Holbrooke, Frankel and the Cuban Missile Crisis


posted to www.marxmail.org on October 15, 2004


Today's fawning review of Max Frankel's "High Noon In The Cold War" in the NY Times epitomizes the folly of ABBism. In approving former Times editor Frankel's thesis that JFK's handling of the Cuban missile crisis is an example of US foreign policy at its multilateral best, reviewer Richard Holbrooke--one of Kerry's foreign policy advisers and Clinton's chief delegate to the UN--simply demonstrates that the choice between a "dangerous" George W. Bush and a "sane" Democratic president is illusory at best.


Holbrooke lays out a comparison between 1962 Cuba and Iraq today:


In 1962, unlike 2003, there really were weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear missiles were being secretly placed off Florida by a dangerous adversary seeking a fundamental change in the balance of power.


In 1962, unlike 2003, American intelligence and analysis was excellent. High-altitude photographs found and identified the missiles before they were deployed.


When Adlai Stevenson presented the evidence to the United Nations Security Council, the world accepted America's word and its photographs without question. (This precedent led the Bush administration to its ill-fated decision to seek an "Adlai moment" at the United Nations in February 2003.)


In 1962, as in 2003, the president was under intense pressure from some members of his Cabinet to take pre-emptive military action, but, unlike 2003, President Kennedy saw the threat of force primarily as a tactical device to achieve a political solution.

In 1962, unlike 2003, Washington mobilized the United Nations and NATO into a coalition that isolated its adversary.


In the spring of 1962, Nikita S. Khrushchev gambled that he could sneak nuclear missiles into Cuba and hide them "unnoticed among Cuba's majestic palm trees." It was, Mr. Frankel observes, "worthy of the horse at Troy." But within hours after the missiles were discovered by a U-2 overflight on Oct. 15, 1962, President Kennedy decided that the deployment of such weapons was unacceptable.


What is missing entirely from this side-by-side comparison is any recognition that the US had no right to dictate to either Cuba or Iraq what went on inside their borders. The hypocrisy of both Holbrooke and Frankel beggars description. In 1962, Cuba felt the need to defend itself because it had already been invaded by the USA's proxy gusano army only one year earlier. Holbrooke blandly asserts that "When Adlai Stevenson presented the evidence to the United Nations Security Council, the world accepted America's word and its photographs without question."


He neglects to mention that Stevenson had been caught up in the lies surrounding the Bay of Pigs invasion and was not likely to be taken at his words outside imperialist circles.


Shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion began, Stevenson flatly rejected Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Raúl Roa’s report of the attack to the UN as supported by American bombers. Stevenson said, in an anticipation of the kind of coverage Judith Miller made infamous, that the planes were actually from the Cuban Air Force--backing up his claim with a photo of a B-26 used in the invasion. It was revealed, however, that the plane shown had an opaque nose, whereas the Cuban B-26's had a Plexiglas nose. Stevenson was extremely embarrassed when the truth was revealed, especially when he also learned that Kennedy had referred to him as "my official liar."


Holbrooke openly approves of the kind of collusion that went on between Kennedy's top advisers and the editors at the NY Times and Washington Post:


During the first week of the crisis, no one but a small group of advisers known as the Executive Committee, or ExCom, knew about the missiles. The importance of this total secrecy cannot be overestimated; a rush to action under public pressure could easily have resulted in a catastrophic mistake. With great self-control, the 44-year-old president absented himself from many of the ExCom meetings to allow freer debate, but he was kept informed by his brother Robert, then attorney general, and by Theodore C. Sorensen, his brilliant alter ego, who drafted many key public statements and private messages during the crisis.


Importantly, the secret held — with an assist from The Washington Post and The Times, which both figured out what was going on a day or two before Kennedy was scheduled to make his address to the nation. They both agreed, after personal requests from Kennedy, not to print the story. (Mr. Frankel recalls listening in as the president pleaded with The Times's Washington bureau chief, James Reston, not to publish what they knew.) It was, given the stakes, the correct decision.


Agreeing to not publish a story as important as this? Considering the tendency of Timesmen such as Leslie Gelb to shuttle back and forth from the paper to the federal government and the decision by A.M. Rosenthal to pull Raymond Bonner out of Central America to placate the Reagan White House, I can't say that this comes as a big surprise.


Holbrooke deals with the question of a tit-for-tat with the USSR over missile placement:


There was one other issue, which has been denied, debated and finally revealed bit by bit. This concerned the removal of 15 Jupiter medium-range missiles from Turkey. By the time they were installed in early 1962 they were already obsolete; President Dwight D. Eisenhower said they should have been dumped at sea rather than sent to Turkey, and American nuclear submarines made them superfluous. But a public "trade" of the Soviet missiles in Cuba for the American Jupiters in Turkey would have constituted a substantial propaganda victory for Khrushchev and, Kennedy feared, encouraged future Soviet blackmail.


The USA seized at the opportunity to make such an unequal exchange and the missile crisis came to an end. What if the USSR had not agreed to withdraw the missiles and what if gunfire had been exchanged at the naval blockade around Cuba, leading to an all-out war? I imagine that the nuclear annihilation would have made the raging debate about Kerry versus Bush (one that the good Maureen Dowd does not take very seriously) entirely moot.


In the final analysis, the only way to maintain peace in the world is to transform the current system, which allows the USA to dominate the world through military and economic intimidation, into one that is based on equality between nations and respect for international law. Considering Holbrooke's acceptance of Frankel's cold war bellicosity at face value and the possibility that he might be our next Secretary of State under a Kerry administration, the future looks grim.