Modern history

9

From Hungary and Suez to Cuba

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militant-industrial complex.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER,
FAREWELL ADDRESS

THE OVERWHELMING FIRST IMPRESSION OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY from 1956 to 1961 was one of unrelieved failure. America’s inability to do anything at all to aid Hungary’s rebels made a mockery of the Republican calls for liberation. Eisenhower and Dulles were unable to contain the Russians, who succeeded in their centuries-old dream of establishing themselves in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Spectacular Soviet successes in rocketry, beginning with Sputnik, sent the United States into a deep emotional depression. Russia seemed to have won the arms race, and in 1959 it was Khrushchev who played at brinksmanship from a position of strength. After the Suez crisis, the French, British, and Americans could never fully trust each other. In Southeast Asia, Communist guerrillas in South Vietnam and Laos threatened to upset the delicate balance there in favor of the Communists. In Latin America, the Eisenhower administration was helpless in the face of a revolution in Cuba, which soon allowed the Russians to extend their influence to within ninety miles of the United States.

Surface appearances, however, reveal only surface truths. Eisenhower’s outstanding achievement was to avoid war. However irresponsible Republican emotional appeals to the anti-Communist vote may have been, and despite the Russian shift to the offensive in the Cold War, Eisenhower refused to engage American troops in armed conflict. He was not immune to intervention, nor to provocative rhetoric, nor to nuclear testing, nor to the arms race (within strict limits), but he did set his face against war. It became the Democrats’ turn to complain that the United States was not “going forward,” that it was not “doing enough,” that America was “losing the Cold War.”

But despite the Democrats’ complaints, the United States emerged from the Eisenhower years in a strong position. The American gross national product went up—without inflation. The Western European economy continued to boom. NATO was intact. Anglo-American oil interests in the Middle East were secure. The Latin American economy remained under American domination. American military bases in the Pacific were safe. Chiang remained in control of Formosa. And the United States, although Eisenhower was spending only about two thirds the amount that the Democrats wanted him to on defense, was militarily superior to the Soviet Union.

Eisenhower had been unable to contain the Communists, much less liberate East Europe, and he remained wedded to the clichés of the Cold War, but he was a man of moderation and caution with a clear view of what it would cost the United States to resist Communist advances everywhere. He thought the American economy could not pay the price, which was the fundamental distinction between Eisenhower and his Democratic successors.

Eisenhower showed his reluctance to take aggressive action most clearly in response to the events that preceded and accompanied the 1956 presidential campaign. The Democratic nominee, Adlai Stevenson, accused Eisenhower of not doing enough to stop the Communists. Half of Indochina had become a “new Communist satellite,” Stevenson declared, and the United States “emerged from the debacle looking like a ‘paper tiger.’” Stevenson was also upset at what he called NATO’s decline, wanted the American armed forces strengthened, and charged that Eisenhower had rejected “great opportunities to exploit weaknesses in the Communist ranks.” Finally, Stevenson charged that Eisenhower had allowed the Russians to get ahead in the arms race. There was, he warned, a “bomber gap.”

Eisenhower would not be stampeded, although the opportunities for action were certainly present. In the Middle East, ignoring ideology, the Russians were extending their influence. Although Dulles had broken with Truman’s policy of support for Israel and was trying to improve relations with the Arabs, he was either unable or unwilling to match Communist aid programs for the area. In late 1955, he had a “conniption fit” when he learned that the Egyptians had negotiated an arms deal with the Czechs. Dulles’s initial response was to offer the Egyptian leader, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, American aid for the Aswan Dam, a gigantic project designed to harness the power of the lower Nile. Technical experts then studied the project and pronounced it feasible. By February 1956, Nasser was ready to conclude the deal.

Dulles, however, had trouble selling the Aswan Dam in the United States. Pro-Israeli politicians denounced the dam. Southern Congressmen wondered why the United States should build a dam that would allow the Egyptians to raise more cotton. In the Cabinet, old-guard Republicans feared the cost of the dam would unbalance the budget. All the opponents agreed that the Egyptians could not possibly provide the technicians nor the industry to use the dam properly. Dulles himself began to back off when in April 1956 Nasser formed a military alliance with Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen and refused to repudiate the Czech arms deal. The Secretary assumed that the Russians could not replace the Americans as backers of the Aswan Dam, an assumption based on the curious notion that the Russians did not have the technological know-how. When Nasser withdrew recognition from Chiang Kai-shek and recognized Communist China in May, Dulles had had enough. He decided to withdraw from the Aswan Dam project, but he did not make the decision public.

Then, on July 19, 1956, at the moment the Egyptian foreign minister was arriving in Washington to discuss the project, Dulles announced that America was withdrawing its support from the Aswan Dam. Nasser’s immediate response was to seize the Suez Canal, which restored his lost prestige at a stroke and gave him the $25-million annual profit from the canal operation. Now it was the British and French who were furious. They were dependent on the canal for oil, they were certain that the Arabs did not have the skills to run the canal properly, they feared that Nasser would close it to their ships, and their self-esteem had suffered a serious blow. Long, complicated negotiations ensued. They got nowhere. Dulles’s main concern was to protect American oil interests in the Middle East, whereas the British and French could be satisfied by nothing less than complete control of the canal. Dulles, fearing Arab reaction, was unwilling to restore the colonial powers and was in any event strongly opposed to old-style European colonialism.

It was indeed a mess. In a later investigation Senator Fulbright charged that the Aswan Dam project was sound, that its repudiation was a personal decision by Dulles, that Dulles misjudged both Nasser’s attitude toward the Soviet Union and the importance of the dam to Egypt, that he confused Egyptian nationalism and neutralism with Communism, and that he never made any serious effort to persuade the congressional opponents of the project. Dulles had damaged the American position in France, Britain, and NATO, lost a chance to tie Nasser to the West, allowed the Soviet Union to begin preparation for a naval base in the Mediterranean, alienated Israel and her supporters, and failed to gain any more Arab adherents.

The anger of the critics was justified, but it did not take everything into account. The Middle East contained 64 percent of the world’s then-known oil reserves. The leading producers were Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. During and after World War II, American oil companies, aided by the United States government, had forced concessions from both the British and the Arabs and now had a major interest in the Middle Eastern oil. Despite Dulles’s bumbling, these interests were secure.

The Suez Canal remained necessary to move the oil. Dulles began a complex series of negotiations designed to help Nasser run the canal without the British or French. The Europeans thereupon decided to take matters into their own hands. In conjunction with Israel, the British and French began plans for an invasion of Egypt. They did not inform the United States.

Another development, in East Europe, complicated everything. At the twentieth Party Congress in February 1956, Khrushchev shocked the party by denouncing Stalin for his crimes, confessing that there could be several roads to Communism and indicating that Stalinist restrictions would be loosened. Two months later the Russians dissolved the Cominform. The CIA got a copy of Khrushchev’s secret speech and distributed copies of it throughout the world. Ferment immediately swept through East Europe. Riots in Poland forced Khrushchev to disband the old Stalinist Politburo in Warsaw and allow Wladyslaw Gomulka, an independent Communist, to take power (October 20, 1956). Poland remained Communist and a member of the Warsaw Pact, but it won substantial independence and set an example for the other satellites.

The excitement spread to Hungary, before the war the most Fascist of the East European states and the one where Stalin’s imposition of Communism had been most alien. On October 23, Hungarian students took to the streets to demand that the Stalinist puppets be replaced with Imre Nagy. Workers joined the students and the riot spread. Khrushchev agreed to give power to Nagy, but that was no longer enough. The Hungarians demanded the removal of the Red Army from Hungary and the creation of an anti-Communist political party. By October 28, the Russians had given in and begun to withdraw their tanks from around Budapest.

Liberation was at hand. Eisenhower was careful in his campaign speeches to use only the vaguest of phrases, although the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe did encourage the rebels. So did Dulles, who promised economic aid to those who broke with the Kremlin. At the decisive moment, however, just as it seemed that the European balance of power was about to be drastically altered, the Israeli Army struck Egypt. In a matter of hours it nearly destroyed Nasser’s army and took most of the Sinai Peninsula. Britain and France then issued an ultimatum, arranged in advance with the Israelis, warning the combatants to stay away from the Suez Canal. When Nasser rejected the note, the Europeans began bombing Egyptian military targets and prepared to move troops into Suez, on the pretext of keeping the Israelis and Arabs apart.

On October 31, the day after the bombing in Egypt began and less than a week before the U.S. presidential elections, Nagy announced that Hungary was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets decided to move. Russian tanks crushed the Hungarian rebels, who fought back with Molotov cocktails. Bitter street fighting left 7,000 Russians and 30,000 Hungarians dead. Radio pleas from Hungary made the tragedy even more painful: “Any news about help? Quickly, quickly, quickly!” And the last desperate cry, on a teletype message to the Associated Press: “HELP!—HELP!—HELP!—SOS!—SOS!—SOS! They just brought us a rumor that the American troops will be here within one or two hours.... We are well and fighting.”

There never would be any American troops. Eisenhower did not even consider giving military support to the Hungarians, and he would not have done so even had there been no concurrent Middle Eastern crisis. Under no conceivable circumstances would he risk World War III for East Europe. Liberation was a sham; it had always been a sham. All Hungary did was to expose it to the world. However deep Eisenhower’s hatred of Communism, his fear of nuclear war was deeper. Even had this not been so, the armed forces of the United States were not capable of driving the Red Army out of Hungary, except through a nuclear holocaust that would have left all Hungary and most of Europe devastated. The Hungarians, and the other Eastern European peoples, learned that they would have to make the best deal they could with the Soviets. The Russian capture and execution of Nagy made the point brutally clear.

In Egypt, meanwhile, the British and French had bungled. They blew their cover story almost immediately. Their advance was so rapid that they could not pretend that their invasion was one by a disinterested third party designed to keep the Israelis and Egyptians apart. Eisenhower was upset at their use of nineteenth-century colonial tactics; he was livid at their failure to inform him of their intentions. The Americans introduced a resolution in the UN General Assembly urging a truce and imposed an oil embargo on Britain and France. Khrushchev, meanwhile, rattled his rockets, warning the British and French on November 5 to withdraw before he destroyed them. Although they were only hours away from taking the Suez Canal, the Anglo-French governments agreed to a ceasefire and pullback.

It had been quite a week for lessons. American politicians learned to stop their irresponsible prattling about liberation. The Russians learned just how strong a force nationalism was in East Europe, while the Israelis saw that they would have to make it on their own in their conflict with the Arabs. United States and United Nations pressure soon forced the Israelis to give up their gains in Sinai. The Egyptians learned to look to the Soviet Union for support—encouraged by Nasser, they believed that the Russian ultimatum, not the United States’ UN actions and oil embargo, had saved them. The British and French learned that they no longer stood on the center of the world stage—they were second-rate powers incapable of independent action.

Eisenhower wanted to retain good relations with the oil-rich Arab states, especially the Saudis, who were unwilling to fight the Israelis themselves but supported those who did. So Eisenhower stepped forward as the defender of Egypt, but he got precious little thanks for it. Instead, Nasser praised the Russians, who were building the Aswan High Dam for him and who were so delighted to have a foot on the ground in the Middle East that they abandoned their decade-old policy of support for Israel.

As Nasser continued to spread propaganda for Arab unity and socialism while taking more aid from the Soviet Union and allowing more Russians into his country, Eisenhower and Dulles feared that the Russians would move into the Middle East “vacuum” (the phrase always infuriated the Arabs) and had to be forestalled. Attempted coups and countercoups in Syria, Jordan, and Iraq by pro- and anti-Nasserites increased American anxiety. So on January 5, 1957. Eisenhower asked Congress for authority to use American armed forces in the Middle East “if the President determines the necessity ... to assist any nation ... requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism.” The next year Eisenhower used the authority granted him in the so-called Eisenhower Doctrine when on July 15, 1958, he sent the Marines into Lebanon to support President Camille Chamoun.

The intervention in Lebanon illustrated Eisenhower’s methods. It was a unilateral action that risked general war in support of a less than democratic government threatened by pro-Nasser Arabs. Eisenhower tried to tie the action into great historic precedents by invoking Greece and the 1947 Truman Doctrine. He emphasized the danger by mentioning the Communist takeovers in Czechoslovakia and China, and he explained that the United States “had no intention of replacing the United Nations in its primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security.” The United States had acted alone merely “because only swift action would suffice.”

The rhetoric was grand, the intervention itself less sweeping. The Joint Chiefs wanted American troops to overrun all of Lebanon, but Eisenhower ordered the men to limit themselves to taking the airfield and the capital. If the government could not survive even after American troops had secured the capital, Eisenhower said, “I felt we were backing up a government with so little popular support that we probably should not be there.”

The Russians, too, were unwilling to take drastic action. Nasser flew to Moscow to ask for aid; Khrushchev turned him down. The Soviet ruler knew that Eisenhower acted to protect Western oil holdings and he knew how vital those holdings were to the West. As long as Eisenhower was willing to hold down the scope of the intervention, Khrushchev would not interfere.

Khrushchev’s caution surprised many observers, since the Russians were generally believed to have achieved military superiority. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched the world’s first man-made satellite, Sputnik. Two months earlier they had fired the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Americans were frustrated, angry, ashamed, and afraid all at once. As Walter LaFeber puts it, “‘gaps’ were suddenly discovered in everything from missile production to the teaching of arithmetic at the preschool level.” Eisenhower dispersed Strategic Air Force units and installed medium-range ballistic missiles in Turkey and Italy, but this was hardly enough to assuage the sudden fear. When the Russians began trumpeting about their average increase in their GNP (supposedly nearly twice the American rate), the pressure on Eisenhower to “get the country moving again” became almost irresistible.

Eisenhower refused to panic, even when in late 1957 the newspapers discovered and published the findings and recommendations of a committee headed by H. Rowan Gaither, Jr., of the Ford Foundation, which painted an exceedingly dark picture of the future of American security. The Gaither Report, as Eisenhower typically understated it, included “some sobering observations.” It found that the Soviet G.N.P. was increasing at a much faster rate than that of the United States, that the Russians were spending as much on their armed forces and heavy industry as the Americans were, that by 1959 the Soviets might be able to launch an attack against the United States with one hundred ICBMs carrying megaton-sized nuclear warheads, and that if such an attack should come, the civilian population and American bombers would be vulnerable.

The Gaither Report was similar to NSC 68 in its findings, and like NSC 68 it recommended a much-improved defense system. The committee wanted fallout shelters built on a massive scale, an improvement in America’s air-defense capability, a vast increase in offensive power, especially missile development, a buildup of conventional forces capable of fighting limited war, and another reorganization of the Pentagon. As a starter the Gaither Report urged an increase in defense spending to $48 billion.

Eisenhower said no. “We could not turn the nation into a garrison state,” he explained in his memoirs, adding as an afterthought that the Gaither Report was “useful; it acted as a gadfly....” He kept the defense budget under $40 billion, quietly rejected the demands for fallout shelters and increased conventional-war capability, and cut one Army division and a number of tactical air wings from active duty. He did speed up the ballistic-missile program although Congress appropriated more funds than the administration requested for the ICBM and Polaris missile to get those programs into high gear.

Democrats charged that the Republicans were allowing their fiscal views to endanger the national security, but Eisenhower knew what he was doing. The CIA, in one of the great intelligence coups of all time, had in 1956 inaugurated a series of flights over the Soviet Union in specially built high-altitude airplanes called U-2s. The photographs that resulted from the flights revealed, as Eisenhower later put it, “proof that the horrors of the alleged ‘bomber gap’ and the later ‘missile gap’ were nothing more than imaginative creations of irresponsibility.” The United States still had a substantial lead in strategic weapons.

One of the most important points about the U-2 flights was that Khrushchev knew they were taking place (none of the Russian fighter airplanes could reach the altitude at which the U-2s flew, so they could not knock them down), which meant that Khrushchev knew that Eisenhower knew how false were the Soviet boasts about their strategic superiority. The fact that Eisenhower made no strong statements about Soviet inferiority during the American domestic controversy about the missile gap should have reassured the Soviets and convinced them that Eisenhower really was a man of moderation who was sincerely interested in some sort of modus vivendi. The flights, the information they produced, and Eisenhower’s rejection of the Gaither Report, all indicated to the Soviets that Eisenhower had accepted the fundamental idea that neither side could win a nuclear war and that both would lose in an arms race.

The events in the year following Sputnik had the effect of establishing ground rules for the Cold War. By staying out of the Lebanon situation the Soviets indicated that they recognized and would not challenge the West’s vital interests. By refusing to take the easy way out of the missile gap controversy, Eisenhower indicated that he did not want an arms race and was eager for détente. Through their negative signals both sides showed that they would keep the threshold of conflict high. The years of Eisenhower’s second term marked the height of bipolarity, for, as the British, French, Israelis, and Egyptians could testify, what the Big Two wanted they got. Whether they could continue to control their allies, especially France and China,12 much less the Third World, was an open question. Indeed, it was not at all clear that Eisenhower and Khrushchev could control the hardliners in their own countries.

A major test soon came in divided Berlin. Eisenhower’s desire for détente was based on a continuation of the status quo, which Khrushchev could not accept everywhere and certainly could not accept in Berlin. West Berlin was a bone in his throat. Each year 300,000 East Germans defected to the West via Berlin, most of them young, talented, educated, and professional people. Since 1949 East Germany had lost 3 million people through the West Berlin escape hatch. West Berlin also contained the largest combination of espionage agencies ever assembled in one place, 110 miles deep in Communist territory, as well as radio stations that constantly beamed propaganda into East Europe.

Equally important was the West Berlin economic miracle. The Americans had poured $600 billion into the city, which the Bonn government had matched. West Berlin was turning out nearly $2 billion worth of goods per year. It had become the greatest manufacturing city in Germany and its GNP exceeded that of more than half the members of the United Nations. The glittering social, intellectual, and economic life in West Berlin stood in sharp contrast to the drab, depressed life of East Berlin. What made the situation especially intolerable for Khrushchev was the steady flow of American propaganda about Berlin. Americans used the refugees and the economic contrast between the two Berlins as the ultimate proof of the superiority of capitalism over Communism.

The situation had, however, existed for over a decade. Why did Khrushchev decide to move against West Berlin in late 1958, during a period of relative calm in the Cold War? He may have reasoned that since Eisenhower would not build up conventional forces, and since the President would do everything possible to avoid a nuclear exchange, a diplomatic solution was now possible. More immediately, Khrushchev feared the growing rearmament of West Germany. The Americans had sent artillery capable of firing nuclear shells and airplanes that could carry nuclear bombs to West Germany. Konrad Adenauer, the West German leader, was increasing the pace of rearmament. Finally, the Bonn government was on the verge of joining with France, Italy, and the Benelux nations in the Common Market, which would tie West Germany more firmly than ever into the Western bloc. Khrushchev was under intense pressure to do something about the German situation.

On November 10, 1958, Khrushchev declared that the Soviet Union was ready to turn over control of Berlin to East Germany. When that happened the West would have to negotiate rights of access to West Berlin with the East German government, which none of the Western governments recognized. The West was in Berlin only on the basis of presurrender occupation agreements; if Khrushchev signed a peace treaty with the East Germans, the occupation presumably would have to come to an end. Khrushchev warned that any attack against East Germany would be considered an attack on the Soviet Union. He set a time limit of six months and said that if agreement were not reached by then, the West would have to deal with the East Germans. In later speeches he indicated that the only satisfactory resolution of the Berlin situation was to turn West Berlin into a free city with the British, French, and Americans withdrawing their ten thousand troops. He also wanted the West Berlin economy integrated into that of East Germany and the Soviet Union.

Eisenhower rejected the free-city proposal, but he also refused to increase the armed services dramatically as a prelude to taking a hard line over Berlin. In March 1959, as Khrushchev’s deadline approached and Democrats urged him to mobilize, Eisenhower told Congress that he did not need additional money for missiles or conventional-warfare forces to deal with the crisis. At a press conference on March 11, with considerable emotion, he dismissed demands that he refrain from carrying out his plans to further reduce the size of the Army. He wanted to know what in heaven’s name the United States would do with more ground forces in Europe. Thumping the table, he declared, “We are certainly not going to fight a ground war in Europe,” and he pointed out the elementary truth that a few more men or even a few more divisions in Europe would have little effect on the military balance there. He thought the greatest danger in the Berlin crisis was that the Russians would frighten the United States into an arms race that would bankrupt the country.

Khrushchev, who wanted to reduce his own armed forces and who was no more anxious to exchange nuclear strikes than Eisenhower, began to back down. He denied that he had ever set a time limit, accepted an invitation to visit the United States in September of 1959, and arranged with Eisenhower for a summit meeting in Paris, scheduled for May 1960.

During private talks with Khrushchev at Camp David, Maryland, in the fall of 1959, Eisenhower admitted that the situation in Berlin was abnormal and that some modification would be necessary. Eisenhower was prepared to make concessions in order to normalize the situation. He had managed to avoid a crisis over Berlin by simply denying that a crisis existed, in a sense an awesome display of presidential power—a “crisis” can exist only when the President says it exists.

Eisenhower had opted for peace. Throughout his second term he warned of the danger of turning America into a garrison state. As a professional soldier of the old school, Eisenhower felt his first responsibility was the nation’s security, which he realized could never be enhanced by an arms race in the nuclear age. This was Eisenhower’s fundamental insight, that the more one spent on atomic weapons, the less secure one became, because as the United States built more weapons, the Russians were sure to follow.

Negotiation with the Russians was a more effective way to enhance the nation’s security. Democrats thought the primary reason for Eisenhower’s concern was his commitment to a balanced budget, and it was true that he had decided that the cost of the Cold War was more than America would bear, but there was something else. By 1958, Eisenhower realized that he had only two more years on the world stage, that if he were to leave any lasting gift to the world he would have to do it soon. His deepest personal desire was to leave mankind the gift of peace.

Eisenhower and Khrushchev were anxious to solidify the concept of peaceful coexistence, each for his own reasons, but by 1959 the Cold War had gone on for so long that calling it off was no easy task. Both men had to fend off hard-liners at home, both had troubles with their allies, and both were beset by Third World problems that they could not control. Eisenhower had to deal with the Democrats, who believed government spending on defense would help, not hurt, the economy. The Democrats, led by Senators John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Hubert H. Humphrey, were impatient with Eisenhower’s conservatism, yearned for a dynamic President, and talked incessantly about America’s loss of prestige. They wanted to restore America to world leadership, which in practice meant extending American commitments and increasing American arms. On the other side, Eisenhower was beset by Republicans who wanted to hear more about liberation and getting tough with the Communists, and the President himself had by no means escaped fully from the patterns of thought of the Cold War.

Neither had Khrushchev, who also had hard-liners in Moscow pushing him toward the brink. In addition, Mao had become as much a problem for Khrushchev as Chiang was for Eisenhower. Khrushchev’s refusal to support Mao’s call for wars of national liberation signified to Mao that the Russians had joined the have powers against the have-nots. There was other evidence, such as Khrushchev’s trip to the United States, his willingness to go to the summit again, and the cooling of the Berlin crisis. As the Chinese saw it, the Soviets were selling out both Communism and the Third World. They accused Khrushchev of appeasement. Mao challenged, directly and successfully, Khrushchev’s leadership of the Communist world. Indirectly, he challenged bipolarity. The world was simply too large, with too much diversity, to be controlled by the two superpowers, no matter how closely together they marched.

Khrushchev and Eisenhower, in short, had gone too far toward coexistence for the Cold Warriors in their own countries and for their allies. Khrushchev was in the weaker position at home, since Eisenhower was almost immune to criticism, especially on military matters. Khrushchev did not have such prestige, and he found it increasingly difficult to ward off those in the Kremlin who wanted more arms and something done about Berlin. He also had to face the Chinese challenge for Communist leadership.

Khrushchev badly needed a Cold War victory, both for internal political reasons and to compete with China for followers. He may have felt that Eisenhower, who would shortly be leaving office, would be willing to allow him a victory. Whatever his reasoning, Khrushchev announced on May 5, 1960, on the eve of the Paris summit meeting, that a Russian surface-to-air missile (SAM) had knocked down an American U-2 spy plane inside Russia.

The event showed how entrenched Cold War interests could block any move toward peace. Having finally achieved the ability to knock down the U-2s, the Soviets could have waited for the results of the Paris meeting to actually do it. On the other side, the CIA could have suspended the flights in the period preceding the meeting. Or Khrushchev could have kept quiet about the entire affair, hoping that the CIA had learned a lesson and would cease and desist thereafter. Instead, he deliberately embarrassed the President. Khrushchev boasted about the performance of the SAMs but concealed pilot Francis Gary Powers’s survival in order to elicit an American explanation that could be demolished by producing Powers. When Eisenhower fell into the trap, Khrushchev crowed over his discomfort and demanded an apology or a repudiation of presidential responsibility. He had misjudged the man. Eisenhower stated instead that the United States had the right to spy on the Soviet Union and he took full personal responsibility for the flight. The summit conference was ruined. The best hope for an agreement on Berlin was gone, although Khrushchev did abandon his effort to change the status quo there. He said he would wait for the new President to take office before he brought it up again. The Paris summit, meanwhile, broke up at the opening meeting when Eisenhower refused to apologize for the U-2 flight.

Khrushchev had improved his position at home, and with the Chinese, but not much. Eisenhower had tried but in the end he was unable to bring the Cold War to a close. Despite the U-2 and the wrecked summit meeting, he had improved Russian-American relations. He had failed to liberate any Communist slaves—indeed, he had been forced to acquiesce in the coming of Communism to Indochina and in the establishment of a Russian base in the Mediterranean—but he had avoided war and kept the arms race at a low level. He had tried, insofar as he was capable, to ease the policy of permanent crisis he had inherited from Truman.

Eisenhower’s major weakness was that he was an old man, head of an old party, surrounded by old advisers. He dealt with old problems. His image, deliberately promoted by the Republicans, was that of a kindly grandfather. He could not anticipate new problems nor adjust to the winds of change.

As in Cuba. Three times after 1902 the United States had intervened in Cuba to protect American investments, which by the end of World War II had grown to impressive proportions. Americans owned 80 percent of Cuba’s utilities, 40 percent of its sugar, 90 percent of its mining wealth, and occupied the island’s key strategic location of Guantanamo Bay. Cuban life was controlled from Washington, for almost the only source of income was sugar, and by manipulating the amount of sugar allowed into the United States, Washington directed the economy.

Fulgencio Batista was the Cuban dictator. He had come to power as a revolutionary but had adjusted to the realities of leading a small nation in which the United States had a large investment. Postponing land reform and other promised improvements, by the 1950s his sole support was the Cuban Army, which was equipped by the United States, and his policies were repressive. In January 1959, after a long struggle, Fidel Castro, who had placed himself at the head of the various anti-Batista guerrilla movements, drove Batista from Havana. At first the general public in the United States welcomed Castro, casting him in a romantic mold and applauding his democratic reforms. Castro helped by putting leading Cuban liberals in important posts on his Cabinet. American supporters of Castro expected him to restore civil liberties, introduce gradual and compensated land reform and look to the United States for leadership.

Within the American government, however, Castro did not receive an enthusiastic welcome. Allen Dulles told Eisenhower that “Communists and other extreme radicals appear to have penetrated the Castro government”; Dulles warned that the Communists would probably participate in the government. The limitations on American policy then became apparent. Someone suggested that the United States help Batista return to power. Eisenhower refused—Batista was too much the dictator. Since Castro was too close to the Communists to deserve American support, the administration began working on a third alternative. “Our only hope,” Eisenhower said, “lay with some kind of non-dictatorial ‘third force,’ neither Castroite nor Bastistiano.”

In Cuba, meanwhile, Castro moved to the left. He began an extensive land-reform program and a nationalization of American-owned property, without compensation. The United States turned down his requests for loans and relations steadily worsened. Cuban liberals began to flee the country; Cuban Communists rose to power under Castro. Khrushchev welcomed Castro as a new force in Latin America, pronounced the Monroe Doctrine dead, and in February 1960 signed a trade agreement to exchange Cuban sugar for Soviet oil and machinery. Four months later the United States eliminated the Cuban sugar quota; in the first days of 1961 Eisenhower formally severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The search for a liberal alternative went on. Eisenhower gave the CIA permission to plan an invasion of Cuba and to begin training Cuban exiles to carry it out, with American support. Some of Castro’s original liberal Cabinet members participated in the invasion scheme. Preparations were not complete when Eisenhower left office and the decision to go forward with the invasion or not became his successor’s problem.

In 1960, young Democrats had taken over the party by nominating John F. Kennedy for the presidency. The Democrats were urging dynamism in foreign relations and a major increase in America’s armed forces, as well as a totally new American relationship to the Third World. Kennedy and his advisers were most concerned with finding a liberal alternative to Castro. During the campaign Kennedy said his policy would be to give American support to “non-Batista democratic anti-Castro forces.” But the major foreign-policy issue in the Nixon-Kennedy campaign of 1960 was Quemoy and Matsu. Kennedy doubted that the islands were worth defending. Nixon insisted that Quemoy and Matsu had to be held. Kennedy also stressed the missile gap, which Nixon denied existed. There were no other significant differences on foreign-policy issues between these two hot-blooded Cold Warriors who vied with each other over who would be tougher on the Communists. Kennedy won the election by a narrow margin.

In January 1961, Eisenhower delivered his farewell address. He was concerned about the internal cost of the Cold War. His ideals were those of small-town America. He was afraid that big government and the regimentation of private life were threatening the old American values. He pointed out that the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry ... new in American experience, exercised a total influence ... felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government.... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

The Democrats paid no attention. In the campaign, and in his inaugural address, Kennedy emphasized that a new generation was coming to power in America. Hardened by the Cold War, it was prepared to deal with all the tough problems. He promised to replace Eisenhower’s tired, bland leadership with new ideas and new approaches. Since the generalities were not reinforced by any specific suggestions, it was difficult to tell what the new directions would be. What was clear was that a forward-looking, offensive spirit had come to America. Action was about to replace inaction. Kennedy promised to get the country moving again. Where to, no one knew precisely.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!