Ted Sorensen on the Bay of Pigs and Political Accountability
Theodore C. Sorensen, former special counsel and adviser to President John F. Kennedy and a widely published author on the presidency and foreign affairs, practiced international law for more than 36 years as a senior partner, and now of counsel, at the prominent U.S. law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The former chairman of the firm’s International Practice Committee, he has represented U.S. and multinational corporations in negotiations with governments all over the world and advised and assisted a large number of foreign governments and government leaders, ranging from the late President Sadat of Egypt to former President Mandela of South Africa.
Mr. Sorensen and his team at Paul, Weiss have advised U.S. corporations on factories in Russia and Africa, pipelines in the Caribbean and Latin America, and disputes in the Middle East and North America, and negotiated on their behalf with government officials at the highest level in dozens of countries. He has advised foreign corporations from five continents on investments in the United States and elsewhere, foreign governments on problems with the World Bank, the United Nations, the U.S. government and foreign investors, and on changes in their respective mining, petroleum, investment and election codes, and constitutions.
In 2002, Mr. Sorensen was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Sorensen is on the advisory board of the Foreign Policy Leadership Council, a director of the Council on Foreign Relations (until 2004) and the Century Foundation, a member of the advisory board of the Partnership for a Secure America and an honorary co-chair of the ABA Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession. Mr. Sorensen is the author of the 1965 international best seller Kennedy, seven other books on the presidency, politics or foreign policy and numerous articles on those subjects in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times and other publications. As an active figure in the Democratic Party, he has participated in 10 of the last 12 Democratic Party National Conventions and served in a number of governmental, political and civic posts. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, he served on the boards of the Central Asian-American Enterprise Fund (covering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) and the Commission on White House Fellows. He is experienced in the ways of Washington, the United Nations and the multilateral (World Bank, IFC, etc.) and U.S. (AID, OPIC, etc.) financing institutions.
Mr. Sorensen was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1928. He is father of three sons, one daughter and is married to Gillian Martin Sorensen, a former New York City commissioner, a former United Nations under-secretary general and current senior advisor and national advocate at the United Nations Foundation. Mr. Sorensen's memoirs, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, were published by HarperCollins in May of 2008.
Question: How did JFK handle the fallout from the Bay of Pigs Invasion?
Ted Sorensen: It’s funny you would bring that up. That was the only blot on his record. He handled it very well. He even took responsibility for it. And that was so shocking to everyone in Washington that his popularity zoomed up. He was a little rueful about that. He thought maybe we’d have to make some more blunders to keep it up there.
Question: Why are today’s politicians so loathe to admit their mistakes?
Ted Sorensen: Politics changed. Individual leaders changed. There is no one in office today even remotely like John F. Kennedy – certainly not in the Executive branch – which has been the most blundering, incompetent Executive branch of leadership for my lifetime. I don’t go back to James Buchanan. But certainly they think that admitting mistakes is a weakness because they don’t have the strength of character or the vision that John F. Kennedy did. He knew that when things are down they’ll come up again. When they’re up they’ll go down again. And he was able to look at that big picture, and look at himself objectively and recognize what his strengths were, but also his weaknesses.
Question: Is it too late for this administration to do penance?
Ted Sorensen: It’s never too late. Bob McNamara demonstrated that even decades after mistakes are made, an honest public servant in retirement can acknowledge those mistakes as Bob McNamara did with respect to the Vietnam War. I doubt that Mr. Bush has one-twentieth of the strength of character that Bob McNamara has – he’s still alive – and had. So I don’t expect to hear a mea culpa from Mr. Bush.
John F. Kennedy publicly admitted his mistake in ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion, and his popularity sky-rocketed. Why are today’s politicians so loathe to admit their mistakes?
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