Obama demonstrated wisdom - not weakness

Obama demonstrated wisdom - not weakness

"Homage to Plain Dumb Luck" was the title that Dean Acheson, one of America's legendary Cold War strategists, chose for his analysis of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Then-president John F Kennedy was "phenomenally lucky" in resolving the nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union, he contended. He also argued that Mr Kennedy's management of the crisis, and especially his negotiations with then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev "was a gamble to the joint of recklessness, but skilfully executed, with the idea contributed by Robert Kennedy".

Mr Acheson - who had served in government as an adviser to several presidents but who didn't hold an official position in 1962 - was invited by the president to play an informal role in the discussion in the White House during the crisis. But Mr Acheson, who wasn't privy to all the secret diplomacy with the Russians in which then-attorney- general Robert Kennedy played an important part, argued that the president's brother seemed to be moved "by emotional or intuitive responses" to the crisis - as supposedly demonstrated by his efforts to de-escalate the tension with Moscow and prevent an all-out nuclear war.

Mr Acheson advocated a limited air attack on Soviet missile batteries that were deployed in Cuba and opposed the decision that was eventually adopted by Mr Kennedy: to impose a naval blockade on the island. That blockade could have allowed the Soviets and the Cubans to make the nuclear missiles operable, Mr Acheson argued.

But most historians agree in retrospect that even a limited and targeted attack on the missiles in Cuba could have ignited a war between the two superpowers and eventually triggered a nuclear exchange. Instead, "plain dumb luck" and the "emotional or intuitive" approach pursued by the Kennedy brothers - including a secret deal with Moscow to remove US nuclear missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviet agreement to withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba - created conditions for an American-Soviet diplomatic deal that averted World War III.

"Any fool can start a war," wrote Mr Khrushchev in his recollections of the crisis. Sometimes it takes more intelligence and guts to slow down and eventually bring to an end the march to war.

It is probably instructive to recall these and other lessons from the Cuban missile crisis as President Barack Obama's management of the Syria crisis comes under attack, with some critics portraying it as amateurish and "ad hoc-ish" and charging that he demonstrated "weakness" and ended up playing directly into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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