When November comes around, it is hard not to remember the days of the John F. Kennedy administration, especially this year, the 50th anniversary of the assassination. But there now is an even more important reason why it behooves us to think back to those days. It is in order to understand the differences between the strategic doctrines of JFK and Barack Obama.
Both JFK and Obama found themselves facing a strategic threat from missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction amassed by a totalitarian enemy. But their methods of coping with the threats could not have been more different. Kennedy used military force and the threat of war to force the Soviets to back down. He placed a complete naval embargo on Cuba where the missiles stood; he called it a quarantine. Obama’s policy for coping with Iranian nuclear weapons is basically geostrategic Obamacare: If you like your bombs, then you can keep your bombs. Instead of the Bay of Pigs, we are seeing the Bay of Ostriches.
Even today we are direct beneficiaries of the courage Kennedy displayed in the Cuban missile crisis and of his willingness to shove back the Soviets using brinkmanship. In contrast, 50 years later we have the spectacle of an American Administration being upstaged and made to accept instruction in courage from France. Camelot has been replaced by Spamalot.
Comparing Obamacare with the policy of striking a deal with the Mullahs is not as absurd as it may sound. In both cases, Obama and his people seek to resolve a major complex problem by having pieces of paper signed. The Iranian nuclear threat will go away as soon as the Mullahs agree to promise on paper not to build any bombs. This is a bit like thinking that the health system’s problems can be solved by passing a law making it illegal for people not to buy health insurance.
I think it is a fascinating mental exercise to try to imagine how Barack Obama would have handled the Cuban missile crisis differently from JFK.
So try to imagine it was Obama at the helm in October of 1962. It was two years after Senator Obama won the presidential election running on a platform that warned Americans about the “missile gap,” meaning that the US was in possession of too many missiles and this was making other countries feel insecure. American surveillance planes suddenly spot Soviet missiles being positioned on Cuba. President Obama places a few half-hearted trade sanctions on Cuba, but allows sugar to be exported lest its embargo cause human suffering on the island. He also allows the export to Cuba of medicine and food, two things the Communist regime there has never been able to provide to its citizens adequately, making Castro’s regime so much more palatable.
Next, Obama demands that Cuba agree to participate in negotiations with UN representatives selected by the Soviet Union. The Soviet position is that it is its natural right to place its missiles anywhere it wants. It agrees to conduct negotiations just as long as this right will not be compromised or challenged. As a gesture of flexibility, the Soviets agree that their missiles will not be targeted at the entire non-Communist world but only at one country at a time.
Obama then lectures the country that the Soviets dislike America because Americans are too insensitive and materialistic. They need to learn more about the lifestyles and values of other peoples. He appoints a number of members of the American Communist Party to serve as his advisors on relations with the Soviets.
In the face of demands that the US threaten to launch aircraft and missiles targeting Soviet forces in Cuba, Obama in 1962 has his Secretary of State clarify that any such attack would actually be incredibly tiny and unbelievably insignificant. Khrushchev responds by escalating the shipments of war materiel to Cuba. When a number of Soviet naval vessels are spotted approaching Cuba near US ships, Obama orders the US ships to be removed lest they give the Russians an impression of American bellicosity. As a goodwill gesture, Obama removes the entire American base at Guantanamo Bay.
The Soviets and Cubans insist that the missiles in Cuba are there for peaceful purposes only. They are simply part of aeronautic research projects and are designed for civilian use.
President Obama takes to the TV screens on October 22 and explains to the US public that only a diplomatic solution can resolve the confrontation. Use of the military would be simply too disagreeable. When a reporter asks him how this would affect the confidence of America’s allies in US strength and leadership, the president responds that all US allies except for Israel are themselves deeply interested in peace. In France, Raymond Aron writes in the October 29 issue of Le Figaro a denunciation of American cowardice.
On the evening of October 24, the Soviet news agency TASS broadcasts a telegram from Khrushchev to President Obama, in which Khrushchev warns that the United States’ “outright piracy” will lead to war. Obama responds with a heartfelt apology and explains that American sanctions should not be regarded as acts of aggression.
When President Obama’s military advisors proposed threatening Cuba with a regime change if use of American military force should ever be deemed necessary, Obama dismisses the idea. We have to stop pretending to be the world’s policeman, he explains.
Che Guevara proclaims from Havana the next day: “Direct aggression against Cuba would mean nuclear war. The Americans speak about such aggression as if they did not know or did not want to accept this fact. I have no doubt they would lose such a war.” Castro is convinced that an invasion of Cuba is at hand, and on October 26, he sends a telegram to Khrushchev that calls for a preemptive nuclear strike against the US.
Some commentators point out that the Soviet economy is in such distress, and the Cuban economy even more so, that the time to pressure them into submission could not be more opportune. Nonsense, is the Obama response. It just means they will be even more flexible if we offer them some aid. We need to be listening less to the generals and more to Pete Seeger, he adds.
President Obama holds an emergency consultation with his special counselor Kathy Boudin. She proposes that the president defuse the crises by providing the Soviets with food aid and by offering it half of the territory of Israel.
Ultimately the crisis is resolved when Obama simply decides that the US will agree to pretend that the missiles in Cuba are not there.
Later, when asked how all this was consistent with the Monroe Doctrine, the president explained that he watched all the episodes of “Too Close for Comfort” and was certain that the Monroe Ficus character there would entirely approve of his policies.
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