmitt, Walter / CC-BY-SA

Kennedy and Chruschtschow in Berlin

JFK signing Cuba Quarantine
Foreign policy

President Kennedy's foreign policy was dominated by American confrontations with the Soviet Union, manifested by proxy contests in the early stage of the Cold War.
In 1961, Kennedy anxiously anticipated a summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The President started off on the wrong foot by reacting aggressively to a routine Khrushchev speech on Cold War confrontation in early 1961. The speech was intended for domestic audiences in the Soviet Union, but Kennedy interpreted it as a personal challenge. His mistake helped raise tensions going into the Vienna Summit of June 1961.

Cuba and the Bay of Pigs Invasion
On April 17, 1961, Kennedy ordered what became known as the "Bay of Pigs Invasion": 1,500 U.S.-trained Cubans, called "Brigade 2506", landed on the island.
No U.S. air support was provided.
Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, later stated that they thought the president would authorize any action required for success once the troops were on the ground.
By April 19, 1961, the Cuban government had captured or killed the invading exiles, and Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release of the 1,189 survivors. After twenty months, Cuba released the captured exiles in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine.
According to biographer Richard Reeves, Kennedy primarily focused on the political repercussions of the plan rather than military considerations. When it failed, he was convinced that the plan was a setup to make him look bad.
However, he took responsibility for the failure, saying, "... We got a big kick in the leg and we deserved it. But maybe we'll learn something from it."

Cuban Missile Crisis
On October 14, 1962, CIA U-2 spy planes took photographs of intermediate-range ballistic missile sites being built in Cuba by the Soviets.
The photos were shown to Kennedy on October 16; a consensus was reached that the missiles were offensive in nature and thus posed an immediate nuclear threat.
Kennedy faced a dilemma: if the U.S. attacked the sites, it might lead to nuclear war with the U.S.S.R., but if the U.S. did nothing, it would be faced with the increased threat from close-range nuclear weapons.
The U.S. would also appear to the world as less committed to the defense of the hemisphere. On a personal level, Kennedy needed to show resolve in reaction to Khrushchev, especially after the Vienna summit.
More than a third of the members of the National Security Council (NSC) favored an unannounced air assault on the missile sites, but for some of them this conjured up an image of "Pearl Harbor in reverse".
There was also some reaction from the international community (asked in confidence), that the assault plan was an overreaction in light of U.S. missiles that had been placed in Turkey by Eisenhower. There could also be no assurance that the assault would be 100% effective.
In concurrence with a majority-vote of the NSC, Kennedy decided on a naval quarantine. On October 22 he dispatched a message to Khrushchev and announced the decision on TV.

This crisis brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any point before or since. In the end, "the humanity" of the two men prevailed.
The crisis improved the image of American willpower and the president's credibility. Kennedy's approval rating increased from 66% to 77% immediately thereafter.

West Berlin speech
In 1963, Germany was enduring a time of particular vulnerability due to Soviet aggression to the east, de Gaulle's French nationalism to the west, and the impending retirement of West German Chancellor Adenauer.
On June 26 Kennedy gave a public speech in West Berlin reiterating the American commitment to Germany and criticizing communism. He was met with an ecstatic response from a massive audience.
Kennedy used the construction of the Berlin Wall as an example of the failures of communism: "Freedom has many difficulties, and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us."
The speech is known for its famous phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a citizen of Berlin").
A million people were on the street for the speech.
He remarked to Ted Sorensen afterwards: "We'll never have another day like this one, as long as we live".

Kennedy initially followed Eisenhower's lead, using limited military action to fight the communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh.
He continued policies that provided political, economic, and military support to the South Vietnamese government.
Late in 1961, the Viet Cong began assuming a predominant presence, initially seizing the provincial capital of Phuoc Vinh.
Kennedy increased the number of helicopters, military advisors, and undeclared U.S. Special Forces in the area, but he was reluctant to order a full-scale deployment of troops.

In early 1962, Kennedy formally authorized escalated involvement when he signed the "National Security Action Memorandum – Subversive Insurgency (War of Liberation)".
Secretary of State Dean Rusk voiced strong support for U.S. involvement.
"Operation Ranch Hand", a large-scale aerial defoliation effort, began on the roadsides of South Vietnam.
In April 1963, Kennedy assessed the situation in Vietnam: "We don't have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. Those people hate us. They are going to throw our asses out of there at any point. But I can't give up that territory to the communists and get the American people to re-elect me".
Kennedy faced a crisis in Vietnam by July; despite increased U.S. support, the South Vietnamese military was only marginally effective against pro-communist Viet Cong forces.
On August 21, just as the new U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. arrived, Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu ordered South Vietnam forces, funded and trained by the CIA, to quell Buddhist demonstrations. The crackdowns heightened expectations of a coup d'état to remove Diem with (or perhaps by) his brother, Nhu.
Lodge was instructed to try to get Diem and Nhu to step down and leave the country. Diem would not listen to Lodge.
A White House meeting in September was indicative of the very different ongoing appraisals; the President was given updated assessments after personal inspections on the ground by the Department of Defense (General Victor Krulak) and the State Department (Joseph Mendenhall). Krulak said that the military fight against the communists was progressing and being won, while Mendenhall stated that the country was civilly being lost to any U.S. influence. Kennedy reacted, saying, "Did you two gentlemen visit the same country?" The president was unaware that the two men were at such odds that they had not spoken to each other on the return flight.
In October 1963, the president appointed Defense Secretary McNamara and General Maxwell D. Taylor to a Vietnam mission in another effort to synchronize the information and formulation of policy. The objective of the McNamara Taylor mission "emphasized the importance of getting to the bottom of the differences in reporting from U.S. representatives in Vietnam".
In meetings with McNamara, Taylor, and Lodge, Diem again refused to agree to governing measures insisted upon by the U.S., helping to dispel McNamara's previous optimism about Diem.
On November 1, 1963, South Vietnamese generals, led by "Big Minh", overthrew the Diem government, arresting and then killing Diem and Nhu. Kennedy was shocked by the deaths. He found out afterwards that Minh had asked the CIA field office to secure safe-passage out of the country for Diem and Nhu, but was told that 24 hours were needed to procure a plane. Minh responded that he could not hold them that long.
News of the coup initially led to renewed confidence—both in America and in South Vietnam—that the war might be won.
McGeorge Bundy drafted a National Security Action Memo to present to Kennedy upon his return from Dallas. It reiterated the resolve to fight communism in Vietnam, with increasing military and economic aid and expansion of operations into Laos and Cambodia. Before leaving for Dallas, Kennedy told Michael Forrestal that "after the first of the year ... [he wanted] an in depth study of every possible option, including how to get out of there ... to review this whole thing from the bottom to the top". When asked what he thought the president meant, Forrestal said, "it was devil's advocate stuff."
Historians disagree on whether Vietnam would have escalated had Kennedy survived and been re-elected in 1964.
Fueling the debate are statements made by Secretary of Defense McNamara in the film "The Fog of War" that Kennedy was strongly considering pulling out of Vietnam after the 1964 election.
The film also contains a tape recording of Lyndon Johnson stating that Kennedy was planning to withdraw, a position that Johnson disagreed with.
Kennedy had signed National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263, dated October 11, which ordered the withdrawal of 1,000 military personnel by the end of the year.
Such an action would have been a policy reversal, but Kennedy was moving in a less hawkish direction since his acclaimed speech about world peace at American University on June 10, 1963.

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