John F. Kennedy: The Cold War and U.S. Diplomacy Essay

Category: History

John F. Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20, 1962, and became the 35th President of the United States. Though he was the youngest man elected as President, his diplomacy, the motivation of his actions in the field of international policy and a sequence of other factors greatly influenced development of the United States, its allies, the Soviet Union and socialist countries under the circumstances of an ongoing Cold War.

John F. Kennedy was inaugurated at the time when revolution and communism were exceedingly popular in many former colonies. One of those colonies was neighboring Cuba. The Soviet Union was leading in the exploration of space and had developed missiles, thus making the United States vulnerable to nuclear attack. Right before Kennedy became a President, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a public promise to support what he referred to as “wars of national liberation”, which were underway in Southeast Asia. Kennedy had stressed the growing threat of Communist movement and made the aim of stopping Communist regime the highest priority of his office. Accordingly, his foreign policy was generally reactive and antirevolutionary (Maga, 1994). However, in the last year of his presidency, Kennedy demonstrated initiative and attempted to reduce Cold War tensions by improving relations with the Soviet Union.

Right after his election, John F. Kennedy revealed his active political stance. During the first months of his presidency, he launched the policy of Fidel Castro’s isolation, initiated a meeting with Khrushchev and attempted to eliminate nuclear weapons programs. When analyzing his major speeches, it becomes obvious that they contain certain stereotypical ideas, which greatly influenced the U.S. policy in the period between 1961 and 1963 (Marfleet, 2000). Kennedy repeatedly referred to such issues as peace, freedom, protection, the United Nations, nuclear weapons and war in his speeches. However, regardless of continuous claims for peace, the U.S. treated communist Cuba rather offensively, and, consequently, this led to Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Hence, the conclusion is that Kennedy’s rhetoric hardly corresponded to his actions on the international arena (Marfleet, 2000). The President’s understanding of freedom was also quite controversial. According to his initiatives, he perceived freedom as something that was to be imposed to the rest of the world, along with the manner of thinking and social order. This can be exemplified by the Cuban Crisis, which resulted in more than a half-century-long trade embargo against the island.

John F. Kennedy against Communism

John F. Kennedy put much effort in confronting the threat of communism in the form of Cuban Communist government. The U.S. became involved in a covert mission of military training of Cuban exiles, who were in opposition to Castro’s policy. The program of covert operations against Castro was initially launched by President Eisenhower in 1960. At a military base in Guatemala, the CIA guided the training of more than 1000 Cuban immigrants, who wanted to overthrow Castro’s regime. After 3 months of his presidency, Kennedy allowed the CIA to perform the operation on April 17, 1961, in the Bay of Pigs, Cuba (Rabe, 2000). However, the plan failed, thus resulting in a serious political challenge for the President.

Another anti-Communist program, initiated by Kennedy, was Operation Mongoose. This terrorist plan, aiming to remove Castro from power in Cuba, included sabotage, initiation of consequent rebellion, political and physical assault, and even attempted assassination (Swift, 2007).

Comparing Kennedy’s international policy and diplomacy to those of his predecessor Eisenhower’s, Kennedy’s tendency towards the combination of both covert and overt warfare against communism becomes especially evident. Thus, Kennedy’s foreign policy was centered on counter-insurgency attitudes in the political warfare. Some scholars point out that President Kennedy paid extensive attention to arming the U. S. with nuclear weapons, thus supporting the stereotypical political view that piece can be achieved by means of war. However, many Kennedy’s advocates argue that his diplomacy approach to foreign policy was progressive in nature and eventually proved successful (Maga, 1994).

American position regarding Latin American governments implied training them to confront and eliminate the rising leftist opposition. The U.S. status in South Vietnam was especially committed. Ngo Dinh Diem’s anti-Communist government accepted American aid and received sixteen thousand military advisers, who came to train Vietnamese troops in the counter-insurgency warfare in order to resist aggressive guerrilla forces. However, Diem made a mistake of repressing Buddhist monks, who formed the religious majority in Vietnam. This resulted in the loss of American support for his government, and he was consequently assassinated by South Vietnamese forces in 1963.

During the first two years of Kennedy’s presidency, the Soviet Union demonstrated provocative and hostile policy in West Berlin. In August 1961, the Soviets went on to build the Berlin Wall, aiming to prevent East Germans’ emigration. Kennedy’s response was immediate and active. He called up American military reserves, maintaining America's commitment to defend Berlin’s access to the West. In 1963, Soviet pressure diminished, and the U.S. kept its positions.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that Kennedy's political performance in foreign affairs is a subject of divergent conflicting interpretations. However, contemporary scholars generally tend to defend him for guiding the United States securely through international crises and for initiating decline of the Cold War.

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