Guest Author - Linda Sue Grimes
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate”
Neogiating out of youthful, naïve arrogance does no good either. It may be remembered that during his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy mouthed these immature sentiments: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Thus armed with the lack of fear of negotiation, Kennedy met with Nikita Khrushchev in June 1961, in Vienna, only five months after Kennedy’s inauguration.
George F. Kennan, Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Kennedy’s Secretary of State Dean Rusk had admonished Kennedy against such a meeting. But Kennedy thought he knew better than these elder statesmen, just as Obama thinks his silver tongue can somehow placate the brutal dictators today.
Kennedy Takes a Drubbing
The meeting went very badly: Khrushchev bullied Kennedy, and all Kennedy could do was sit there and take it, despite the fact that Kennedy, like Obama now, had been touted for his eloquence in speaking. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze labeled the meeting “a disaster.”
Kennedy himself described the meeting: “[Khrushchev] just beat the hell out of me. I’ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him.”
An aide to Khrushchev remarked that Kennedy showed that he was “very inexperienced, even immature,” and the Soviet leader himself called the American president “too intelligent and too weak,” which made Khrushchev very happy and encouraged what happened next.
The Berlin Wall
Only two months after the disastrous meeting, the Soviet leader ordered the building of the infamous Berlin Wall, separating the German city into East and West, dividing families, and ultimately causing the unfortunate residents of East Berlin to live in poverty and without human rights under the Soviet communist system.
Kennedy could not do anything to stop it and took comfort in the fact that “a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” Right, especially if you don’t happen to be one of the unfortunates living on the wrong side of the wall.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Less than a year later, Khrushchev decided it would be nice to have nuclear missiles ninety miles off the coast of and pointed at the naïve young president’s homeland. This crisis resulted in no small part from the drubbing Kennedy took at that unwise meeting for which he was unprepared. Kennedy’s weakness emboldened the arrogant Soviet leader and nothing good came from the naïve president’s lack of fear in negotiating.
Obama should be warned.
Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed