James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Lessons Learned: Bay of Pigs Invasion

by James M. Lindsay
April 17, 2012


A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I discuss the Bay of Pigs invasion, which began on April 17, 1961. In the video, I look at the mistakes made before and during the invasion and discuss the importance of anticipating failure and planning accordingly. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about these kinds of actions: What steps should presidents take to make sure that they are thinking how their policies might fail rather than simply engaging in wishful thinking about how they will succeed? I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below.

I hope you enjoy the video.

If you are interested in learning more about the Bay of Pigs, Castro, Kennedy, or Cuba, here are some books worth reading:

Lawrence Freedman. Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. (2000)

Howard Jones. The Bay of Pigs. (2008)

Higgins Trumbull. The Perfect Failure: Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. (1987)

Stephen Rabe. The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America. (1999)

Julia E. Sweig. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. (2009)

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Tony

    Thank you for sharing that, it’s a lesson learned. Hope , it won’t happen again.
    However, Under President Carter, the hostage rescue mission was failed, hope we learned our lesson from that one too.

  • Posted by Santiago Morales

    Sobering.i’m a veteran of 2506 Brigade( 2531 my number) infiltrated in Cuba prior to Bay of Pigs, later captured spent 18 years in prison. My friend Jim Thomson, ex RAND president, forwarded your comments.
    i should say that from my perspective that you are right on the money. It was “wishful thinking” the best caracterizing comment, and it was from day one. it seems that plan B in our foreign planning has become a bad word.
    We have a tendency to corner ourselves in our rethoric and that is dangerous in this very complex and evolving world. Thank you for thinking!

  • Posted by Rizwan

    To put this into more simplistic perspective. Hope for the best and plan for the worst strategy was missing. A plan which lacks contingency is not a plan.

  • Posted by Guy Duchi

    I came across this article in my thesis writing time. In my thesis, i am researching so-called “adaptive planning” or “adaptive pathways”. This approach has been called a paradigm shift in planning/designing large infrastructures in the water sector, due to the increased “deep uncertainty” caused by socio-economical, political and technological changes in many’s coastal regions. (for example, ecological changes due to climate change or mismanagement, or new types of dikes and changing values about right of way, hard and soft flood measures).

    This “new” type of planning has been discussed in the 1930 and the origins of it can be found at RAND corporation. The fundamental part is not thinking “what if scenarios occurs?” (i.e. this is how we can succeed, or sketch a doom scenario), but by thinking from vulnerabilities. (i.e. under what conditions will a given plan fail?)
    This comment resembles James Lindsay’s final statements and triggered me to eventually post this comment and think along based my experience from a slightly different sector.

    In the old days, efforts to avoid “wishful thinking” can be put off as “overthinking” or “overanalyzing”. Or in other words, wasting resources and hurting efficiencies of the involved (research and analyst’s) departments.
    Now, by means of contemporary wisdom and new information technologies, multiple scenarios can be compiled, and multiple vulnerabilities can be identified. However, most of these research are intensive (revolves expert knowledge), decentralized and not designed to be working together. More significantly, they might even not be relevant in your specific case. Hence, there should exist a way to quick scan said scenario and vulnerability models and extract what is relevant, and this is the focus of my research.

    However, it could be said that this is a very technology-driven approach. But one could argue that this is OK, as long as the key factors are eventually identified and are discussed. The approach forces a more thoughtful process. However, the approach here implies many intermediary steps, mainly from an institutional perspective. There is a notion that “institutions” cannot be changed, but can be shaped.

    I am curious about how others think about aforementioned concept in regards to Lindsay’s question.

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