The newest revelation of Iran’s nuclear sneakiness echoes what happened in 1962 when the Soviets furtively put missiles into Cuba, but John F. Kennedy’s problem was a faceoff for a few days compared to the complex struggle that will play out over the coming months.
Yet the key issue is the same–testing an American president’s skill and resolve by an adversary who may be interpreting a rational and measured approach as weakness.
Back then, JFK faced an imminent threat to the American mainland that demanded immediate response. Obama’s challenge has a less concentrated time frame, but in what is being described as “the Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion,” he will have to rally support for what British Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls “a line in the sand” to stop Iranian nuclear nose-thumbing at the world, getting them to “pursue a new course or face consequences.”
The first signs are promising. In putting Tehran “on notice” yesterday, the President invoked the carrot-and-stick formula that JFK used and, just as Kennedy ignored military advice to “bomb Cuba back into the Stone Age,” Obama rejected the notion of “victory” in today’s crisis.
“This isn’t a football game,” he said. “So I’m not interested in victory, I’m interested in solving the problem.”
The President’s words suggest he understands the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis. When it was over, Robert Kennedy wrote in his memoir, his brother “permitted no crowing” and ordered that “no interview should be given, no statement made, which would claim any kind of victory.”
As Obama tries to rally support from such unlikely allies as Russia and China in devising ways to pressure Iran, he will do well to recall Robert Kennedy’s prediction that “we could have other missile crises in the future…”