Kim Jong Il’s atomic blast has some conservative pundits reminiscing fondly over President John F. Kennedy. His response to Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro exactly 44 Octobers ago, we’re now given to understand, was positively Pattonesque.
“Now that’s deterrence,” writes Charles Krauthammer in a syndicated column hailing JFK’s handling of the missile crisis. The column calls for “Kennedy-sequel clarity” from President Bush and has been variously titled: “Follow Kennedy’s Lead to Deter North Korea,” “We Could Use Kennedy’s Clarity,” and “It’s Time for Real Deterrence.”
An article in National Review by Andrew McCarthy says “hear-hear” to Krauthammer. “It would be better for President Bush to emulate the Kennedy strategy,” writes McCarthy, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The U.S. message to Kim Jong Il, he stresses, should be no-nonsense and Kennedy-clear.
“Kennedy reacted brilliantly and well and solved the problem,” gushed Dick Morris to a nodding and receptive Sean Hannity, on Fox’s “Hannity & Colmes” last week.
Let’s hand it to Fidel Castro. During his 47 years in the catbird seat, his cultivation and employment of “useful idiots” can only be described—not as science—but as art. Lenin coined the term, but Castro became the virtuoso at sniffing them out, flattering, then flummoxing them.
Not that Krauthammer, Hannity, Morris, McCarthy, qualify as useful idiots. Far from it, and that’s precisely the impressive part. Castro and his Western media and academic acolytes, by sheer repetition (as Joseph Goebbels famously prescribed), have planted and nurtured so many myths about the Cuban Revolution and its illustrious leader that these monopolize the discussions and literature on the subject.
The above pundits, I’d imagine, scoff at the usual humbug regarding Cuba: the exquisite health-care and education, blah, blah. And know full well of the Castro regime’s disastrous rule and cruelty. But they’ve apparently swallowed the missile crisis portion of the legend, which isn’t surprising. As Winston Churchill said to his ministers, “History will be very good to us, because I intend to write most of it.”
Ditto Camelot staffed with its scribbling professors and feted by its fawning flock of footservants and supplicants from the Beltway media. Richard Nixon’s rise to the White House, however, transformed this Beltway press corps much like the rise of a full moon transformed Lon Chaney. Nowadays many of those same nattering nabobs complain that Fox News Channel toadies to the Bush Administration. Pots and kettles come quickly to mind.
Perhaps a refresher on conservative reaction to JFK’s Missile Crisis “resolution” is in order:
“We’ve been had!” yelled then Navy chief George Anderson upon hearing on October 26, 1962, how JFK “solved” the missile crisis. Adm. Anderson was the man in charge of the very “blockade” against Cuba.
“The biggest defeat in our nation’s history!” bellowed Air Force chief Curtis Lemay, while whacking his fist on his desk.
“We missed the big boat,” said Gen. Maxwell Taylor, after learning the details of the deal with Khruschev.
“Kennedy pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory,” wrote Richard Nixon. “Then gave the Soviets squatters rights in our backyard.”
“It’s a public relations fable that Khrushchev quailed before Kennedy,” wrote Alexander Haig. “The legend of the eyeball to eyeball confrontation invented by Kennedy’s men paid a handsome political dividend. But so much that happened was obscured by stage-management designed to divert public attention from embarrassing facts. The Kennedy-Khrushchev deal was a deplorable error resulting in political havoc and human suffering through the America’s.”
Even Democrats despaired. “This nation lacks leadership,” said Dean Acheson, the Democratic elder statesman who Kennedy consulted on the matter. “The meetings were repetitive and without direction. Most members of Kennedy’s team had no military or diplomatic experience whatsoever. The sessions were a waste of time.”
But not for the Soviets. “We ended up getting exactly what we’d wanted all along,” admitted Nikita Kruschev himself, “security for Fidel Castro’s regime and American missiles removed from Turkey. Until today the U.S. has complied with her promise not to interfere with Castro and not to allow anyone else to interfere with Castro. After Kennedy’s death, his successor Lyndon Johnson assured us that he would keep the promise not to invade Cuba.”
And the Kennedy team brainstorming sessions were certainly no waste of time for the primary beneficiary. “Many concessions were made by the Americans about which not a word has been said,” disclosed Fidel Castro. “Perhaps one day they’ll be made public.”
“We can’t say anything public about this agreement. … It would be too much of a political embarrassment for us.” That’s Robert F. Kennedy to Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin when closing the deal that ended the so-called crisis.
(All above quotes are fully documented in my book, “Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.”)
Castro’s regime’s was granted new status. Let’s call it MAP, or mutually assured protection. Cuban freedom-fighters working from South Florida were suddenly rounded up for “violating U.S. Neutrality laws.” Some of these bewildered men were jailed, others “quarantined,” prevented from leaving Dade County. The Coast Guard in Florida got 12 new boats and seven new planes to make sure Castro remained unmolested, that not a hair on his chiny chin-chin was harmed by the hot-headed exiles. When some moved the bases of the liberation fight to the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, the adamantly “non-interventionist” Camelot liberals suggested (strongly) to these governments that the freedom-fighters be booted out.
It’s a tribute to the power of Castroite mythology that, even with all this information a matter of public record for more than 40 years and the remaining declassified in the mid-’90s, the academic/media mantra still has it that Castro “defied ten U.S. Presidents.”
Even crazier, we’re now told by conservatives that Kennedy defied Khrushchev.
Let’s be clear: These freedom-fighters never asked for American blood to bail them out. They were perfectly willing to do the fighting and bleeding and dying themselves. They simply asked a close neighbor to lend some tools.
On Dec. 17, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt held a famous press conference explaining his lend-lease scheme. “Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire,” he beamed to an overwhelmingly hostile Congress. “If I have a length of garden hose that I can connect with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire. Now, what do I do? … We don’t have to have too much formality about it, but later I say to him, ‘I was glad to lend you that hose.'”
Row upon row upon row of American graves in European, North African and Asian cemeteries testify that we lent much more than a garden hose to (some pretty distant) neighbors. In 1961 a literal next door neighbor had his house engulfed by flames. His wife and children screamed from the upstairs windows as the flames closed in. The desperate man’s face, arms and clothes were scorched as he ran and banged on his neighbor’s door. “Amigo!—POR FAVOR! PLEASE—Amigo!”
The neighbor looked through the peephole, cringed and bolted the door. Then he scurried out the back door, rolled up his hose and locked it in his shed.
“We locked Castro’s communism into Latin America and threw away the key to its removal,” growled Barry Goldwater (“Mr. Conservative”) over JFK “deterrence,” now hailed by conservative pundits. In their day, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater represented opposite poles of the Republican Party, much as Teddy Kennedy and Joe Lieberman represent for Democrats today. Yet both were adamant against the missile crisis outcome. From National Review and HUMAN EVENTS in the press, to the full spectrum of Republicans, JFK’s missile crisis “resolution” in October 1962 was universally denounced as a second Munich.
Yet in this era of swaggering “cowboy diplomacy” by Republicans, some of Nixon and Goldwater’s standard-bearers hail the Kennedy swindle and sell-out as a model of muscular deterrence. What we have here, it seems, is failure to communicate.