Probably the most interesting aspect of this debate is the discussion of U.S. policy on Cuba
, which gives a rare insight into real politics
At the time, Fidel Castro had very recently pledged his allegiance to Moscow and the cause of international communism (this was a live issue in those days!) and, given the strong ideological opposition to the Reds, the proximity of Cuba to the U.S., and the general atmosphere of anti-communist hysteria prevailing, this was one of the hottest issues of the day.
Throughout the campaign, Kennedy needled Nixon about the lack of a U.S. response to the situation, recommending strong immediate action, and warning of dire consequences in its absence: "By 1965 or 1970 will there be other Cubas in Latin America?" he asks, above.
Nixon's response is rather puzzling:
I think that Senator Kennedy's policies and recommendations for the handling of the Castro regime are probably the most dangerously irresponsible recommendations that he's made during the course of this campaign. In effect, what Senator Kennedy recommends is that the United States Government should give help to the exiles and to those within Cuba who oppose the Castro regime [...]
We have five treaties with Latin America, including the
one setting up the Organization of American States in Bogota in 1948, in which we have agreed not to intervene in the internal affairs of any other American country, and they as well have agreed to do likewise. The charter of the United Nations, its preamble, Article I and Article II also provide that there shall be no intervention by one nation in the internal affairs of another.
Now I don't know what Senator Kennedy suggests when he says that we should help those who oppose the Castro regime both in Cuba and without. But I do know this, that if we were to follow that recommendation that we would lose all of our friends in Latin America, we would probably be condemned in the United Nations, and we would not accomplish our objective. I know something else. It would be an open invitation for Mr. Khrushchev to come in, to come into
Latin America and to engage us in what would be a civil war, and possibly even worse than that.
This is very strange! A hardline Republican
opposing effective action against a communist regime directly off the shores of the U.S., on the grounds that it's 'meddling in internal affairs', and will break some piddling treaties? Things must have changed since those days!
But in fact the real situation makes things fall into a much more coherent pattern.
The Eisenhower administration was already well beyond the planning stages of an operation along exactly the lines suggested by Kennedy, and ostensibly opposed by Nixon in the quote above, as can be seen from the document A program of covert action against the Castro regime, prepared by the 5412 Committee and approved by Eisenhower in March 1960, seven months prior to this debate taking place.
Nixon knew this (he was Eisenhower's V.P. and closely involved in these matters). Kennedy knew this (he was on the Senate Intelligence Committee). But Kennedy also knew that Nixon couldn't breathe a word of it, in case he 'blew' the operation by hinting what the real, active, policy of the U.S. Government actually was.
The passage from Nixon I've quoted shows a master dissembler at work, lying professionally and dutifully, to preserve the secrecy of the secret policy. "Now I don't know what Senator Kennedy suggests..." indeed! His irritation with Kennedy's ingenious, and disingenuous, campaign strategy - Nixon also knew that Kennedy knew... - perhaps fed into his famously bad-tempered concession of the subsequent victory to Kennedy. The fact he couldn't speak the truth on this issue just possibly cost him what was one of the closest electoral battles in the history of the U.S. presidency. This is how politics works in the real world!
The program proposed in the aforementioned 'covert action' document was of course continued under the subsequent Kennedy administration, resulting in Operation Mongoose, inaugurated in 1961, and, obviously, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. This (remarkably unsuccessful) anti-Castro campaign by the U.S. has continued up to the present day, as documented by the Cubans in their legal document, which attempts to sue America for damages.