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Lessons Learned: Bay of Pigs Invasion

Speaker: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President and Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
April 17, 2012

On April 17, 1961, 1,511 Cuban exiles in the U.S.-backed Brigade 2506 landed on Cuba's shores at the Bahía de Cochinos--the Bay of Pigs. Their brief invasion ended on April 19 when the exiles surrendered to Fidel Castro's army, and the incident has gone down as one of the biggest fiascoes in the history of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S.-backed operation, which originated under President Dwight Eisenhower but was ultimately approved by President John F. Kennedy, called for a small invasion force, armed with the element of surprise, to trigger a general uprising in Cuba and overthrow the Castro regime. But the Cuban people did not revolt, and Castro was not surprised. Kennedy refused to commit significant U.S. military support, and the operation failed.

James M. Lindsay, CFR's senior vice president and director of studies, argues that the Bay of Pigs serves as a valuable reminder that one should be "prepared for failure and plan accordingly." "Had JFK thought through the possibilities of failure," Lindsay says, "he might have canceled the operation or fundamentally reshaped it." Planning for failure and "taking steps to minimize it" are "especially important when talking about decisions to use force," he argues. An analysis of a military strike on Iran, for example, would be "incomplete unless it also grapples with how a military strike might fail, or create entirely new problems to handle."

This video is part of Lessons Learned, a series dedicated to exploring historical events and examining their meaning in the context of foreign relations today.


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