Getting Clarity

So we are normalizing relations with Cuba. That might be a task. I remember sitting on the steps of the house in Denver with a baby on our knees calculating WWIII. The “Cuban Missile Crisis.”  We talked about being so far from family and what we should do in the final hours before the prospective nuclear attack. We wrote letters to friends and family members. We urged them, in the face of expected apocalypse, to give their lives to Christ. I was clueless about some things in those days, and uncertain about others, but I was absolutely sure about the feeling of crisis.

Normalize? If I remember correctly, the pre-Castro Cuba was filled with decadence. Funny! It would probably be pretty mainstream today. Normal compared to what?

Then, there are memories of the Bay of Pigs. President Kennedy was new to the job. He was busy sweeping out all that Eisenhower did and stood for. JFK was bringing in a new generation to do it right. Three events changed the way Kennedy did leadership. The Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs and his meeting with Khrushchev. The Bay of Pigs’ fiasco changed his approach to executive management.

The post-mortem analysis of Kennedy’s leadership during the Bay of Pigs’ invasion by some of his own people said, “The operation was doomed by ‘bad planning,’ ‘poor staffing,’ bad intelligence, and a ‘failure to advise the President that success had become dubious.”

John Eisenhower asked his father if the failure could have happened if Ike had been president. The ex-president replied, “I don’t run no bad invasions.”

Kennedy’s first visit to Camp David came in the aftermath of the failed “invasion.” He met with Eisenhower. The General pressed JFK how the decision was made. One of the things JFK vehemently disliked about his predecessor was the way he made decisions. Ike said to the young president at Camp David, “You must get courageous men, men of strong views and let them debate and argue with each other.’

“Mr. President, before you approved this plan, did you have everybody in front of you debating the thing so you got the pros and cons yourself and then made the decision, or did you see these people one at a time?”

Kennedy did not like large meetings. Of course he hadn’t done what Eisenhower would have done. JFK liked to talk to a few insiders one on one. The operative word of his presidency was “pragmatism.” If it works—but knowing what will “work” if limited to your own opinion and those who agree with you may not be trustworthy.

The General suggested that success mattered more than secrecy. “I believe there is only one thing to do when you get into this kind of thing. It must be a success.” (Or, of course, don’t get in at all.)

Some historians say that Kennedy was “served both by the lessons he had learned from Eisenhower, and the ways in which he remained different.” Michael Beschloss writes that Kennedy’s style of crisis management during the Missile Crisis “may have saved the world.”

I can still feel the concrete of that Denver, Colorado stoop and the bleakness of the atmosphere as we talked about government things we knew very little about and our future of which we had no clue. The current president’s seemingly arbitrary decision to “normalize” relationship with Cuba brings back a lot of “stuff” to me. As I read these details from The Presidents Club, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, (Simon & Schuster, 2012), several Proverbs were the back beat.

“…the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances” (Proverbs 11:14—Message).

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22 NIV).

Kennedy got counsel after the fact from Hoover, Eisenhower, Truman, historians and many others, including Richard Nixon. It changed his leadership style in helpful ways. The phrase from Proverbs that kept ringing in my mind was “multitude of counselors.” Where do we normal types—not high profile decision makers—find a multitude?

“Counsel” is a collection of opinions based on worldview, experience and wise insight. Where do you and I find a crowd of people like that? It is one of the important questions and “advisors” are among our greatest need.

I wonder about Herbert Hoover’s counsel to JFK. He reminded him that he, Hoover, was a Quaker and against war, “…but, by heavens, if I were President of the United States I would order the necessary forces into the Bay of Pigs and I would decimate that Cuban army while they’re there…. I’d end the thing….”

Was Hoover right? Not all counsel becomes a blueprint, but some does.

© 2015 D. Dean Benton   Writer, Wonderer

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