Friday, February 8, 2019

John Kennedy vs. Donald Trump

Today Peggy Noonan offers a decidedly strange reflection on President Trump. She asks whether the Trump administration is capable of handling a foreign policy crisis. Since Trump has been in office for more than two years she might have reflected on his handling of foreign policy, but, she didn’t.

Stranger still, Noonan compares Trump to John F. Kennedy. As you might know it is impermissible to speak ill of the martyred president, but it ought to be possible to examine his foreign policy record dispassionately. On that score Noonan fails. She idolizes JFK and uses him as a foil to disparage the Trump administration. It does not make for her finest column.

She writes:

John F. Kennedy had the Bay of Pigs three months into his presidency and the Cuban missile crisis the following year.

As it happened John Kennedy made a complete mess of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Organized by the CIA a band of anti-Castro rebels tried to invade Cuba at a place called the Bay of Pigs. The initial plan, drawn up during the Eisenhower administration, had involved both naval and air support. The Kennedy administration provided some slight air support, but called off all further support after word got out that the invasion was being led by the United States. The invaders were captured or slaughtered. Fidel Castro won a major propaganda victory and JFK was shown to be inept and ineffectual.  Chickening out does not make for a great foreign policy success.

Noonan suggests that Kennedy learned from the Bay of Pigs that he could not go it alone. If that was what he learned, he learned nothing. The problem was not going it alone. The problem was cowardice under fire.

Noonan goes on to wax poetic about the strong and resolute way that John Kennedy handled the Cuban missile crisis. She does not mention that the crisis was manufactured by Kennedy himself when, in the course of a meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, he ineptly allowed Khrushchev to believe that he would accept the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Kennedy had gone it alone in a conversation with Khrushchev… he had spoken off the cuff about something he did not really understand.

The news was reported widely, most especially be veteran New York Times correspondent James Reston. There is no excuse for not knowing the background of the crisis or for recognizing that Kennedy’s ineptitude produced it.

Kennedy’s hagiographers have spent most of their working hours portraying the young and incompetent president as stern and resolute. They were merely trying to cover up the president’s failure at Vienna.

And while we are opining about foreign policy crises, how about Vietnam? The Kennedy administration escalated American involvement before JFK was assassinated. JFK got us involved in Vietnam. Naturally, Kennedy’s hagiographers claim that he would have withdrawn his troops, rather than increase their number. And yet, the people who got America involved in Vietnam were, more often than not, Kennedy’s people. The war was directed by members of the Kennedy-Johnson administration. Among them Ivy League intellectuals like McGeorge Bundy.

Naturally, JFK’s supporters have done everything in their power to separate him from one of America’s greatest foreign policy catastrophes, the first war that America lost. And yet, his fingerprints were all over the policy. One of its chief architects, Bundy, was also involved in the Bay of Pigs.

If you want to speculate about Donald Trump’s ability to handle a foreign policy crisis, you do better to look at the record. Not to speculate. But, if  you want to hold up the sainted John Kennedy as the exemplar for deft handling of such crises, you do better to look through the spin at the facts. JFK was one of America’s worst foreign policy presidents.


UbuMaccabee said...

Spot on, Doc.

Kennedy was entirely over his head on foreign policy, and it was almost entirely dictated by the guys around him--and not conducted very well. Mostly, they got lucky and then scrubbed the record afterwards because the press and the academics were such sycophants.

What Kennedy and Trump have in common is an arrogant, presumptuous, and unelected deep state that does whatever it damn well pleases--and then informs elected officials after the fact, after they get caught running their own parallel government and foreign policy. JFK got a big wake up call right off with the Bay of Pigs that his interests politically, the American public's interests generally, and the interests of his government agencies (CIA specifically) were entirely unaligned. He discovered that he could not trust the people around him and that they were not entirely forthcoming. Lots of lying by omission. Sound familiar? I think JFK and DLT would have an entertaining conversation together about being blindsided by their own government.

If you want to understand what actually happened in the Cuban missile crisis, I recommend beginning here.

"On the first day of the crisis, October 16, when pondering Khrushchev’s motives for sending the missiles to Cuba, Kennedy made what must be one of the most staggeringly absentminded (or sarcastic) observations in the annals of American national-security policy: “Why does he put these in there, though? … It’s just as if we suddenly began to put a major number of MRBMs [medium-range ballistic missiles] in Turkey. Now that’d be goddamned dangerous, I would think.” McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, immediately pointed out: “Well we did it, Mr. President.”

Yeah, sounds like a man in charge. Sounds like a guy that just found his wife in bed with his best friend.

Peggy Noonan is a little fool. She sounds like one of the college freshmen girls that JFK was seducing 3 at a time on the campaign trail--and well into office. She peddles nothing but received opinion--most of it erroneous.

BTW, if JFK were to run for office today, he would be running to the right of both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Go to the JFK Library & Museum at Columbia Point and see for yourself. It is revealing just how leftward our poor nation has drifted since the early 1960's, and how destructive the narcissist generation has been.

Anonymous said...


Not much to add except that JFK was an extremely rash man. That rashness was a part of almost everything he did. We are, in many ways still suffering from his mistakes. Bobby Kennedy was constantly getting him out of trouble. Played for him the day before he was assassinated in Dallas.

Toddy Cat said...

Agreed about Kennedy; a personally brave and idealistic man who was in way over his head as president, and of course, truely great presidents never are tested in a "Foreign Policy Crisis" because they avoid them. Allegedly boring presidents like Eisenhower and Coolidge were far better foreign policy presidents than hotshots who bumbled from crisis to crisis, like Kennedy or Carter. And as for the glory bestowed on "War Presidents" like Lincoln and FDR, who blundered our country into its greatest bloodbaths, the less said the better.

One word of warning - The Atlantic is not the most reliable source in the world, especially with regards to anything that might make the United States look bad.

Sam L. said...

Have I mentioned before that I gave up on Peggy's writings some years ago? She used to be considered a conservative writer, but she changed, and I didn't.

I would ask Peggy, "Do you know who Kim Jong Un is?" Also, where is the US embassy in Israel?

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you for that comment about the Atlantic. I was just thinking the same thing -- well-done.

UbuMaccabee said...

The Atlantic is a mixed bag. It has, traditionally, been a fairly middle-of-the-road publication, center left leaning, but with some surprisingly good articles. The article I linked to was a book review by Benjamin Schwarz of a work by historian, Sheldon M. Stern. It is entirely fair to criticize Schwarz's take on the book, but it was the book I was referencing. Stern is a pretty serious historian of the period, and he was the first person to analyse the ExComm tapes and get a full understanding of who said what during the days of October, 1962. In large part, Stern sets the record straight and corrects the decades of lying that were largely initiated by the Kennedy family complemented by the self-interest of his inner circle of advisors (I love how they all show up again to bail out Teddy after he committed manslaughter). I should have linked to the book itself. It is illuminating.

Since the dauphin was elected in 2008, The Atlantic became more and more unreliable. Ben Rhodes clearly didn't think much of Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor since 2007, and openly mentioned him as someone who can be sold propaganda retail. And since the Bad Orange Man took over, the Atlantic has become a crazy old lady--but what left leaning publication hasn't? Hell, even National Review is filled with hand-wringers who can't seem to remember they are supposed to be conservatives. My long-time "go-to" publication, Commentary, has lost its marbles. The Weekly Standard is now The New Republic with only one story to tell, over and over.

There are virtues to JFK, and, clearly, some big vices. Stern, among others, has done fine work to blow away the fog and allow the record to speak for itself:

Specifically, JFK, through Rusk and Stevenson, set up back-channel communication, that allowed a secret deal to remove our missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Russians taking their out of Cuba--but nobody, nobody, could know that was the deal because it would make JFK look bad politically. He already looked weak. One might say that the whole crisis was designed to make JFK look good, period. It was a political stunt that risked thermonuclear war. They lied to Congress about this deal, they lied to their own people about the deal. They sold the whole episode as a unilateral victory by the firm but cool headed JFK, and then sold the 13 days mystique--especially Bobby, who was a hawk who later pretended to be a dove so he could sell his political career in 1968. Bobby Kennedy might be the biggest phony of his political era, total bullshit artist.

The lies of 13 days is still being peddled in our education system at every point; Graham Allison's "Essence of Decision" is still a core textbook on the subject.