April 12, 2006


An Iranian Missile Crisis? (David Ignatius, April 12, 2006, Washington Post)

The emerging confrontation between the United States and Iran is "the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion," argues Graham Allison, the Harvard University professor who wrote the classic study of President John F. Kennedy's 1962 showdown with the Soviet Union that narrowly averted nuclear war. [...]

Allison argues that Bush's dilemma is similar to the one that confronted Kennedy in 1962. His advisers are telling him that he may face a stark choice -- either to acquiesce in the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a dangerous adversary, or risk war to stop that nuclear fait accompli . Hard-liners warned JFK that alternative courses of action would only delay the inevitable day of reckoning, and Bush is probably hearing similar advice now.

Kennedy's genius was to reject the Cuba options proposed by his advisers, hawk and dove alike, and choose his own peculiar outside-the-box strategy. He issued a deadline but privately delayed it; he answered a first, flexible message from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev but not a second unyielding one; he said he would never take U.S. missiles out of Turkey, as the Soviets were demanding, and then secretly did precisely that. Disaster was avoided because Khrushchev believed Kennedy was willing to risk war -- but wanted to avoid it.

You pretty much have to be a Realist to argue that a policy that locked Castro in place in perpetuity -- rendering Cuba so backwards impoverished and oppressed that hundreds of thousands have risked and lost their lives in the dangerous Gulf crossing and those still stuck there have a GDP per capita of just $3,300 -- was a stroke of genius. JFK's was the genius of Chamberlain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 12, 2006 4:55 PM


Forget about Realist speak: What I want to know is why David Ignatius or the WaPo cannot talk in anything other than parallels. This situation is in no way similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Posted by: Brad S at April 12, 2006 5:27 PM

No? We had a moral obligation to the Cuban people then and the Iranian people now. We failed the Cubans but oughtn't repeat the mistake.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 5:33 PM

Now that Chavez is getting into bed with Amadinejad, we really do have a Cuban Missle Crisis II brewing. I hope we get to take out Hugo and the Mullahs.

Posted by: Pepys at April 12, 2006 5:47 PM

We don't have any moral obligation to the Iranian people.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 12, 2006 5:49 PM

Never mind realist. You'd have to be an imbecile.

Posted by: george at April 12, 2006 5:49 PM


Are they not made in His Image?

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 5:58 PM

Nothing particularly "Iranian" about that.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 12, 2006 6:17 PM

Iranian isn't particular.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 6:22 PM

"We had a moral obligation to the Cuban people then and the Iranian people now." Why?

Kennedy surrendered the base in Turkey. The MSM has to twist and spin to make up a hero whose indecisiveness at the Bay of Pigs fiasco causes the deaths and imprisonment of millions of Cubans. We do have a moral obligation to the Cuban people because of Kennedy.

But we definitely don't have an obligation to the Iranians. If we do, then we would have an obligation to everybody in the world. That is a burden too heavy to bear. Americans are not equipped or want to bear regardless of what the Scripture says.

Iranians will never be boxed in like Cuba. Most of the world acknowledged America's hegemony over the Western hemisphere those days. There's no way our so-called allies would support us to box-in one of the largest oil producers in the world. If the US has any moral obligation to anyone, it is to her people, and leave the ingrate allies to fence for themselves.

Posted by: ic at April 12, 2006 6:46 PM

ic: Apparently because we have a free-floating obligation to go rescue other peoples from their governments.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 12, 2006 7:07 PM


They ain't heavy, they're our brothers.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 7:32 PM

We have a moral obligation to help them because we can.

What power we have is from God, and we do not bear the sword in vain.

As a practical matter, a matter of Machtpolitik, we have no choice but to scatter our enemies, see them driven before us, and listen to the lamentations of their women. Can't sit on bayonets, remember? If we do not do this, they will come first after our friends, and then for us.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 12, 2006 7:42 PM

The Lord helps those who try to help themselves (1956 Hungarians execepted). If I thought there was real sentiment from a significant number of Iranians for change, I might feel differently, but history says otherwise. Islam is implacably anti- Christian. Unless that changes, how can there be accomodation without surrender? Iran, unles it changes is an enemy, not much different than NorK.

Posted by: jdkelly at April 12, 2006 8:49 PM

Is Ignatius willfully misrepresenting things here? As I understand it, it was later revealed that pulling the missiles from Turkey was a quid pro quo offered to Kruschev through back channels and done discretely after the dust had settled to provide face saving cover for Kennedy. Kruschev placed the missiles in Cuba in retaliation for ours in Turkey; he may have appeared to lose face, but he got what he wanted.
This unreasoning romance with the Kennedys is really too much. When will it end?
I know you guys disagree with me on immigration policy, but perhaps you can think of a certain clan whose entry visa would have been better denied. I know I can.

Posted by: Dennis at April 12, 2006 10:10 PM


That's all silly. The Iranians revolted in order to get a democracy.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 10:18 PM


Why would we ban all the Irish just because the Kennedys were a disaster? Is avoiding JFK worth not having Reagan?

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 10:22 PM

Lou: Nice mixing of the Gospels and Conan. I am uncomfortable, however, with our new fetish for insisting that we're invading people for their own good. It may well turn out that way, but that's not why we're doing it.

OJ: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Iranians over-through a perfectly acceptable authoritarian, westernizing regime for a return to the middle ages. It is exactly because it was a popular revolution that they included a few aspects of pseudo-democracy. If the Shah had been a little more brutal, or Jimmy Carter less of a wuss, you'd have the Shah right up there next to Franco in your Hall of Great Authoritarians.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 12, 2006 10:26 PM

"over-through"? What a maroon.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 12, 2006 10:27 PM


Yes, overthrowing the Shah was a mistake. So was our revolution. The demos does stupid things, but it's inane to call it undemocratic. Khomeini betrayed the Revolution.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 10:32 PM

I was thinking specifically of whoever came over and begat Joe Sr. and Honey Fitz, not the Irish in general.
As for me, I ascribe to the old Irish saying, "if it wasn't for whiskey, the Irish would rule the world."

Posted by: dennis at April 12, 2006 10:34 PM

Ah, so we oughtn't judge the Irish diaspora by a few bad apples?

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 10:37 PM

Point taken, but none for me today. I'm exhausted on the subject. I just stopped in and couldn't help commenting on Ignatius' silliness.

Posted by: dennis at April 12, 2006 10:40 PM

Khomeini was the revolution. The Iranians knew what they were getting, and got it in spades.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 12, 2006 11:12 PM

No, they didn't. Khomeini, like Lenin, came late and twisted the Revolution into a regime the people wouldn't have chosen and didn't want. But Khomeinism won't last as log as Bolshevism.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 11:16 PM

Sadly, I have to back OJ on this. While Khomeini spoke openly of what he wanted, the other factions in the revolution simply didn't take him seriously – "he couldn't really mean that" – exactly the same way our leftists here treat the Caliphascists to this day. By the time it was clear that Khomeini was serious, it was too late.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 12, 2006 11:24 PM

Khomeinism is French, not Shi'ite, so they can hardly be blamed for not getting what he was up to.

Posted by: oj at April 12, 2006 11:27 PM

Khomeini was more like Lenin, sent by the German General Staff from Switzerland to the Finland Station; in this case, from Najaf to Paris to
Tehran. The whole denoument of the Cuban Missile
Crisis, is really obscured by Kennedy's ignoring
intelligence reports about Soviet forces, going
back at least six monthes before October. After
all how did 100,000 Russian troops plus all their
weapons; get past all our surveilance.

Posted by: narciso79 at April 12, 2006 11:58 PM

If Ignatius wants to praise Kennedy for how he performed in October 1962, then the question is - why won't he damn him for what happened in August 1961? Because that is where the Missile Crisis really began.

Iran is a country which is both exhausted and jumpy at the same time. The spirit of the people is drained, but the demographics (so many people under 30) means there is a lot of adrenaline (among other hormones) just sitting there. The mullahs have domesticated the population. All their governance is directed towards keeping things that way (in this, they resemble the Chinese very well).

Ahmadinejad is the public face of their foreign policy. OJ may be right, that they regret his bluster, but it is not because they see him as an impediment to some mythical liberalization. They know if we obliterate 10 or 20 or 30 nuclear sites, they are back to where they were in 1982, a weak and swaying nation, but this time they won't be able to field hundreds of thousands of 'martyrs' to be cannon fodder.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 13, 2006 12:51 AM

When I read all these long and informative posts, I note that we (USA) have almost always made many wrong decisions (Cuba, Turkey, etc.), or, conversely, many right decisions for the wrong reasons, and yet come out on top in the end.

A brief (or long) reading of early US history is similar. Based upon simple "Poly Sci" metrics, the USA shouldn't even exist. Yet it does, and even endures.

Something (call it God or Providence) has its finger on the scales. The important issue, therefore, is not the material detritus that we spend so much effort attempting to decipher. Rather, we should focus our efforts on making sure our benefactor never takes his finger off the scale.

Posted by: Bruno at April 13, 2006 12:54 AM

Khomeini, like Lenin, came late and twisted the Revolution...

Somebody always does, don't they? Funny how that works.

Posted by: joe shropshire at April 13, 2006 1:16 AM

Not the British, American, Polish, etc......

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 7:10 AM

It seems a little problematic for you to claim both that Iran is a democracy and that it has been hijacked by unpopular Khomeinism.

As it happens, you're wrong about the revolution. There was always a liberalizing opposition to the Shah, but it was based in the small middle class. The poor were religious, and the Shah's liberalizing tendencies kept getting him into trouble with the clergy.

The final straw was a crude newspaper article, published in the official press, that repeated a bunch of rumors about Khomeini in an attempt to undercut his popularity. That backfired and brought out the population in massive demonstrations in support of Khomeini. Those demonstrations forced the Shah out of Iran. The bourgeious liberalizing caretaker government made the mistake of inviting Khomeini back (thinking that they could be Lenin and ride the popular revolution to power), and that was all she wrote. Khomeini came back, rejected the caretaker government, set up his own government through the Revolutionary Guards and over the next few years took control of the country. Eventually this system of parallel governments was put into the constitution, with the various councils that grew out of Khomeini's government wielding a veto over any action of the secular (more or less) government.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 13, 2006 10:23 AM

It's an imperfect democracy. The p[eople get to elect a president and legislature but the clerics have veto powers over laws and power to limit wo runs. Such powers rightly belong with a monarch, not the Church. But they're a series of rather minor structural reforms away from full liberal democracy.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 10:31 AM

Right. So the clergy in Iran has the same power as the Party did in the USSR. Did you consider the Soviet Union just "a series of rather minor structural reforms away from full liberal democracy."

Posted by: David Cohen at April 13, 2006 11:32 AM

You say "minor structural reforms", we say "ripping power from the hands of the mullahs".

Quite a difference, no? However, it does explain that Ahmadinejad is basically just a minstrel (as yesterday's theater with dancing capsules of enriched uranium showed).

Or do you think Khameini can relinquish power without the Guardian Council (and their private army) not doing anything? Even if he is more of a moderate than any of us believe, why should the rest of the mullahocracy go along with him? They like domination. They won't let go without a fight. And the Iranian people aren't going to give them one, unless they shake off their lassitude.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 13, 2006 11:37 AM


Yes, Khamenei recognizes that Khomeinism doesn't work, which is why he's pushed reformers. No, Ahmedinejad and the rest don't agree. Sure it will require a tussle, but not much of one.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 11:44 AM


The USSR had neither freely elected governments nor an ideology that required consensual government and human rights. Had the Party settled for only the powers that the Council has and allowed as much electoral freedom as Iran has there'd have been no Cold War.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 11:46 AM

And neither does Iran.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 13, 2006 1:26 PM

Comparing Iran to the USSR is an exercise in unseriousness.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 1:31 PM

As opposed to the seriousness of suggesting that Iran is only a couple of tweaks away from being a modern liberal democracy?

Posted by: David Cohen at April 13, 2006 1:56 PM

All it requires is its own Glorious Revolution, which was indeed just a tweak.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 2:00 PM

Maybe OJ thinks Khameini is the second coming of Cyrus.

If he wants reform, then why does he stay in the shadows, surrounded by bearded sycophants and screamers and private armies?

And for all the love-talk about Khatami, even he spoke of Israel as though it were a tumor, not a real nation.

David's analogy about the Party is pretty apt. After all, the press in Iran has been under attack since 1999, because deviations are not permitted. Iran may have more of an "elected" structure than Soviet Russia ever did, but remember that Soviet Constitution? A pretty 'liberal' document it was - but it wasn't even good for toilet paper.

Iran is more like China, with a secretive ruling oligarchy and the impression of teeming masses. The shadow leaders have their ideology, their sense of historical destiny, 2500 years of tradition behind them, and grievances against the West.

But their ideology has that darned religious component, you know. The one that is causing trouble around the world. And a lot of it is financed right from Tehran.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 13, 2006 2:09 PM

Yes, that's the key difference. The Iranians actually follow their constitution, it jus needs amending.

Khamenei is Jaruzelski.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 2:15 PM

Khatami could have been Jaruzelski. He wasn't.

Khameini is Suslov. The Iranians certainly seem to know this - why don't you?

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 13, 2006 2:34 PM

The Iranians know that finally becoming a full liberal democracy will require that Khamenei or his successor bite the bullett and admit the failure of Khomeinism. Reagan made that easy for the Communists. W needs to do it for the mullahs.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2006 2:42 PM

The Glorious Revolution changed the personnel, not the system. The Iranians need a full-blown revolution.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 14, 2006 10:16 AM

Nope. The Glorious Revolution established a principle. Iran needs the same one.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2006 7:06 PM

Aha! So, Khameini and the Guardians and Ahmadinejad (and their private armies & spooks & thugs) are monsters (a la the Shah and SAVAK).

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 14, 2006 10:36 PM

Why was the Shah a monster? He might well have proved a Franco or Pinochet given time. Khamenei may as well.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2006 10:57 PM

i believe the knock against the shah, is that somewhere around 1500 people had been dispatched by his secret police. once he was replaced, something like 1M died in a pointless war that most likely would never had happened had iran remained allied with the u.s. currently the economy is around 30% of it's peak in '79. caveat emptor.

Posted by: toe at April 15, 2006 3:21 PM