Thursday, May 22, 2008

Obama and Kennedy

Comparisons have been made between Sen. Barack Obama and President John Kennedy, and on some points the comparisons are well founded.

Both were and are young candidates running against war heroes. Both are barrier breakers, Kennedy the first Catholic president, Obama the presumptive first black president. Both wives of the candidates were and are intelligent, attractive and not camera shy. The hopes of young people appear to be vested in both. Obama and Kennedy are and were what has come to be known as “rock stars,” charismatic figures. Both were and are running on a program of change, though the "change" envisioned by Obama is somewhat different than the change envisioned by Kennedy. It seems odd to recall now that Kennedy had accused Eisenhower of being soft on Communism, part of a campaign salient in which the new and untried prospective president sought to assure a doubtful public that he was willing to "bear any burden" for the cause of liberty.

There are some important differeneces as well: Kennedy was a war hero; Obama is an anti-war hero.

But on one point a comparison is not justified: Obama has said that he would meet with the facilitator states of jihadist terrorists, Iran and Syria, “without preconditions.”

Someone went through the trouble of digging up declassified memoranda during the Kennedy administration that shows Kennedy was entertaining the possibility of “secret” negotiations with Fidel Castro, and Kennedy’s openness to the possibility of discussions is being held up as supportive of Obama’s intention to negotiate with terror facilitatators.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, the diplomatic situations in both cases are not the same. Kennedy had supported an ill conceived attack on Cuba, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but there was at the time no "hot war" between the United States and Cuba.

Secondly, the possibility of direct talks with Cuba’s Castro was heavily preconditioned.

According to the information provided by those who wish to draw a parallel between Kennedy and Obama, the talk with Castro was conditional, not unconditional as Obama has proposed in the case of Iran.

Here is the important part of a George McBundy’s Nov 12 1965 memorandum:

“In particular, we would be interested in knowing whether there was any prospect of important modifications in those parts of Castro’s policy which are flatly unacceptable to us, namely the three points in Ambassador Stevenson’s recent speech of which the central elements are (1) submission to external Communist influence, and (2) a determined campaign of subversion directed at the rest of the Hemisphere. Reversals of these policies may or may not be sufficient to produce a change in the policy of the United States, but they are certainly necessary, and without any indication of readiness to move in these directions, it is hard for us to see what could be accomplished by a visit to Cuba.”

A reversal of these policies,” McBundy writes, “are certainly necessary, and without an indication of readiness to move in these directions, it is hard for us to see what could be accomplished by a visit to Cuba.”

The preconditions were never met. President Kennedy died at the hands of Lee Harvy Oswald, who had connections to Castro. The assassination and Castro’s obvious unwillingness “to move in these directions,” as was indicated by his move into the bosom of the Soviet Union, made any contact in the Johnson administration impossible.

Obama’s promised talks with Iran and Syria, both of which are supplying munitions and training used to kill American soldiers now fighting a hot war (not a cold war) in Iraq, is categorically different from the strategy adopted by the Kennedy administration in the case of Castro’s Cuba.
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