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The US Administration is constantly faced with scenarios that require risky decisions to be made. Sometimes this risk taking results in positive outcomes while the results are horrible at other times. One of the cases where the risk taking led to negative results was in the case of the Bay of Pigs invasion under President J.F. Kennedy.
While the US envisioned a major success in this operation, the reality was different as the Cuban forces overwhelmed the US trained rebels. This defeat was followed by a worldwide condemnation of the Kennedy Administration for its role in the invasion.
The attack also led to a cementing of Fidel Castro’s leadership in the country and a greater deterioration in the relationship between Cuba and the US thereby making the Bay of Pigs invasion a colossal failure. This paper will set out to analyze the underlying reasons behind the failure of President Kennedy in his decision to invade Cuba and attempt to highlight some lessons that can be learnt from this failure.
Overview of the Case
The Bay of Pigs invasion was an attack against the Cuban government carried out by US backed Cuban rebels. The US created this plan since it wanted to replace the Castro’s communist government with a pro-American government.
The Cuban rebels were trained and armed by the CIA and they were meant to carry out the attack and trigger a revolution that would cause the fall the Castro regime. The invasion was a catastrophic failure as the weak rebel forces were overwhelmed by Cuban troops and many of them were killed or captured.
Reasons for President Kennedy’s Failure
A major cause of the failure was the great desire by the Kennedy Administration to conceal its involvement in the invasion. The US government was concerned about keen to ensure that its involvement in the situation in Cuba remained unknown to the rest of the world. The US therefore limited its military support to the rebels who were going to engage in the combat operations.
Bates and Joshua (1998) document that even before the invasion was carried out; President Kennedy’s advisers had informed him that the Cuban exiles were doomed to fail if they did not receive military assistance from the US.
The invasion failed since the US made a major assumption concerning the reaction of the Fidel administration and the general republic to the US backed invasion. Bates and Joshua (1998) reveal that to the planners of the invasion, the ultimate success of the attack would depend on a sizeable popular uprising to support the initial rebel force.
Top intelligence officials predicted that the invasion would be followed by massive counter-revolutionary violence that would oust Castro from his post as leader of Cuba. This assumption ignored the fact that the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro enjoyed massive popular support.
President Kennedy ignored the analyst reports that highlighted the weaknesses of the proposed plans. Specifically, reports by the JCS giving an unfavorable evaluation of the project were muted and the optimistic reports by the CIA were followed. The Kennedy Administration was confident of the success of its plan since the CIA group responsible for planning the invasion had previously succeeded in the Guatemalan coup of 1954.
The administration intended to use the same strategy that had led to success at Guatemala. Straw and Ross (1989) elaborate that governments are willing to commit to a course of action if the same commitment has led to success in the past. The Kennedy Administration failed to consider that the conditions in Cuba were significantly different from those of Guatemala.
There were conflicts among the various departments planning the Cuban invasion. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had an anti-Castro plan that was made independent of the CIA project. While the JCS felt that US backing would be necessary for unseating Castro, the CIA chief was optimistic that a covert invasion would work.
Research indicates that workgroups with differing professional backgrounds will often disagree about task process and content (Jehn, Northcraft & Neale, 1999). The military strategists at the JCS offices therefore held differing views to the covert operators at the CIA. Instead of resolving this conflict and coming up with a solution that considered the concerns of both groups, the Kennedy Administration favored the CIA plot.
Even when faced with the reality that the plan was doomed to fail, President Kennedy felt that his Administration had already committed too much to the project to back down. On March 11 1961, a cabinet meeting was held in which the CIA director Allen Dulles observed that too many resources had already been committed to the invasion project for them to abandon the plan (Bates & Joshua, 1998).
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President Kennedy was concerned that the rebels had already been armed and it would be impossible to unarm them if the invasion was called off. Straw and Ross (1989) explain that organizations or governments are sometimes locked into existing courses of action since they feel that they have invested too much to quit, or that quitting will result in additional troubles.
The top government officials were guilty of groupthink as they adopted a positive outlook at the prospect of the invasion instead of carrying out critical thinking. The group accepted defective arguments made by the CIA that the plan would success. No one raised any strong objection to the plan in spite of its weaknesses.
Groupthink also prevented the Kennedy Administration from considering the repercussions of the invasion. Janis (1971) documents that because of groupthink, the Kennedy in-group refused to consider the danger that would result from the revelation to the world that the US was responsible for the invasion of Cuba.
Lessons from this Failure
Proposed solutions should borrow from the vast expertise of a number of relevant professional groups. In the case of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Kennedy Administration obtained its intelligence from the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The information provided by the two groups was informed by their experiences in different fields.
Jehn et al. (1999) suggest that the diverse backgrounds and experiences of different groups, gives them a different perspective on issues. The JCS and the CIA differed in their assessment of the issue. While the CIA group was optimistic about the success of the small rebel group, the JCS predicted that such an approach would fail.
However, when the report by the JCS was being presented, the JCS briefing officers did not offer their pessimistic evaluation. Bates and Joshua (1998) state that the JCS team did not offer its opinion since it did not want to overstep its boundaries.
Another lesson from the Kennedy failure is that a thorough risk assessment should be carried out before engaging in action. While risk is inherent in public decisions, the administration can reduce risk by ensuring that reliable information is used to inform the decision making process. This risk assessment should consider all the potential harmful side effects that might arise from an action (Hall & Jennings, 2008).
In the Bay of Pigs invasion, the primary concern of the Kennedy Administration was to avoid exposure of American involvement in the plan. Proper risk assessment was not undertaken and the Administration did not consider what would happen if the invasion failed and American involvement was made public.
Due to the poor risk assessment, the Bay of Pigs invasion led to a further deterioration of relations between Cuba and the US. These poor relations between the two countries have continued to exist to date.
Administrators should avoid engaging in groupthink by promoting diversity in opinions. Differences should be encouraged in the group when issues are being discussed to ensure that the situation is looked at from all angles (Hongseok, Myung-Ho & Giuseppe, 2004).
Individuals should be allowed to express their thoughts including doubts on the proposed solution. Janis (1971) states that by using such an approach, alternative solutions can be carefully considered and the best one selected.
This paper set out to analyze the failures by President Kennedy Administration in the Bay of Pigs invasion case and highlight some lessons from the case. It began by revealing that this invasion was aimed at ousting the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with no implication of American involvement.
The plan failed due to limited commitment by the US, wrong assumptions concerning the situation in Cuba, conflicts between major departments, and groupthink. The paper has articulated that administrators should consider all advice offered by experts, engage in better risk assessment practices, and avoid groupthink in order to stay away from such failures.
Bates, S., & Joshua, L.R. (1998). Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs. Cambridge: John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Hall, J.L., & Jennings, E.T. (2008). Taking Chances: Evaluating Risk as a Guide to Better Use of Best Practices. Public Administration Review, 68(4), 695-708.
Hongseok, O., Myung-Ho, C., & Giuseppe, L. (2004). Group Social Capital and Group Effectiveness: The Role of Informal Socializing Ties. Academy of Management Journal, 47(6), 860-875.
Janis, I.L. (1971) Groupthink: The Desperate Drive for Consensus at Any Cost. Psychology Today, 12(1), 43–76.
Jehn, A.K., Northcraft, B.G., & Neale, M.A. (1999). Why Differences Make a Difference: A Field Study of Diversity, Conflict, and Performance in Workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(4), 741-763.
Straw, B.M. & Ross, J. (1989). Understanding behavior in escalation situations. IENC, 246 (49), 1-5.