What if the US salvaged the Bay of Pigs with an invasion?
The PoD is Nixon wins the 1960 election. Well, that's the first major
result of the PoD which is that Nixon is better rested and shaved for
the televised debates.
One of the earliest foreign policy moves is the invasion by Cuban
exiles in April 1961. Unlike Kennedy, Nixon provides air support. It
is woefully inadequate for ensuring the success of the invasion
however, so the US escalates to using its own forces, an unwelcome
decision but preferable to the otherwise inevitable humiliation to
How will the USSR react? It was not as committed to Cuba as it would
become by the time of the Cuban missile crisis, but it was already
providing aid and advisors, and Krushev and Castro had met in Harlem,
etc. Krushev had already made threats about protecting Cuba with
missiles months earlier, so quietly accepting an American fait
accompli was not a cost-free option.
Out of the following range of options, what's most likely to happen?
I might be providing too many answers, but here are some possible Soviet retaliation options- I'm sure I haven't covered the whole waterfront of this WI, so there should be something left to discuss.
1. Political condemnation-
Khrushchev gets criticized for an ineffectual
reaction. He gets toppled and his successors initiate
an earlier across-the-board military build-up. K is
scapegoated and the Soviets do not retaliate at any
other geopolitical flashpoint.
2. A local, "Guerrilla" reaction. Provide political
diplomatic support for the Cubans. If Soviet advisors
are there, keep them in the hills with the Castroites.
Use commercial shipping to run the US gauntlet to
keep a minimal supply for Castroite guerrillas for as
long as possible. Try to use networks in sympathetic
Latin American countries, seeing how much you can
capitalize on their resentment of the US to gain
cooperation. To sustain this strategy for any length
of time, you will have to count on Latin American
outrage counterbalancing Latin American appeasement
This would be the easiest for the Soviets to think of,
and would offer the greatest potential political gain
for the USSR in Europe. But what specifically would
the Soviets do?
A. Blockade Berlin again, and build the wall?
This is a physically doable method of pressure on the
western alliance. But what would the goal be? After
all, if the Soviets just harass Berlin and give up
after a few months, the American's still walk away
with Cuba and the Soviets walk away with nothing.
Or do the Soviets blockade Berlin with the explicit
aim of compelling the Americans to withdraw from Cuba,
confident that Castroite guerrillas would take over
again. That seems like a very unrealistic
expectation, because the US commitment to friendly
Cubans would only deepen as its invasion proceeds.
Option B. Seize Berlin by storm. Highly dangerous,
though I'm not certain Allied units in Berlin have
nukes. Still it pretty much guarantees WWIII. If the
US does not retaliate, each side holds what it seized.
If the USSR is following a tit for tat approach, its
up to the west to force their way east into Berlin,
which is not easy for them and would be resisted.
Option C. Seize the American zone only. Pretty much
the same risks, but more politically divisive for the
There was a parallel in Khrushchev's mind between
Turkey and Cuba's geostrategic relationship to each
superpower. Perhaps Turkey could be a target of
A. Invade the whole thing- 2 big problems. First,
this trips the NATO guarantee. Second, the Turks can
resist Soviet conquest for a great deal longer than
the Cubans can resist US conquest. Turkish partisans
will then have access to more outside assistance than
Cuban guerrillas, assuming the USSR has not been
B. Just seize European Turkey with forces based in
Bulgaria and crossing the Black Sea.
Thrace is a smaller bite, about the size of Puerto
Rico, yet it is a geographic prize. This is more
militarily doable as a fait accompli than a full
invasion of Turkey. But, it still trips NATO and is
nearly as dangerous as storming East Berlin—the lack
of US forces there is the only thing making it less
dangerous. I don't think the Jupiters were there yet
and I'm not sure if any of them were in Thrace either.
They are of course an important factor.
C. Just airstrikes on Turkey. Same problem as the
Berlin Blockade, just a transient nuisance to the US,
while the US overthrow of Castro is permanent.
Perhaps Iran is a more suitable target for a Soviet
revenge strike. Americans mentioned this as a
possibility during the Cuban Missile Crisis for
instance. Attacking Iran does not trigger NATO
guarantees though it does trigger guarantee of the
weaker CENTO alliance. Here again the problem is
that, like Turkey, Iran is much harder for the USSR to
occupy than Cuba is for the US. Pakistan is in a
somewhat similar situation, maybe it should get
punished for hosting U-2s. But Afghanistan being in
the way complicates things. The USSR either has to
subdue a relatively friendly Afghanistan first, or it
has to use its forces to help Afghanistan carve out a
Pashtunistan from Islamabad—at which point India may
start to have issues. In both cases, bombing is just
a transparent way to blow off steam, without
demonstrating much strength.
6. Vietnam-Southeast Asia-
One Soviet option is to compensate for the loss of
Cuba by accelerating gains where the Communist
position is already strong and sustainable in the
North Vietnam , had it chosen to do so, could have
escalated its support to the Viet Cong rebels much
faster and could have injected its units southward
much faster than OTL. The main restraints on its
behavior were not lack of domestic political will to
conquer the south, or a lack of communist popularity
in the south. North Vietnam played it slow because it
wanted to avoid losing in a repeat of the Korean War,
blowing its wad all at once. The Soviets supported
this more cautious policy of guerrilla warfare and
made few promises of direct support.
Perhaps, with Cuba falling and the Soviets having few
options, Moscow might try to goose the Indochinese
revolutions. It could encourage Hanoi by offering
generous support and it could offer its assessment
that the US is too busy to respond quickly anyway.
China was having plenty of problems with the USSR at
this time, but it would have been politically
incorrect for the Chinese to *discourage* a more
aggressive North Vietnam because it sold itself as the
more aggressive communist power. Also, open US
aggression in Cuba might have momentarily made the
Chinese angrier at the US than USSR. While the
Chinese had a regional perspective, they did not
ignore global events entirely.
Here's three options-
A. Tell Hanoi to commit as much force as it would like
against South Vietnam. The USSR can promise maximum
material support, and openly send air defense forces
and a small naval flotilla to the Hanoi-Haiphong area
to hopefully deter US bombing or blockade of the
north. Possibly SRBMs could be deployed to North
Vietnam to make the point. Hanoi can then basically
commit its full strength to the offensive.
B. Intervene with airmobile forces in Laos.
Geographically remote? Yes of course. But stage them
through Hanoi and Haiphong and have them intervene in
favor of the legitimate "neutralist" government
against the right-wing faction support by the US. The
right-wing Lao forces can be easily routed, and the
Soviet diplomatic position would be unassailable.
From the Laos position, the Soviets can shield the Ho
Chi Minh trail, and Soviet forces might be too close
for the US to comfortably intervene in South Vietnam.
C. Just keeping it simple, encourage North Vietnam to
"go", give optimistic assessments to them and ship
lots of aid for replacement equipment. This will not
provide immediate revenge, but will greatly accelerate
US difficulties in the Vietnam War by about three
years time. This might result in a lengthy stalemate
over a broad Indochinese front extending into Laos.
The drawback is that you're expending effort on what
will be an inevitable victory. Also, the Vietnamese
will have to accept the help. It puts the Chinese in
a position where they *could* pose difficulties but
probably won't. A big advantage is its comparatively
safe. The Soviets can provide some useful combat
services to the Vietnamese, but the Vietnamese
infantry and deep jungle territory will safeguard
those Soviet forces that deploy.
6. Back to the Middle East-
The USSR can seek compensation against the US by
attacking Israel. Israeli-Arab tensions were high in
1961, as Syria and Israel bickered over the Jordan
river. Israel is just so lacking in strategic depth
that Soviet bombing combined with support for an Arab
ground attack could be devastating. The Soviets could
shuttle bomb from the Caucasus, unload over Tel Aviv
and Haifa, and land on Arab airfields. Transport
planes could carry air defense crews and weapons for
protection. Air-mobile or paratroop formations could
stiffen the Arabs for attack. Israeli harbors could
be mined. I don't know if the Soviets had airmobile
forces yet, but with the firepower available from the
air and the Arabs just used to fix the Israelis in
place, I'd say the Israelis go down fast, especially
if you just encourage people to start walking in from
the refugee camps. Planning this one the fly would
take some weeks, but once launched, it could be all
over while the US is still bogged down in guerrilla
fighting in Cuba. Partisan resistance by Israelis
would not be workable because Arab armies and Arab
refugees would quickly end up sitting on top of them.
It's safer than some other options because Israel has
no formal treaty allies. Yet at the same time, the
Soviets can paint the Israelis as a strategic catspaw
for the US and western imperialists generally. The
Israeli role in Suez years earlier would lend credence
to that charge. Israel was not quite the focus of
ATWBTUS (all-the-world-but-the-US) anger at this time,
but nobody the Soviets were trying to impress in their
own bloc, or in the third world had sympathy for them.
Israel's arms suppliers wouldn't object to arming
Israel, but neither Britain, West Germany nor France
are in a position to help the Israelis.
The drawback to this is figuring out how to distribute
the spoils to the Arabs and that its not a serious
blow against the US strategic position. The nifty
part though is that it demonstrates operational reach
but will probably be safely over before the US can
I think attacking Israel directly is a little but much; perhaps the USSR goads the Arabs into doing it and supplies them with MUCH more equipment (and even "volunteers" like in Korea and maybe Vietnam) than in OTL. I imagine trying to supply Castro's people in a guerrilla war too; the Bearded One is going to keep on fomenting trouble, either as a bin-Laden type fugitive or in exile somewhere else (as he was for a time).
I think in the long-run, a US victory in the Bay of Pigs might have led to a prolonged guerrilla war. Castro was still popular in Cuba at that point (other than the initial flight of Batista's punks and the especially fore-sighted, when did people start trying to cross the Strait on closet doors and stuff?), so the US might not have a very favorable welcome. It might have been wiser to wait a few years for Castro to wear out his welcome (as most Latin American caudillos do) and THEN be the recipient of tears and flowers.
"think attacking Israel directly is a little but much"
Sorry, that should be "little bit much." I need to start previewing my posts again.
The Soviet response also depends on whether Khruschev remains in power or Brezhnev (or some other hardliner) makes his move earlier. Khruschev might make some blundering attempt to satisfy everyone and engage in half-measures (perhaps encouraging the Arabs to invade but not adequately supplying them); Brezhnev or someone like him (in the former case, he'd be younger too) would likely come up with something clever.
Yes they did
Yep, Castro and Khrushchev were both in New York for a session of the UN in September 1960. They gave each other a big hug and kiss before Nikita went to bang his shoe on the podium. They were both staying in the "improbably seedy" Hotel Theresa on 125th street in Harlem. Castro spent some of his time outside of the UN session with some black American leaders (maybe Adam Clayton Powell?), some Puerto Rican nationalists, and some Iroquois activist with a name like "Big Red Eagle Claw" or something to express. Castro chose the venue to express solidarity with America's racial minorities, and Nasser and Nehru also dropped in on Castro while he was in town.
Pancho Villa II
Cross border raids by enraged Hispanics. At least we wouldn't have to worry about Vietnam. So we get less Vietnamese immigrants and pretty much no Hispanic immigrants. A very different and less populated California, for one.
More on international responses - death by a thousand cuts?
It of course would be uncharacteristically bold just to up and attack Israel. Perhaps the Soviets simply raise tensions in Europe while massively increasing support to the Arabs *and* North Vietnam. Perhaps part of the aid to the Arabs could go to Iraq in support of its desire to take Kuwait at this time, though most of it would go to anti-Israeli front-line states. This could be combined with an earlier start to the mid-60s build-up. So, Soviet policy ends up not being aimed at instant gratification but slower forms of revenge through traditional methods of low-level conflict.
In Latin America itself, any aid to Castro in Cuba will quickly become a mere trickle, even if Mexico, Venezuela and Costa Rica give it all a wink and a nod.
The Soviets may be reluctant to get burned in the Caribbean again, and so will not get interested in Nicaragua later. They might still desire a Latin American satellite, but would prefer one a little , more distant from the US and also a bit larger, with some strategic depth. So perhaps later on this means they would find any potential opportunities in South American countries more attractive than those in Central America or Caribbean.
If North Vietnam goes into the south bigger and earlier, the US will have to do the same unless it wants South Vietnam to fall. The US would probably not have the luxury of slow escalation and would probably have to react more decisively to cut-off inflitration/invasion routes just to keep South Vietnam afloat even in the short-term. The combined foreign policy efforts in Cuba and then Vietnam could preclude any potential desires for tax cutting or expanded domestic spending. Interesting to see what the domestic political effects of this stuff is.
Oddly enough I got feedback from thje board saying I need at least ten more characters.
The Soviet response also depends on whether Khruschev remains in power or Brezhnev (or some other hardliner) makes his move earlier. Khruschev might make some blundering attempt to satisfy everyone and engage in half-measures (perhaps encouraging the Arabs to invade but not adequately supplying them)
Ouch, he doubles the embarassment that way, and makes himself more politically vulnerable.
; Brezhnev or someone like him (in the former case, he'd be younger too) would likely come up with something clever.[/QUOTE]
" Perhaps part of the aid to the Arabs could go to Iraq in support of its desire to take Kuwait at this time"
That might be the best idea of a retaliatory measure. It helps out a Soviet ally, could potentially hurt the West in the long-run (the fewer oil producing states, the more vulnerable the oil-importing West is to a supply cutoff), and is rather tit-for-tat (you took one of our allies, we've got one of yours). If the US is distracted, Britain standing alone in Kuwait's defense isn't going to be that intimidating.
Of course, if the Sovs see the US bogged down in a guerrilla war with Castro in Cuba, it could stoke the fires of the Arab-Israeli conflict, foment difficulties in Korea, encourage the NVs in Vietnam and the Iraqis in Kuwait to go for the glory. The US is distracted at the center; the peripheries are vulnerable.
Later historians might see Kennedy's move in Cuba as a great blunder if something like that happened.
Neat list of options. Anyway you could email me them and I could reprint them on my site? (email@example.com)
I suspect that they would pressure turkey and Iran. Something like demanding:
1) that Turkey withdraw from NATO and any international organisation.
2) that communists get 'eqitable' representation in the turkish govt.
3) that the USSR geta free access to the strights and naval bases there.
Pretty much the same for iran, plus some bargans on oil.