Wednesday, August 24, 2016

JFK's Last Hundred Days

JFK’s Last Hundred Days – The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President by Thurston Clarke (Penguin Press, NY, 2013)

Thurston Clarke:

Monday, September 23


“Monday was one of the busiest days of Kennedy’s presidency, packed with so many meetings and ceremonies that he ate lunch at three and missed his swim and nap. He began with a morning conference with Taylor and MacNamara, who were preparing to depart for Vietnam, and ended with an evening meeting with (Earl) Blaik and (Ken) Royall, who were leaving for Birmingham. In between, he chaired the first cabinet meeting since July, conferred with the Italian foreign minister and the Laotian prime minister, met with his new Marine Corps commandant and with officers of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and held an hour-long conference with a delegation of white civic leaders from Birmingham.”

“Once Kennedy had approved Attwood’s request to meet with Lechuga, Attwood moved fast. He asked ABC correspondent Lisa Howard to throw a cocktail party on Monday evening and invite the Cuban diplomat. As Kennedy was briefing Blaik and Royall before their departure for Birmingham, Attwood was huddled with Lechuga at Howard’s Park Avenue apartment, discussing a possible meeting with Castro.”

“The New York attorney James Donovan had also developed a relationship with Castro while negotiating to secure the release of Cuban exiles captured at the Bay of Pigs…”

“When Kennedy heard about Donovan’s experiences, he told Gordon Chase, the National Security Council aid responsible for Latin America, that they should ‘start thinking along more flexible lines,’ and not insist that Castro make a clean break with Moscow as a precondition for talks.”

“McCone suggested two courses of action: engaging Castro in negotiations ‘with the objective of disenchanting him with his Soviet relations, causing him to break relations with Khrushchev,’ or continuing their current policy of supporting hit-and-run sabotage raids by Cuban exiles – of exerting ‘constant pressure of every possible nature on Khrushchev to force his withdraw from Cuba, and then to bring about the downfall of Castro by means which could be developed after the removal of the Soviet troops.’ Kennedy decided to keep the Donovan channel open and pursue both policies at once.”

“This remained the policy when Atwood met with Lechuga at Lisa Howard’s cocktail party on September 23. After Atwood described his 1959 conversation with Castro, Lechuga suggested that Castro might be ready to talk again, particularly with someone he knew and trusted, and said there was a good chance that Castro would invite him to Havana. Atwood explained that since he was a diplomat instead of a journalist he would need official authorization, and promised to contact him when he had an answer. The next day, Bobby told Attwood he was concerned that he might be identified if he visited Cuba. He proposed holding a meeting in Mexico or the United Nations instead and encouraged him to continue the conversation. Three days later, Attwood ran into Lechuga at the UN, relayed Bobby’s comments, and said that if Castro or his personal emissary had something to tell the president, they could meet somewhere outside Cuba.”

“These strategies converged on November 12, when he chaired a meeting of senior administration officials overseeing the CIA’s anti-Castro campaign. Director McCone presented a dispiriting summary of the current state of play, admitting that Cuba’s military remained loyal to Castro and its internal security forces well organized. Desmond Fitzgerald, who headed the CIA’s Cuban task force, gave a discouraging update on the Agency’s efforts to topple Castro. Casualties among CIA operatives in Cuba had increased, with twenty-five captured or killed…He reported that the Agency continued to support autonomous anti-Castro groups mounting sabotage operations from bases outside US territory, and listed four recent sabotage operations, but offered vague statements about their effect, justifying them as ways of ‘keeping up the pressure,’ raising ‘the morale of the people,’ and adding to Cuba’s ‘growing economic problems,’”

“Kennedy asked point-blank if the CIA’s sabotage program was worthwhile. Rusk criticized it as counterproductive, and argued that it might weaken support for the exile groups within Cuba…”
“Kennedy signed off on several sabotage operations scheduled for the weekend, but hours later he was pursing the second track of his Cuban policy. Bundy called Attwood to deliver a message from the president that was so sensitive he said he could only communicate it orally.  He told him that Kennedy wanted him to contact Castro’s confidant Dr. Rene Vallejo, and say that while it did not seem practical at this stage to send an American official to Cuba, the administration would like to begin the conversation by having Vallejo visit the United States and deliver any messages from Castro directly to Attwood.”

Tuesday, September 23 – Monday, September 30


“Despite his New Frontier rhetoric, Kennedy preferred oceans to mountains, golf courses to prairies, sailing to hunting, and swimming to fishing….No one on his staff or in the press corps, believed he was motivated by a love of the region or an interest in ecology; everyone understood that this ‘non-political’ trip was entirely political.”

“He stopped in Milford, Pennsylvania, to speak at a ceremony honoring the descendants of Gifford Pinchot, Jr., the first head of the United States Forest Service. They had donated Grey Towers, their family chateau-style mansion, to the Forest Service as a training center, and he added the ceremony to the schedule because it fit in with the conservation them and Pinchot had been the uncle of his lover Mary Meyer, and her sister, Tony, Ben Bradlee’s wife, and he was curious to see where they had spent their childhood summers. Both women joined him on the flight to Milford.”

“He delivered a plodding speech to ten thousand spectators filling a hill side facing Grey Towers. While speaking of his administration’s creation of three National Seashores, he said, ‘I don’t know why it should be that six or seven percent only of the whole Atlantic Coast should be in the public sphere and the rest owned by private citizens and denied to many millions of our public citizens.”

“The family attended Sunday Mass at St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Middleburg and heard Father Albert Pereira preach a homily about Christian death and the high cost of elaborate funerals.”

“On November 10, Pereira gave him a Bible (sic Missile) that he would carry to Texas, and that Johnson would use to take the oath of office.”

“Richard Helms, deputy director of plans at the CIA, was showing Bobby Kennedy a Belgian-made sub-machine gun the Agnecy had filched from a shipment that Cuban operatives were preparing to land on the coast of Venezuela. The arms were destined for a group plotting to disrupt the nation’s elections and foment a coup against President Romulo Betancourt. The gun’s Cuban army markings and serial numbers had been scraped away; but CIA technicians had applied acid to the barrel that restored them so they could be photographed before fading again. The gun and photographs were hard evidence of Cuban sponsored subversion that violated the post-missile-crisis agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. After seeing the pictures, Bobby called the White Hosue to arrange an immediate meeting between Helms and the president.”

“Kennedy studied the photographs that Helms had spread across the Oval Office coffee table and asked how the Cubans had managed to land such a large cache of weapons on a Venezuelan beach. After he examined the submachine gun and slip it back into its canvas bag that Helms had used to carry it into the White House, Helms said, ‘I’m sure glad the Secret Service didn’t catch us bring this gun in here.’ Kennedy grinned, shook his head, and said, ‘Yes, it gives me a feeling of confidence.’”

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