The invasion has begun. The President has been assured by his military advisors that the long planned operation involving close allies, will end in a significant victory over local forces. Those local forces, who launched a coup of their own only 12 months earlier, are commonly believed to be no more than a rag tag guerrilla army, unused to open warfare and without resources to counter a sophisticated military operation. But as the day wears on, it becomes increasingly clear that the invading force is in trouble. The U.S.’ allies are being outgunned and ambushed by combatants who have been expertly trained by foreign advisors and are heavily armed with weapons which are easily a match for the invading force. Within 72 hours, what had begun as an assertive military operation has turned into a rout of embarrassing proportions. The U.S. Administration is revealed to have placed its trust in a highly suspect military plan which has been even more woefully executed. The consequences prove telling. Over the course of the next year and a half, the United States is brought closer to a global military crisis than at any time since end of the Second World War.
A scenario in Gaza for the incoming President? No. This a description of the military situation which confronted the young administration of John F. Kennedy in April, 1961, less than three months after he had assumed office. The Bay of Pigs fiasco, an abortive CIA- planned and Cuban émigré -led invasion of Fidel Castro’s island fiefdom, was a momentous failure of U.S. military planning and intelligence and an event which had deep repercussions for U.S. foreign policy over the next several years. After the collapse of the invasion and a less than impressive performance by Kennedy at a face to face meeting with Soviet leader Nikolai Khruschev in June of the same year, Soviet resolve to confront the United States hardened. This lead to aggressive Soviet action in other theaters around the world ( including West Berlin where a wall was soon constructed ) and the beginnings of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
If there is one important lesson the Bay of Pigs has left us, it is that the failure of relatively small operations in seemingly insignificant locations, can have important psychological consequences in other places. Today, while there might be no obvious connection between the Israelis’ operations in Gaza and American operations elsewhere, the crumbling of the Jewish state’s assault or an ambivalent U.S. commitment to its success, may have dire implications for the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
That is because Israel, the United States and the Western aligned countries are together not only locked in a military confrontation with Muslim terrorists and their state sponsors, but in a psychological struggle as well. In this regard, manipulation of the media and control of communications can enable a terrorist group to steal a victory from even the most crushing of defeats. The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah ably demonstrated this in 2006. After suffering a bruising reversal in southern Lebanon, victory was nevertheless claimed by the simple fact of having survived an Israeli assault. Hezbollah’s resilience– and its ability to communicate it as strength – has given Hamas and other terrorist operations in other parts of the world the tenacity to continue their own assaults and provocations.
Understanding this, it is a mistake to view the United States’ engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan as isolated from the events in Gaza. Gaza should be regarded as a front line engagement in a global war against Muslim fanaticism which has its military and psychological flash points in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, the Sudan, the Philippines, Lebanon, Russia and Iran. An apparent victory, yet without removal of the terrorist menace in one theater, can bolster terrorism in another. It is only with the complete elimination of the terrorist infrastructure – with the eradication or imprisonment of its leadership and the silencing of its means of communication – that both military and psychological victories can be assured.
The new president would do well to pay attention. Ceasefires, negotiated truces and even peace agreements should receive no encouragement if they mean that the terrorist group in question remains viable and committed in any way to its former course of action.
Failure has its price. Che Gueverra, the Latin American revolutionary, proved it in August 1961 when he managed to get a letter to President John F. Kennedy. It read: “Thanks for Playa Girón( Bay of Pigs). Before the invasion, the revolution was weak. Now it’s stronger than ever.”
Fifty years later, those words resonate with deadly meaning.