President Obama defended the Iran deal at American University in Washington this week, inviting comparisons to President Kennedy’s address there in 1963. While some consider the allusion a masterstroke of political theater, the JFK comparison might not suit the president as well as he thinks.
Kennedy spoke at American to defend the Partial Test-Ban Treaty he had been forging with the Soviet Union. Just eight months after he had stared down the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy was negotiating from a position of strength.
Obama, conversely, negotiated from a position of American weakness. During his presidency, North Korea has completed several nuclear tests, China has bullied its neighbors throughout the South Pacific and committed a cyber Pearl Harbor on us, a hard-fought American victory in Iraq has been thrown away, any hope of victory in Afghanistan has been shattered by American retreat, and Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of its own people (even brazenly crossing Obama’s unenforced “red line”).
Usually those who seek to negotiate after a string of defeats wish to agree on terms of surrender. The same pattern applied here.
Obama claims that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will bring Iran, a pariah state, back into the international community. Based on his invocation of Kennedy, one might expect the Partial Test-Ban Treaty did the same for the Soviet Union.
It did not. After the 1963 treaty, the Soviet Union continued to be a global menace.
In 1965, the Soviets and the East Germans turned what had been a wire fence into the imposing, concrete Berlin Wall. Between 1963 and 1969, 56 people would be killed at the Berlin Wall. A further 46 would lose their loves before the Wall fell in 1989.
Between 1965 and 1982, the 14 pro-Western heads of state or prime ministers were assassinated by the Soviet Union.
In the lead-up to the 1967 Six Day War, Russia was the major arms supplier of Egypt and Syria even as they openly boasted about their genocidal intentions toward Israel. The USSR also provided military advisors to Egypt before, during, and after the war.
In 1968, when Communist Czechoslovakia showed signs of liberalization, the Soviet Union led four Warsaw-Pact armies to crush the so-called Prague Spring. Under the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviets claimed plenary authority to intervene in the internal affairs of any country within their sphere of influence. Such unbridled aggression not typically ascribed to respected members of the “international community.”
Treaties with aggressive, untrustworthy nations have never maintained peace. The comparison to the Munich agreement has been made already, and Obama has been wise to avoid the comparison. His embrace of the Cold War comparison reveals either an ignorance or an indifference to history.