National Security Disconnects

With virtually no media attention, we are seeing what is either a watershed moment or at least a significant disconnect in the manner in which national security is being treated in American politics. At least for the past century, the national security “card” had always served as a powerful device to rally political support – to cast the opponent as being “weak” or inattentive to security concerns. That has played out regardless of party, JFK used Cuban security issues as a major issue in his election campaign, LBJ used the Tonkin Gulf incident and his response to position himself against a Goldwater security initiative in their presidential contest. A focus on issues of national security have also been a frequent tactic in Republican political efforts against Democratic Administrations, especially those giving priority to domestic and social issues.

As a corollary, Shadow Warfare deals with the ongoing issue of Presidents balancing the political risks of overtly dealing overtly and publically with what they perceive to be national security threats with a lack of domestic support – and choosing covert and clandestine action as an alternative. That has led to periodic Congressional chastisement of President’s and at least minimal efforts to ensure that the Commander in Chief obtains Congressional approval for overseas military actions.

In short, national security issues and threats have been a foundation for political positioning, with all parties trying to claim the high ground of being most sensitive to threats and most directly involved with actions, legislation and spending to deal with them. The greatest risk to a sitting President has often been seen as not being aggressive enough on national security – or on occasion – being seen as dismissive of Congress by independently pursuing their own security initiatives.

Yet as we enter 2015, we see calls from a Democratic administration for more military spending – and a call for congressional legislation on expanded military authorization and budgets to deal with jihadi terrorism movements such as ISIS. We even see requests for military spending to address a resurgent Russian nationalism and President Putin’s obvious ability to convince his nation to endure whatever privation is necessary to fully fund a major Russian military buildup.

On the Republican side, we see constant warnings on the threat of ISIS, on the risk of terrorism on American soil, demands to provide lethal military support to the Ukraine – yet no legislation to address any of those issues and no response to Presidential proposals on each of them. Instead we see a Republican effort to actually defund Homeland Security – based on concerns over purely domestic issues such as immigration and healthcare. The Republicans appear to have abandoned national security as a primary issue and the Democrats are left with it by default – yet they show no particular enthusiasm for using it in the manner of times past.

In a dramatic contrast, President Putin of Russia has revived the national security card in a comprehensive and literally overwhelming fashion. His strident message of a growing threat to Russia and the need for patriotism as a primary and driving national requirement appears have served him and his power base in an exceptionally successful fashion. In fact it has worked so well for that he has been able to deploy internal Russian media with the sort of blunt propaganda messages not often seen from a major power since Joseph Stalin – or Adolph Hitler. And by all accounts, according to Russian public polling, even the most outrageous messages are proving quite effective.

It may not be that the world has actually turned upside down, it is far too early to tell. However if you are a social studies, political science or history teacher, you certainly have a great deal of current events material to stimulate discussion in your classes – the only problem is that few of those classes are a priority for the standardized testing which will receive all your student’s attention at this point in time. Still, it might be good for a couple of minutes of student attention.

Oh, and if you thought I was being a bit harsh in regard to President Putin, you might want to actually search and read some of the statements and articles appearing in the Russian media over the last few months….or seriously think about the history of Putin regimes with their critics, a brief history of that is available at:



The Same Old Mistakes


The threat was real and fundamental. The believers showed no sign of allowing any group or state to pursue self-determination – just the opposite, its world view demanded that all must share its beliefs and those who did not must be swept into the dustbin of history. In a number of instances that translated to mass murder on the order of genocide. It was truly ruthless in imposing its views on any territories which it occupied and its reach was global. Clearly its intent was world domination, that was inherent it its leaders world views and their followers were seen to be fanatic in pursuit of their leader’s orders. The immediate risk was that they would dominate most of the Middle East, much of SW Asia and would then look towards Europe. What was equally frightening was their ability to project influence and advance their agenda in territories removed from its own direct military control. There appeared to be no way to stop them and the crisis seemed overwhelming.

All that sounds frighteningly contemporary, yet that verbiage is not about jihadi terrorism, radical Islam or ISIS. It is all excerpted from a very insightful book, The National Security, written by Norman Graebner and his book describes America’s earliest view of the international Communist conspiracy, sponsored by the Soviet Union in the years immediately following World War II – Grabner was writing about remarks actually made at the highest circles of American leadership circa 1945-1948. .

And here we are in 2015, debating the source and causes of a brand new threat – which sounds in many ways virtually identical. The risk is that we will once again commit the same errors we made so often during the Cold War, which meant treating every area of confrontation the same – and assuming it all has a single root cause. Of course there is a common mantra in play, all today’s jihadi militants are happy to wave the black flag – to posture for psychological impact and in pursuit of obtaining weapons and money from ISIS, al Qaeda or wealthy pan-national, Islamists of any stripe.

The same could be said of many of the Communist movements during the decades of the Cold War. Play the “International”, wave the red flag, focus on the brotherhood of the struggle – and look from money and support from Moscow or later from Red China. It was great for recruiting and its claim to moral superiority allowed an outreach to the most progressive and liberal elements in all the Western nations; just as today many of ISIS recruits are middle class, professionals or children of very well to do parents, the same was true for many of the recruits of World Communism.

Of course in many instances it was all just a gambit, where leaders could twist the ideology to their own purposes of local political power, nationalism, anti-colonialism, revolution against the established classes, etc. There were instances in which the leaders were truly fanatic, that produced the most violence and ongoing massacres – whether it was Stalin’s or Mao’s purges, or the raw lust for killing seen with the Simba’s in the Congo, Shining Path in Peru, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Those groups all recited the Communist class mantra while on the rampage.

The point of all this is that we show no signs of applying our history with this type of threat to today’s violence. Some of it is most definitely about religious fanaticism on the order of “we are coming to kill and enslave non-believers”. Calling those individuals “terrorists” is off the mark, thinking of them as driven by economic deprivation is as well. Fanaticism exists on its own terms and needs to be recognized and dealt with as such it demands extreme measures. However, there certainly are local ethnic, political, economic and governance issues driving the jihadi movement, especially across much of Africa. And we are not likely to effectively deal with it all in the short term of a single AUMF – especially if we cannot differentiate between all the different groups visibly waving the black flag. Some of it is absolutely about religion and domination, much of it is simply skilled opportunism for the fanatics. And, sorry Mr. President, none of it is about “terrorism”, terrorism is a tool, a tactic – in my view it should be used as a verb, not a noun. It tells us what groups or individuals are capable of but that is as in “terror of the deed”.  We need a finer level of differentiation when we are talking about the nature and motives of the different groups – it appears that a large number of the atrocities in Iraq are done under the black flag but really are the settling of old personal and ethic grudges among Arabs or between Arabs and Kurds.  In that case ISIS is an enabler for long term problems in the region, which are not going to be settled by our simplistic support of a central government in Baghdad. Perhaps the first step for all our leaders is to grasp that distinction and to begin using the right words. Words are powerful things and if you are using the wrong ones you have a very fundamental problem.

For those that want to take this further and read an experienced view of the subject, I recommend the following:


Use of Force AUMF 2015

Readers of Shadow Warfare will recall that we extensively explored the initial Authorization of Military Force following 9/11which created what appeared to be an open ended military authorization for the President to use any and all military means to engage and eliminate the terror groups which had conducted or enabled the attacks on America of 2001. We also delved into the actual legislative rework of the initial legislation which constrained in well beyond the point that President GWB had initially requested. That sort of background is really critical in following American’s “anti-terror” efforts since 2001 and to appreciating the arguments that are following President Obama’s request for additional legislation to focus resource constrained and time limited military action in a fight against ISIS.
I’ve noticed that a few reporters really have caught on and are highlighting the point that President Obama already has the authority for a military campaign against ISIS in context of the previous AUMF – as long as you consider ISIS an al Qaeda derivative or demonstrate that any of the former generation of terrorists are involved with or supporting ISIS. Essentially this new legislation would give Congress an opportunity to at least show its official support for military action against ISIS – since following their outcry for the same last fall, they have done nothing at all on their own the issue which they declared an national security emergency months ago.
So, let’s make it clear that this is primarily a political exercise and secondarily, an example of temptation to middle with military action in the worst tradition of combat micromanagement. Some will note that for a good while the Obama Administration and in particular its NSC have gotten a lot of heat for micromanagement combat against ISIS – in my opinion deservedly so. But now, Congress is going to spend its time on arguing limits on military action in the AUMF – which of course amount to another type of political management of war fighting.
It pains me to sound more and more hawkish but as a Vietnam era vet (not a Vietnam vet, just of that time frame) I’m very sensitive to the fact that you do not win wars through political management. If you want a good lesson on how to win wars, study up on the relationship between FDR and his generals. So I’m back to the proposition that AUMF’s really are a political exercise but have the potential for constraining the war fighting in a fashion which will either prolong it or very possibly obstruct it. Another AUMF just continues to dump all the decisions on the President so Congress has no skin in the game – they take a pass on their real responsibility (which constitutionally is that of declaring war) and just toss the ball to somebody else. Or in this case it’s President Obama’s effort to at least get Congress to put some legislation in place rather than just shooting off its mouth.
All of this maneuvering allows all parties to avoid two basic issues. First, you should not be fighting at all unless you declare war. Second, the thought of a time limited AUMF simply targeting ISIS ignores all the larger strategic implications of jihadi political/geographic movements throughout the Middle East and Africa. We are still tackling that piecemeal, group by group, country by country, with JSOC and military assistance programs. More fundamentally, it appears that neither the administration nor Congress wants to dig far enough to address the core issues of opposing jihadi territorial expansion in the fashion that the U.S. Opposed Communist regime territorial expansion during the Cold War.
Of course if you have read Shadow Warfare you know my view of that decades long effort is pretty critical – primarily since America was often unable to differentiate nationalism from a communist manifesto nor separate populist movements from truly brutal communist regimes such as the Khmer Rouge – the folks who operated on a genocidal level (unfortunately some of the dictatorships that America supported operated on a level of murder that equated to class based genocide). If we don’t really study the current trends in Africa, we may be cursed by the same lack of clarity and the same mistaken interventions.
My view is that the President’s request to Congress will produce immense debate and media dialog. And that will allow all parties to avoid the much harder issues that should be discussed.

Henry Kissinger

It’s my practice not to use this blog for “personality” posts. However, I do allow myself the latitude of occasionally bemoaning the failings in both knowledge and action of the American Congress. By the way, has anybody seen that Congressional action on legislation supporting or defining the overall military campaign against ISIS ….or an updated AUMF for the President….or perhaps any meaningful discussion of the global jihadi situation…if you have let me know, I missed it.

In this instance I am bringing up a particular individual because it appears to me that recent remarks from Senator McCain once again reflect how limited Congressional knowledge of recent history – even among senior members who lived through it – can be. As a disclaimer I’m not urging that anyone shout at or revile Mr. Kissinger in public. However I do think that it’s time that his reputation and history is considered in light of the full historical record – which shows it to be something less positive than reflected in Senator McCain’s praise.

I will also admit that before I began researching Shadow Warfare, I had only a general sense that Kissinger record might have a bit of a darker side. Having served towards the last years of the Viet Nam war I had developed some discomfort in how the Nixon phase of that conflict had been managed and that sort of bled over to Mr. Kissinger. However, once I immersed myself in the actual records and history of the Laotian involvement, of the treatment of the Hmong, of the American personnel who were sacrificed in combat as literally a tool of political maneuvers and negotiations, my attitude began to harden.

What was a total surprise to me was Kissinger role in Latin America, his support and encouragement of military dictatorships, and a tacit acceptance of the practices that led to the growth of military death squads. It was discouraging to find actual records (which you can review in documents and oral history at the National Security Archives) which document his essentially advising Generals in Argentina that they needed to get their killing done before Congress came into session and constrained American aid – something they did, and then complained about when sanctioned because they felt they were only acting in accordance with the guidance they had received.

The Kissinger story gets even worse when you find his own State Department Staff and the CIA bringing him details on individuals, including American citizens, that the Condor Generals have targeted for assassination – and Kissinger takes a pass on warning the individuals or even officially chiding the governments involved.

Beyond Latin America, his story continues in Africa, in different nations but in particular in Angola. That particular experience exposes his apparent distain for the American Congress and for Congressional involvement in international relations. One can only wonder if Senator McCain would have responded with the same praise of Kissinger if he knew how the man actually viewed the institution of Congress in that respect?

In any event, Shadow Warfare taught me a lot about Mr. Kissinger, it’s available and cites sources – if you want to verify my remarks here. However I would also urge those who have read it to offer comments on this post and to chide me if they think I’m being too subjective, or too harsh.

Bay of Pigs Open Questions

This is an update on the ongoing work I’m doing, an extension of the Task Force Alpha post I made a couple of weeks ago. It’s proved to be quite challenging. I did obtain the oral history of Admiral Dennison, as CINC Atlantic, he had the primary command role in Navy support for the CIA landing operation designated Bumpy Road. It’s clear that I’m going to have to work all the research into a monograph, it’s far too lengthy a subject for a blog post. But for the moment, I’ll touch on a few things that jump out at me.
First, it is unclear whether the CIA actually prepared a written plan for the original Trinidad landing; if they did it and the critical Navy rules of engagement for it are missing. That means there is limited documentation available from the Eisenhower Administration and exactly what Ike might have verbally committed to is unclear. Given what remarks we do have from him there is reason to suspect that he would have much more readily bought into public Navy and Naval Air support for the landing; regardless of the B-26 operations being prepared by the CIA Air staff. As of December Ike had even made a remark about “provoking” Castro and using an event to trigger the landings – it’s quite possible he would have allowed the Navy to perform standard convoy duty and combat air patrols right into the landing area at Trinidad. That would almost certainly have led to Cuban attacks and full scale engagement by American forces.
It also has to be noted that despite the efforts of CIA apologists, the JCS staff did give some very solid warnings against the change from Trinidad to Zapata, the air consultants also advised that there was an 85% chance that the planned surprise air strike would not successfully take out the entire Cuban air force and warned that if a single armed Cuban air craft appeared over the landing that it would be able to successfully attack and very likely destroy or significantly jeopardize the entire landing. That warning seems never to have registered with the CIA and most certainly was not passed up to JFK.
The Navy CIA liaison for Bumpy Road was adamant that the initial Trinidad plan would have succeeded; unfortunately we don’t have any detailed comments on why he felt so strongly or what might have really changed in the transition between administrations. There certainly is some evidence that the official chain of communications from via the JCS and Admiral Dennison might have been supplemented by another chain going from Bissell to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Burke. I find it more than a little interesting that Admiral Burke apparently issued the order to the Navy command ship (the aircraft carrier Essex) at the Bay of Pigs (Zapata) for all ships records to be incinerated…before the Essex departed from the scene.
However, having said all that, the other thing that becomes more and more clear is that the Brigade Air Operations were far short of what would have been required to enable and sustain a successful landing and that Bissell and Cabell repeatedly failed to make the point clear to JFK…who was still under the impression that the Brigade could fade into the mountains and turn guerilla, a course of action virtually impossible from the Bay of Pigs and never part of the Brigade’s training or equipping. Even as the Brigade ships were coming under attack, Bissell and Cabell never explained the distinction to JFK.
I intend to continue this study as I have time and to prepare a study of it, for the time being it will have to remain an open issue and I will move on to other blog topics.

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement (ROE) are the written guidelines for when and with what force the American military may engage hostile forces. ROE drew a great deal of attention in regard to the SE Asian fighting and ROE restrictions undoubtedly cost American lives there.  I’ve become much more familiar with ROE and it appears as a major topic in my upcoming book, Surprise Attack.  As it turns out it is proved to be an extremely critical issue – and one generally ignored by the media – during the attacks on America on 9/11.  Its also a much more seminal issue all the way back to Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and the early Cold War administrations of Eisenhower and JFK.  And as I’m learning in further Bay of Pigs Study it may have been a key factor in the transition of that CIA operation against Cuba.

I’m obtaining more primary source material on the Bay of Pigs but one thing that has jumped out at me so far is that while JFK required written plans for the CIA operation – and forced a broad evaluation of them once his administration came into place, its unclear whether Eisenhower did the same.  He certainly met with the CIA officers in charge and got verbal descriptions, certain of his comments are a matter of record.  But to date I have been unable to locate a detailed written plan for the Trinidad operation as designed under the Eisenhower administration, or for that matter, the ROE for the Naval forces assigned.  I may just be missing it so far but even with what I’ve found its possible to reverse engineer a bit of it simply from examining the Mach and April ’61 changes to the proposed and JCS approved ROE.

One thing that quickly becomes evident is that both JFK and McNamara were quite concerned that the ROE being put in place by the Navy would to easily allow combat to begin between Cuban and possibly even Soviet forces and the American Navy.  Of course there was nothing strange about that, its clear the Navy had been assigned to escort the landing ships and support/protect them as a classic convoy operation. Standard military practice – but we find that it produced a series of urgent directives to the Joint Chiefs to modify the ROE and to ensure there were no combat engagements prior to the landing.  With those directives, what had been laid on as a standard convoy type escort for the Brigade landing group, literally up to some three miles of the landing – with authority to engage any hostile forces which threatened the Brigade-  turned into something very different.  Certainly if the Navy destroyers had moved in as close as initially authorized,  they would have taken Cuban fire and in return the Navy would have decimated the Cuban defense forces, including their aircraft.  But of course that would have quickly been seen as an American invasion. On April 7, direction from the President made it absolutely clear the ROE would be changed to reflect that US forces were to distance themselves by at least twenty miles and no engagement was authorized unless the landing craft were attacked up to that point – and then the landing would be aborted and the US forces would simply cover the landing force as it moved away from Cuba.

The core issue that shows up in all this is that Eisenhower was not nearly as concerned about American visibility in the operation as JFK was, leaving JFK inheriting a plan that was essentially not deniable, and trying to turn it into something that was in something like two months.  While it was impossible to control the total operation (after all it included landing tanks and a paratroop drop) it was possible to control the location and the ROE.  It also appears that concern over the Navy and its ROE was something that may have stuck with both McNamara and Bundy……leading to their focus on ROE during the Cuban missile crisis, a confrontation with the Admiral in charge of the Cuban blockade and JFK’s personal involvement with details of the Navy ROE, up to the point of what sort of explosives were to be used in interdicting Soviet submarines.

In the end, changes in ROE may have dramatically affected the CIA operation against Cuba, something obscured by all the attention given to the B-26 strikes, but whatever its impact there, the sensitivity to ROE may also have helped avert World War III only twelve months later.

Evolution of the Cuban Landings

In pursuing questions raised by the earlier article I posted on the Bay of Pigs and Task Force Alpha, I’ve made a much more detailed comparison of the information in the article and the best available chronology of the evolving operation – anyone interested should give the chronology a read:
I’m still pondering but it leads me to some preliminary observations. As late summer ’60, the Special Group (SG) was only being informed about plans, and expressed a lack of confidence in the success of guerrilla action alone. On October 31 CIA headquarters confirm the shift in planning to an amphibious landing by up to 1,500 exiles and on Nov. 8 the SG was informed of that shift….they did not approve anything at that point. On November 29 Eisenhower was also informed and enjoined those running the project to be more aggressive. On December 8 the SG did approve paramilitary trainers for the Brigade, an airstrip in Nicaragua and supply missions into Cuba.
On Dec 20 the Commander in Chief Atlantic (Denison) expressed his concern to the CIA about the operation and submitted 120 questions; only a dozen were answered. It’s important to note that the Navy liaison assigned to the project (Captain Scapa) was told only to talk to the CIA eg Bissell and to Chief of Naval Operations Burke – who was in turn briefed only by Bissell. That meant that CINCATLANT Denison was largely out of the direct CIA loop but apparently receiving orders and directives from the Joint Chiefs for rules of engagement for the forces that came to be assigned to support the amphibious and landing craft Scapa was involved with preparing.
On Jan 4, ’61 the CIA plan was documented and assumed strikes against Cuban air and naval forces. No specific details on given on the nature of those strikes but when JFK was briefed by Ike on Jan 19 he was told that Ike felt the operation must receive major US support, even if public. At that point Ike appears to have signed on to a non-deniable operation – the nature of that becomes more clear later but confusion appears to have already been in play because when Hawkins/Easterline briefed JCS reps on Jan 30 they stated that no over US military support was necessary. Ike had initially wanted the landing to occur by Jan 30 but clearly the preparations had lagged.
On Feb 8 JFK expressed the direction that he wanted an effort not requiring obvious support by US ships, planes and supply missions. The following day, CINCLANT Denison met with JFK and asked if he wanted a “bail out” option if the landing failed….JFK said definitely no to that, in that event the exiles were to disburse into guerrilla operations. By Feb 17 JFK has become firm that he would approve only a large scale infiltration, not the type of landing that had been prepared for Trinidad. Within a week JCS warned the CIA that if a single Castro plane appeared over the landing area it could well sink all or most of the landing force. And on March 11, JFK officially rejected the Trinidad landing.
The strange thing is that on March 24, naval support for the CIA operation was finalized (including rules of engagement) and included naval air cover over the landing site beginning at 0600 the day before the landing. It seems rather clear that at some level, the Navy had been planning for full air cover over the Trinidad landing for some time, although that is not really mentioned in any of the later Bay of Pigs inquiries. In March, Dennison also proposed expanding the initial Navy rules of engagement to involve US ships intervening if the Brigade landing ships were attacked and at risk. Clearly the Navy was actively promoting and preparing for overt military support of the landing……the question is whether or not Denison had discussed this level of detail with JFK in their meeting of Feb 9? The article previously posted refers to an oral history from Denison in which he states that the original plan which he had proceeded to implement for the Trinidad landing included naval air cover and combat air patrols for the landing but that was cancelled when the Trinidad plan was replaced by Zapata. If the Trinidad support plans had remained in place for Zapata the pre-landing B-26 strikes would have not been critical because with ground attack in place by the A-4’s as well as CAP, the surviving Cuban aircraft would quickly have been eliminated over the beachhead.
On April 1 the JCS approved Denison’s proposed rules of engagement (ROE), which seemingly would have provided active combat air cover and naval destroyer support if needed. On April 5 Task Force Alpha and the Essex sailed….the Essex had debarked all its normal ASW aircraft in preparation to take Navy A-4 attack jets on at sea – clearly reflecting the rules approved by the JCS. So on Arpil 5 the Navy seems to have been continuing preparations for the same type of air support which had originally been described by Denison. But on April 5 JFK directed that the ROE needed to specify that if the landings ships actually need protection, the landing was to abort! A major disconnect seems to be in play three weeks before the landing. And given JFK’s April 5 order, when Bissell and Cabell learned that only half of Castro’s air force had been destroyed in the pre-landing B-26 attack they should have either begun aborting the landing themselves or gone to JFK and clearly spelled out that was the only option unless the rules were changed.
The preceding thoughts are very preliminary and I may well be misreading or misunderstanding something in the chronology or article so if you are closely following this, please give them both a read and let me know where and how my reading is incorrect. ..thanks.

The Bay of Pigs and the US Navy

There is a real temptation among those interested in the JFK assassination to look at the personalities and events – as well as “practices” – of 1963 as being unique. I had hoped that with the research and publication in Shadow Warfare, I could bring a broader perspective and those that have read it generally seem to agree. The frustrating thing is that it has either not come to the attention of or been read by very many people, especially within the JFK community. That may be because increasingly there is a real reliance on internet sources….which can be really a bad thing considering how many myths, legends and misinformation that readily floats on the net. On the other hand, if you focus on actually historical sites and archives there is great material…it takes a bit longer to find it but it’s well worth the trouble. The following is largely derived from such a study, which you can find for yourselves in the following publication:
In working on updates to my forthcoming 2015 book on national security, I happened to revisit the Bay of Pigs, with a particular interest in one of the things that has troubled me for some time. It’s something that appears in most JFK books and is stated either without much elaboration or as something to be taken for granted. However, since we have the CIA IG report, the Taylor Commission report and the CIA internal rebuttal to the Taylor Commission all online, the question of why there were Navy jet strike aircraft off Cuba, why there was an aircraft carrier there, and why there was apparently a much larger Navy force including a Marine landing Brigade should come to mind when one reads all those reports.
After all, from the beginning, the Eisenhower era plan had involved landing a guerrilla force and even the altered plan of early 1961 had called for a very low profile, night landing with absolutely no overt involvement by the American military. Captain Jake Scapa had from the beginning been assigned to work with the CIA operation, primarily on its amphibious elements – he was assistant chief of plans and operations at the Navy’s Little Creek Amphibious base.
If you dig into the plans and reports, the only noted assignment of Navy ships was to provide a screening force of destroyers to remotely shadow the smaller landing craft from Nicaragua – to provide aid in case there were mechanical or other problems and to shield the group from vessels that might cross its path. They were to be turned away under cover of a Navy exercise in progress. The basic “shadow” force was designated as Task Force Able, it operated under the operational designation “Bumpy Road” and consisted of an anti-submarine task group including an ASW carrier (with helicopters and propeller driven aircraft capable of using depth charges), ostensibly deployed for exercises. It is not unusual to find such groups accompanied by a submarine and two submarine did deploy with Task Force Alpha operation. The force had been scheduled for exercises off Rhode Island but those exercise were simply moved to the Caribbean.
It appears that Task Force Alpha also contained a Navy element not discussed in any real detail in the post Bay of Pigs inquiries – the ASW carrier USS Essex flew off its normal complement of helicopter and propeller aircraft and was reportedly stocked with a variety of ordinance for land strikes. The carrier was also accompanied by a CIA officer. After debarking and while at sea, the Essex took on board a flight of Navy jet attack aircraft – a dozen of A-4 jets were deployed out of squadron AS-34. The referenced article on the operation suggests that as far as the Navy was concerned the original, Trinidad landing, version of the invasion plan was to be supported by Naval air strikes and combat air patrols over the landing area – yet historically there has never been any suggestion of that in the plans reportedly presented to President’s Eisenhower or Kennedy. Beyond that, the Admirals in charge appear to have taken their own initiative to significantly increase the force by activating a second carrier (the USS Independence), a light cruiser (the USS Galveston), a full Marine Landing Brigade and two full additional squadrons of destroyers.
Once again this seems far beyond the scope of any known plan and was apparently done without the knowledge of the White House or President. This is an area that has never been clear in regard to the Bay of Pigs and some friends have volunteered to help me with a FOIA project that may reveal more. Wish us luck!
This incident is simply one more illustration that there have often been serious disconnects between the Commander in Chief and the military service’s senior officers. Everyone knows about Truman and MacArthur, most do not know that Eisenhower pursued military legal measures against some of his former Chiefs – even after their retirement. Which brings us back to my basic point, which is that we need as much perspective as we can get in historical studies.

Cuba 50 Years Late

Those reading this week’s news about President Obama’s effort to open some level of diplomatic relations with Cuba won’t be seeing much – if any – mention of the fact that it is an effort actually begun over 50 years ago, by President John Kennedy.  During 1963 JFK had begun a highly secret dialog with Fidel Castro, in an effort which he hoped would restore basic relations and some level of trade in 1964.  The details of that effort are now well known, I describe them in SWHT and NEXUS and a great deal of the original source documents including phone calls are available at the National Security Archive web site.

The 1963 initiative actually began with an outreach by representatives of Fidel Castro.  Castro had become greatly disenchanted with the Soviet Union and had recently moved to suppress Soviet oriented Communists within his own regime. He used personal and media representatives to extend an offer for talks on restoring relations – in turn JFK made it clear that he would demand that Cuba stop its efforts to spawn new Communist movements in Latin America and make moves towards a more neutral position in international relations, cooling its military alliance with the Soviets.  In doing so, JFK demonstrated that he was one of the few politicians of the time who understood the impetus towards nationalism and the value of neutrality in third world nations and was prepared to take advantage of it to block further creation of Soviet client states.  Of course Kennedy faced huge political danger in such a move, RFK warned him it could lead to impeachment if Congress found out about it before a deal could be reached. However Castro responded in a very open fashion, taking nothing off the table in agreeing to negotiations.  It could have been a huge strategic gain for the United States, at a time when Communist expansion around the globe appeared to be increasingly successful.   Kennedy had the nerve to explore the possibilities, and by November, 1963 arrangements were being made for the first meetings between personal representatives – then came Dallas.

Castro felt so strongly that improved relations were desirable that the made the same outreach to LBJ,  going so far as offering him the option of Johnson publicly acting against Cuba to ensure his election – while secretly opening a dialog.  Johnson refused to even acknowledge the outreach and certain parties – particularly Helms and Bundy – acted to block Castro’s representatives from presenting further offers to the White House.

Fast forward to 2014….and 50 years of inertia, including an ongoing economic embargo.  Beginning in 2013, Putin’s militarily reinvigorated Russia began its own outreach to Latin America, leveraging its oil revenues to begin to restore relationships which had fallen apart with its financial crisis following the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.   Cuba was not the only opportunity for Putin, Venezuela was as well.  The appearance of Russian bombers in Venezuela and the declaration of Russian military flights off the American coasts, including over the Gulf of Mexico, was something not even seen during the Cold War. The U.S. had chosen not to deal with the Cuban relationship for some five decades, it appeared very possible that the Russian Federation might be interested in setting the clock back a few decades, dramatically improving its relationship with a new Cuban government.

Then, anticipated by virtually nobody, the bottom fell out of the oil and gas market, the economies of both Russia and Venezuela began to tank. Venezuela had been acting as a financial surrogate for Cuba,  supplying its energy needs virtually free of charge.  Suddenly those days appeared to be coming to an end.  At that point it appears the Cuban government once again put out its own feelers for an improved relationship with the United States and the Obama Administration responded.  Of course any President can only do so much on his own and its very likely that Congress will attempt to block a truly expanded relationship – although numbers of agriculture oriented states have been lobbying for trade relations with Cuba for some years, touting the opportunity for real job growth and income from doing business with a market only 90 miles off shore.

Real opportunities – both geopolitical and trade – suddenly exist, largely based in the new-found energy sufficiency of the U.S.  Kennedy missed an opportunity 50 years ago, obviously through no fault of his own.  The question is whether the United States understands its own history and can get past the political opposition that will now erupt. We have no idea if good sense would have triumphed in 1964.  We’ll see if we’ve learned anything at all from the establishment of relations and trade with Vietnam, with China and with other dire Cold War enemies since then.

Where’s the Strategy?

The language of clear and present danger,  “the _______ unlike previous aspirants for hegemony, is motivated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world”.   The quote is from The National Security, by Norman Graebner, his book was published in 1986 and the subject of the quote is the Soviet Union. The actual verbiage is from the National Security Council, in its document number 68, begun in 1949 and issued in early 1950.

Fast forward to 2014 and the same statement could be made in regard to the fundamentalist jihadi movement, as epitomized by ISIS/ISIL and demonstrated by the military establishment of new “caliphates” across the Middle East, in Libya and into Yemen and Nigeria. If anything the new fundamentalist regimes are more openly  brutal in their takeovers than the Communist regimes which were taking control of Russia, China and North Korea during late 40’s and early 50’s. The actual loss of life to date would shift strongly to the Communist regimes, but the jihadi caliphates are much more open about their methods and practices.

The point in the comparison is that under the administrations from Truman through Kennedy, there was an immense amount of strategic effort devoted to characterizing and coming up it both new national security practices and strategies to counter what was perceived as a global threat. There was also an immense amount of Congressional attention to that threat and a variety of legislation was passed to deal with it.  As of 2014 that legislation remains largely unchanged and serves as the platform for dealing with an entirely different type of threat, one which more openly proclaims its desire to take absolute control over the rest of the world.  While this is not an article in praise of the Cold War American strategies, it should at least be acknowledged that they were developed, debated and implemented with Congressional involvement.

Yet after years of a new growing threat, one which now actually claims significant geographic areas of control, there appears to be little strategic dialog.  At best we see knee jerk military actions and a constantly broadening military assistance programs, including National Guard relationships with over 60 nations around the globe and a constantly expanding low visibility military capability.

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As followers of this blog and readers of Shadow Warfare know, I don’t see such things as necessarily bad, more like necessary evils.  What troubles me is that way back in the Cold War, the U.S. pursued its National Security strategy with vigor but was often blind to the more subtle nuances – such as the differentiation between Communist and Nationalist movements.  That led us to aligning with first colonial and later military dictatorships and ultimately forced  many nationalist movements towards the Communist banner and outreach to Communist nations, simply in reaction.  The contemporary question is whether we would be able to come up with a more rational strategy, for instance one which could address the complex situation in major nations such as Nigeria.

Perhaps a more rational strategy is possible, perhaps not.  But at the moment we seem to be strictly in knee jerk mode, with no sign of the sort of strategic thinking or debates of the Truman era – as well described in Graeber’s work.  Today’s arguments and debates are over the level of National Security Council (read White House/National Security Adviser/Sec of Defense) tactical micromanagement of the military campaign against ISIS and the apparent bipolar nature of a Congress which opposes executive actions while demanding involvement in foreign military campaign but can’t even deal with a new Authorization for Military Force much less calls for a formal declaration of war called for by a potential Presidential candidate.

Bottom line, tactical decisions, authorizations for military force and even declarations of war would be best served in the context of an overall strategy to address a new threat in a new century – if somebody sees signs of such a strategy emerging, being discussed, promoted or debated, please let me know.  So far I’ve missed it if that’s happening….   The best I can find is the sort of dialog in this article, which should actually be the sort of discussion we are seeing in Congress or at least within the National Security Council.