August 14, 2011
THE FIRST CARTER:
JFK's Berlin blunder (George F. Will, August 12, 2011, Washington Post)
Fifty years ago, a metaphor became concrete. Beginning on Aug. 13, 1961, along West Berlin's 27-mile border, the Iron Curtain became tangible in a wall of precast slabs of concrete. It came down 22 years ago, but the story of how it rose, as told in Frederick Kempe's book "Berlin 1961," compels an unflattering assessment of John Kennedy. His serial blunders that year made it the most incompetent first year of any presidency.
In a State of the Union address just 10 days after his inauguration, Kennedy seemed exhilarated by hysteria. He said that "in this brief 10-day period" he had been "staggered" by "the harsh enormity" of the "trials" ahead:
"Each day the crises multiply. Each day their solution grows more difficult. Each day we draw nearer the hour of maximum danger, as . . . hostile forces grow stronger. . . . Our analyses over the last 10 days make it clear that . . . the tide of events has been running out." Lunging for an equivalence with Lincoln, Kennedy said that during his term Americans would learn whether a nation such as ours "can endure."
Actually, since Election Day he had learned that the "missile gap" he had accused President Eisenhower of allowing to develop was fictitious.
Indeed, the notion of the USSR as a military peer was nonsense. Yet, JFK still acted as if the Cold War was an evenly matched struggle that we might lose, instead of either keeping quiet like Ike, who was tired of winning wars, or declaring our victory imminent and inevitable and proceeding to win it, as Reagan did. The phrase for which he is best known--Ich bin ein Berliner--was an appalling expression of weakness. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 14, 2011 8:08 AM