Trump and Kennedy
America’s foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has seemingly been one effort after the other to impose its will on others. George W. Bush launched the Gulf War, Bill Clinton bombed Serbia and George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Then Barack Obama, against his better judgment, launched a strike against Libya. Far from being a guarantor of peace, the United States became a practitioner of endless war.
With this mixture of hawkish bluster on the Right and moral supremacy on the Left, it is sometimes difficult to see that alternatives do exist. John F. Kennedy, on June 10, 1963 in a commencement address at American University, gave voice to those who seek a stable world. Delivered five months before his assassination, the address reflected a desire to never have the Soviet Union and the United States so close to nuclear war as they were in October 1963. It was a speech that blended humanity and good sense.
JFK did not deliver the address in a spirit of naivete, indeed, he boldly pointed out the great differences between the Soviet Union and the USA. Indeed, he restated that as a government, the USSR was repugnant to Americans. But, he pointed out that in an era of nuclear weapons some respect had to be given even to an adversary. “World Peace,” Kennedy intoned “like community peace does not require each man to love his neighbor, it only requires that they live together in mutual tolerance submitting their disputes in a just and peaceful settlement.”
Moreover, JFK gave a human face to the stakes riding on the pursuit of concord. “For in the final analysis,” Kennedy stated, “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future and we all are mortal.” It would be hard to hear any candidate, Democratic or Republican, say what Kennedy did in 1963.
The return of American exceptionalism sought this approach anyway. Suddenly, it was good versus evil, ahistorical and pollyannish. Devoid of reason and filled with the gooey sentimentality of the present age. Look at Donald Trump, it is twittery with the Democrats, it is a Cold War redux, with the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency pushing for confrontation from Caracas, Hong Kong or Kiev. It is hard to see how the United States will avoid war. Trump hints at reconciliation, but he has delivered nothing solid on that front.
Of course, Kennedy had much push back in efforts to improve relations with the USSR. The actions to expand NATO were an aggressive act against Russia as the Bay of Pigs was to Cuba.
The difference between the two was that Kennedy learned his lesson,
It is not clear if Trump even knows enough diplomatic history to know if anything could be extracted from any event. But he at least tried to consider an alternative to the wars of the family Bush.