Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Wrong Kennedy at the Wrong Time

In today's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked guest Ted Kennedy about a line in a speech Kennedy made last September, in which he said, "I thank God that President Bush was not our President at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis".

Of course, Kennedy intended to suggest Bush is a shoot-first "cowboy" president, instigating military aggression that puts this nation in danger. His brother, President John F. Kennedy, handled the Cuban Missile Crisis in such a way as to avoid nuclear war. And the reckless Bush, we are believe, would have caused such a war.

I well remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, being the son of a U. S. Air Force officer at the time. Even at the tender age of 12, the danger was apparent. But I also recall that the crisis was precipitated by the installation of nuclear missiles on Cuban soil by the USSR. And the missiles were a direct response to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

Bay of Pigs, remember that one? Yes, an abortive attempt to invade Cuba by guerilla fighters trained and equipped by the United States. Under the authorization of none other than John F. Kennedy.

Remember how JFK said of the missile crisis that "U.S. and USSR stood eyeball to eyeball and...the other fellow blinked"? Kennedy was the one who blinked.

Prior to the missile crisis, JFK approved the Bay of Pigs invasion and, at the last minute, failed to provide promised air support. The invasion was doomed, turned into a rout, and led directly to the missile confrontation for which we praise JFK so highly. Kennedy lied, Cubans died, we might say in today's era of hyperbole.

And the price of the "blink"? We had to remove our missiles from Turkey, giving up a strategic advantage in the Cold War that was never really made up until Ronald Reagan decided to just win the thing.

I don't particularly criticize JFK's presidency. He was, unlike his kid brother, fundamentally protective of the United States. He had an aggressive, anti-communist foreign policy, promoted lower taxes and was philosophically closer to current conservative Republicans than any Democrat since.

But, let's not rewrite history. Kennedy blinked, and had to scramble to avoid war. And the price we paid was very high. Cowboy? Hip-shooter?

Had George Bush been president during the JFK era, I suspect the Cuba invasion either would not have happened at all, or would have been entirely successful. And we might have a free Cuba today.

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