At Harvard today scholars commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, 13 days when the world held its breath in the shadow of a nuclear war that John F. Kennedy said could have led to ?ultimate destruction of the human race.?
In interviews afterward, the President told me, ?Too many people want to blow up the world...In Cuba, a lot of people thought we should take more drastic action. I think we did the right thing. More drastic action would have increased the possibility of nuclear exchange. The real question now is to meet conflicts year after year without having to escalate."
Half a century later, it still is and, even in the academic colloquy over the Missile Crisis, doubts arise about the fitness of Mitt Romney to follow in JFK?s footsteps.
?Of the two candidates this year,? one Harvard scholar asks, ?does Obama or Romney have the better command of history, coolness under pressure, and good sense to make the right choice for all of us when the next crisis occurs?
?Obama has demonstrated some of these qualities in his adept isolation of Iran, his largely skillful handling of the Arab uprisings, and his bridge-building to allies and partners that has rebuilt U.S. credibility in Europe, especially.
?Romney?s big foreign policy speech...illuminated the challenge he has had in making an impact in foreign policy. His back-to-the-future evocation of American leadership seems right for the Cold War but not nearly sophisticated enough for our very different 21st-century world.?
As Mitt Romney blusters about confrontations with China, Iran and other adversaries, his sound-bite posturing may be effective in debates, campaign ads and comic relief, but how safe would we be if he moved into the Oval Office?
Two years ago, in putting Tehran "on notice," President Obama invoked the carrot-and-stick formula JFK used and, just as Kennedy ignored military advice to "bomb Cuba back into the Stone Age," 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."
Those 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."
In today?s world, any American president would do well to recall RFK's prediction that "we could have other missile crises in the future--different kinds, no doubt, and under different circumstances. But if we are going to be successful then, if we are going to preserve our own national security, we will need friends, we will need supporters, we will need countries that believe and respect us and will follow our leadership."
Does Mitt Romney have the temperament to provide that?
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