Obama’s Cuban missile crisis

Even greater than JFK?

What a coup it would be, for Team Obama to turn two weeks of dithering and squandering American credibility on the Syria question into a narrative of courage under fire and successful brinkmanship.

Could it happen?  It happened for John F. Kennedy.  Granted, he had Arthur Schlesinger to write a narrative for him afterward.  And his administration did a better job of keeping secrets than the Obama administration does.  It was only years later that the public began to realize how big a concession it was to Nikita Khrushchev to resolve the Cuban missile crisis by secretly removing U.S. theater ballistic missiles from Turkey.

The missiles of October

The missiles, which had barely arrived at their bases in Turkey in October 1962, were intended to function as a deterrent in the NATO defensive posture vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.  The script of the movie Thirteen Days (Beacon Pictures, 2000) gratuitously added an erroneous adjective about the “Jupiter” missiles – “obsolete” – to suggest that what was being traded for the Soviets’ removal of their missiles from Cuba was a meaningless gesture.

But the Jupiter missiles weren’t obsolete.  Production had started in 1956, and deployment of the missiles had first begun (in Italy and Turkey) in 1961.  They were intended to protect NATO Europe for at least the next decade.  They used liquid-fueled rockets, at a time when the U.S. had decided that the next generation of medium-range weapons would be designed to use solid fuel.  But in 1962, they were our only land-mobile medium-range missiles.  (The Thor missile, also liquid-fueled and with a similar range, was installed in the UK in the same time period, but used fixed launch installations only.  Being deployed from the UK, its reach into the Soviet Union was much more limited.)  Removing the Jupiters from Turkey meant removing the deterrent they represented, with nothing to replace it.  Khrushchev got a major concession from us, in his horse-trade for the missiles in Cuba.

Nevertheless, the Cuban missile crisis lives in American memory as a triumph of U.S. tenacity in the Cold War.  (It does not occupy that place in the memories of our European allies.  The abrupt, unilateral decision by the Kennedy administration to simply trade away the Jupiter missiles on which the nations of Europe had understood they would be relying was one of the factors in France’s decision to separate her armed forces command structure from NATO’s.)

We don’t know whether Khrushchev’s move in Cuba was a bargaining gambit all along; I tend to doubt it.  But what we do know in 2013 is that the Cuban missile crisis was not a moment of greatness for the United States.  It turned out, in essence, to be a moment of extortion, for a president who was probably concerned mostly that if we attacked the Soviet missiles in Cuba, the Soviets would feel free to attack our assets on the perimeter of the Warsaw Pact.

A moment of unbelievable smallness

Fast-forward to September 2013, and review the bidding on Syria.  The U.S. may or may not conduct an “unbelievably small” attack on Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stores; the decision may or may not depend on a vote in Congress, which, as of today, looks exceptionally bleak for the president.  John Kerry, speaking hypothetically a few hours ago, informed the public that there’s no way Assad would agree to resolve the chemical weapons situation by allowing the UN to inspect and take custody of his weapons – whereupon the Russians promptly made exactly that proposal, and Assad promptly voiced a favorable reaction to it.

Now the “UN inspectors” proposal looks like the perfect way out of the mess, and is gaining momentum among pundits and politicians.  In an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News today, President Obama said austerely that we would consider the option, managing not only to intimate that the option wouldn’t be on the table if not for his threat of force against Assad, but to proclaim that, if we went forward with it, he would act on the basis favored by Ronald Reagan: trust, but verify.  Talk about your rhetorical-high-ground double-plays.

The Fox News panel may laugh at the transparent opportunism of it all, but as I watch the local ABC news broadcast on my TV screen as I type this, the “UN inspectors” proposal is being packaged (by ABC’s national news team) as a serious option, and the Obama administration as a serious player in it.  There is no sense being conveyed of it being a cynical Russian proposal, or of the Obama administration running along behind it trying to jump on a train that’s leaving the station.

Save this post.  Bookmark it.  Remember the actual sequence of events (Hot Air has been bird-dogging it relentlessly), because Obama’s supporters in the media (and no doubt in Hollywood, politics, and the academy) see a light at the end of this tunnel, and they are busy writing reality out of the new narrative at this very moment.  By tomorrow morning, there is every likelihood that Obama will no longer be the incompetent boob who is backing us into war in Syria, but the wily statesman who is backing Assad and the Russians into accepting a UN inspection regime in Syria, in spite of the recalcitrant Republicans in Congress whose every reaction to anything Obama wants is partisan and racist.

A good moment for Russia and Assad, however

We need not fear that Russia and Assad won’t go through with a UN-inspectors proposal.  Of course they will: doing so gives the UN a stake in the status quo in Syria.  It’s brilliant, for them: it leaves Assad in control of how much the UN gets to look at and take custody of, while creating the perfect pretext for freezing lines of confrontation and bleeding off momentum from the rebels.

With the rebels known to have chemical weapons of their own, it officially puts them on the same moral footing as Assad, and makes the potential of their chemical weapons arsenal an unresolved issue: one that might just remain unresolved, and keep redounding to Assad’s strategic benefit for as long as he needs it to.

It guarantees, moreover, that, if the UN steps further into the Syria quagmire – and that may well be next, if it seems like a good idea to, say, France, the EU, Saudi Arabia, etc. – Assad will have a seat at the table and be taken seriously in any negotiated resolutions.

A UN inspection proposal is leverage to legitimacy for Assad, changing the whole character of his dynamic with the rebels overnight.  Yet it would be very hard for diehard rebel supporters like John McCain to complain effectively about it.  The prospect of negotiating something seemingly concrete, rather than bombing weapon storehouses and air-defense sites for no good reason, will look very attractive to a lot of constituencies out there.

Sure, it will be whatever version of Czechoslovakia, 1938, you want to fit it into.  A false “Peace in our time” moment; and there are other malign precedents we could invoke.  The main thing it is, is Russia and Assad finding a way to trump the nations’ reflexive turn to the United States for leadership.

Make no mistake: the two of them will be in the driver’s seat of any “UN” activities in Syria.  And there are plenty of other players whose greatest fear is of an Islamist takeover of Syria; Russia and Assad will have de facto support from them, because their continued ascendancy in Syria will prevent a Muslim Brotherhood coup there.  It will also strengthen Russia’s hand in Syria at the expense of Iran’s.  Iran is never more than an ally of convenience for Moscow, after all.  Saudi Arabia and Jordan will naturally be amenable to more Russia and less Iran in Syria – just as other parties, especially in Southeastern Europe, will be pleased if undue Turkish influence is excluded from the outcome in Syria.  Any Obama-led effort was always likely to give Turkey an outsize role.

The chemicals of August

On balance, it’s a narrow win for more than one interested party in the region.  It’s a win for Obama, because he gets to put the looming prospect of a major foreign-policy failure in the “success” column instead – and that will give him a big boost in the agenda he really cares about: his domestic agenda.  Only 24 hours ago, it seemed to be imperiled by the bad juju from the Syria mess.  Now that’s changed.  Now just let the House Republicans try to kick and squirm on Obamacare.

It won’t be enough for Obama’s most passionate supporters to see the brand snatched from the burning, however.  Steel yourself for the new narrative of his preternatural strategic brilliance.  It’s coming.  (They’ve been preparing the way for it over at Slate.)

It won’t be long before the tables are turned on JFK, and his lame old Cuban missile business will become “Kennedy’s Syrian chemical weapons crisis.”  We know Will Smith will play Obama in the movie Two Weeks in 2013, and Richard Dreyfuss will play McCain.  But we can entertain ourselves speculating about who will play Kerry, Hagel, Power, Rice, and Jarrett.

White House official photo
White House official photo

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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14 thoughts on “Obama’s Cuban missile crisis”

  1. I can’t seem to identify a loser here, except for al-Qaeda and the Islamic radicals running the rebel side. Syria avoids an attack, anything from unbelievably small, to a regime-changing devastation. Obama gets to swagger and point out that it was his threat that led to the surrender of Assad’s chemical weapons. Putin looks the dignified statesman and effective advocate for peace. We actually get a better handle on Assad’s chemical weapons than we could get by a massive attack and invasion. Our country limps along without putting our underfunded military to the test, or blowing up the deficit.

  2. Putin needed de-escalation before the Sochi2014 Olympic torch is lit in Athens on October 6 before flying to Moscow.
    Russia certainly needs to be seen as firmly opposed to chem-bioWMD.
    At least Russia defends Christians.

    Where the ‘influence’ paradigm will be tested is eastern Libya. The government in Tripoli needs help in securing the whole oil infrastructure. Libya can not ask the USA, and Egypt is busy in the Sinai (where the USA can be asked for help). So, I wonder if Libya will ask Algeria for military/security help.

    I guess my definition of such ‘help’ means boots on the ground, plus air cover.

    I never understood why the USA did not ask for a UNSC resolution to force Syria to give up these weapons after the first small scale use. That was a chronological mistake.

  3. Count our blessings.

    Sarc on.A way out of the deadlock. What an attribute Kerry’s foreign policy experience turned out to be! Who would have thought our brilliant SECSTASTE could change the course of world events with a single, well thought out utterance on chemical weapons. Nothing short of a master stroke of diplomacy. He will be remembered as the Talleyrand of our age. The way he cornered Lavrov will be required reading at diplomatic academies.

    Sarc off. How bout them Russkies? The beauty of Lavrov’s maneuver, if it indeed contributes to a deescalation and resolution of the issue, is it allows all parties to declare victory and spin the narrative anyway they choose. No only that, it clears the way for a resolution of other regional issues. Classic and Elegant.

    The JFK analogy also crossed my mind. No matter, the results count, let them spin it anyway they like. .

    We were saying something about a face saving win-win and a 10 day window for a diplomatic solution, as opposed to going to war, with this CinC, over nothing in Syria. If that has been accomplished, good enough.

    There’s something in this proposal that everyone can take home and be happy about. Let’s hope it bears fruit.

  4. But Poots still gets to make Oboingo look like a doof, and Kerry look like a doofus’s butt boy.

    All Tsar Vladimir need do is look rational and consistent (the KGB is brutal, but brutally consistent). In this case Pootie Poot looks to be the statesman spit… and Oboingo [hark spit], looks like an out of control flailing light weight; laugh fodder for the anti-American Euro coffee house comedy circuit.

    Basically the world now knows that the “Emperor” has no clothes, it’s just that his vast court, still milling around in their bloomers and drawers, cannot see anything wrong.

    The damage that has been done to our international stature cannot be repaired by goading the “perp” as it were. The National Defense Conservative Establishment needs to understand that Oboingo’s Maidenforms cannot be covered by a “beau geste” bombing strike.


  5. Yeah, everyone loses interest pretty quickly at this point.

    As I was observing over at LU, Obama gets an injection of fresh, if synthetic, mojo from this, after two weeks of looking vulnerable and pathetic. That won’t matter in rest-of-world geopolitics, which has written him off. Where it will matter is in American domestic politics.

    Any GOP idea of bleeding Obamacare on the edges, or holding out for a better deal on a debt-ceiling increase, is now toast.

    For now, of course, China will feel no need to punish us by ceasing to buy our debt. Our future actually depends on us, the American people, at least for now. We think the deal-breaker is Obama, but his role has already been retired to the sidelines. The world’s predators already know what he is.

    What will decide our fate is what WE do. There’s only one thing we can do that will have a stabilizing effect on everything else out there, and that’s keep our heads down and keep slogging on. Pay our bills, keep working in the face of discouragement, tend our families, stay off the streets and out of trouble. Insist on our Bill of Rights rights; keep Congress scared about 2014. Say our prayers.

    Be the ones who don’t riot in the streets. Be the ones who have better things to do, even when it doesn’t look fun. Our national government can’t save us at this point; it’s in the wrong hands for that. It’s all on us.

    1. This was written before Obama spoke – that went over well, huh?

      Obama is screwed – no one thinks the speech was any good, I cannot find anyone saying nice things about it. Not only are they saying it was a dud – they are also recounting all the utterly ignorant things said by he and Kerry leading up to it. It is a greatest hits of incompetence.

      Carter is getting mentioned by more than just right wing hacks.

      If my friends in Europe are to be believed – Europe is incredulous. Talkabout a clothless emperor.

      Politically Obama and unfortunately Hillary are officially toast. She just doesn’t know it yet. The dems will lose control of the senate and the GOP chances for the WH in 2016 just improved.

      Democrats in congress are furious, furious, that this charade of a president puts them on the fence when many of them are up for re-election next year. You can bet that no democrat in anything worse than a D+10 district are going to be willing to do anything for him now. Immigration is dead. Obamacare implementation will get dicier.

      I am angry because in order for all the aforementioned to happen, Obama has been played by the Russian leader, who has demonstrated to the world that Obama is ignorant. That does not make the world a better place, especially for Americans.


  6. Putin is the only long-term winner here. Russia is now the leading “western” power in the Middle East. Barry’s all hat and no cattle. And everyone knows it.

    Barry’s speech and acceptance of Putin’s dominance spells the end of any military effort by the US to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Hope the Israelis can do the job alone.

    Barry won’t admit it but he’s bringing everyone home. Until al-Qaeda comes knocking at our door domestically.

    You can fool some of the people . . . One of Barry’s many problems is that he has no stomach for confrontation. And Putin and the militant Islamists are nothing but confrontational.

    The interesting question is: what else will Barry have to do to pay back Putin for the “rescue” of Barry’s political career? My guess is that, in about a year, Barry will announce that he’s beginning a unilateral nuclear disarmament. Heck, if those innocent gassed babies look bad, wait until you see how babies look after a nuke attack. Perhaps he’ll have Putin supervise the disarmament.

  7. If Obama and Co. knew anything about history, they would have seen the CMC comparison coming. Thanks for filling out the analysis for those of us who saw the resemblance in outline but couldn’t remember the details.

  8. Better that Assad stays. Better that American Foreign Policy is farce at this time in history.
    No one overseas doubts Obama’s incompetence and cowardness, BUT Iran is the problem.
    The next president may well have to deal with the festering Persian problem.
    The daily, shallow, meaningless, empty motions of the prissy community organizer are a waste of oxygen.
    Okay everyone, lets get back to global warming, gay marriage, infrastructure,
    ebonics, and vacation!!!!! That whole world reality thing was a close call!!!!!
    Mr President, your publisher is on line 1.

  9. Ms. Dyer, just how would America benefit from installing al-Qaeda in Syria? Thank God, Kerry “blundered”.

    P.S. Humanity was a hair away from annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So why would it be unreasonable, in spite of the evil of the Communists, to treat them like we would want to be treated? We didn’t like nuclear missiles near our border and they didn’t like nuclear missiles near their border.

  10. This just gets better. (Fake) Dr Elizabeth O’Bagy was quoted by McCain and Kerry as evidence that the rebels are not dominated by radical Islamists. No, nothing to worry about here.

    O’Bagy is a twenty-something analyst who claimed a doctorate from Georgetown. Well, that was false. She said she defended her thesis and was just waiting for the degree to be awarded. Now, apparently, Georgetown can’t seem to find her enrolled at all. Her employer, the Institute for the Study of War, canned her shapely bum when they found out.

    Oh, and just by coincidence, she is paid to do work for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a rebel group.

    Even if her doctorate had been real, why would anyone think she was a reliable expert? Wouldn’t you rather have a Syrian on the ground that you could trust to tell us the truth? (Yeah, I heard about Diogenes and all that . . .)

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