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General News    H3'ed 3/1/22

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Jack and Joe, The Perils of Getting Tough

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Since we're clearly heading into a new Cold War, if not a hot one, how appropriate today to hear at TomDispatch (via Andrew Bacevich) from, of all people, John F. Kennedy. He was the president of my youth, the one I thrilled to see once upon a time (even if at a great distance) giving a speech in New Haven, Connecticut. He was also the one who, on October 22, 1962, I was terrified to hear tell us all:

"Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island [of Cuba]. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere" We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced."

Nothing could, of course, have rallied me or most other Americans for such a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union because we all sensed then that, after such an Alamo, there would be no Texas; after such a Little Big Horn, no Montana; after such a Pearl Harbor, no Hawaii. Thank the literal heavens above, it didn't happen and I'm still here to remember it. Instead, Kennedy mobilized young Americans for what he called "a long twilight struggle" in distant lands, launching us on a bitter war in the hinterlands of Southeast Asia he wouldn't live to see end in an American defeat almost a decade and a half of staggering destruction later.

Jack Kennedy was not just the youngest American president ever elected to office, but our briefest one in office. I can still remember sitting in the basement of my college dorm watching on our communal television those ad-less (yes, truly!) days of prime-time coverage between his assassination and his funeral.

He was only 43 years old when elected and 46 when assassinated. In presidential terms, Joe Biden could have been his grandfather, having left Donald Trump in the dust as the oldest president ever to enter the White House. So, for our youngest to offer advice to our oldest may seem to run against the grain, but remember Jack Kennedy experienced the original Cold War when both he and it were relatively young. He should indeed have something to tell us as this country's leadership seems to be heading ever more deeply, from Asia to Europe, into the grandfather of all cold wars. But let TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of After the Apocalypse: America's Role in a World Transformed, take you into the netherworld on what, increasingly, seems to be a netherplanet. Tom

Reflections from the Netherworld
Advice from JFK to President Biden


Dear Mr. President:

I send greetings from the other side and no, I don't mean the other side of the aisle. I refer to the place where old politicians go to make amends for their sins.

Apart from our shared Catholicism and affinity for sunglasses, I suspect you and I don't have a lot in common. Actually, that may not quite be true. After all, your family and mine have both experienced more than our share of tragedy and you and I both did make it to the top rung of American politics.

Forgive me for being blunt, Joe may I call you Joe? but after more than a year in office your administration clearly needs help. Having had ample time to reflect on my own abbreviated stay in the White House, I thought I might share some things I learned, especially regarding foreign policy. Sadly, you seem intent on repeating some of my own worst mistakes. A course change is still possible, but there's no time to waste. So please listen up.

I'm guessing that you may be familiar with this timeless text: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

I no longer have any idea what prompted my aide and speechwriter Ted Sorensen to pen those immortal words or how exactly they found their way into my inaugural address. No matter, though. People then thought it expressed some profound truth a Zen-like aphorism with an Ivy League pedigree.

Its implicit subtext, though, totally escaped attention: If negotiations don't yield the desired results, it's time to get tough. And that turned out to be problematic.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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