DID KHRUSHCHEV BLINK?….If JFK had lived, would he have pulled out of Vietnam? Fred Kaplan has an interesting article in Slate today arguing persuasively that he would have.
The article makes a point that I’ve always thought was an interesting one. As we now know, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended when Kennedy made a deal with Khrushchev: they pulled their missiles out of Cuba in exchange for us pulling ours out of Turkey. As Kaplan points out, Kennedy made this deal over the opposition of virtually every one of his advisors.
In other words, the hawks were wrong. Kennedy was as tough a cold warrior as anyone, but we didn’t win because he stared down Khrushchev and made him blink, we won because he was smart enough to take a good deal when he saw it. Was he rewarding bad behavior? Did he encourage the Soviets to try something similar again? No. The Cuban Missile Crisis certainly wasn’t the end of Soviet adventurism, but Khrushchev was kicked out of office shortly after that and the Soviets never again threatened us directly.
The real lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis isn’t that standing firm at all costs is the only way to conduct international relations. Sure, you need to be steady and resolute, but the real lesson is that you face the world the way it is, you don’t overreact to every provocation, and you make the best deals you can. This is a lesson that the neocons in the Bush administration ought to take to heart.