What mistakes did John F. Kennedy make during the Cuban missile crisis? by Tony Garcia
Answer by Tony Garcia:
At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the United States held military superiority over the Soviet Union, meaning far more missiles with nuclear-strike capability. Cuba was only 90 miles off the coast of Florida, whereas the Soviets were thousands of miles away. These factors meant that President John Kennedy was in a position of strength in his dealings with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. President Kennedy used this to call Premier Khrushchev’s bluff, and thus a deal had to be made.
Premier Khrushchev, however, didn’t fully capitulate; he wanted something in return for withdrawing the missiles, and President Kennedy was all too willing to accede. Khrushchev wanted a pledge that the United States would never invade Cuba again, and he wanted all U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey, which were pointed at Soviet forces, removed as well. The Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba and the U.S. quietly removed its Jupiter missiles, averting World War III.
Was the Cuban missile crisis President Kennedy’s fault? One can argue whether the Soviets were provoked into placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. The United States had sponsored the disastrously failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and placed medium-range nuclear missiles in Turkey. These so-called “first-strike weapons” were close enough to Moscow to start a war. The Kremlin feared an imminent invasion by Washington and responded by placing nuclear weapons in Cuba.
The contraindicative to this argument is that the embarrassment at the Bay of Pigs insured there would be no further attempts of that nature, much less a full-scale invasion of the Soviet Union. It was Premier Khrushchev’s miscalculation of President Kennedy’s intentions that led him to install nuclear weapons in Cuba—as was his mistaken belief that the U.S. would view the nuclear warheads as simply a quid pro quo response to U.S. missiles in Turkey.
Both leaders miscalculated each other’s response because, at the time, neither one could see the world through the other’s eyes.
Eventually, President Kennedy was satisfied with Soviet assurances that all nuclear weapons had been removed, and he lifted the Cuban blockade on November 20, 1962. However, recently declassified Soviet documents reveal that, while Khrushchev dismantled the medium- and intermediate-range missiles known to the Kennedy administration, he left approximately 100 tactical nuclear weapons for possible use in repelling any invading forces, a fact unknown to U.S. officials for decades. In an interview with the author Anthony Summers, former CIA officer and convicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt stated that CIA was never sure all nuclear missiles had been removed from the island because no provision had been made for on-site inspection.