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John F. Kennedy on Foreign Policy

 


1957: Supported Algeria's struggle for independence

In the 1957 session, Kennedy rose on the Senate floor to deliver a speech on foreign relations: on the Algerian struggle for independence, criticizing not only the French refusal to allow it, but the American government's support of the French policy. Although the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote that in Europe the speech identified Kennedy "for the 1st time as a fresh and independent voice of American foreign policy," and the editorial page of the "New York Times" applauded it, it aroused anger in the foreign policy establishment; "even the Democrats drew back."

When he was asked to chair a new Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, it was recounted, Kennedy replied, "Well, if I take it, will it ever have to meet?" and accepted only when he was assured it wouldn't. (Actually, it seems to have met at least once.) Due to his father's fame, his speeches attracted more attention that those of other senators.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 32-33 , May 1, 2012

Thin foreign policy record from all-too-short presidency

For all John Kennedy's personal charm, little had been accomplished in his all too short presidency. On the foreign policy front, the administration's record was thin. There were the talks with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, where Khrushchev came away with the impression that Kennedy was young and inexperienced. There was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that added to the impression of American weakness. Then followed the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, both of which seemed to have been at least in part a result of the emboldened Khrushchev deciding to test America's new young leader.
Source: Known and Unknown, by Donald Rumsfeld, p. 81-82 , Feb 8, 2011

1963: Support the beleaguered people of Berlin

"Ich bin ein Berliner" in German actually means: "I am a chocolate-covered doughnut". What Kennedy should have said when addressing a crowd of over 80 percent of the population of West Berlin on 26 June 1963 was: "Ich bin Berliner". It didn't matter whatsoever. He travelled a long way to show understanding and support to the beleaguered population of West Germany and this overcame any shortcomings he may have had with the German language. In fact, it was seen as endearing.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.148 , Mar 3, 2010

1961: Warned aggressors that US ready to defend freedom

Hope inspired Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address to warn would-be-aggressors that the United States stands ready to defend its freedoms and the freedoms of its allies across the world. In addition, he called on citizens to accept the responsibility of protecting America's freedoms, Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Source: They Think You're Stupid, by Herman Cain, p.153-154 , Jun 14, 2005

Food for Peace: $1.5B shipments annually

In 1961 Kennedy's second executive order created the Food-for-peace office. Designed to combat world hunger. Arthur Schlesinger would call it "the great unseen weapon of Kennedy's third world policy." Shipments averaged nearly $1.5 billion annually during the Kennedy years. National self-interest was also involved: The program also helped reduce American agricultural surpluses and since American ships were exclusively employed to stimulate the nation's maritime industry.
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.254-255 , Dec 10, 1997

Peace Corps: highest response to "ask not" request

March 1, 1961 the president issued an executive order creating the Peace Corps to send trained volunteers overseas to assist developing nations with their economic and social problems. That fall, after discovering that college students greeted it warmly, he did not broach it in a formal campaign speech until six days before the election.

All Americans were now eligible to apply. Those accepted would be volunteers who lived in primitive conditions among the people they served.

The Peace Corps, Sorensen later boasted, "represented the highest response to [Kennedy's] Inaugural injunction to 'ask not.' The corps would turn out to be one of the administration's most successful--and newsworthy--projects. By the end of 1961, nearly one thousand volunteers were serving, and the president called them "a cross-section of the finest men and women that this nation has to offer."

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.255 , Dec 10, 1997

Alliance for Progress: $500M for Latin American cooperation

In 1961, Kennedy called for an Alliance for Progress, a cooperative effort "to satisfy the basic needs of the American people for homes, work and land, health and schools." The president then described ten steps he was taking to bolster Latin American economic development, education, inter-American cooperation, and democracy, including a request to Congress for half a billion dollars. "Let us once again awaken our American revolution," he concluded, "until it guides the struggles of people everywhere --not with an imperialism of force or fear--but the rule of courage and freedom and hope for the future of man."

While the idealism in his proposal was undeniable, Kennedy's anti-communism was also apparent. Few could fail to see the specter of Fidel Castro in much of what was said. Drawing a parallel between the Alliance and the Marshall Plan, Kennedy would later refer to the Alliance as a program "I believe can successfully counter the Communist onslaught in this hemisphere."

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.255-256 , Dec 10, 1997

"World safe for diversity", instead of "safe for democracy"

Although he did seek basic reforms in the efforts of other countries to make use of our funds, he knew that our own system could not be universally imposed or accepted in a world where most of the people "are not white, are not Christians, [and] know nothing about free enterprise or due process of law or the Australian ballot." All must adopt their own system, and the freedom to do so was at the heart of his policy. Without specifically contradicting Wilson's phrase of "a world made safe for democracy," he began in 1963 to refer in his speeches to "a world made safe for diversity." That single phrase summed up much of his new thinking in foreign policy.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 539 , Jan 1, 1965

1961: Created the Peace Corps

Kennedy created in his first 100 days the Peace Corps: a cadre of mostly youthful volunteers carrying American energy and skills directly to the people of poor nations. They lived with those people in their villages, spoke their languages, helped them develop their natural and human resources, and received no compensation other than the satisfaction of helping others. The Peace Corps became in time--at least in the developing nations--the most stirring symbol of Kennedy's hope and promise.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 532 , Jan 1, 1965

Alianza para el Progreso: development aid for Latin America

In speeches [about Latin America], the emphasis was on the need for more self-help as well as American help, for ending injustice as well as poverty, for reform as well as relief. The Alianza para el Progreso "is more than a doctrine of development, it is the expression of the noblest goals of our society."

The President had begun work on a coffee stabilization agreement, sent more Peace Corpsmen south than to any other continent, and increased Food-for-Peace shipments. But the Alliance was slow getting started, and not without reason. With a rate of infant mortality nearly 4 times our own, a life expectancy less than 2/3 of our own, an illiteracy rate of 50%, and a highly suspicious attitude toward American investment, where were we to begin? The task, said the President, was "staggering in its dimensions," even for a ten-year plan.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p.534-535 , Jan 1, 1965

Alliance for Progress followed up on 1957 change in policy

The Organization of American States (Cuba dissenting) adopted the historic Act of Bogota. "Non-intervention" had given way to a new idea--the idea that ALL American nations had an interest in ending feudalism, the vast hereditary gulf between rich and poor, the system that assured to a handful of families opulence without labor and condemned millions to near-starvation without opportunity.

Thus was launched a new program for inter-American cooperation which the succeeding administration enthusiastically carried on, giving it a bright and dramatic new label. On March 13, 1961, President Kennedy called "on all the people of the hemisphere to join in a new Alliance for Progress, to satisfy the basic needs of American people for homes, work and land, health and schools."

The Alliance for Progress carries forward the progressive departure from the traditional American doctrine which we began as early as 1957 and carried on intensively upon my return from Latin America.

Source: Waging Peace, by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, p.539 , Jan 1, 1965

Peace Corps carries spirit of America abroad

Neither money nor technical assistance can be our only weapon against poverty. In the end, the crucial effort is one of purpose, requiring the fuel of finance but also a torch of idealism. And nothing carries the spirit of this American idealism more effectively to the far corners of the earth than the American Peace Corps.

A year ago, less than 900 Peace Corps volunteers were on the job. A year from now they will number more than 9,000-men and women, aged 18 to 79, willing to give 2 years of their lives to helping people in other lands.

There are, in fact, nearly a million Americans serving their country and the cause of freedom in overseas posts, a record no other people can match. Surely those of us who stay at home should be glad to help indirectly; by supporting our aid programs; .by opening our doors to foreign visitors and diplomats and students; and by proving, day by day, by deed as well as word, that we are a just and generous people.

Source: Pres. Kennedy's 1963 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 14, 1963

Free the Americas of all foreign domination and all tyranny

In Latin America, Communist agents seeking to exploit that region's peaceful revolution of hope have established a base on Cuba. Questions of economic and trade policy can always be negotiated. But Communist domination in this Hemisphere can never be negotiated.

We are pledged to work with our sister republics to free the Americas of all such foreign domination and all tyranny, working toward the goal of a free hemisphere of free governments, extending from Cape Horn to the Arctic Circle.

To our sister republics to the south, we have pledged a new alliance for progress-alianza para progreso. Our goal is a free and prosperous Latin America, realizing for all its states and all its citizens a degree of economic and social progress that matches their historic contributions of culture, intellect and liberty.

Source: Pres. Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 30, 1961

Alianza Para Progreso: Food-for-Peace to Latin America

To our sister republics to the south, we have pledged a new alliance for progress--Alianza Para Progreso. To start this nation's role at this time in that alliance of neighbors, I am recommending:
Source: Pres. Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 30, 1961


John F. Kennedy on Anti-Communism

We can work with Communists? Let them come to Berlin!

John F. Kennedy [said about the Soviet Union's Communists], "There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, that we can work with the communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin." The repetition drives the narrative and the expectation is heightened.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p. 7 , Mar 3, 2010

1963: Ich bin ein Berliner; freedom is indivisible

In 1963, after a visit to the wall that the Soviets had erected to pen in those who would fell communist control, Pres. Kennedy stood in West Berlin to address a cheering crowd of at least 150,000. A fortnight earlier, he had told the American people in different context that "this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free." Echoing those sentiments, he told the people of Berlin, "Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free."

He continued: "When all are free, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades. All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' "

He inspired hope in an oppressed people. He delivered a message about the need for all men to be free that was consistent at home and abroad. And he was a realist about the time it would take.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.198 , Sep 14, 2009

Immunized himself from suspicion of being "soft on Reds"

In 1954 letters sympathetic to McCarthy were pouring into Jack's office, and the Boston Post was questioning Kennedy's patriotism. To further immunize himself from any possible suspicion on being "soft on the Reds," Jack backed the Communist Control Act of 1954. This hastily devised and poorly thought out response to the ultraconservatives virtually outlawed the Communist party in the United States. There was clearly a link between the act and the impending study and vote on McCarthy.
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.121-122 , Dec 10, 1997

US has obligation to defend freedom

If we do well here, if we meet our obligations, if we're moving ahead, then I think freedom will be secure around the world. If we fail, then freedom fails. The kind of country we have here, the kind of society we have, the kind of strength we build in the United States will be the defense of freedom.
Source: The First Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Sep 26, 1960

US needs more economic & social strength to fight Communism

I think the tide could run against us. I don't want historians to say, these were the years when the tide ran out for the United States. I want them to say these were the years when the tide came in. The question before us is can freedom in the next generation conquer, or are the Communists going to be successful? If we meet our responsibilities I think freedom will conquer. If we fail to develop sufficient military and economic and social strength,
Source: The First Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Sep 26, 1960


John F. Kennedy on Cuba

Initiated 8 assassination attempts against Cuba's Castro

After his brother's defeat at the Bay of Pigs, Robert Kennedy's determination to "get Castro" was so intense that one of his key advisers on Cuba said he seemed to regard the failed invasion as "an insult which needed to be redressed quickly." [One adviser recalled], "We were hysterical about Castro."

Setting up a special CIA operation, code-named "Mongoose," Bobby kept pushing the CIA. RFK made it clear that Castro was "the top priority of the US Government--all else is secondary--no time, effort, money or manpower is to be spared." That directive was followed, with the CIA ceaselessly trying to set up raids by Cuban exiles, blow up bridges and factories. There were efforts of another type as well. The CIA would carry out 8 separate assassination attempts on Castro's life, continuing into 1965. Did RFK authorize them, or know about them? "The Kennedys made clear their desire to get rid of Castro," [one historian] wrote. But did they authorize assassination? "The truth is unknowable.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p.241-242 , May 1, 2012

Travel restraints after Cuban missile crisis kept until 1977

Some American political leaders have adopted Fidel Castro as the ultimate human villain, and have elevated the small and militarily impotent nation of Cuba as one of the greatest threats to our nation's security and culture.

There was a justified concern, during a brief period more than 4 decades ago, when President John Kennedy was informed that Soviet missiles were being sent to Cuba, and the "Cuban missile crisis" was properly named. Since then, the continued fixation on Cuba has become ludicrous and counterproductive. A punitive embargo has been imposed on the already suffering Cuban people, the freedom of our own citizens to visit and trade with Cuba has been curtailed, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation has been outlawed. The only tangible results of this policy have been to hurt the people of Cuba and turn them against the US.

With the missile crisis resolved, in 1977 I removed all travel restraints.

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p.102-103 , Sep 26, 2006

Bay of Pigs defeat enhanced Castro's stature

On April 17, 1961, the CIA mounted an invasion of Cuba with a thousand Cuban exiles at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on Cuba's southern coast. The invaders were defeated and most of them imprisoned. Castro's victory enhanced his stature in Cuba enormously and other communist and South American states were drawn closer to Cuba as a result. In his 1961 May Day speech (an annual occurrence), Castro declared that the government would no longer hold the elections, but would depend on the direct support of the people at mass rallies (like this one), something that delighted most listeners, but terrified others who assumed that any hint of democracy was now dead and buried in Cuba.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.290-291 , Apr 17, 1961

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George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
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George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
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Page last updated: Mar 16, 2014