I have no idea why I'm in nuclear crisis mode - recently I've read Arsenals of Folly by Richard Rhodes with a description therein of the belligerent rhetoric of the Reagan Administration being taken so seriously by the Soviets that the ABLE ARCHER 83 wargame exercise in 1983 came close to triggering all-out nuclear war; Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon by P.D. Smith, ostensibly about the creation of the idea of the "doomsday device" cobalt bomb, but more of a wide-ranging exploration of weapons of mass destruction in general and their relation to fictional WMDs specifically; and Thirteen Days, by Robert Kennedy, a memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it's the last one that I want to talk about.
Robert Kennedy was, of course, brother of John F. Kennedy, and present in the JFK White House while the crisis unfolded. Admittedly, I'm sure it's a biased account; first published in 1969, not long after RFK's own assassination and not so long after the events in question, there was undoubtedly much Kennedy couldn't discuss due to security concerns, and, being close to his brother as he was, I'm sure there was some bias in JFK's favor in the writing.
John Kennedy comes out as an admirable figure, though - a man who literally did everything humanly possible to avoid a confrontation with the Soviets, while asserting American power and security. He demanded input from his advisers - and received a range of opinions from "do nothing" to "invade Cuba". The blockade of the island was the decision he went with, of course, striking a balance between pressure on the Soviets while enabling them a graceful "out" to the situation.
What brings this up is Sen. Joe Lieberman's appearance on TV last Sunday, specifically his assertion, according to the article linked,
that among the three presidential candidates, McCain comes closest to reflecting the legacy of John F. Kennedy.
McCain, he said, is “a reformer, somebody who understands ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country and remembers the other part of the Kennedy inaugural, which said that we will bear any burden, pay any price to assure the survival and sustenance of liberty. That's John McCain.”
Uh, well, yes, Sen. Lieberman, that's really great inaugural rhetoric, but it's what someone does in a situation as happened on October 27th, when one of the U-2 surveillance planes over Cuba was shot down, that really matters as to their fitness for becoming the President.
From Defense Secretary McNamara's recollection of the incident, via Wikipedia:
We had to send a U-2 over to gain reconnaissance information on whether the Soviet missiles were becoming operational. We believed that if the U-2 was shot down that—the Cubans didn't have capabilities to shoot it down, the Soviets did—we believed if it was shot down, it would be shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air-missile unit, and that it would represent a decision by the Soviets to escalate the conflict. And therefore, before we sent the U-2 out, we agreed that if it was shot down we wouldn't meet, we'd simply attack. It was shot down on Friday [...]. Fortunately, we changed our mind, we thought "Well, it might have been an accident, we won't attack."
Say what you like about JFK's commitment to anti-Communism or his support for the immoral Vietnam endeavour; is there anyone who would argue that "closest to JFK" McCain would be as restrained in a similar situation? (Hell, we KNOW what Bush would have done - by November 2, Western civilization would be nothing more than a memory.)
As far as Dems go - well, based on her husband's precedent I have the awful feeling Sen. Clinton would have yielded to pressure from the Right not to "back down" or "appease dictators" and once again the missiles would be flying by November. Sen. Obama, based on his speech from March 18th, I have the feeling might have been able to control himself as well as JFK did.
Contrary to what wingnuts would have you believe, "acting tough" is not always the best measure of leadership. Sometimes not acting takes more courage.