On its 50th anniversary, the Cuban Missile Crisis lives large in the American psyche as a time of pride. President Kennedy stared down the great Russian bear, who went quivering back into his cave. For 13 days the nation waited, poised on the brink of nuclear war, for Khrushchev to blink. It was an unmitigated vindication of military might and brinksmanship.
Or was it?
In light of recently unsealed records, historians now say the resolution of the standoff was really a triumph of backdoor diplomacy. The real story of what happened five decades ago was a bit more nuanced, and involved much less bravado and intimidation.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy met secretly with the Soviet ambassador Oct. 27 and conveyed an olive branch from his brother: Washington would publicly reject any invasion of Cuba, and Khrushchev would withdraw the missiles from the island. The real sweetener was that Kennedy would withdraw Jupiter nuclear missiles from U.S. installations in Turkey, near the Soviet border. It was a secret pledge known only to a handful of advisers.
The reality vs. the mythology is important in light of the political hay currently being made over Obama’s alleged “weakness” in the Middle East. The meme from the far-right says that attacks on our ambassador in Benghazi and Iran’s nuclear ambitions will only be curtailed by a Cuban Missile Crisis like standoff—that the U.S.A. needs to draw lines and dare our opponents to cross. Only then will America get the respect it deserves, and force our enemies to slink back to their caves.
The foreign policy being advocated from conservatives is similar to their approach to domestic policy. There will be no compromise as it shows weakness. There will be no apologies and no negotiations.
In 1962, Kennedy had the luxury of getting it both ways. He got to maintain the appearance of unyielding strength and intimidation at home, while granting concessions to the Soviets in an effort to avoid a devastating war nether side wanted. It’s not remotely clear Obama (or any modern President) could maintain that level of covert deal-making in the age of the Internet and 24-hour cable news. If a President tried and was discovered, he would be accused of conspiracy and cover-ups.
If the Cuban Missile Crisis happened today and played out exactly as it did 50 years ago, the President would be eviscerated by conservatives for negotiating with the enemy, compromising U.S. security in Europe, and positioning America as weak and unwilling to fight.
The right-wing pundits are correct that the Kennedy/Khrushchev showdown has lessons for modern foreign policy. But the lessons are in the reality of what occurred, not the mythology.
The photo message to the left has been making the rounds on Facebook and other sources. As of this writing, it had over 20k shares and over 130k likes.
It’s the latest right-wing outrage over a seemingly small Obama maneuver. According to Reuters:
(Reuters) – The White House has rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet President Barack Obama in the United States this month, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, after a row erupted between the allies over Iran’s nuclear programme.
An Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu’s aides had asked for a meeting when he visits the United Nations this month, and “the White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president’s schedule will not permit that”.
Netanyahu has met with Obama on all the Israeli leader’s U.S. trips since 2009.
The White House has not confirmed the snub. But even assuming it’s an accurate recounting, I fail to see the rationale for reactions best summed up by the comment appearing on my Facebook news feed saying, “I think it is totally disgraceful!”
Granted, a meeting commits us to nothing, but neither does a refusal to meet mean a complete breakdown of a relationship. This is a standard negotiating tactic. By refusing the meet, the US is asserting its position of power and control in the situation. Basically indicating that Netanyahu needs to soften his stance and take a more conciliatory posture. That hardly seems an untenable position for the US political right-wing who are typically more than a little hawkish in their foreign policy, and often tout that America should assert its position as the global superpower.
The problem here is that Netanyahu clearly wants the US to draw “red lines” with the intent of forcing the US into military action with Iran. He’s been quite open about that, and about his ire that Obama won’t commit to irrevocable terms under which he will bomb Iran. He has also openly taken sides in our election, becoming almost the Israeli wing of the Republican party. This is something our allies rarely do, partly out of respect, but also out of the recognition that they ultimately have to deal with the next President, regardless of how the election comes out. If he wants the respectful attention of our President, and ultimately wants us to do him a significant favor, he’s got a funny way of going about it.
Forgetting this involves Obama for a minute, what is the right advocating for here? That the President is obliged to accept a visit from any foreign head of state on demand? I would think not. The President should meet when there is value to the US in doing so. In this case, Netanyahu wants something the US isn’t prepared to give (commitment to military action in Iran), nor is it clear the Israeli people are prepared for that. Their own defense minister cautions against Netanyahu’s plan. Further, Netanyahu’s reputation with pretty much every world leader is that of a petulant child, prone to tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Moreover, his historical record is that he leaks details of confidential meetings where he doesn’t get his way to the press, spun to his own advantage. Where is the potential upside for the President, or for the country in taking this meeting? Presumably, you want a President who’s tough, and sometimes that means saying no. That clearly doesn’t mean the President is saying they will never meet. They’ve had numerous meetings in the past, and spoke on the phone just last week. We are the most powerful nation on the planet. You earn a meeting, you don’t demand one.
I also wonder if we would even be having this discussion if the Prime Minister of Spain was demanding to be seen? It seems to me that Israel gets treated differently than any other foreign nation. Are they in a precarious geographic situation? Sure. so is South Korea. But in the end, Israel is still a foreign country and how we treat them should be based on what’s in our national interest. We are not obligated to treat them like a teenage child who has moved out of the house, but still needs Daddy to protect them.
And yes, I do recognize Israel’s exulted position among the religious right as the Holy Land and the location of many of the End Times prophecies. But that is not a basis for making national policy. If their church’s would like to form their own militias and deploy them to the West Bank that’s fine by me. But the US federal government should not be making foreign policy decisions based on bible stories.
In another vein, during the ’08 election, many of the same folks who are apoplectic over snubbing Netanyahu now, were abhorred that Obama said that under the right conditions he’d meet with Iran or other hostile governments. The claim was that even meeting with Ahmadinejad showed weakness and meant we’d give in to them. Why are the rules different now? Why would this meeting not show weakness and a willingness to concede?
And as long as I’m on a roll here, let’s talk about Obama’s “terrible” support for Israel. So far he has provided full financing and technical assistance for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket defense system. In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves. He has increased aid to Israel and given it access to the most advanced military equipment, including the latest fighter aircraft. Obama has given close coordination by intelligence agencies — including the deployment of cyberweapons — to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said last year, “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.”
Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama secured European support for what even Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”
Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements.
In light of all this, it may be fair to say that Obama has an issue with Netanyahu, as does almost anyone who’s ever met him. But it’s pretty hard to claim he doesn’t care about or support Israel.
I received a link to a YouTube video today. The video is a mock up of someone from 2008 interviewing their current selves and dealing with all the crushing disappointments of the Obama Administration.
The link came with a request:
“Please, please, somebody tell me where she is wrong. I really want to know!”
I’ll try to suspend my skepticism that anyone circulating this sort of propaganda is truly interested in facts, or even willing to accept them, but I’m up for the challenge anyway.
The video contains a scarcity of actual data, but there are a lot of general claims. A few are fairly accurate, many are directionally incorrect, and a few are outright false. In the opening, the 2008 woman is going on about the utopia that would surely result from 4 years under Obama. Granted, there was a lot of optimism from his supporters upon his election, but anyone who believes any President can effect a utopian transformation of the country is delusional. If you think it can be done in the midst of the second largest economic downfall in the last century, you’re just plain nuts. It’s unfair to compare Obama to some vision of Nirvana. Rather, the accurate comparison is to the alternative, a McCain administration. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what that might have been. Maybe it would be better, maybe worse, but we can be pretty sure, based on the previous 30 years of mostly Republican administrations, that it wouldn’t quite be utopia.
The initial substantive claim is that the 2012 woman’s father died because his asthma medication was outlawed. This is flat out false. No asthma medications have been outlawed. Starting this year, CFC based inhalers were banned. Keep in mind that CFC propellants have been banned since the 70s in everything else in an effort to save the ozone layer. Civilization survived. Further, HFA inhalers are available as an alternative. Same medication, same dose, different delivery mechanism.
Next is a general lament about high unemployment. There’s no doubt that unemployment remains unacceptably high. However, looking at the data, private sector employment bottomed out in early 2010 and continues to climb steadily upward. But public sector employment is plummeting at a rate the private sector in a minimally expanding economy can’t ameliorate. Look at a comparison of Bush’s first term compared to Obama’s. Bush responded to the economic downturn in 2000 with stimulus by expanding government payroll. Obama responded by slashing government jobs in favor of private sector stimulus. Hmmm…
But Obama had a super-majority! Why didn’t he fix everything? Obama’s super-majority in Congress hinged on one man, Ted Kennedy. A man who had the gall to be suffering terminal brain cancer upon Obama’s election, and who died in August of that first year. Kennedy made special and heroic returns to the Senate floor to cast votes on the stimulus and on Obamacare, but otherwise was incapacitated. After his death, Scott Brown was elected and the Obama super-majority vanished.
Oh, the executive orders! There’s no specific complaint over any specific executive orders, but the implication is that Obama is issuing them all over the place. The data from the National Archives would disagree. Obama has issued 129 EOs so far. Pro-rating that for his entire first term puts him on pace to issue 147 by January. G.W. Bush averaged 145/term. Clinton averaged 181, Bush Sr. did 165, and Reagan comes in at 190. So Obama’s on the low end of recent history.
Why didn’t the stimulus fix everything as promised? First, we have to accept the 2008 woman somehow magically knowing about the 2009 stimulus package, but I’m nit-picking. Most stimulus proponents now agree the stimulus package was not up to the task. The enormity of the economic hole was much larger than anticipated and the level of stimulus was insufficient to achieve the desired results. However, it probably was the largest package that would have been politically do-able. But even then, did it have a positive effect? There is arguably legitimate debate here, although the consensus is that the stimulus did improve things. But even if it didn’t, there’s no one claiming it did any harm excepting a brief blip in the debt curve.
Next up is the assertion that all of Obama’s investments in green energy have gone bankrupt. One company, Solyndra, went bankrupt. That’s not quite all. There’s ample room for debate on whether the government should be subsidizing commercial energy companies, but the fact remains that the vast majority of the loans have not defaulted. Further, the $535M Solyndra debacle is a relative drop in the $34B DOE loan bucket. So minimally, this claim is blowing things out of proportion.
There’s a healthcare mandate, she says with a voice dripping in desperation. Yes there is. And unless we’re content with 30-50 million Americans going without medical care or getting it by indirectly increasing the costs of those of us who do get it, there should be. Even Mitt Romney (the unwitting father of Obamacare), was recently praising the Israeli heathcare system as being cost effective—apparently unaware that it achieves those results through government controlled universal coverage. If there’s a workable alternative solution, someone should put it on the table. Otherwise…
There’s a middle class tax hike, she says.No, there isn’t. Taxes are at historic lows. That is, unless you count the Obamacare individual mandate as a tax increase, in which case they are still at historic lows. But viewing the mandate as a tax increase is a spurious argument that also requires you to acknowledge the effective tax cut the rest of get for not having to pay for the care of those without insurance through our insurance rates, paycheck deductions, and co-pays.
Obama promised transparency! Yes, he did. And the record so far is abysmal by pretty much any measure. Transparency seems to decrease year after year regardless of who’s in office. This may be a result of the 24×7 instant news culture we live in. Be that as it may, this is still our government and we have a right to know what’s going on in there.
There are loads of lobbyists in the Administration.Yes, there are, and Obama promised there wouldn’t be. This is more than a little disappointing. It may be the reality of modern government. It may be that other administrations have done much the same thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a fundamental campaign promise on which Obama has failed badly.
But I thought the Muslim world would follow our lead to democracy? Well, yes and no. The Arab Spring has certainly been a profound and recent movement toward democracy in much of the Muslim world. However, in many cases it has resulted in the democratic election of parties and leaders that are not so very friendly toward the USA. The unfortunate reality of letting people choose is that you may not like their choices. Nonetheless, to say they followed our path is a little ludicrous. Further, Obama didn’t promise to bring democracy to the world. That was G.W. Bush.
Instead, we’re following Europe’s lead into debt. Yes and no, but mostly no. First, we aren’t following Europe. We aren’t racking up debt because they are or because we view them as some sort of economic mentor. Second, not all of Europe is debt ridden. Greece, Italy, and Spain are at particular risk. This crises was created because of the European Economic Union, which joins all the countries’ currencies without linking their economies. This is not the situation in the USA. we are not going the way of Europe. We may still get sucked down by them, but that’s not a function of debt, just a reality of global economies. Yes, the debt in the US is unsustainable. However, current debt levels are not a result of runaway spending. Spending increases are growing slower than at any time since the 50s. Instead, what we have is an unprecedented loss of revenue as a result of tax cuts, high unemployment, and a sluggish economy. Further, the US government is currently considered the most stable financial bet on the planet. At present, the Treasury is able to sell debt at negative yields. That means people are paying the US government to keep their money safe. This is beyond free money. Yes, we can’t rack up debt forever. When the economy recovers, we absolutely need to pay it down rather than giving ourselves tax cuts like we did in 2001. But there is no evidence that debt is an emergent risk to our economy.
I recognize this has been long, and I’m flattered if you muddled through to the end. If you have any energy left, I strongly encourage you to click through and read the reference material, or dig up your own. But please, dig up facts and not emotional appeals and sound bites. The video is a cute concept, but it is a message largely without substance.
I was watching Fox News yesterday as the SCOTUS ruling upholding Obamacare’s individual mandate came to light. Commentary was all over the map for the first 30 minutes, but then began to rapidly zero-in on the accusation that this was now a tax on the middle-class. They had found their message, and from then on sang out in perfect harmony. It was kind of amazing.
“(Americans will) like it even less when they understand it’s a tax,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told Fox News.
One curious element is that nothing related to the mandate is different today than it was last week—excepting the label. The notion that people’s view of the mandate will change as a result of a renaming is a blatant play to the ignorance of the audience.
Still, even if we accept the new label of “tax”, is it really a new financial burden on the middle class as conservatives are saying?
For those who are currently uninsured and financially able to afford healthcare, Obamacare will impose a new financial drain. Although, in return they get health insurance. We can call that a tax if you like.
But on the flip side, those who are currently insured are presently picking up the tab for the uninsured through higher insurance premiums and medical costs. Getting the uninsured into the pool lowers policy rates for the rest of us. This is even more true as other popular provisions of Obamacare, such as preventing coverage denial for pre-existing conditions, comes into force. The net result of this is a lowering of the financial burden on the currently insured, which is a significant majority of citizens.
If forcing the uninsured into the pool is a tax increase, then it only seems fair the reduced costs to the insured be considered a tax cut. At worst, this is a wash. At best, the tax cuts for the majority will significantly outweigh the tax increase to the minority.
Will there be individuals who will pay more as a result of Obamacare? Sure. But many more of us will pay less. So it’s pretty hard to argue in aggregate that this is a tax increase on the middle class.
If we gave the Democrats power next year, you know what they would have? A mandate. That’s all we would hear about until the next election, which they would lose, because they thought they had a mandate. It’s like watching a tennis match and rooting for the guy without the ball. Maybe the Republicans made it tough on Obama. Maybe Obama wasn’t leader enough to overcome it. Did the GOP fail to vote in Obama’s FOMC appointee’s? Yes. Did Obama make recess appointments which were within his power? No. Obama is not a victim, he’s the president. If the other guys played the system better to get what they want, than well played. Ezra says that this is the logical conclusion of a system biased toward gridlock. The system is broken. Let’s fix the system instead of kickin the can down the road.
I certainly agree the system is broken. My preference would be to fix that. However, we have repeatedly failed to fix those problems. It would be great to see substantive campaign finance reform, have the Fed refocused on NGDP goals, revise Senate rules so that a super-majority isn’t required for everything, institute lobbying controls so legislation wasn’t ghost-written by special interests… I could go on. But the likelihood of any of those being addressed this year is vanishingly small. Not that we should give up on those reforms, but that there remain practical short term things we can fix in the meanwhile.
I’m also an independent. I’ve voted for Republicans in the past, and I’d like to do so again. But the current incarnation of the party has gone beyond the pale, and until they find their way back to sanity, I will not vote on the GOP line. They have not only lost any willingness to compromise, they have lost the ability to agree to their own positions when the other side agrees with them. They lost the election in ’08, and have yet to acknowledge the legitimacy of the people we elected. Win or lose, there’s still a country to run. And they are refusing unless they are put back into power.
I’m not claiming Obama is the greatest, or that the Democrats are above playing politics or fighting for their policy positions. But they have not engaged in the extreme intransigence of the GOP. If given full control of the government, would they eventually yield to the same sort of behavior the GOP is showing? Very probably. But that won’t happen overnight. Policy-wise, Obama is far closer to Reagan than Romney. There is almost no chance the Democrats would take a mandate and run to the extreme left. It’s much more likely they will stick to their current centrist proposals. Meanwhile, the GOP gets to go lick its wounds, expunge its extremists, and return to the center-right position of its roots. Hopefully, to again balance the system out in 2014 or 2016; before the pendulum swings too far the other way.
I don’t want a permanent Democratic majority. I want a functional two-party system with give and take from both sides resulting in actual governance that works in aggregate for the betterment of the citizenry. We do not have that now. And we don’t because one party has checked out of the game. The notion that “both sides do it” is a false equivalence. The Republican party has abdicated its responsibility to govern or even functionally participate in any government it does not control. It has pretty much given up on appealing to (or even tolerating) anyone other than white Christian males. It needs to remake itself or yield to a new party that will fill the void it leaves behind. The only way it will get that message is if it is resoundingly defeated. And not just at the Presidential level. If the GOP does okay at the federal and state level excepting Romney, it will read that as a failure to go with somebody more radical like Santorum. It only gets the message if it goes down in flames. And to be clear, the only reason I want it to go down in flames is so its old moderate reasonable self rises from the ashes.
I want the Republican party back. I don’t know what the hell that thing is hiding behind the elephant right now. But I’m not voting for it.