Samuelson wrong to blame Kennedy for Cuban crisis

In his rush to denigrate the presidency of John F. Kennedy, Robert Samuelson overlooks a few pertinent facts, a sure sign that a partisan agenda is lurking beneath the surface. First, and most obviously, is the fact that Kennedy’s time in office was, unfortunately, cut short. In consequence, Samuelson may well be right that Kennedy was not a great president. But to call him middling at best is unduly harsh. The appropriate grade is, in my opinion, “incomplete.”

A second dubious fact that Samuelson rests his case on is Kennedy’s performance during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A careful reading of the tapes of administration deliberations during the crisis reveals that Kennedy was one of the few adults in the room. Avoiding a thermonuclear war must weigh heavily in any evaluation of the president. But Samuelson seems to downplay this noteworthy accomplishment.

Moreover, contrary to Samuelson, the crisis was not brought on by the appearance of weakness on Kennedy’s part. Currently, the consensus of opinion among strategic analysts, based largely on documents released from the Soviet archives, is that Premier Nikita Khrushchev decided to install medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba to address an actual weakness in the Soviet strategic arsenal. Blaming Kennedy for the Cuban crisis is flat out wrong.

Frank C. Zagare

UB Distinguished Professor

Department of Political Science