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Crisis Management at the Dead Center: The 1960-1961 Presidential Transition and the Bay of Pigs Fiasco

Author: Rebecca R. Friedman
March 17, 2011
Presidential Studies Quarterly

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Abstract

Foreign policy decision making during presidential transitions is an inherently difficult challenge. By examining the 1960-1961 presidential transition and resulting Bay of Pigs fiasco, this article demonstrates that there are six independent, causal variables that best determine the success or failure of foreign policy decision making during presidential transitions: national security decision-making structure, availability of information relevant to the substance and history of the crisis and its policy responses; focus of time and resources; relevant campaign commitments; “newness” of the incoming administration; and “inheritedness” of the policy. Three of President John F. Kennedy's most important Bay of Pigs decisions are explained using this six-variable framework. Drawing from the lessons of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, recommendations are offered for how to improve future national security transitions.

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