Teddy Kennedy’s remarks that he is thankful that Bush was not President during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis trades on myth more than anything.
I believe that if Richard Nixon had been elected in 1960 instead of John Kennedy, there would have been no missile crisis. In fact, if Nixon had been elected, the last half of the Twentieth Century would have been a lot more peaceful.
The Soviet Premier at that time was Nikita Khrushchev, a member of Stalin’s inner circle who understood that it was important to know your enemy, and that is certainly what he considered the United States. Khrushchev had met Nixon, he had debated Nixon, I don’t think he liked Nixon, but he respected him. The same is true of Fidel Castro, he too had met with Nixon and they had taken the measure of one another. Both found their opponent formidable.
JFK, on the other hand was seen by both Khrushchev and Castro as a playboy. A light-weight, who was President only because his father’s money purchased the election for him. Don’t forget that 1960 was a very close election, foreshadowing 2000, with dubious votes in various Democratic areas. Nixon decided to put the country before his political ambitions and did not mount a challenge.
After that, in April 1961, there was the Bay of Pigs. When Kennedy refused to back up the Cubans that landed there, he reinforced the opinions of Khrushchev and Castro that he would take the most politically convenient course and that he would not stand up to them.
In June 1961, Kennedy and Khrushchev met in Vienna. Insiders reported that Khrushchev chewed Kennedy up and spit him out. Khrushchev was not impressed. After the summit, Khrushchev gave Walter Ulbricht, the leader of East Germany the approval for the wall separating East and West Berlin. Again Kennedy blustered and had American tanks move up to the wall, then he had them move back again. Khrushchev had his number, the Russian was a survivor of the Stalin regime and knew how to measure up his opposition. Kennedy decided that in order to show strength, the United States needed to increase troop levels and funding support for the South Vietnamese.
There we have, in the first nine months of his term, Kennedy’s weakness or perceived weakness set the conditions for the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the long struggle in Europe.
I don’t know for sure that Nixon would have done better, but I don’t think he would have had too. Khrushchev and Castro both knew Nixon, they knew him to be a hard-line anticommunist, they knew that his political fortunes were dependent on him remaining a hard-liner. They would not have been certain of their ability to roll him the way they rolled JFK.
JFK was assassinated and took on the mantle of martyr. Nothing bad could be said of him, an emotional reaction which LBJ did not hesitate to take advantage of. Every program that Johnson wanted became a legacy of the sainted JFK, few remembered that his trip to Texas was in order to shore up declining support with an eye on the 1964 elections. His martyrdom was used by his brother Bobby and with Bobby’s assassination by a Palestinian extremist, the bloody shirt was picked up by Teddy, the least talented of the three brothers.
Now Teddy says that the war in Iraq has made a nuclear attack on the United States more likely. I’m not sure if he thinks that the Iraq invasion spurred the Iranian nuclear program or he thinks that we may be nuked by a bomb developed by the now defunct Libyan program? The program that had been a secretly operating throughout the Clinton years.
At any rate, today’s Kennedy does not measure up to the earlier one, and the earlier one was largely mythical.