1. The Cuban Missile Crisis was his fault…
But the worst part of Kennedy’s handling of the crisis is that he spurred the missiles’ deployment in the first place. There was the Bay of Pigs debacle, of course, which confirmed to Cuba and the Soviet Union that there was a real threat of an American invasion they needed to deter.
Further, as Schwarz notes, Kennedy had deployed medium-range “Jupiter” missiles to Italy and Turkey (which, of course, bordered the USSR) earlier in his term. The missiles had no deterrent value and were basically only useful as a means of attacking the Soviet nuclear arsenal as part of a first strike. That meant they were extremely destabilizing, something that was known at the time and provoked concern from Sens. Albert Gore Sr. (D-Tenn.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.). Insofar as wanting to counter U.S. nuclear capabilities was a major motivation for Khrushchev, the Cuba move mainly made sense as a counter to a way more dangerous move by Kennedy. Kennedy even conceded to aides that the Cuba and Turkey missiles were “the same.”
If Gaddis is right, and Kennedy viewed Khrushchev’s move as an attempt to jockey for a better position in a potential nuclear exchange with the United States, then Kennedy surely would have concluded that Khrushchev only placed the missiles in Cuba because he placed them in Turkey first. Kennedy, under Gaddis’s telling, escalated knowing the situation was his fault.