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The Foreign Policy of JFK and George Bush

John Simkin

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Several researchers believe there was a connection between JFK’s foreign policy and his assassination. Some, like myself, take the view that it was connected to his attempts to develop a more left-wing policy. Others believe that JFK was not genuine about this change of policy and that he was assassinated by left-wing forces (Soviets/Castro).

I thought it might be worth discussing this issue. My own view is that when JFK was elected he intended to follow the traditional US foreign policy. This included using the CIA to undermine or overthrow left of centre governments in the Americas.

There were some figures in the State Department and the CIA who disapproved of this policy. They thought it would be better for America’s long-term interests to support reforming groups against military dictators. This difference of opinion was revealed in Earl Smith’s testimony that he gave to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on 27th August, 1960.


Smith names William Wieland (State Department) and John Topping (CIA) as people who helped Castro gain power in Cuba.

People like Wieland and Topping argued that it was dangerous for the US government to be associated with military dictators like Batista. The long-term result of this policy was to encourage the local population to be anti-American. By supporting the reformers, the American government would gain the appreciation of those trying to obtain democracy.

The problem with the theories put forward by people like Wieland and Topping was that it needed the US government to maintain a consistent policy. The policy towards Cuba was a disaster. First it helped Castro and then it forced the new government to ally itself with the Soviet Union by imposing economic sanctions against it.

When JFK gained power he continued the policy of Eisenhower. This resulted in the Bay of Pigs disaster. This was followed by supporting anti-Castro forces in Cuba. This policy probably included the approval of sending CIA backed assassination teams into Cuba.

It was not until the Cuban Missile Crisis that JFK began to rethink this policy. This was largely because of the influence of people like William Attwood and John Kenneth Gailbraith. Over the last few years classified documents have been released that shows that JFK was changing his foreign policy. However, because he did not believe the American public was ready for this change in policy, he kept it a secret. JFK knew that changes in policy concerning Cuba or Vietnam would be portrayed by his political opponents as being “soft on communism”. Top CIA officials became aware of this policy change and to undermine what JFK was doing, leaked this information to rabid anti-communists like William Pawley, Clint Murchison and Haroldson L. Hunt. These were people who were willing to put up the money necessary to bring an end to this new foreign policy.

This clash between these two different views of foreign policy can be seen in world politics today. Bill Clinton attempted to follow a moderate form of JFK’s secret foreign policy. As a result, countries in the region became much more friendly towards America.

Bush has taken a very different approach. He has shown he is willing to send troops to other countries in order to further his foreign policy objectives. America is now bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same way it was entangled in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.

The result of this policy has been to see an increase in anti-Americanism and a move to the left in the region. For example, over the last couple of years you have seen left-wing governments elected in Venezuela, Brazil, Chile (Richard Lagos, the first socialist elected since Salvador Allende), Argentina and Uruguay. Any left-wing leader in the Americas can get easy votes by employing anti-American rhetoric. In December, Bolivia is expected to elect Evo Morales, a close friend of Hugo Chavez, as president. The left may also gain power in Honduras (November, 2005), Costa Rica (February, 2006), Peru (April, 2006) and Ecuador (October, 2006). There is a possibility that these countries will form an anti-American alliance. They will almost certainly seek political alliances beyond the US.

Those on the left have always known that their main enemy is made up of liberals, not conservatives. Bush’s incompetent foreign policy has reinforced this idea. JFK was wrong in 1961 but got it right by 1963. He was a man before his time. Maybe America will itself swing to the left at the next election and a new Democratic president will return to the foreign policy of the last few months of JFK’s administration. This time he or she will be able to do it in the full view of the American public. Maybe Bush will do for right-wing conservatism, what Hitler did for fascism. One book published after the war about Nazi Germany was entitled “Never Again”. Let us hope that goes for Bush as well.

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