The ugly Americans, as usual

September 8, 1962

Christ, now even the so-called “moderate” Republicans are getting on my case about Cuba. I expect to be lambasted by the likes of Keating and Homer Capehart. They’re acting in character, playing to their right wing lunatic base. The same with Nixon, snarling over in a dark corner about how you have be tough with the Russians. But now Nelson Rockefeller says that if he were the president, he would already have ordered an attack and invasion of Cuba. Rockefeller! The problem with all this talk of going to war in Cuba is that the war hawks don’t seem to grasp that we can’t invade Cuba and install one of the exiles in Miami and call it quits. That’s only the beginning. There are Russians all over the island. There are Soviet weapons all over the island. And Khrushchev and his pals seem to be serious about giving the Cubans whatever they can provide, short of nuclear weapons. I have no problem with that. My problem is that I wonder whether Khrushchev will be able to constrain Castro, who clearly wants to upset the applecart all over Latin America. He wants to export the Cuban Revolution like bananas or sugar or baseball players.

Ed Martin, Rusk’s Latin America specialist, says that even the Cuban press is picking up my statements—that I am not interested in invading Cuba, that an invasion of Cuba will provoke pro-Castro riots all over the hemisphere, and then where will we be? We’ll be the ugly Americans, as usual, and my Alliance for Progress program will be dead in the water. So, no, an invasion of Cuba is a really, really stupid idea, even if the Russians weren’t committed to helping Castro and his band of radicals survive. That’s why I have to get Bobby to exert more control over the exile hooligans the CIA is running out of Miami. I mean, sure, we want them to be occupied with these little subversive actions, but when they start blowing up department stores in downtown Havana—that makes headlines, and then the protests start coming in even from pro-American governments in the hemisphere. It’s tough to calibrate, though.

I think we’ll be okay, as long as the Soviets heed my warnings about the unacceptability of putting nukes in Cuba. If any offensive weapons appear in Cuba, they will have to come out. But what if they don’t? Our Soviet experts have all told me that while Khrushchev may be wild and boisterous, he is not irrational, not the kind of leader who would do anything as stupid as ship nuclear weapons to Cuba. I hope they are right. I would like to believe they are right.

But what if they aren’t right? Then what? A bloody war in Cuba, but how will we contain it to Cuba? What if the Russians move on Berlin? What then? My back is killing me!