The president was in a bind. He had laid down a clear “red line” — which his enemies had flouted. Now he faced an unenviable choice: Take action to enforce his red line, or suffer a catastrophic blow to his political credibility at home and abroad.
“I should have said we don’t care,” the commander in chief mused in the privacy of the White House. “But when we said we’re not going to (tolerate it), and then they go ahead and do it, and then we do nothing ... “ Doing nothing was not an option.
The date was Oct. 16, 1962, the day John F. Kennedy discovered that the Soviet Union had sent nuclear missiles to Cuba, triggering the most serious crisis of the Cold War. A month earlier, the president had publicly warned the Soviets that “the gravest issues would arise” if they developed a “significant offensive capability” in Cuba. He now doubted the wisdom of his earlier statement.
In 1962, nearly all of the president’s top advisers were calling for airstrikes against Soviet missile sites on Cuba. Kennedy was leaning in that direction himself but was restrained by fear of tit-for-tat escalations that could result in all-out nuclear war. Instead of airstrikes, Kennedy decided to buy time for back-door negotiations with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev by imposing a naval blockade on Cuba. The crisis ended, 13 days later, with Khrushchev agreeing to pull his missiles out of Cuba in a verifiable manner in return for a promise by the United States to refrain from attacking the island. Patience, plus firmness, paid off.
Henry Dobbs, a former Washington Post reporter, is the author of “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.”
Peril and opportunity
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that the number of youth who have tried e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012. One-tenth of high school students inhaled the devices’ vapor last year. About three-quarters of those who admitted using e-cigarettes currently also smoked traditional cigarettes. But roughly 160,000 students in the National Youth Tobacco Survey last year said they had tried only e-cigarettes.