In a bitter historical irony, as Americans mark the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the world’s leading powers may be about to sign an agreement that would permit Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terror and mass murder today, to become a virtual nuclear power. The Geneva deal, so eagerly sought by the Obama administration, rejects the lessons, and the principles, of the Kennedy legacy.
Kennedy believed in confronting the enemies of the United States and the evil of communism. He believed in diplomacy, too, and took that optimism to the Vienna summit in June 1961, where he met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Kennedy later recalled of that meeting: “He beat the hell out of me.” The Soviet leader’s impression of Kennedy’s weakness may have led directly to both the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Unlike President Barack Obama–who seems to be perpetually surprised by his repeated failures–Kennedy learned from his mistakes. In the confrontation over Cuba, Kennedy made it clear to the Soviets that he was prepared to go to war, and that they had miscalculated badly. He also rallied support from the Organization for American States–the group before which Secretary of State John Kerry embarrassed himself this week.
Kennedy avoided war during the Cuban Missile Crisis precisely because he had learned that the Soviets could not be trusted, and that they would exploit any opportunity to threaten the U.S., even at the risk of nuclear conflict. In standing up to them, he restored a balance of power and set the stage for the real détente that would happen decades later, once the Soviets realized they could not defeat the U.S.–or, crucially, its allies.
President Obama has cast these lessons aside–or, perhaps more likely, never learned them in the first place, given his administration’s disregard for the lessons of history, of which the failure of Obamacare is only the latest example.
Instead, Obama has left America’s most crucial regional allies–Israel and Saudi Arabia–to fend for themselves, while ignoring Iran’s repeated violations of binding UN Security Council resolutions.
The latter point is extremely important. An international consensus already exists that Iran must not be permitted to enrich uranium at all. President Obama rose to power on the argument that George W. Bush had flouted the UN and international law. Now he is about to do the same. Kennedy would not have wasted such an invaluable diplomatic advantage. He would have made the UN resolutions the basis for greater pressure.
President Ronald Reagan, who admired Kennedy, learned from his example. As Reagan’s former Secretary of State, George P. Schultz, recalled in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, one of his rules for negotiating with totalitarian regimes was to remember: “The guy who is anxious for a deal will get his head handed to him.”
Like Kennedy, Reagan also placed human rights at the center of his agenda, and never let the Soviets forget it.In contrast, President Obama is about to reach a deal with Iran that ignores the regime’s treatment of its own people, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its role in the murder of over 100,000 civilians in Syria.
Kennedy would have rejected this deal. He was not a perfect president, but he grew in the presidency. Not so Obama, who wants a political victory in Geneva–forgetting that Obamacare was once a political victory, too.