Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Kennedy talked, Khrushchev triumphed." Now what about Obama?

Today William Katz at Urgent Agenda posts Never Fear? I comment below the star line.

Here's Katz - - -

Occasionally we get a newspaper piece written by those who actually do the research, have absorbed the facts, and can apply a reasonable perspective to a political stand. Here, two writers, in a New York times op-ed piece, pretty much wreck Barack Obama's naive stance on negotiations.

In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy expressed in two eloquent sentences, often invoked by Barack Obama, a policy that turned out to be one of his presidency’s — indeed one of the cold war’s — most consequential: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy’s special assistant, called those sentences “the distinctive note” of the inaugural.
A little problem...
But Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings — his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” — he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

Senior American statesmen like George Kennan advised Kennedy not to rush into a high-level meeting, arguing that Khrushchev had engaged in anti-American propaganda and that the issues at hand could as well be addressed by lower-level diplomats.


But Kennedy went ahead, and for two days he was pummeled by the Soviet leader. Despite his eloquence, Kennedy was no match as a sparring partner, and offered only token resistance as Khrushchev lectured him on the hypocrisy of American foreign policy, cautioned America against supporting “old, moribund, reactionary regimes” and asserted that the United States, which had valiantly risen against the British, now stood “against other peoples following its suit.”
Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.
Too intelligent and too weak.

Does that remind you of a certain Illinois senator?


The following spring, Khrushchev made plans to “throw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam’s pants”: nuclear missiles in Cuba. And while there were many factors that led to the missile crisis, it is no exaggeration to say that the impression Khrushchev formed at Vienna — of Kennedy as ineffective — was among them.
If Barack Obama wants to follow in Kennedy’s footsteps, he should heed the lesson that Kennedy learned in his first year in office: sometimes there is good reason to fear to negotiate.

There's a lot to think about here. But since those journalists who are in the tank for Obama are emotionally opposed to thinking, I'm not too optimistic.



The "Kennedy talked, Khrushchev triumphed" tag identifies its authors as journalist Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins, a doctoral candidate in political science at Columbia University.

Katz has done an excellent job of IDing "the guts" of what they say and adding some comments of his own we should all be thinking about.

Today was my first visit to Katz's blog, Urgent Agenda. I looked around and liked what I saw. I hope you visit it here.

Hat tip: Mike Williams


Anonymous said...

Even though I cast my very first presidential vote for JFK, I eventually realized he was mostly flash and only a bit of substance. Khrushchev had him pegged and obviously concluded that Kennedy could be rolled with a little old-fashioned ICBM threat. Granted Kennedy stood up to the Soviets, but it was only when he got some adult supervision to point him in the right direction. Mr. Obama could find himself even more embarrassed if he ever followed through on his pledge to meet with the world's worst actors without any preconditions during the first year of his presidency. JFK was idealistically naive; Mr. Obama is a snake-oil salesman with a very glib tongue. It's only racist Blacks, those not yet dry behind the ears, and those whose leftist bias blinds them to reality who have been enchanted by the "Illinois Illusion."
Tarheel Hawkeye

BoonDoggie said...

Obama would be tested in his first year of office on his diplomatic world tour. Likely events:

Iran becomes more emboldened, perhaps sending large amounts of troops into Iraq because after they size him up they decide he won't do anything about it. In fact, he'll have the military in full retreat out of there in a rush to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Imagine the flow of arms and fighters into Lebanon if Iran controls southern Iraq and the Syrian deset, with a land route to Syria. Don't worry, they'll just be there to "protect" their Shiite brothers from the Chaos we've caused. And I doubt the Israelies would do anything about it either. :}

Most middle eastern countries put their nuclear programs into high gear, fearing that the US won't come to the aid of its allies.

China invades Taiwan. The olympics will be over, and they'll believe that this American president won't pull the trigger.

The real lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is that the perception of weakness by your enemies can lead to war. We went right to the brink of nuclear devastation because Kennedy wasn't going to allow the missiles, but didn't do a good job of making our intentions clear.

TombZ said...

Agreed, boondoggie, but I fear it would be more of a test than Obama (and, thus, we) could handle. If Iran believes it can get away with it's own version of manifest destiny, then the solution to that problem will involve many more peoples and be massively more violent.

Democrat presidential leadership in military matters has tended to under-act at first, then reactively over-compensate from fear of looking weak. It's far better to be and act strong all the time, discouraging your enemies from taking a first step.

Overconfidence in an enemy is a bad thing. Why would Obama want to give Ahmadinejihad , Assad or Kim Jong-Il a public platform to accuse the USA of whatever it is they want? All it would do is encourage their supporters (within and without) to cheer so loudly their egos would be boosted sky-high.

All Presidents do not have enough experience upon inauguration. We really don't need still a rookie in his first national office, especially one of little or no apparent accomplishment.

Obama's OJT will be cruel.