Friday, September 13, 2002

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ABOUT THAT MISSILE CRISIS: Historical analogies are always dangerous, because they tend to ignore concrete differences in favor of glib similarities. However, there's some uncomfortable similarities between the two cases for Kristoff:

1) The adversary lied repeatedly about their intentions. In the six weeks prior to the missile crisis, the Soviet premier, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States flatly denied any desire to place missiles in Cuba. The foreign minister stated this to Kennedy after the missiles had been discovered. I don't think the Iraqi prevarications need to be discussed.

2) The U.S. acted unilaterally first and then sought multilateral cover. Kennedy ordered the blockade first and then appealed to the OAS to approve it. As for the United Nations, Kennedy used it to court world opinion, nothing more. By this standard, Bush, in seeking a Security Council resolution, is more multilateral. Oh, and by the way, during the 1962 crisis U.N. Secretary-General U Thant proposed a peace plan that would have resulted in the missiles becoming operational; intellectuals like Bertrand Russell simply blamed the United States.

3) The civilian leaders were suspicious of the uniformed military's advice. Burned by the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara were plagued with the fear that the military would refuse to carry out their orders to the letter. Today, the Bush administration is similarly concerned with the uniformed military's reluctance to heed to their preferences.

4) The adversary backed down for only one reason: the imminent use of force. Kristoff is right that Kennedy displayed admirable restraint in response to a number of Soviet provocations during the missile crisis. However, the Soviet decision to back down came after Robert Kennedy told the Soviet ambassador that an invasion would take place with 36 hours. This suggests a very tight linkage between the use of force and Iraqi compliance.

posted by Dan on 09.13.02 at 10:36 AM