Applying Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis to Iran

In his debunking of the myths surrounding the Cuban missile crisis, Slate journalist Fred Kaplan derives lessons that can be applied to the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. His second and third points, in particular, stand out (emphasis mine):

Second, at some point, one side might clearly have the upper hand, in which case it should seek ways to give the other side a way out. This doesn’t necessarily mean surrendering the interests at stake. The Jupiter missiles that JFK traded weren’t much good anyway. The United States was about to station new Polaris submarines in the Mediterranean; each sub carried 16 nuclear missiles and was less vulnerable to attack. The United States, in other words, gave up nothing in military capability.

Third, there is no contradiction between striking a deal and maintaining vigilance; compromise is not the same as appeasement. According to a cleverly titled new book by David Coleman, The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, disputes continued for months after the Turkish deal was struck, and tensions occasionally flared, over the terms and timing of the withdrawal of Soviet weapons from Cuba. Kennedy held his ground. But neither side stormed off or retriggered the crisis.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.


One Comment

  1. It seemed to have taken JFK and his cabinet a while to work through the impasse, and if one follows Tim Weiner’s account in “Legacy of Ashes”, it was CIA Director John McCone who recommended offering to remove US missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing their missiles in Cuba.

    Had Kennedy not been deeply aware of and troubled by the risk of nuclear war, he might have been stampeded into reckless action by his Joint Chiefs of Staff and some of his cabinet. For Kennedy the face-saving was to de-link the deal and have Khrushchev avoid or delay announcing that the U.S. had agreed to remove its missiles in Turkey.

    Here, it seems that the Joint Chiefs and Obama are on the same wavelength regarding Iran, and that the only flies in the soup are Romney, his team of neocon advisors, Netanyahu and AIPAC/WINEP, etc. (as well as the major military contractors, and those banks, such as Goldman Sachs who now may now be pulling the rug out from under him.) This is not an inconsiderable hurdle to cross during an election campaign that is now a horse race with
    a neoconservative candidate who would delegate U.S. foreign policy to an Israeli leader of questionable sanity.

    In any case, the whole policy of imposing sanctions, threatening war just because Iran insists on exercising its rights guaranteed by treaty, has been inconsistent and deeply flawed from the outset. Moreover, it has deflected attention from the fundamental issue of Israel’s Occupation policies and its own nuclear program, which it has been using to threaten its neighbors and also to give pause to those major powers who might try to rein it in.

    While it would almost certainly be impossible for Obama to disown the legitimacy of the sanctions, he is already getting some important concessions from Iran on the enrichment of uranium, as well as more certainty now that Iran will be less able to develop nuclear weapons, so that he could finally begin to reduce or even call it quits on the sanctions. This would be especially beneficial for the national interest if he could also negotiate a good trade and investment deal, and finally acknowledge our nation’s moral obligation to recognize and redress the injustices committed against the Palestinians with a fair and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, all as part of a “Grand Bargain”.

Comments are closed.