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Thursday, 19 September 2013 22:21

Thurston Clarke, JFK's Last Hundred Days

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This is a kind of odd book. Even for the MSM. Clarke and his cohorts seem to be just catching up to what people in the know understood about Kennedy decades ago. But only now, in 2013 can this be revealed. But even then, it must be accompanied by the usual MSM rumor-mongering and dirt.  I guess, under those restrictive circumstances, this is the best one can expect from someone who trusts the likes of Ben Bradlee, concludes Jim DiEugenio.


Thurston Clarke has now written three books in a row on the Kennedys. Since 2004, he has written two books on President Kennedy and one on Senator Robert Kennedy. The subtitle of his present book is "The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President". I disagree with the both the title and the subtitle.

First of all, it would have been grand if Clarke had really just focused on the last hundred days of the Kennedy administration. For Kennedy was doing some remarkable things both at home and abroad in the last three months of his presidency. And although Clarke addresses some of them adequately, he also ignores some of them completely. For instance, there is not one sentence in the book about the epochal Congo crisis. One which both UN chairman Dag Hammarskjold and President Kennedy dealt with – Kennedy for the entire three years he was in office. This is even more bewildering since two years before Clarke published his book, Susan Miller released her milestone volume on the death of Hammarskjold, Who Killed Hammarskjold? That book was so compelling in its argument for foul play that it caused a new United Nations inquiry into the case. That inquiry recommended the case be reopened.

Clarke also does not mention the name of Achmed Sukarno, the president of Indonesia in 1963. A man who Kennedy understood and appreciated as a leader of the Non-Aligned nations movement. A movement which Kennedy respected and was in agreement with. In fact, with almost no exceptions, there is not anything in the book of any substance about Kennedy's policies toward these Third World nations in Asia and Africa. Even though there have now been three crucial books written on the subject: Richard Mahoney's JFK: Ordeal in Africa in 1983, Philip Muehlenbeck's Betting on the Africans, and Robert Rokave's Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World, the last two both published in 2012. And considering the miracles of speed in the publishing world these days, Clarke could have consulted both of the latter for his book. Evidently, he wasn't interested. Which is surprising since he studied at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

But by largely ignoring these aspects of Kennedy's life and presidency, he can keep up the idea that somehow Kennedy was "transformed" in his last hundred days. Even though Kennedy broke with Eisenhower's policies in Congo and Indonesia in 1961. (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, pgs. 28-33) Even though, in a rather jarring vacuum, he never explains how or why this alleged transformation took place in those last 100 days. Further, Clarke does not really isolate the last hundred days of Kennedy's presidency. He often wanders astray from the book's titled focus. In his discussion of the creation of the back channel to Fidel Castro, which Kennedy was working very hard on toward the end, he flashes back to when it began, which was after the Missile Crisis. (Clarke pgs. 190-92) Another example: In his discussion of Kennedy's Vietnam policy, he actually flashes all the way back to Representative Kennedy's visit to Saigon in 1951. (Clarke, p. 54)

That visit in 1951 to Saigon was a puzzling one for Clarke to include. Because what he is referring to there is the meeting between Kennedy, his brother Robert, and American diplomat Edmund Gullion. Mahoney first depicted this episode in his milestone book. And to his credit, Clarke explains its importance in the development of young JFK's thinking. For Gullion explained to the young congressman that the French attempt to recolonize Vietnam would not succeed. Mainly because the desire by the Vietnamese to be free of imperial influence was now too strong. Therefore, it could not be muzzled. As Mahoney explained, this discussion had a very strong impact on Kennedy's thinking. And he now began to rebel against the established orthodoxies of the leading statesmen of the Democrats (Dean Acheson) and the Republicans (John Foster Dulles). But in spite of this, when Clarke then addresses some of the things Kennedy said in the presidential race in 1960, he writes that "Kennedy's cold war rhetoric was not an act" and that he "subscribed to the domino theory... " (p. 56)

Yet to show how muddled his presentation is, directly after this, Clarke says something that contradicts what he just wrote. He notes that, soon after he was elected, it became clear to Kennedy's staff that, if Kennedy was a cold warrior, "he was a fairly non violent one ... " (ibid) He goes on to add that Kennedy talked tough in certain situations, but when push came to shove, he would not commit combat troops. Which, to most people, would seem to indicate that he was not really a cold warrior. And, in fact, Clarke later uses a revealing quote from National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy in this regard. Bundy told his assistant Marcus Raskin, "You know there are only two pacifists in the White House, you and Kennedy." (p. 217) Bundy, who should know, also told author Gordon Goldstein for the book Lessons in Disaster, that Kennedy did not buy into the domino theory. That book was published in 2009. Clarke includes it in his bibliography. Apparently, he missed, or forgot, that important passage. That Clarke wanted to have it both ways on this indicated to me that he was a rather compromised author.

Another telltale issue in this regard was his use of Ellen Rometsch. Rometsch was born in East Germany and was a member of the communist party there. She then fled to West Germany. She married a pilot who was later stationed to Washington. While there, she began to attend a social club called the Quorum Club. This was set up by Lyndon Johnson's former aide Bobby Baker. When Baker got into legal trouble with the Justice Department, Rometsch now became a political football between Baker and the Kennedys. Was she really a spy? Did she have an affair with JFK? Clarke keeps up this trail of innuendo throughout a large part of the book. It isn't until near the end that he finally has to write that an FBI inquiry ultimately found that there was no connection between the woman and anyone in the White House. (p. 267) This is the same conclusion that researcher Peter Vea came to after going through all the FBI papers on the subject he could find at the National Archives. Why did the author waste our time and his if he knew the end result?

In addition to using Bobby Baker as a source, Clarke also uses people like Traphes Bryant. Bryant was the dog keeper at the White House. He later wrote a trashy book about his days there. But Clarke then goes beyond that. He actually sinks to David Heymann levels. I never thought I would see the day when a mainstream historian would use a book by Tempest Storm, who, no surprise, also claimed she had an affair with Kennedy. But, if you can believe it, Clarke does so. Author Jerry Kroth once wrote that if one bought into all the women who said they had affairs with JFK, one gets into the same problem writers have with James Dean. The actor simply did not live long enough to have all those affairs. Well, Kennedy wasn't in the White House long enough to have that many affairs. (Kroth checked the number. With Mimi Alford, who Clarke also buys into, its now up to 33.)

And then there is Ben Bradlee. Clarke has done some fairly extensive archival research. And he also did some notable interviews. So its puzzling why he would also include references to Ben Bradlee's 1975 book Conversations with Kennedy. First of all, Bradlee had a complex relationship with JFK. Some would call it ambiguous, in the sense that it is hard to figure out. Although Bradlee and Kennedy were supposed to be friends, Bradlee's book is not really a friendly tome. He begins the book by saying that he thought the effect Kennedy had on the populace was due more to flash and dash than any real substance. (Probe, Vol. 4 No. 6, p. 30) He then says that he thought Kennedy was the recipient of a good press while in office. Both of these assertions are quite specious. For instance, Professor Donald Gibson, in his underrated book Battling Wall Street, examines the kind of stories that appeared in the magazines controlled by Henry Luce: Time, Life and Fortune. For instance, it the last publication which was used by Allen Dulles to get out his self-serving cover story for the debacle at the Bay of Pigs. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pgs. 53-55). It was that journal which Dulles and Howard Hunt used to issue the black propaganda that President Kennedy had cancelled the so-called D-Day air strikes. And it was this loss of nerve that had doomed the invasion. When in fact, these strikes had never been approved and were contingent of the Cuban exiles securing a beachhead, which they never did. (ibid, pgs. 45-46) This is only one example among many which belies the idea that Kennedy was the recipient of "good press".

Bradlee writes that he did not think that foreign policy was Kennedy's particular field of expertise. (ibid, Probe, p. 30.) Which was ridiculous for even 1975. Especially considering the horrendous results that occurred after Johnson reversed almost every one of Kennedy's major policy shifts. (See DiEugenio, pgs. 367-77) But none of this deterred Clarke from using the unreliable Bradlee as a source, sometimes for almost an entire page of material. Even when what the Washington Post editor is saying clearly does not align with the other facts in Clarke's book.

Consider what Clarke writes on page 284 about Kennedy and Vietnam and then Kennedy and the Dominican Republic. Concerning the former, Bradlee writes that in looking at a photo of American servicemen dancing with bar girls in Saigon, JFK said, "If I was running things in Saigon, I'd have those G.I.'s in the front lines tomorrow." Clarke does not ask the obvious question about his source: Mr. Bradlee, your friend Kennedy had three years to put those advisors into the front lines as combat troops and he did not. So why would he say that to you, and to no one else? Bradlee then tops this one. And Clarke dutifully parrots it. Bradlee comments on the coming to power of leftist Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic. The Washington Post editor says that Kennedy was torn "about whether to order the CIA to orchestrate an antigovernment student demonstration there." If you can believe it, Bradlee counters JFK by saying, "How would you feel if the Soviets did the same thing her?" Bradlee then tops himself by saying Kennedy had no reply to this. And Clarke buys into all of it.

That story by Bradlee is even more ridiculous than the one Clarke recited about Vietnam. And like the inclusion of people like Bryant, Tempest Storm and Baker, it shows just how well Clarke knows how to honor the sacred cows of the MSM in order to stay a part of the club. The problem is that when one does this, the historian jettisons what is supposed to be his real task: informing the reader of the true facts about his subject. Someone like Gibson does care about the facts. Therefore in his book, which Clarke does not source at all, Gibson understands that Kennedy actually liked Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic. He even advised him on how to run his economy. Once Bosch was overthrown by the rightwing powers on the island with the military in cahoots, Kennedy immediately spearheaded a program of diplomatic and economic sanctions against the new regime. It actually began within hours of him hearing about the overthrow. Kennedy actually led this growing hemisphere wide movement which was picking up steam at the time of his death. Within one month, the Dominican Republic was wincing at the isolation Kennedy had condemned them to. (Gibson, Battling Wall Street, pgs. 78-79)

Like several other policies, this one was actually reversed by President Johnson. When Bosch was threatening to retake his office, Johnson, Dean Rusk and Assistant Secretary Thomas Mann began to justify intervention by saying that communists were involved in the revolt. Bosch denied all this and said there was hardly any communist influence in the Dominican Republic at all. (ibid, p. 79) Therefore, within 18 months, Johnson reversed Kennedy's policy and invaded the Dominican Republic to prevent Bosch from returning to power. If Clarke had taken a more expansive view of who Kennedy was, and how he looked at the so-called "non-aligned world", he would not have been a sucker for the likes of the CIA friendly Ben Bradlee.

II

To give Clarke his due, there are some good things in the book. For instance, he makes it fairly clear just how important the 1963 test ban treaty was to Kennedy. For Kennedy told Ted Sorenson that he would have gladly forfeited his re-election bid as long as the treaty passed. (p. 30) And later on, Clarke notes just how hard Kennedy worked to make sure the treaty passed. Which it did by a resounding 80-19 vote. (p. 194) Kennedy was so enamored of this achievement that he started to campaign on it, in of all places, the western states. Even at the home of the Minuteman missiles. (p. 198) And once it was secured of passage, Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko wanted more agreements made with the Russians. President Kennedy in turn suggested a mutual cooperation in the space race. (pgs. 101-103) To my knowledge, Clarke is the first MSM author to mention this fact. And he stays with the argument throughout most of the book. In fact, Clarke notes a discussion Kennedy had with James Webb of NASA trying to figure if the space program could achieve just about all that was needed by being unmanned. (p. 175) Finally, Kennedy ordered Webb to seek cooperation with the USSR in space. (p. 308) In furtherance of detente, Clarke also mentions the 1963 wheat deal to the Russians that Kennedy rammed through. Among many, Lyndon Johnson was critical of this move. He actually called it the worst mistake that Kennedy ever made. (p. 221)

Clarke devotes some time to the fact that, as a senator, Kennedy wrote a brief book (actually a pamphlet) called A Nation of Immigrants. It has been almost completely ignored by just about everyone in the discussion of Kennedy's presidency. Clarke calls it "possibly the most passionate, bitter, and controversial book ever written by a serious presidential candidate." (p. 156) The book celebrated the whole idea of the "melting pot" of America. But it also criticized the bias that contemporary immigration laws had toward Europeans, especially Anglo-Saxons. In fact, Kennedy concluded the book with a rapier attack on the 1958 status of American immigration laws. He first quoted the famous words on the base of the Liberty Bell: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Kennedy added to this by saying that until 1921 this was relatively accurate. But after then, it was more appropriate to add, "as long as they come from Northern Europe, are not too tired or to poor or slightly ill, never stole a loaf of bread, never joined a questionable organization, and can document their activities for the last two years." (p. 157)

Kennedy understood that the present immigration laws made it difficult for people from eastern and southern Europe to get to the USA, and made it all but impossible for Asians to enter the country. By being blind to race and ethnicity, Kennedy's immigration bill tried to redress these injustices. It was finally passed after his death. (p. 355)

Clarke brings up another point that should be well known about Kennedy's foreign policy. It has been mentioned in some previous books, like James Blight's Virtual JFK. It was commonly known through Kennedy's diplomatic corps that, in his second term, President Kennedy had planned on extending an olive branch to communist China. As Clarke notes, "His intention to change U.S. China policy was not a secret. He had told Marie Ridder that it was on his agenda for his second term, and Dean Rusk said they often discussed it, and he thought Kennedy would have reached out to the Chinese in 1965." (p. 320)

Clarke also has some incisive commentary on the extremely underrated Walter Heller. Heller was Kennedy's chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. Kennedy was determined to get the economy into high gear since he thought the Eisenhower years were sluggish in economic performance. He and Heller brainstormed on how to get a Keynesian stimulus into the economy at the lowest possible cost to the consumer and the producer. They first discussed a large government-spending plan. But they figured they would not get the votes in congress for it. (Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 10/12/12) They finally decided on a tax cut on the marginal rates of income. Heller said this might produce a short-term deficit but it would eventually produce a long-term surplus. What made this proposal even more daring was the fact that the economy was already growing when Heller proposed it. Further, unemployment was only at 5%. In other words, many other presidents would have been satisfied with what they had. But as Clarke notes, Kennedy was determined to double the growth rate of Eisenhower, "preside over 8 recession free years, and leave office with the nation enjoying full employment." (p. 178) The package worked extremely well. It eventually brought down unemployment to 3.8% in 1966. And tax revenue actually increased in 1964 and 1965. Heller's design worked marvelously until President Johnson decided to greatly expand the Vietnam War without raising taxes. Heller knew this would cause an inflationary spiral. So he resigned.

I wish Clarke had discussed a rather important historical point here. Since the birth of Arthur Laffer's "supply-side" fantasies, many Republicans have used the Heller model to advocate tax cuts as being the magic elixir of the economy. Heller would laugh at them. Heller despised Milton Friedman and his acolytes; he used to poke fun at them. When Heller proposed the tax cut, marginal rates were at over 90%. He brought the top rate down to 70%. The bottom 85% got almost 60% of the benefits of the cuts. Therefore, it was not a cross the board tax cut. And it was not supply side oriented; it was demand oriented, since most of the benefits went to the middle and working class. That is a far cry from what Ronald Reagan proposed and passed. In fact, the top rate was twice as high after Heller's cut than what the Reaganites proposed. Reagan's cuts really were supply side oriented since most of the benefits went to the top end. (ibid, Noah)

But with today's grotesquely lopsided income distribution, any kind of Laffer style across the board tax cut will benefit the rich and ultra rich to a disproportionate degree. Further, there was still an effective corporate tax rate in 1963, and a significant capital gains tax. In other words, with Heller's plan, the money saved in taxes would really go into consumer spending and investment. Not into Thorstein Veblen type conspicuous consumption. And as Donald Gibson has shown, Kennedy's other economic policies rewarded the reinvestment and expansion of business. He did not reward globalization. Further, as his confrontation with Johnson showed, Heller was not at all for ballooning the deficit in the long run in order to exercise a short-term stimulus.

Clarke also addresses a point that needs to be corrected. Lyndon Johnson did not originate the War on Poverty. Kennedy understood that a tax cut would not do the trick with alleviating poverty. In fact, he made the specific point about this in his State of the Union address in 1963. Heller was also concerned with this issue and warned JFK that America was experiencing a "drastic slowdown in the rate at which the economy is taking people out of poverty." (p. 243) Heller decided this could not be remedied unless a specific program was devised to address it. About this proposed program Kennedy said, "Walter, first we're going to get your tax cut, and then we're going to get my expenditure program." (ibid) He then told Heller, that the attack on poverty would be a part of his 1964 campaign.

The book also reminds us that Kennedy's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Anthony Celebrezze, presented a Medicare Plan to congress in November of 1963. (p. 311) And Clarke goes on to add that, in large part, Johnson's Great Society was a compendium of leftovers from Kennedy's proposals and initiatives. (p. 355) And contrary to what Robert Caro wrote in his disappointing book The Passage of Power, there really was no mystery about what was going to happen with Kennedy's agenda. His bills, including the tax cut bill and his civil rights bill, were going to pass. Unlike what Caro implies, Kennedy was good friends with Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, and he had already targeted him as the key vote for the civil rights bill. (p. 356) In fact, this was all known back in 1964. Because Look magazine had done an extensive survey about whether or not Kennedy's program was going to pass if he had lived. This survey including dozens of interviews and the result showed that the Kennedy program was going to pass in 1964. It may have taken a bit longer, but there was little doubt it was going to pass.

I should add one other interesting anecdote in the book. In 1961, a man named Ted Dealey was the publisher of the Dallas Morning News. Dealey had gone to the White House that year and told Kennedy that he and his advisors were a bunch of "weak sisters". He added that "We need a man on horseback to lead this country, and many people in the southwest think you are riding Caroline's tricycle." (p. 339) Kennedy replied to this indirectly in a speech a few weeks later. Noting that Dealey had not served in World War II, he said that many people who have not fought in wars like the idea – until they are engaged in it. He added, that they call for a "man on horseback", since they do not really trust the people. Very acutely, he then said they tend to equate democracy with socialism and socialism with communism. Kennedy concluded with "let our patriotism be reflected in the creation of confidence in one another, rather than in crusades of suspicion."

III

With that anecdote about Ted Dealey included, I was surprised at what Clarke did near the end of the book. He starts to include things about the Secret Service that appear lifted from Gerald Blaine's book, The Kennedy Detail, a volume that Vince Palamara all but eviscerated on this web site. For example Clarke says that Kennedy refused to place the bubble top on the limousine in Dallas. (p. 341) Yet Clarke does not include things like the attempt to kill Kennedy in Chicago, or the fact that the Secret Service was drinking hard liquor until three in the morning the evening before the assassination at Pat Kirkwood's after hours bar. To his credit, Clarke does not say that three shots ran out in Dealey Plaza. But he does not say that Kennedy's body slammed backward and to his left at the moment the fatal bullet struck. (p. 346)

Clarke also mangles a couple of other events that occurred near the end. Although he is generally sound on Kennedy's decision to withdraw from Vietnam, somehow he does not mention perhaps the most important find by the Assassination Records Review Board in this regard. Namely the record of the May, 1963 gathering in Hawaii called the Sec/Def meeting. (Probe, Vol. 5 No. 3, p. 18) The record of this meeting showed that Kennedy had already decided to withdraw from Vietnam even before the formal issuance of NSAM 263 in October, 1963. Which is why he himself directed the editing of the Taylor/McNamara report upon which that NSAM was based. (In an offbeat passage, Clarke has Bobby Kennedy editing the report. But both John Newman and Fletcher Prouty say that this was done by Victor Krulak and RFK, but at President Kennedy's direction. See John Newman, JFK and Vietnam, p. 401)

Then there is what Clarke does with his handling of the so-called "coup cable" of August 24, 1963, and its attendant results. The two best treatments of this whole episode that I know of are by John Newman in his 1992 book, and by Jim Douglass in JFK and the Unspeakable. Newman is very good on the sending of the cable. Douglass is good on what happened in Saigon between Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and CIA officer Lucien Conein to ensure the worst possible result i. e. the killing of both Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother. Clarke is much too brief and sketchy about how the cable to Saigon ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge was sent, and what Lodge's role was at the other end when he got it. Clarke spends about a page on these matters. (pgs. 90-91) Newman spends about six pages on the issue. (pgs. 345-51) And although Newman does minimal interpreting of the data he presents, he gives the reader enough information to see what was really happening between the lines.

There was a faction inside the State Department that wanted to get rid of Diem, mainly because he could not control his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. Nhu was chief of South Vietnam's security apparatus. He had chosen to perform numerous crackdowns on Buddhist pagodas, and this had caused a national crisis in South Vietnam. It had culminated in the June 11th self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc. That event was announced in advance and was captured with American news cameras rolling. (Newman, p. 333) This crisis was ratcheted upward by the rather bizarre description of this shocking event by Nhu's wife as a "barbecue". That internationally televised event caused many in Washington to lose faith in the ability of Diem to lead his country against the growing effectiveness of the Viet Cong rebellion in the countryside.

The faction inside the State Department who wished to be rid of Diem was led by Roger Hilsman, Averill Harriman, and Michael Forrestal. But it is clear from Newman's discussion of the sending of the cable that this group had allies elsewhere e.g. in the CIA and in Saigon. Two South Vietnamese generals had met with CIA official Lucien Conein on the 21st and asked him if the USA would support a move against Diem. And Lodge had talked to both Harriman and Forrestal before leaving for Saigon. He understood they were not satisfied with Diem. Further, the sending of the 'coup cable' had been presaged by what Harriman had done the previous year with a peace feeler from North Vietnam. One that Kennedy wished to follow up on through John Kenneth Galbraith in India. In Gareth Porter's book, The Perils of Dominance, he makes it clear that Harriman had deliberately distorted Kennedy's instructions to Galbraith in order to sabotage a neutralization solution. (Porter, pgs. 167-69)

The plotters waited until a weekend when nearly all the major principals in government were out of town. This included Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, CIA Director John McCone, McNamara's assistant Roswell Gilpatric and Krulak. With those six out of the direct loop, and Lodge in Vietnam, the circumstances were now optimal. On the 24th, Lodge had sent in some cables that seemed to indicate the military wanted to move against Diem. (Newman, p. 346) Once these cables came in, Hilsman, Harriman and Forrestal went to work drafting what came to be known as the Saturday Night Special. This cable said that Lodge should tell Diem to remove Nhu. If he did not, and reforms were not made, "We face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved." (ibid) The cable said that if Diem would not cooperate, "then we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we can no longer support Diem." Then came the kicker, "You may also tell appropriate military commanders we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown..." (ibid) It should be noted that Hilsman said that Rusk had cooperated with the drafting of the cable and actually inserted the sentence about support for the generals. Rusk vehemently denied this to author William Rust. (ibid, p. 347)

When Kennedy was contacted in Boston, Forrestal told him it was urgent to get the cable out that night, for events were beginning to come unglued in Saigon. Kennedy asked that the cable be cleared by the other principals, and he specifically named McCone, probably since he knew McCone would not support it. McCone did not sign off on the cable. But the cabal told Kennedy that he had. Neither did Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Maxwell Taylor. (Ibid, p. 349) In fact, Taylor was not shown Cable 243 until after it was sent to Saigon. Once he saw it, he immediately realized that "the anti-Diem group centered in State had taken advantage of the absence of principal officials to get out instructions which would never have been approved as written under normal circumstances." (ibid) But yet, Taylor did not call Kennedy to tell him he was being maneuvered into a corner.

When the cable arrived in Saigon, Lodge ignored the wording about going to Diem and advising him about dismissing his brother. Instead, he went straight to the generals. On the 29th, Lodge then cabled Rusk that "We are launched on a course from which there is no respectable turning back. The overthrow of the Diem government. There is no possibility in my view that the war can be won under the Diem administration." As Lodge told Stanley Karnow for the PBS special Vietnam: A Television History, Kennedy sent him a cancellation cable on the 30th. He now said that Lodge should not play any further role in encouraging the generals.

But Lodge, who had just been sent to Saigon as ambassador to South Vietnam, seems to have had his mind made up upon his arrival. John Richardson was the CIA station chief there when Lodge arrived. Since Richardson supported Diem, and understood where Lodge was heading with him, there was tension between the two. Lodge eventually got Richardson removed from his post. (Washington Post, October 6, 1963) As Jim Douglass notes, this paved the way for the coup to go forward in early November, and then for Conein and Lodge to cooperate with the generals on the assassination of the brothers. (Douglass, pgs. 207-10)

Almost every major point made above is somehow lost on Clarke. From the failure to get McCone to sign on, to the ultimate cooperation between Lodge and Conein to ensure the generals knew where the Nhu brothers were trying to hide and then escape. Which resulted in their deaths.

Clarke also mangles the last month of Kennedy's Cuba policy. He says that even in November, after the back channel to Castro was in high gear, Kennedy was still trying to overthrow Fidel. Yet, as many authors have pointed out, the anti-Castro efforts by this time had dribbled down to almost nothing. In the entire second half of 1963, there were five authorized raids into Cuba. The entire corps of commandoes the CIA could call upon totaled 50 men. (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 70) Question for Clarke: How does one overthrow a government with 50 men? Desmond Fitzgerald, who ran the Cuba desk in 1963 agreed. He later said that this effort was completely inadequate to the task and recommended it be scrapped. (ibid)

Further, Clarke also says that Castro was trying to subvert democracy elsewhere in November. And he uses the Richard Helms anecdote from his book, A Look over My Shoulder. This is where Helms goes to, first RFK, and then JFK, with what he says is proof of an arms shipment into Venezuela by Castro. (Helms, pgs. 226-27) Somehow, Clarke does not understand that neither Kennedy was at all impressed with this so-called "discovery". Probably because, like former CIA officer Joseph B. Smith, they understood that the Agency likely planted the shipment to divert Kennedy's back channel. (Smith, Portrait of a Cold Warrior, p. 383)

In summary, this is a kind of odd book. Even for the MSM. Clarke and his cohorts seem to be just catching up to what people in the know understood about Kennedy decades ago. But only now, in 2013 can this be revealed. But even then, it must be accompanied by the usual MSM rumor-mongering and dirt. (In addition to Rometsch, and Storm, Clarke throws in Marlene Dietrich.) I guess, under those restrictive circumstances, this is the best one can expect from someone who trusts the likes of Ben Bradlee.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:14
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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