Mazzuca: Is Obama the next JFK?
Barack Obama is frequently compared to the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy. Like Kennedy, Senator Obama’s oratory massages the soul, i.e. “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” and “Our destiny will not be written for us, but by us.”
The senator’s Web site asserts “…he will have all American combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months”; “he is the only candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions”; “he will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years”; “…seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global.”
The aforementioned goals are lofty, but are they realistic? Whether the senator from Illinois can “…change the world” as he assured supporters at a Texas rally several weeks ago is subject to speculation, however, let us all hope that if elected he meets with more foreign policy success than a young and inexperienced JFK did after taking office.
It’s axiomatic that the more one has direct influence over an issue the greater the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome; e.g., if the Democrats retain control of Congress, the chances of a “President Obama” implementing his domestic agenda will be greater than if they do not.
However, influencing world affairs isn’t nearly as predictable. Persuading Kim Jong Il, Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to change their behavior will likely be much more difficult than say, influencing a friendly democratic Congress to stop the movement to make English our official language.
While the senator’s message of hope resonates, it would be foolhardy not to recall the lessons of history. To wit: four months after John Kennedy took office, he authorized the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Six weeks later, he met with then Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, where the Soviet premier took measure of the young president. What Khrushchev thought of JFK’s abilities as a world leader can only be inferred, but shortly after their meeting, two historic events took place ” the Soviets began building the Berlin Wall and installing offensive missiles in Cuba.
The Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of the Cold War for nearly 30 years ” but perhaps more significantly, years after the Cuban Missile Crisis was defused, we learned just how close the world came to nuclear Armageddon.
Kennedy and his advisors were unaware that on the day an Air Force U-2 confirmed the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, one of those missile regiments became operational (along with its nuclear warheads.) His national security team (EXCOM) was also unaware that Castro wanted the missiles launched if the U.S. attempted to destroy them; and that the commander of one of the Soviet submarines shadowing the American fleet off Cuba, had armed its nuclear tipped torpedo after being unable to contact Moscow for specific orders.
The situation deteriorated further when a Soviet anti-aircraft battery commander, acting on his own, violated Khrushchev’s orders by downing an American U-2 spy plane with a surface-to-air missile. Events were spinning out of control and a single miscalculation by any of the parties involved, including a number of low-level military officers, could have ignited a nuclear exchange.
Ultimately Khrushchev’s agreed to remove his missiles in exchange for Kennedy removing ours from Turkey along with a pledge never to invade Cuba. (A 17-to-1 numerical advantage in deliverable nuclear weapons probably didn’t hurt Kennedy’s bargaining position.) Nevertheless, the world had come within “a hair’s breadth” of nuclear war.
This commentary is not a criticism of Senator Obama or his potential as a statesman. Nonetheless, while hope and optimism are venerable virtues, students of history understand that choreographing contentious world affairs isn’t as simple as making assertions on a Web site.
Bill Clinton, a receptive multi-lateralist president, apologized for not saving Rwanda, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and African slavery. During the decade of the 1990s, the United States came to the rescue of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait. And what did America receive in return? Osama bin Laden declared war on the U.S. and al-Qaeda began planning for Sept. 11.
I frequently ask Obama supporters if they can detail how the senator plans to: deal with Iran’s uranium enrichment, guarantee a stable Iraq after he disengages our troops, and persuade the Russians and Chinese to halt development of several new classes of nuclear weapons “the answer is always the same: “He’ll surround himself with good advisors.” Well, in 1961 Kennedy’s advisors were known as the “best and the brightest” and they literally brought us to within two hours of nuclear holocaust.
The senator’s oratory and style are compelling; but statements such as, “he will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years” seem a bit of a stretch coming from a candidate who thus far has only viewed the complex and high-stakes world of geopolitics from the safe vantage point of a first-term senator.
Quote of the day: “Longevity doesn’t equate to experience; but experience cannot be acquired without longevity.”
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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