An unseen dimension of RFK: the Attorney General and national security policy, 1961-1963
Kukis, Mark Robert
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This dissertation examines the role Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy played in national security policy during the Kennedy administration, drawing on significant new archival sources made available only in recent years. For decades Robert Kennedy’s involvement in national security affairs from 1961 to 1963 has gone largely unexamined, in part because of a lack of declassified archival evidence documenting his activities as the overseer of covert operations against Cuba. The writing and research presented here offers the only sustained examination of this aspect of RFK’s political life to date, filling a major gap in the historiography. What emerges is a refined understanding of RFK as a major 20th century historical figure challenging conventional narratives characterizing him as an icon of liberalism and a new lens for studying the foreign policy process of the Kennedy administration as a whole. The dissertation shows that RFK was extremely hawkish during his time as attorney general, a sharp contrast to his later reputation. At the president’s behest, the attorney general involved himself in a wide range of national security issues. RFK’s actual influence varied depending on the issue. In some cases he was the driving force behind U.S. policy. In others, he was simply one voice among many in the White House inner circle. In others still, he served as a conduit for sensitive communications to and from the president. Beyond describing RFK’s personal role, the dissertation challenges longstanding notions of the foreign policy process in the Kennedy administration by showing how RFK, the consummate White House insider, often struggled to exercise influence as a policymaker. Most scholarship examining the Kennedy administration argues that President Kennedy crafted foreign policy and national security decisions with a small group of advisers who held enormous influence. But, as RFK’s experiences in this realm demonstrate, structural forces larger than the influence wielded by individual policymakers appears to have played a greater role in the Kennedy administration than the scholarship to date has recognized.